Thursday, 29 October 2009


Time I updated this one. I never normally go to Corrientes because the location is awkward for me, but my previous review is based on a festival and doesn't do it justice. It's at Chalk Farm, two Saturdays in the month.

The Class:
I skipped it. Usually Mina and Giraldo, sometimes guest teachers. On this occasion it was Adrian and Amanda Costa, who are great, but I was busy elsewhere.

Layout and Atmosphere: It's inside a large, modern, well-equipped school. You go in past all the usual notices about reporting to reception and buzzing to be let in. The table where you pay is visible from the door. After paying, follow the corridor to your right for the dance hall entrance.

The floor is enormous and excellent. There are small tables and chairs around three sides of the floor, and on this occasion there was enough seating and there was a reasonably effective division between seating and dance floor. The fourth side of the floor, on your left as you go in, is occupied by a curtained stage across the whole width of the room, which is opened up for dancing for special events only. The DJ has a table at the far left hand side, and when there's a band that's where they go. The refreshments are in the near right hand corner.

I walked in and stood at the entrance for some time, looking around and wondering where to put my coat. Giraldo, who doesn't know me from a bar of soap as far as I'm aware, approached me in a serious, proprietorial manner that seemed only faintly ludicrous in one so young, airkissed me on both cheeks and pointed out some free chairs in the far corner. It was nice of him, I felt welcomed.

The lighting is rather uneven, with a lot of light on the floor and some very dark areas in parts of the seating, especially against the right-hand wall. The temperature is also uneven, hot under the lights and chilly near the fans. I was glad I had a shawl with me for warmth; it was also dark coloured, and by wrapping myself in it and sitting in my dark spot in the corner I could practically disappear, which I actually rather like to have as an option.

The atmosphere was quite nice considering that it's a giant box which looks like a school, and smells like a school. The lighting and arrangement of tables were reasonably good and the person at the desk was mildly welcoming, Giraldo more so. People generally seemed to be having fun. I think it mostly comes from who turns up.

Hospitality: OK. Nothing is included in the price, but bottled water is a routine £1, and the taps work so if you ran out of money getting in, you wouldn't come to actual harm. And nobody tries to stop you bringing in your own, as far as I know. Bottled water, glasses of wine around the £2/£3 mark, and I think other soft drinks are served from a table in the corner. No food. There are some shelves for your things at either end of the back wall, but if there isn't enough space on those you'll have to put them on a chair, as I did. They were fine. The loos are what you'd expect from a school, a bit rickety but clean and just about equipped and working. To find them, continue along the corridor past the entrance to the hall. The door marked Ladies leads to a baffling anteroom with several unlabelled or oddly-labelled doors, all looking just like the inside of the one you just came through; one of them is in fact the Ladies, but I don't remember which. I think there are also showers and changing rooms but I didn't manage to work it out.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: It was a normal night, very nice. Except that Adrian and Amanda were there and I really like watching them dance socially out of the corner of my eye - they also do a very cute salsa.

What I thought of the DJing: I thought it was better than average until they had some problems with the sound system, and then changed DJs, after which it was average and carried on with the same sort of thing till 2am rather than changing with the evening. The sound quality is very good all over the very large room, as you'd expect from a room of this kind.

Getting in: I think it was £9 (I've left it too long and forgot to take notes, but the website says that this weekend is £10, or £9 after 10pm, which agrees with what I remember). I was expecting a performance and so were a few other people who went, but there wasn't one.

Getting there and getting home: It is two minutes walk from Chalk Farm tube. Left out of the exit, left again, cross the road and enter the building made of giant orange and green rectangles. The problem is that it doesn't really get going until after the last Tube you could possibly use to get home, and the location isn't that central. You can get an N50 night bus to Euston outside the door, and you can wait at Euston for another night bus to get home. Consult TFL for night bus routes. I stayed to the end, and getting home took me over an hour and a half, taking a taxi for the bit to Euston. It isn't really worth it to me unless I can get a lift with someone going my way; if you were driving it wouldn't be a problem.

The website: Pretty. Lots of flash. Ignore that, click "what's on" and keep scrolling down till you find the When/What/How Much bit. It's usually open on two Saturdays a month Tango-UK or the Facebook group will probably tell you which ones without the Flash and scrolling.

How it went: There were lots of people there who I wanted to dance and socialise with, and who wanted to dance and socialise with me, and I had a really nice evening. I knew quite a few people there, and the presence of Adrian and Amanda happend to have attracted a mix of people that worked out well. I'm not sure it would be the best choice if you didn't know anyone, unless you have a lot of experience. I passed up an early lift home because I was really getting into it. Most of the dancing was pretty civilised, the floor is huge, and I don't think I got any bumps at all. The music was all right. It's Saturday. I'd probably go there whenever it was on, if I had a way of getting home that didn't take an hour and a half in the cold with all the drunks.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

DJs and demos, the short term and the long

DJs are cheap, and demos are expensive.

Music is the most important thing to good dancers, or at least dancers who've had a lot of practice. Demos, with some honourable exceptions, are more important to dancers who haven't had time to get bored with them yet.

Inexperienced dancers learn what's important mainly from how other people behave.

If you get a good DJ, you give the DJ a booth or table in a prominent, high-status position with a view of the dance floor, and you expect and enable the DJ to attend to the the music for the benefit of dancers, you are acting as though the music is important. And, with luck, you deliver good music. You attract good dancers, because to be a good dancer you need some appreciation of the music. They attract OK dancers (like me). You convince the less experienced that music is important, and you give them experience of good DJing which they can compare with poor DJing, to your benefit. You influence people to dance better, and specifically in a social way because that's what makes sense when the music is strong. The dancing gets better and the dancers are happy, also to your benefit. The cost is relatively low.

Ten out of every dozen demos probably drive away those who can tell the difference between the professional and the good. They convince less experienced dancers that social dancing is a watered-down version of stage dancing, and that they should get a performance for their entrance fee. They influence people - ten times out of a dozen - to dance worse, and specifically in an antisocial way, which drives out better dancing. They are mostly one-offs by visitors, and don't create loyalty. And they are relatively costly. None of this benefits the organiser much.

What's wrong with what I've written above?

Specifically, why are there more Boring Performances than there are outstanding DJs, and why doesn't the price of an outstanding DJ rise to approach the price of a Boring Performance?

Well, for a start, most of this is mere assertion and I could be just wrong. I'll leave that aside.

One guess is that it's availability; being an actually good DJ takes a rather high level of knowledge and skill, getting there takes a lot of time and a lot of collecting music, and there's no money in it currently, so it might not seem worthwhile to do the work of becoming really good. You can't hire an outstanding DJ if there isn't one available for your location and night.

Another guess is that there aren't enough dancers who care enough about the DJ to get the process of influencing other dancers started. There certainly are some, and they're remarkably consistent about going to places that are pricey, uncomfortable, and weak in other areas, for the sake of DJing that by all accounts (I'm no expert) is only marginally better than average, and far from reliable. But there are probably far more dancers who want to see a performance, even a bad one, and who seek it out rather than staying away. If the short-term survival of your milonga depends on numbers, then you have to go for numbers over quality. And while long-term survival is all very well, the problem with the long term is that the short term comes first.

Or I could be just wrong. Maybe pouting, knickers-flying, beat-molesting demos don't influence people to dance like fools, maybe they do create long-term loyalty, and maybe nobody turns up for good music. I can't measure these things. But I doubt it.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Changing Embraces

There are quite a few people in the London tango scene who vary their embrace during their dance for one reason or another. I'm not going to go in to why that is or whether it's a good thing or not, or why you might want to do that or something else. I have the impression that dancing socially in an open or sort-of open embrace is getting less common, but it's not something I can really measure. If you're leading, then you make up your mind what you think is right, and try to get good at it. If you're following, and you think that being able to have a working and reasonably enjoyable dance with the widest possible variety of partners is a worthwhile goal, then you need to be able to deal with all the variations. You don't have to agree that it is a worthwhile goal, but in London1 it's a good way to get a lot of practice, especially at the start. I felt it was a good goal for me for a long time; it's still useful to me, but less important than it was.

But what I wanted to say about this was a point of information. Leaving aside an open-only style, which is unusual and is really a different thing altogether, a 'fluid' embrace feels quite different to the woman from a consistent close embrace that you can really settle into. Even though the technique is the same, the overall feeling and flow of the dance is different.

Sometimes people know how to do both, but they don't know how it feels to follow. And when they switch between them in the same track, or even the same tanda, following it is like a change of channel in my early digibox - jarring, disturbing and things tend to get missed. It feels like "where have you gone? I thought you were dancing with me!" The way I have to connect is different. If you're going to do a fluid version I'm OK with that (assuming there's lots of room and we're not invading other people's space) as long as you make it fluid from the start and keep it that way. But don't start off making me think I can settle, and close my eyes, and dance with you and the music, and then suddenly throw me out. It's hard work, and technically demanding, and it frankly upsets me as well. It makes me want to curl up and prickle, which is not really the thing when you're dancing tango.

1The reason I'm not talking about how they do it in Argentina is that I don't think it's relevant. In as far as one option is truly better than another - practically, aesthetically, or because it feels better or is easier to do well - then that is just as true here as it is there, and you can ask your teacher or figure it out for yourself.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Commuting Music

My Pugliese album got me all the way home. Now I need to eat something involving fried eggs.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Salon Room at 33 Portland Place

[Update 25/01/10: The milonga at this venue is cancelled, probably permanently - it's looking for a new one]
As mentioned in my previous post, the 33 Portland Place milonga, which has so many rooms, tried a bit of an experiment last week. The white room downstairs was designated 'salon style' with the rules posted on the door - like no overtaking, keep moving (just one turn!), respect the line of dance and respect the space of the couples in front and behind, no dangerous play (high kicks etc). Not in exactly those words, but more or less the gist.

It was really nice and relaxing and I could close my eyes as much as I wanted to, and my friend really did reach the end of the night without one single shoe mark on his nice clean trousers. And anyone who didn't find the idea appealing or didn't enjoy dancing to those rules could wander off and dance with the likeminded in the ballroom upstairs.

Adrian Costa DJ'd and supervised and helped people understand what to do. And it was lovely. The floor in that room is quite good, much better than upstairs. The only problem was weak sound, and I daresay that can be fixed.

They're trying it again tonight, which is Adrian and Amanda's last night here I think, and I gather that they really want to continue with it in future. I don't know how that will go, but if it's an idea you like (I like it) perhaps you might consider going along and supporting it.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009





A man just came in the front door wearing a dressing gown — flipflops — and a top hat. And nothing else — I mean, obviously I don't know, but — not that you could see.


Perhaps he lives here. You know the shut doors upstairs, there are more rooms, and there are people who live here. They rent the rooms.


Ohhh. That would explain ... I was thinking — ok, dressing gown, top hat — flipflops?


He probably lives here.


That'd make more sense. Would you like to dance?

Monday, 12 October 2009

A tango class with no dancing

I took a class last week in which we didn't dance.

We sat in a small circle and listened together to mostly-40s tangos, with Adrian Costa playing air-bass and air-piano (I don't think he ventured air-bandoneón) and pointing out the structure of the music, the characteristics of the styles and arrangements, and their implications for dancers. Amanda intervened occasionally to play air-violin, help with explanations, or reel him in if he got off the point in answer to a question.

He talked about Compas, Cadencia, phrasing, double-time, contratempo and traspié, and what sort of music is salón or milonguero and what that means. I got a lot out of it, most of all on how to go about identifying the features of different orchestras, and the points about the relationship between musical structure and dancing style.

And in a little preamble he said "This is the tango class I have always wanted to teach, the real proper tango class the way it should be. I'm really pleased to be able to teach this class." Or words to that effect.

I liked it. It would be nice if more people demanded this sort of class. Or if all the DJs took it.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Miscelleaneous and appealing to the animal

I've got some writing in my queue, but I've been feeling a bit sick for a few days. Feeling much better now. In the meantime:

I sometimes practice my Spanish with People en Espanol: today I learned - Marge Simpson se desnuda para Playboy.
The Register - while still mostly an IT magazine - has spent many years cultivating headlines as an art-form, and will publish almost anything for a really good one. This week, Blind one-legged man wins arse-kicking contest (rather a sad story, but a great headline), and German cops impound motorised beer crate ("Looked like a lot of fun", Polizei admit).

In further news of fun, here from Volkswagen and (The Fun Theory), and also via The Reg, are a bin that makes falling noises when you drop things into it, and a musical staircase.

The Swedish text appears to say something about how much extra rubbish was collected and how many more people walked up the stairs. It's certainly fun to watch them. I like the little dogs and the baby, and the lady explaining to her friend in Deaf language what the bin is doing.

Monday, 5 October 2009

The other way round

I've just got back from class that turned out to be really interesting. The topic was "renewing the tango" and the point Adrian and Amanda Costa were making with it (and I paraphrase here) was that to make the dance your own you have to take it apart and put it together in your own way - we are not dancing in the forties - but with full respect to the essence of tango, which is a social dance, which means that you dance it with other people besides your partner, and you have to consider them, which means further that you must be much more creative than you would be if you were just wafting about in space. Having a problem to solve makes you creative. That's the idea.

Anyway, the exercises were a lot of fun and people who can't get to a class or don't like taking classes could certainly try them at a practice or at home, so I might as well put it out there.

Start with a plain old 'salida' - sidestep to the man's left, step, step, cross the woman's left over right. Just that.

Exercise 1 - making a discovery
Find out from first principles how to do it the other way - that is, sidestep to the man's right, step, step, cross the woman's right over left.

Exercise 2 - making it work
Hey, you've invented something new. But it means that the first sidestep goes the wrong way, where you can't see because the woman's head is there. So in its current form, it's completely useless for social dancing. Now find out how to make what you've discovered fit into the rules for floorcraft - i.e. never changing lanes and never going where you can't see. (And generally, he told us, when a teacher shows you something you like, but you do it and it has a problem like this, or like ending up facing the wrong way, ask them how to make it work for social dancing, because then they will stop worrying that you'll leave if they talk about those things).

As those rules are hard to explain in words and can sound rather unconvincing, here again is my little top-view diagram of Adrian and Amanda from my post last Spring. Again we will suppose that the couple are in the outside lane, the wall or seating is to the right, and the boundary with the inside lane is about where the arrow marked 'line of dance' is. And we see that they can go anywhere in the green zone, which is where the man can see, until they get too close to a lane boundary and don't leave themselves enough space to turn. But they can't go into the red zone at all because the man won't be able see where he's going and therefore it's not safe.

Between about a dozen couples I think the class found three or four different solutions to this problem. This was the part that took the biggest chunk of time and the solutions they came up with were all very nice. I'll write what I can remember about them in white ink below - select the next paragraph with your mouse when you're ready to peek.

  • A normal salida at an angle to your lane so that it zigs from one side of it to the other, followed by the mirror one to zag the other way. Very simple [and maybe relies on a fairly narrow lane] but it works.
  • A normal salida with an extra weight change after which you step outside her on the other side.
  • Do it at a corner (if I remember correctly, where the sidestep goes round the woman into the corner).
  • Normal salida but with, I think, just one extra walking step. I'm not sure if I understood this one correctly but it looked extremely neat and elegant and original and Adrian seemed to like it a lot. So did I.

Exercise 3 - making it musical
Now find out where it goes in the music.

You probably can't solve all three problems at once but you can definitely learn something by taking them one at a time.

I had brought the wrong shoes, that I was too tired for, and my posture was scrambled, but that class was fun!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Smooth striped beanie

This is for a friend who has temporarily lost her hair, due to chemotherapy. The hair will come back, but not in time for the cold weather. Not being a wig fan, so far she's been wearing scarves with a natty hat on top, but this won't really do for wind and cold. She's a considerable athlete as well as a dancer and has carried on cycling throughout the treatment, so I wanted to make something smooth and seamless and thin enough to be worn as under-headwear, underneath a cycle helmet or a warm wool hat, inside-out if necessary (chemotherapy also makes skin sensitive and we're advised against using wool).

Flat hat top
So this is cotton, specifically Aslantrends Glaciar del Cielo, 50g, 100% cotton, made in Argentina. I got it at iknit. You need a bit more than one ball to make a hat this size, which is why it ended up with these stripes. Somebody pointed out to me that it's a bit "Dennis the Menace", which I hadn't noticed but I think might be OK with the Intended Wearer. Well, I hope so. The orange is warm and cheerful and the brown is like her hair.

Tubular cast-on
The cast on is Tecknitting's ingenious and beautiful tubular cast-on for 1x1 ribbing. This cast-on has to be done flat. The way I joined it into the round was as follows:

Cast on 113 as shown and do the four setup rows. You really have to do this cast-on with an odd number of stitches, and this turns out to be useful for making a neat circular join that doesn't jog.

  • Arrange the stitches on magic loop so that the join will be in the middle of one needle and on each side of it a knit stitch is facing you, and your yarn is coming from the one on the right.
  • Slip the first stitch, then p1 k1 all the way around, stopping before the last stitch.
  • Knit this last stitch together with the one you slipped. You now have 112 stitches in single rib.
  • Continue with the ribbing and just put the tail of the yarn through the stitch at the very bottom to close up the gap, then work it away.
Then I did 52 rows in total before the decreases, adapting techknitting's jogless back join for the jogless stripes. It works just as well in 1x1 ribbing as in 2x2, you just make sure that the first of the stitches you slip is a knit and the one before it was a purl. The colour join hides behind the slipped stitch, and after blocking it really is hard to spot at all without looking inside. And also, the stripes look very elegant with no icky dots - Techknitter's method of preventing icky dots in striped ribbing is simplicity itself, and sheer genius.

Then I adapted Techknitting's instructions for a truly flat hat top. Again it works just as well in 1x1 ribbing. I left 3 rows between decrease rounds, not 2. The top gets closed with Kitchener Stitch.

Because this is cotton I worked the ends away using the skimming-in method, with very smooth results - I really like this. I can't find them.

Finally I washed it throughly with quite a bit of disinfectant in the water. Chemotherapy compromises your immune system, and she probably doesn't need my germs, or tuberculosis and goodness-knows-what-else from all the people who breathed on me on the Tube while I was knitting it. Dried it, gave it a quick blast with a steam iron, and put it in the post.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Adrian and Amanda Costa - fluid embrace

In case you're still wondering whether to take one of the many classes that Adrian and Amanda Costa are giving while they're here, I've taken a few and this is what I know about them.

  • They're very nice and intelligent teachers.
  • They give a high priority to basics, to social dancing, and really practical things like advice on how to avoid bumps. I blogged about two of their classes in March.
  • Their classes are given in English. Their English is not bad and has been getting steadily better - knowledge of French or Spanish may still be useful to get the most out of a class, I sometimes found myself back-translating to work out what was meant by a word that wasn't the one Adrian had been looking for, but it's probably not necessary any more.
  • The advice they give about dancing to the music is clear and definite and a useful place to start - of course there are other ways, but at least you will have had one possible good one explained to you in a way you can work with.
  • They talk to the women quite a lot more, and more helpfully, than average, and Amanda acts like an equal in the class, not like an assistant.
  • They're absolutely beautiful to watch and they always improvise every performance and never look artificial, boring or pretentious. Their performances are worth the time and money.
They dance a particular style which includes a fluid embrace that opens and closes depending on what is happening. For example, you can see in this demonstration video that until 00:35 they are dancing in an open embrace, but by 00:45 it has smoothly and imperceptibly closed and their torsos are in contact. They remain like this for quite a while, except you can briefly see light between them at 01:04, until it opens again for some quick turns at 01:45. And you can see it close at 02:16. (Americans often call this "salon" style - be aware that it's not the same as what is called "salon" style in France or Germany. Here in London the word has no widely-used meaning at all, so if someone uses it you will have to try to find out what they mean).

This is not necessarily my personal favourite style, though it is one of the ones I enjoy, but being able to do this fluid embrace is an extremely useful skill for dancing here in London, especially for women. Men might not need to learn it unless it appeals to them (though if you habitually dance open-embrace it will help you do that better and give you a lot more choices), but as a woman I've found it indispensable. The woman has to be very active about it and know what she is doing, there are a few tricks to it that you should get Amanda to show you if you have the chance, but it allows you to have a successful dance with a lot of different partners in a lot of different styles, and that in itself is something that helps you get a lot of practice and increase your physical skill level rapidly. I've also discovered that this skill is transferable to jive and salsa, so it's very good value for money.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Charlie Watts

Playing with Jools Holland, and others:

And on playing for jazz, playing rock and roll, and dance sounds.

I like the way the musicians work together. The bit where he says he's winging it, I think that's what people call 'musicality'.