Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Tango @ 33 Portland Place

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

This milonga is on Sunday evenings, generally from 8 till midnight, at 33 Portland Place, five minutes from Oxford Circus. I've been there a few times recently, and realised my review needed updating. Be aware that it's normally closed for the whole of August [Correction: Naomi emails to say it will be open for August 2009 with a slightly different format, check the website for details. Apparently a jacuzzi is involved.] They also have a practica on Thursdays at the moment, check the website (plays music!) for details.

The Class: I didn't take the class. People seem to find it safe-and-friendly and to stick around afterwards. There are comments about it on my previous review.

Layout and Atmosphere: Beautiful. The venue is stupendous, I've described it before but it's an eighteenth-century private house next door to the Chinese consulate. It currently belongs to Lord Edward Davenport, or at least a company managed by him, and they courteously hire it out to 'οι πολλοι on Sunday evenings.

You push open the huge front door with the little notice on it, and you come into a hallway that feels a little like the hallways of a million fine old London houses butchered into awkward flats, except that it's much bigger and much finer and hasn't been butchered. The person at the desk always seems tiny, partly because it's often Alex or Naomi, and they're both actually quite small, but mainly because the desk is huge and the room is the same as many you've seen, but on a bigger scale. The first time I went there I felt it could probably do with a dozen or so million in restoration; I now have the impression that some of this has been spent and there are plans for more. The history page on the house's website suggests the same thing, that gradual restoration is in progress.

They normally have the two beautiful rooms upstairs which are connected to each other in an L-shape and have glorious pink, green, and white plaster ceilings. Some people treat the two as seperate dancefloors - usual when it's crowded - or when there's room some people navigate between them. The carpets you see on the house's website get rolled up out of the way. Then they have either one or two rooms downstairs, the one at the far end with the skylight, or the one at the front, or sometimes both if there is going to be a performance. All of them are lovely and you can sit on a beautiful battered gilt velvet chaise longue or a lovely little gilt blue chair. When you go in, just follow the music through any door that's open.

Now, because this is an eighteenth century house, the people who built it took light seriously, and on a summer evening, all the rooms are full of evening sky. There is a light-well down the centre of the building and there are magnificent floor-to-ceiling sash windows onto the street and onto the lightwell. Be careful not to trip over and fall out of the window. Chairs are placed in the way to prevent your decease. When the windows onto the street are open you can cool off on the balcony with the music coming out behind you, smiling at curious passers-by and looking like the cool guys.

The floors are good old wood, but not up to the punishment of regular tango. Take care, they're uneven, with sticky bits and little holes and dips and even a few splinters. I gather there are plans to repair or replace them all, starting this August. In the meantime, you might avoid your newest or spikiest shoes. If you find yourself reflecting that the floor is a bit dodgy, just look up at the ceiling. But the staircase is stone, and well-worn, so if you're going to admire the plasterwork above you there, stand still and hold the handrail while you do so.

The crowd tends to reflect the organisers and be on the younger side, which I like. I also like the chaises-longues and sofas upstairs, which I find make it very easy to start conversations.

Hospitality: Good. Plastic cups, and a marker to write your name on them. Help yourself to lots of water, some wine and some lemonade, crisps and nuts. More than enough coat racks with more than enough hangers. The Ladies', downstairs, is rather spectacular, always perfectly clean and well supplied, and in keeping with the house. The only problem with it is that the Twentieth-Century-Stupid design of the sinks tends to splash water all over the floor, and on this occasion it made it difficult to dry my hands. Don't lean on the sinks. Careful with your choice of shoes; the floor, pre-repair, is uneven, with some small holes, larger dips, and even the odd splinter, and if anyone has an argument with the sink they could get wet.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: Nothing, thank heavens. Not a sausage. No performance, nothing. I had uninterrupted dancing, and it was lovely.

What I thought of the DJing: They play mostly traditional music both upstairs and down, but downstairs gets a bit more modern later in the evening. They know what's popular and makes people want to dance. If you like a lot of variety and adventure it may not satisfy you, but it contents me. On this night all my favourite milongas were included, and there's always an adequate dose of vals.

Getting in: £8 on this occasion. The front door can lock accidentally when people go outside to smoke, in which case you might have to knock to attract the attention of the person at the desk. Check it isn't August before doing so. It's closed in August. [Correction: it's open in August 2009.]

Getting there and getting home: Take exit 4 from Oxford Circus and walk up Regent St. towards Broadcasting House and the round portico of All Souls' Church. Continue on the same side of the road as it curves round the Langham Hotel and keep going till you get to 33, which is next door to the Chinese Consulate and just after a conspicuous sign for number 27. Careful getting home, because it's Sunday; the last Tube is half an hour before the milonga closes. Leave at 23:00 or get a bus from Oxford Street. Be warned that some night buses don't start till an hour later. Plan your homeward journey with the Journey Planner; the house's postcode is W1B 1QE.

The website: www.tangoat33.co.uk. Pretty. You have to wait for the Flash to load, and it plays music with no Mute button while that's happening, but once it's loaded all the information you actually need is right there in front of you - what's on, what time, and how much it is to get in. There's also a Facebook Group.

How it went: I had such a nice evening I had to update my review. I stood on the balcony with the music coming out behind me, feeling like the cool guys. Danced fun dances with fun regulars and plenty of space. I wish I could go there more often (I have to work on Mondays). I'd definitely suggest this one to visitors to London, especially in summer, and maybe as a place to bring a non-dancing friend as the venue is so special and the music is reliably all right. Because no matter how your dances go - and they're about as likely to go well here as anywhere - you don't often get the chance to inhabit a house like this.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

The Dancing Flower does Libertango

This week in Tango Silliness, Libertango. Piazzolla was really interested in tango as concert music, and didn't particularly write or play for dancers, but this particular piece is very driving and does make me want to dance. All his works, like classical music in general, tend to be known by his name rather than by who plays them.

There are lots of versions of Libertango but this is the only one I have, played by Quinteto La Camorra. I think the flower's reaction to the dynamics at about 2 minutes and 3 minutes is nice.

Renaissance Nerd

Captain Jep just told me it was nice to know someone who was a Renaissance Nerd.

I like that. I am not really a focused person, except where rather short-term and straightforward tasks like passing exams are concerned, but I think 'Renaissance Nerd' is something to be proud of.

Remembering that it might be an idea to eat some food, drink some coffee, and take two paracetamol for the headache didn't hurt either. You'd think I would have worked that out by my age.

I'm very sorry if I prickled you this morning.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Summer storm

The sound of rain on broadleaved trees in full leaf.

I love it.

The thunder is almost continuous.

Café de los Maestros and Tanguarda

My eyes are propped open with matchsticks today so this is just a mess of disconnected thoughts. I'm making mistakes all over the place and there will probably be typos too.

In some ways the Café de los Maestros concert was a bit disappointing. Now I know nothing whatsoever about soundsystems, amplification, or concert halls, and the playing was, as far as I could tell, fabulous; but the sound seemed really flat for the first number. And it was generally not great for the entire first half; Juan Carlos Godoy in particular seemed overamplified to me, in a very loud, harsh way, so that I just couldn't tell if he was still good or not. It was better when he held the microphone further from his mouth. I couldn't hear the piano or the guitar at all well except in solos.

Alberto Podestá didn't turn up. Apparently he does that sometimes. It was a pity, as several people I met were there specifically to see him and were disappointed. One of them had met him recently in Argentina. But he is very elderly; I hope he's not sick.

Nina Miranda, who we were told made her debut in 1940, was great and sounded wonderful. She reminded me vividly of Dawn Hampton. I also really enjoyed the solos of Anibal Arias (guitar) and Osvaldo Montes, who plays the bandoneón with remarkable economy of motion.

And I was charmed by the visual effect of the several young women playing violin and cello in the back row, on a platform raised by a few feet; when not actually required to play, they turned their heads, stretched their necks, and watched the soloists with attentive admiration, like a row of angels at the back of a Victorian painting, approving some scene of Patriarchs. The violinist on the left even applauded at one point, and the cellist on the right was as fascinated as I was by Osvaldo Montes' right hand on the bandoneón.

They improved the sound a lot in the interval and it was much better for the second half. I still couldn't really hear the guitar or the piano, and couldn't tell at all where the sounds of solos were coming from except by watching. I have no clue what was wrong, but it wasn't working for me and I longed to cut off the electricity (except to the lights on the sheet music) and hear the instruments on their own terms.

Tanguarda played on the free stage beforehand, but it was such a beautiful evening I couldn't bear to be indoors just then, and sat on the terrace with friends. Afterwards they were at Carablanca, and played a concert set as well as a dance set. The concert set, mostly Piazzolla, was wonderful and I really valued the chance to sit upstairs for a while and listen properly. The band has to be excellent for this kind of thing, but Tanguarda are excellent, and the pianist had a ball with the Bösendorfer piano.

I like to have live music, and I like to have my expectations raised about its quality. Getting people used to really good live music increases the returns for the musicians on being good. It also makes people dance better because they have to switch the autopilot off.

I think some people went to Negracha instead when they realised Tanguarda's first set would be a concert, not for dancing. But that's ok with me; I appreciated having the choice, I daresay they did too, and that's the upside of having two milongas on a Friday so close together. They can compete on quality as well as on offering people what they want. And there were non-dancers who turned up for the concert, which I think is nice. I also appreciated the fact that Carablanca have started serving snacks since I was last there. They seem to have sorted the lighting out too.

I do think Tanguarda were overamplified, though. A bandoneón, as far as I understand it, is a brilliant German instrument maker's response to the functional requirement "I want to play Bach on something that fits in my suitcase". A Bösendorfer piano is a Bösendorfer piano, built specifically for the purpose of filling a concert hall with sound by people who really know what they are doing. A double bass and a violin don't require any electricity beyond what is provided by the human nervous system. Conway hall was built specifically for the purpose of lectures and concerts of classical music without amplification. I don't think these instruments or players need mikes or speakers, and if the space, for some reason I don't know about, means that there have to be mikes, I would have assumed in my ignorance that the goal was for the mikes to sound as though they aren't there. All the amplification does for me is make the whole thing sound as though it's coming out of a CD player with the volume too high.

I'd love to hear both these bands unplugged.

But I was up till 03:30, I got up at 8 today, it's hot, the thunder has started, and soon there will be my favourite sound in the world - the sound of rain on trees in full leaf. Now I need to put some sports commentary on the radio or something and lie down.

[Update: after 10 hours sleep, changed the Bach link for a much, much better one. And for Google robots: the concerts reviewed, or rather described, in this post were at the Barbican Hall and Conway Hall/Carablanca respectively.]

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Sex and Suits

Yesterday my sister took me to see Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (the musical), because she had some tix and knows that I like Very Silly Things. We enjoyed it a lot. She thought the script was clichéd, I thought it was brilliant. She's the one with the degree in English Literature.

I hadn't seen the film, so all I knew about it was that it was about drag queens on a bus in the Australian desert. I won't trouble you with the plot, which was rather touching.

But I was fascinated by the three main characters, or at least, by their choice of clothes, which is what it's all about. They all wear women's clothes at least some of the time, but in very distinct, individual ways. I found myself thinking about what function the clothes performed for each of them. Not why each of them wanted that job done - motivations are unknowable, and and I don't think it really makes sense to try to explain them - but what job the clothes were doing. And how their decisions when they put on women's clothing might be similar to, or different from, my decisions when, being a woman, I simply get dressed.

None of this stuff is explained in the musical, and I don't suppose for a moment it is in the movie. It's three characters doing what they do. This is just what turned up in my head while I was watching it.

Transsexual Bernadette wears women's clothes all the time, and very elegant clothes, too. Perhaps rather formal and old-fashioned; and always specifically, positively, unambiguously female. Whether she actually "is" a woman seems like a question too big, or perhaps too trivial, to answer. It seemed to me that the function of the clothes was to give other people the cue to treat and perceive her as female, and my instinctive reaction to the character is to respect that wish, at least to the extent of using female pronouns.

Wearing clothes as Bernadette does, with close attention to both their social meaning and their visual unity, is how you get elegance. I can only do this by keeping it very simple, because I don't spend enough time or money on it or treat it as a high enough priority to do anything complex. I try, now and then, but I'd never do it all the time like she does.

Bisexual (or maybe just straight) Tick wears women's clothes as an artistic medium. He's a drag artist, and that's it. When he's not on stage, he mostly dresses like a fashionable man; he doesn't wear women's clothes to walk down the street. Nor does he look much like a woman when he wears them on stage. The job being done seems to be artistic. I wondered if in, say, 1708, when everyone's clothes included more elaboration, the same artistic ambition could have been fulfilled without cross-dressing at all. But I'm not sure about this.

Wearing clothes for their artistic effect is something I do from time to time, just not very well, because I haven't got the trained visual sense. Again, success at it requires effort and time and genuine interest. It really is an artistic endeavour beyond just going for what feels right. I can see that cross-dressing is a fascinating artistic thing to do, if that's what inspires you, and of course fashion designers, and women putting together their own outfits, borrow masculine details all the time for visual effect. I have a very smart coat with a masculine cut and militaresque epaulettes; it looks great on me.

The third character, indifferently called Adam or Felicia, was more of a puzzle to me. He's a homosexual man and has no interest in women at all, not even artistically that I could see. He dresses, more or less, like a glamour model; a female one when on stage, or when up to what he considers mischief, and a male one off. My strongest impression was of artificiality, some sort of doubleness I couldn't see the shape of. His stage clothes have all sorts of female accoutrements but don't actually look in any way female; as can happen with haute couture. He doesn't wish, aspire, or pretend for a moment to be anything but male. That, I was sure, was not what the clothes were doing.

So I wasn't sure what they actually were doing. Maybe nothing more than appealing to someone whose taste I don't share. But a detail that struck me was that when, in dressing for a night out, he wishes to be a little naughtier than usual, he expresses that by putting on a bra. I've occasionally expressed the same feeling by leaving off the bra. The bra is a physical necessity for neither of us: I am about equally comfortable with or without. Therefore, both of us must be wearing one, or not, for its social meaning and visual effect, not for any physical job it performs; essentially for the same reason, but with opposite starting points and opposite conclusions.

I think it was that bit that really fried my brain for the evening.

What is it that makes clothes male or female?

If I were to take a large piece of cloth, fasten it at each shoulder, and tie a girdle round the middle, I would be wearing something that would be regarded as female clothing anywhere in western Europe at any time in the last thousand years. I wouldn't necessarily be well, or fully, dressed; but I would not be cross-dressing - certainly not if I took another piece and wrapped it around head and shoulders as a shawl.

If I were a man and wrapped myself in the same two pieces of cloth in the same way, the same would not be true, or at least not clearly, unless we went back at least another five hundred years. I would be not just eccentrically dressed, but additionally disguised as a woman.


What would a Martian make of all this?

Luckily, Anne Hollander has written a rather good book about that very subject - at least the history of the why, if not the Martian - called Sex and Suits. She argues from the history of European art and dress that men's clothing is creative, dynamic, and modern, whereas women's clothing is extremely conservative and has only approached modernity in very recent years. Along the way she gives us the exceedingly interesting history of the male suit, which I now see in a new light and with far more appreciative eyes. I think I'll have to read it again. She also curated Fabric of Vision - dress and drapery in painting, which was fascinating but sadly is no longer on the National Gallery's website. I wish she would do a lecture or something about Priscilla and put it on the web.

Anyway, I came home with the feeling that there were great mysteries in everyday things, and that the contents of my wardrobe and drawers were suddenly written in Linear A. I have no idea what they mean any more. The force of habit should tide me over until my illusions come back.

Monday, 22 June 2009

The Truth and Michael Schumacher

From the drafts file. I agreed with Mike Atherton:

"Those who line up to crucify Hamilton are doing so not because he has failed to live up to his own standards but because he has failed to live up to the expectations of others that have been created for him by a pushy father, an agency keen to milk the holy cow for all it is worth and a Formula One team for whom disappointment is measured in millions of dollars rather than the tarnishing of an image. Everything that Hamilton has done on the racetrack has projected a different image, so the reaction to the events in Australia says more about our gullibility than it does about him. "

In a previous life I wrote an internet column about F1 racing, which included a sort-of race report and a sort-of field guide to the drivers of the time (this was for a few years from 1997.) I was young, I was bored, I had finished my education and was wondering what I was meant to do next. I was exploring the concept of actually daring to have a real opinion on something rather than just go along with the essay-writing game. I'd also made a curious discovery; if you write down the bleeding obvious, and you write it well, people laugh.

Being profoundly ignorant of engineering - though it awes and delights me - I largely stuck to the human side.

My approach was very simple. I watched the race on television, and usually the qualifying, rather carefully. I watched the press conferences and grid interviews. I also referred, for a bit of extra colour, to Italian, German, and occasionally French magazines and newspapers.

I almost ignored the British press. I might look at what they said, but not until after I'd written at least the first or second draft. As a consequence, their specific mythological world-view didn't influence me much, while I made good use of the equally deranged but, crucially, foreign insights of the magnificently bonkers Gazzetta dello Sport and the Not Safe For Work Bild. (Which has toned down its internet front page a lot since those days. The last time I looked, they only had a video of the woman who jumped into the polar bear enclosure at Berlin Zoo, and she was fully clothed - though admittedly sopping wet, ample of figure, tenuously suspended on a rope, screaming, and in imminent danger of being eaten by polar bears under the eyes of a fascinated audience.)

I then wrote down and published whatever I was fairly sure sure was both true and funny. I sometimes wrote what wasn't funny, but I carefully deleted anything that, on reflection, I didn't really think was true. Especially if it was also funny, because that way lies Bullshit. And there is enough Bullshit.

At that time, the approach of the humorous writers was to write witty falsehoods, which in my opinion fails because they're always less funny than the truth. The approach of the newspapers and magazines was to elaborate on prevailing mythology without reference to facts. Which makes you refer to Michael Schumacher's blue eyes.

I read about Michael Schumacher's blue eyes many, many times in English and at least once in Italian. A glance at any photo shows that they were - and presumably, still are - hazel. You might say a rather greyish hazel, in certain lights; but not blue. It's simply not possible that any writer who wrote this had in fact looked at the colour of Schumacher's eyes and concluded that they were blue. Now, it is possible that some writers, themselves uninterested in Schumacher's admittedly-plain face, had heard someone else make the same reference and repeated it without asking themselves whether it was literally true. And perhaps it's even possible that their professional editors made the same mistake. But it's more likely they were referring to blue eyes in a non-literal sense which I didn't think then, and don't think now, bears very close examination.

Which kind of drivel do you prefer? I found it hard to decide between them, and preferred to make my own.

Quite a few of my small pool of readers - perhaps a hundred regular readers at the peak - were at least briefly convinced that I was an insider. I was told that one of them guessed I was Becky Herbert.

In fact, I only ever even went to about two races (I enjoyed the experience, but I was young, and alone, and it's terribly expensive). Apart from not being entirely ignorant of two or three languages taught in English schools, I had no access to any information that hadn't been seen by everyone who watched on TV. All I had to do to obtain a loyal following of regular, chatty, and congenial readers was say different things, that had some evidence in their favour and nothing obvious against, and sounded (to me, at least, and perhaps to others) as though they might be true. That was all. I made one of the dearest friends I will ever have in my life out of it.

I don't know why people don't try it more often. Perhaps they don't have time.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Midsummer Day

I spent quite a bit of today under a large tree in Kent, inside the bailey of a ruined medieval castle, celebrating a little boy's first birthday.

With a numerous party of very small children. I like the way the adults look so happy in this picture.

The Dancing Flower does Joe Powers (milonga)

Since some people were shouting "Milonga! Milonga!" at the Flower's very first appearance, here it is. I also have the Edgardo Donato version of this piece, but the Flower prefers the sunny-but-chilled sound and tempo of Joe Powers.

Used with kind permission of Joe. You can get the album Amor de Tango, and others, at http://www.joepowers.com. Go on, support live music.

The setting-sun spotlight is a little contrasty, I know, but it was too good not to use. The backing group I leave to the mercy of your comments.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Café de los Maestros at the Barbican next Friday

There are 20 of them,
they're playing at the Barbican next Friday,
a little trailer from the film about them is below,
and they've got Alberto Podestá (yes).

There's a Facebook event here, and Barbican booking is here, and you should probably get a move on if you want a ticket. That's it really.

Also, Tanguarda are opening on the free stage at seven, and also playing at Carablanca later that night. They're a lot younger and there are only four of them. They've got a violin, a bandoneón, a double bass and a piano.

I like live music.

Things of interest

If you're interested in the Iranian thing that's going on, Informed Comment is the place to go.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Economics of pirates and clowns

The Planet Money podcast, who are always great, have done a fascinating piece on the business model and economics of piracy (section starting from 09:30):

Pirates have timesheets

They follow up on some of the business relationships created some weeks later:

And three baby camels.

They have lots more on many other subjects, including the position of a clown as unsecured creditor of an insolvent shopping centre. I hope she gets her money, apparently very tiny creditors like that sometimes do; the big ones pay them off because it makes a lot of sense to make the voting simpler. And I think it's a good feature of the US system that it gives them an incentive to do that.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Watching myself on video

A couple of weeks ago I watched a video of myself practicing with a friend. There are other people in the video too - it was a camera in the corner of a room.

After watching, getting his feedback, and thinking for a while, I did get a lot out of watching it. I got a mental picture of symptoms. What I didn't learn was the cause or how to fix them. For that, I don't think there's any substitute for personal attention from the right teacher. But I'd already made plans to deal with that anyway.

It's so strange seeing myself on video at all - this strange, shy little animal doing all those funny things.

I found out that I smile a lot when I'm dancing, and I fidget a lot when I'm not. In fact it's quite striking how dancing makes my constant fidgetyness go away. I suppose that's part of the point. Tango must practically give my nervous system a rest, free of the constant noise.

My smile is prettier in motion than in photographs, and it is very obvious to others if I'm pleased or happy.

My figure is more pleasing than I imagine it to be.

Those shoes are even sexier than I thought they were!

Monday, 15 June 2009

Puccini and Jussi Björling and being inside music

When I was in my teens I used to listen to Italian opera all the time. I hadn't forgotten just how good Puccini was at what he did, or how good the singers are, but I had forgotten details of this. It's a set of duets, with the great Jussi Björling singing Puccini, Verdi, and Bizet. (I got an iPod for my birthday and I'm listening to all sorts of things I haven't listened to for ages).

Listening to one of these duets - from the first act of Tosca - I've just been admiring how good Jussi Bjoerling was.

The character he's playing is an artist, currently painting a fresco* on the wall of a church. He is interrupted, first by a political fugitive, to whom he is sympathetic, and then by his girlfriend, Tosca. He can't tell her the fugitive is hiding there, because that would be a very bad idea, so he has to lie about the rustling sound she's just heard, but he also has to convince her (perfectly truthfully) that he loves her and the rustling sound wasn't another woman, and specifically not the other woman who actually appears in his work-in-progress. His conversation with her is the duet.

It's not only brilliant singing, producing these wonderful tunes. He makes a clear difference in his voice when the character is lying, when he's telling the truth, and when he's telling the truth and he's totally in love with this woman but he really really wishes she would go away, and he can't make her do that. The combination of all these things is different for every line, and I think it's a wonderful piece of vocal acting.

I think the opportunity to be inside tango music, by dancing it, has hugely improved my appreciation of this sort of music too. It's a closely related style, so it's not surprising. I should listen to some more and see what I find. It's certainly true that because I used to sing very simple Renaissance church music in a choir, Spem in Alium is a lot more to me than just an amazing wall of sound. It doesn't matter that I can't sing Spem in Alium.

I always had the strong impression - based on his operas alone, as I never went into the facts of his life - that Puccini actually liked women as people, which led me to like him more in return. I did read somewhere that women generally liked him too.

* It has to be a fresco because you don't paint an oil painting in the place it's going to go.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Dancing Flower does D'Arienzo

This week, the Flower interprets El Flete, also quite often encountered by beginners [implausible, and I think my memory of this must be just wrong - there must have been some one class where it was played repeatedly over several weeks and I remembered it disproportionately. No- Maya has the answer in the Comments]. Now in stereo, as I've rearranged all the speaker wires.

The flower appreciates all the comments on last week's video and looks forward to your remarks on this one.

Next week, milonga.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Convoy observations

A few friends practiced convoying again last Friday. It was a hoot and Ghost has written it up here. (I know I said I wasn't going to Negracha that night - I changed my mind when I found I could get a lift home and remembered they serve coffee downstairs now).

It was fun to do. All three leaders reported feeling more relaxed as part of a convoy, regardless of their position in it. From the woman's point of view, I'd add that all three followers were able to abandon active follower floorcraft (by which I mean keeping watch, as opposed to merely keeping your heels down and not interfering with navigation) and just dance.

As Ghost says, the leaders didn't need any advanced skills to do it. A recent beginner would probably find it quite easy - and very enjoyable - to join in, although it may help if you can dance small and in close embrace. He felt as though it enabled him to get a lot more joy out of simpler dancing. To that, I'd add that likewise the followers only need to be able to follow basic things in a predictable way. (But the predictability IS necessary. If you decided to stop following, stand still and waft your knees around for half a minute, you might or might not look decorative, but you'd be sabotaging navigation and none of this stuff would work).

It took more determination and experience than we had available to try it upstairs as a group at a packed-out Negracha with a band playing. Sexteto Milonguero, however, were top-class.

My own observation was that if I think about only good and considerate dancers, I feel those who try to maintain a relatively constant speed and let everything wash past them still bump me less, on the whole, than those who actively try to avoid bumps by navigating around problems in such a way that they have to speed up and slow down a lot. I'm tempted to say that 'passive' floorcraft seems to work better than 'active' floorcraft. The problem with it is, if you're on your own, that a sort of pebble-sorting process tends to spit you out into the middle of the floor, where you rotate on the spot, stranded. But purposeful cooperation with known allies works strikingly better than either. You need your friends to help you.

Questions for further research included:

  • What is the best response to someone cutting into a three-inch gap directly from the tables?
  • What is the best response to a couple who are completely stationary and oblivious, whether wittering, snogging, dancing salsa or trying to exchange knees?

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Off-Topic: Senior Process Engineer wants job

My cousin Anna has just arrived from Oz and wants a job. She's an experienced Senior Process Engineer/Project Engineer/Chemical Engineer, early thirties.

She knows how to conceive, design, study the feasibility of, project-manage, build, and commission industrial plants that turn something not-useful into something useful, such as raw coal into the kind you can use to make steel - but more or less anything into whatever works. Her degree is in Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, and Mathematics, University of Queensland.

She can get paid lots of money to work in really dull places (unless you're an arachnologist) at home in Oz where it's warm. Now she wants to work in the big city, preferably London, and is more than happy to change industries (from mostly mining) or take a short-term contract.

She's been around the world a few times and isn't easily fazed.

She's visa'd up to work here till July 2010. If you might have a job for her, email me at the address top right and I'll put you in touch.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

The Dancing Flower does Di Sarli

In case you were taking this tango lark a bit too seriously, the Dancing Flower is here to help. Today, it interprets a track sometimes used for beginners' classes - Viviani, from the Carlos di Sarli album Instrumental vol. 2.

This is definitely going to be a series.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Party Party Party

I've just been to vote for a London Region representative in the European Parliament. I forgot this morning that there was an election on, but then the Socialist Workers Party tried to hand me a leaflet at the station and I remembered, so I went after work. If you've forgotten, you've still got time, they should be open till 10 and there are never queues for Euro elections.

I always vote, (unless I just forget, which happens), because it seems obvious to me that people with wierd, stupid, or evil ideas always always do vote, except those who are merely otherworldly. Not using my vote for some platform or other that's at least partially sensible makes them look more important than they deserve.

The ballot paper was longer than my arm. I was invited to choose between at least four different Socialist parties, including the Socialist Workers (bizarrely disguised with an anti-EU slogan) and one led by Arthur Scargill (is he still alive?). Five if you count the mainstream Labour party, who still consider themselves socialists under certain conditions. Then there were about six Independents, none of whom I'd heard of, a pro-EU party (really? Is that all you've got?), an anti-EU party with ludicrous adverts showing Winston Churchill on purple backgrounds, and I think four other anti-immigrant or nationalist parties for at least two or three different concepts of 'nation'. There was also a Christian People's Party, whose ad I had noticed; they promised to declare Jesus' lordship in the European Parliament, which didn't strike me as a useful conceptual approach from someone being paid to argue for my interests about fish stocks, competition law, or the Common Agricultural Policy.

Anyway I voted for the mainstream candidate I thought most likely to make an effort, between lunches. Off you go now, don't forget.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Floorcraft experiments, Learning Tango, links and thinks

Recently the guys at Learning Tango (mostly Ghost and David Bailey, who regularly comment here, especially Ghost) have started to think about more general questions of why the London tango scene is like it is, rather than like anything else, and what kinds of things have an influence on it.

In particular, they've been studying floorcraft.

They'd written a lot about floorcraft already, but after I wrote something about a class on it, Ghost and DB wanted to test the ideas. We tried some small-space dancing at a practica, using some chairs and bags to make boundaries and fit four couples in a space the size of a rug. That made sure everybody understood what works.

Then, with me and another lady, DB and Ghost tried an experiment downstairs at Negracha. We wanted to find out what happens if two leaders in a challenging environment (general chaos, including at least one couple who were "stationary and dancing salsa") intentionally cooperate to create a line of dance. That is, not just one couple following another but the leader in front also working to keep a constant distance to the one behind. (We had this idea from someone who'd seen it done in Buenos Aires on a visit a week before). Ghost describes what happened in Join the Conspiracy.

David Bailey then has a think about it and considers declaring War on Hoggers, but being a humanitarian type he also reflects on why people hog, and refers to Ghost's piece on Milonga Self-Defence, which refers to Sun Tzu. Then Ghost tries to work out how all that fits in with musicality in Flowing Floorcraft.

And Simba, on his own blog, has a post on floorcraft here, partly in response to the one of mine where I was asking whether the length of songs matters, and how you would know. He considers a lot more factors and continues to make good arguments in the comments thread.

"Learning Tango" (previously "Jivetango") is basically a sort of peer-to-peer approach to the difficulties of learning tango, specifically when you've started from another dance, like Modern Jive. The articles are interesting. I don't always agree with what they write, but both Ghost and David Bailey have the gift of making productive mistakes, and even when I don't agree with them I usually still learn something that makes me think more carefully about what I thought I thought, and think new things. There are lots of articles about the process of learning, and passing advice around that seems useful. Ghost has also been trying out the 'nod' in MJ, with interesting results, here and here.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The sky on my birthday

the sky on my birthday
That's all.

Actually, that's not all. Notice there are no contrails. But the sky of London is continuously criscrossed by planes. That means (as I learned from The Cloudspotter's Guide, obtainable from the Cloud Appreciation Society and all good bookshops), that there was little moisture in the upper atmosphere, suggesting fine weather would continue for some time - as it has, so far. Contrails - condensation trails - aren't fumes, they're clouds, the planes just seed them. If there isn't moisture, they don't really get going, they're short and they fade quickly.