Monday, 6 June 2011

Les Cigales 2011 - Carpentras

Okay. I absolutely had a ball at this event last year, and I raved about it, so I have to update you.

This year, I had some wonderful dances with some people that I had never seen before, and probably never would have met anywhere else. I remember some beautiful tangos, a brillliant milonga candombe, and another fantastic milonga with a lady. I felt by the end of it that I was dancing well and giving and receiving a great deal of joy.

I thought the DJig was very good. Different styles, given a high priority, all good. The sound was good.

There were enough seats. There were reasonably priced drinks, the place was clean (apart from the two tons of talcum powder) and there was a means of getting food.

I stayed in a lovely B&B of the foodie kind called a tableau d'hote. It was beautiful. The people in this area are very kind and friendly, in my experience. People helped me find the buses and the way. The young gentlemen running the kebab shop were very nice.

Torrential rain for most of the weekend was unfortunate and certainly affected the mood, so adjust your perception of the following remarks accordingly.*

The location. Carpentras left something to be desired - it was much more difficult to reach than Toulon, and as far as I discovered, much less interesting. It would have been helpful to include on the website the information that the Thursday (!) was a religious holiday in France and that transport from Avignon was more complicated and very much reduced. I was very lucky, but this could easily have left me and other people stranded with great difficulties finding accommodation or transport. It was stressful, and for some people very expensive, and it affected the mood of the whole weekend.

The numbers. There were too many people. I don't think the concept of a milonga scales up beyond 200 people in this sort of context - maybe in others, but I doubt it. Even when you know that there are many people there you want to dance with and who want to dance with you, your chances of finding any person for any tanda are just too small. For a milonga that big to work well, you need at least excellent lighting and lines of sight, which there weren't.

Technical problems. The concrete floor was alternately, simultaneously, and chaotically sticky and super-slippery. The room was too dark in the evenings, and during daylight the chairs were patchily backlit, making the chances of cabeceo very limited and even just finding anyone you wanted difficult, especially if you didn't know their face well - and dancing with faces you don't know well is kind of the point of these things.

Poor focus. There were lots of people there whose basic concepts of what tango is, were so incompatible with one another that they wouldn't really want to dance together by choice, either as partners or on the same floor. This wastes everyone's time and money. I don't know why that happened. It was fine last year.

18% women over. If you say that you are going to balance numbers, you must, in fact, do so. In particular, I most strongly advise against promising it, failing to do it, and then announcing that you've seen far worse in Buenos Aires. If in Buenos Aires they treat women's money, time, effort, and attention as worth dramatically less than men's, that is their own affair and has nothing to do with me. Making a childish excuse like that for a plainly given, plainly broken promise, just makes the women think that you have no brain and no respect. If there are too many of us, you need to tell some of us no so that we can spend our time and money on another event. If it's me that gets the no, fine. There are other events. Don't mess me about.

If it's the same venue next year, and on Ascension weekend, then I will not be going. It's too expensive and troublesome for the risk. If it's back in Toulon, or somewhere easier, with smaller numbers, the technical issues fixed, and very good reasons to believe that the focus will be better and that the women will be treated equally, then I will most likely go back. It was a great event last year, the DJs are excellent, and it could be again. But this time it was much harder work and had too many irritations, considering the cost of travel, the cost of accommodation, using up holidays, and other things I could have been doing with the time.

* I actually quite enjoyed some of the rain - there was a Bollywood-scale downpour on the Sunday afternoon, so loud we could hardly hear the music, and the sense of strange poetry was only enhanced by the circus parked outside that included a cage of real live tigers who roared, a grazing bison, and a creature that might have belonged to the llama family. And a bloke in a costume having a smoke. I do like the sound of rain. But it brings gloom with it, and sunshine would have been better, I'm sure.


Patrick said...

I also had Carpentras in the view, but on Ascension day from Avignon to Carpentras....public transport in France is a sad story (at least outside of the cities). I don't understand why the organisers didn't offer a shuttle.

Bad lightning and no line of sight are bad. Brokenn promises of course also, but usually 18 percent difference should not be a big problem.

Different basic concepts....means many people who don't share a close embrace?

See you in Berlin, maybe...

msHedgehog said...

18% difference in the bookings is practically one in five. And lack of focus makes it far worse, because once either men or women have too many bad experiences in succession, they stop taking risks and dancing with new people. Yes, a lot of people with no embrace. Big, open, static, kicky, totally lacking in embrace and against the whole point of the gig. I think I'll try the one in Italy next time. I've heard very mixed reports about Berlin.

msHedgehog said...

To be honest, I hadn't actually noticed the 1-in-5 imbalance till other people pointed it out to me. It took quite a bit of looking around to figure it out, and I'm not usually that observant. The 18% figure was announced.

But the ridiculous excuse, and the assumption that it's absolutely fine for the women to have to do a disproportionate amount of the running around and strategising and attention-seeking (while of course being socially required to successfully pretend that they're not doing any of those things at all and are getting dances on merit), made me incandescent.

By my calculation, if there are 118 women and 100 men, that means we get a choice of 0.85 men whereas they gets a choice of 1.18 women, in other words our money and time is valued at 1.18-0.85 = 33 / 118 = 27% less than theirs is.

Patrick said...

As for Belin: Yes, the floor is wild. For me it is a emotional thing, it was my first festival in 2008.

As for the ratio: A few weeks ago I was in a milonga with about 50 percent(!) more woman than man. But even a good male dancer from tangokombinat could not get one cabeceo, because the local women were just totaly ignoring him like alle the unkown men. If just one women there used the cabeceo, she could have one dance after another.

So for my experience, ratios are meaningless. And I also don't believe in Arlene's theory (if a man is clean and he gets no cabeceos, it must be his dancing).

The setting (light, line of view, seatings, atmosphere) are much more important to get dances. For example, the church in Saarbrücken is a very bad place -- at least for me.

Sure, organisers should not lie to their customers. But your calculation is a bit tricky. In fact, if there are to few men or if they don't want to dance with you -- the result is the same.

msHedgehog said...

Yes, all of those things matter much more. Especially, focus and lighting matter - if people have more than one bad experience in succession, they shut down and stop taking risks. I pretty much did that myself, and when I did take risks I regretted it, which made it all the more frustrating.

I didn't get on with the church in Saarbruecken either, it's an awkward shape, and I think maybe I just don't like a milonga that big. I really liked the location for the last milonga, though.

Balance is something that you don't have to see as a priority. It's not a very high priority for me as I tend to do all right anyway (actually I did quite well this time in comparison to others). I didn't personally put a lot of weight on it in deciding whether to book, although I did put some because it tells you something about the nature of the event. But promising it and not delivering it is an absolute no-no, and that's what my calculation is about: the assumption that it just doesn't matter, as long as it's only women who are disfavoured.

Sir Fopling Flutter said...

I'm sorry you didn't like Carpentras (or at least the transport situation to get there). It's a charming market town, and very close to the Cotes du Rhone and Mt Ventoux. I've had some of the best meals of my life within 10km of Carpentras.

I was in NY so wasn't able to attend (tapping this out at JFK), but it seems like this event had so much potential.

msHedgehog said...

Carpentras is alright, and the food was indeed excellent, including the kebab, chips and salad. It's probably fine if you're driving, and it would have been okay if the information about how to get there had been accurate and complete.

It also would have been much better if the daytime milongas had been longer so that it was possible to have a nice dance and also enjoy the town (as I did in Toulon).

But as it was, too much stress, and very high prices for accommodation and travel (the price of the event itself is low, perhaps too low, there was really trop du monde) in relation to the quality of the event.

David Bailey said...

"In particular, I most strongly advise against promising it, failing to do it, and then announcing that you've seen far worse in Buenos Aires." heh :)

Patrick, 18% is a massive difference. As a simple example, say there are 218 people there; 100 men and 118 women.

Doesn't sound much, but then you realise that 50 of the men are in fixed-partners, so that's 50 men and 68 women - nearly 40% more men than women.

And then 10 of the men don't like the music or are resting, so that's 40 men and 68 (increasingly-desperate) women...

It makes a real difference to the atmosphere if there's an imbalance.

Patrick said...

118 women?

20 are here with there partner, they only dance with him.

10 are checking their SMS.

15 are resting with their shoes off and feet on the chair.

10 are studying the floor (you know, interesting patterns there...)

10 are watching the dancefloor and applauding to a couple who does BIG voleos.

10 are having a glas of wine and are listening to the stories of a argentine man.

5 didn't change their shoes yet, because they are waiting for a specific dancer.

5 are important women (DJanes, organisers, etc.) and only talk/dance with gurus.

10 are below age of 30, they only dance open and love BIG voleos.

15 don't accept a cabeceo if they don't know a man.

8 just arrived, still holding their bags, and they don't know yet if they really want to stay.

Yes, this statistic is made up like all statistics. But here in switzerland, it is not far from the thruth.

If things in London are really completely different...well, I should try. But hotels there are barely affordable.

msHedgehog said...

@David: that's overstating it, as the whole point of these kinds of events is that you should be able to dance with a lot of different people: very few turn up intending to dance mainly with one person, it doesn't make sense. Quite a few will switch to that after a couple of bad experiences, but the women are just as likely to do that.

@Patrick: for exactly the same reason, big city tango is irrelevant. The whole point of these events is to assemble a lot of potentially compatible dancers in a favourable environment. The whole point of the existence of a big city is diversity in everything, so a low level of compatibility is hardly surprising. You have to go to a hell of a lot of trouble to create it, and the sheer cost of floor space is bound to prevent that in the town centre.

Patrick said...

I agree that there is a difference between a weekly milonga in a city and a little Milonguero-Festival. But for me, i did not experience a better compatibility. Au contraire.

There are other imbalances. On such a fsetival, women are _expecting_ that you dance with the music, that your embrace is nice, your balance perfect, your lead very clear...and so on. And there are many men who are dancing for ten years or more, so expectations are going trough the roof. And the numbers of women who "only need two nice tandas" are also huge.

On a normal milonga in germany, women don't expect this. Sometimes, after a tanda, a woman say: "You have a wonderful embrace and i love how you play with the music". Don't we all love sometimes to hear something like that? Well, I never had this response on a milonguero Festival.

Yes, i am a beginner. But good dancers don't fall from the tree. Where should they come from? Where sould they see some good dancers? On secret festivals at the end of the world?

For me tango is a little paradise in the world. I am not sure if we really should create (or expect) a paradise in the paradise. Close embrace, line of dance, musicality...should this not belong to a normal milonga?

msHedgehog said...

@Patrick, you started out well, then you got to the end and I had no idea what your point was.

This festival had good aspects, but failed to deliver what it delivered last year. That's all. Nobody's looking for paradise. They're looking for effective organisation and delivery on explicit promises.

Patrick said...

Ok, in the end i drifted away from carpentras, it was more generally a thought: If you don't belong to a inner circle, life outside of a milonguero-festival seems to be much easier.

Maybe that's just me. On these kind of festivals there are a lot of imbalances (most of them are not obvious), and maybe some imbalances grow even stronger. But i have no idea how to solve this...

msHedgehog said...

@Patrick, that's interesting. I actually have found the exact opposite, that I have enjoyed this type of gig more as a whole when I knew almost no one, than when I knew many. It makes everything simpler for me. And next time, I plan to go back to sitting apart from people I know well and concentrating my observations on people I don't know at all. (Working with a suitable wingman is another very effective strategy, but it has to be the right person.)

But with that sort of preference, one's own character is so influential that I wouldn't dare come to any conclusion.

Anonymous said...

I was also at Carpentras and yes, there were problems (sticky floor, and poor visibility are indeed bad)but I disagree with some of the things you criticise. Too many women? Yes, but the organisers did warn that there was an imbalance and tried to control the numbers as best as they could (as far as I could see!) even by refusing the inscription of women with no partner inthe last couple of weeks before the event. Personally, I believe it is their duty to warn of the imbalance and from then on, it is up to each woman to decide whether she wants to risk going...
I'm not sure what you mean by "poor focus"... Should we audition for compatibility and level of expertise before setting foot on the dance-floor...?

My feeling about the Encuentro is that it was not easy for newcomers (like me) to really feel welcome because most people there seemed to know each other well or were in a group. And the "auberge espagnol" formula could not work well if you were staying at a hotel, true. Nevertheless, even the locals didn't "play the game" that would allow for more conviviality.


msHedgehog said...

@Anon - In order to solve the problem you experienced, it's absolutely essential to have focus: to do whatever it takes to ensure that the people who book are those who understand what the event is about, what its concept of tango is, and share that concept and want it. Poor focus - lots of people with incompatible concepts of what the dance is mainly about - is in my view the main and direct cause of people shutting down and not dancing much with people they don't know. If you have the focus, then everyone can safely assume that you are there for the same thing and being new or relatively inexperienced is not a problem.

Anonymous said...

It was easy for anyone to see (anyone who is not a complete stranger to tango "jargon") that it'd be a meeting in the "milonguero" spirit...If that's what you mean by "focus"! But, being a public meeting, what is there to stop anyone from joining in??? Fortunately, the feeling I had was that most people there were "in focus"... The exception being for the "auberge espagnole" which few people seemed to like. The organization took pains to make nice sitting arrangements for those who came later: how well did they succeed? That I do not know... it's always a tricky situation when you mix close friends and acquaintances with lots of unfamiliar faces that may or may not find it easy to navigate the milonga...

And no, being unexperienced and knowing very few people at this kind of event will leave you sitting down for most of the milonga, unless you're drop dead gorgeous or a REALLY outgoing person.
I did have some nasty dancers but the most part were either good or excellent!


msHedgehog said...

@Ana - I personally find I do slightly better when I know few people, or even no one, and sit with strangers. Maybe it's a matter of character and frame of mind. I did fine last year; when I only knew two or three people and none of them started me off.

But I certainly don't think this type of event is a good choice for beginners. You need an adequate level of competence and confidence. So in so far, I agree with you.