Friday 29 February 2008

More Music

The little player thingie (down on the right if you want to try it yourself - the square in the bottom right corner pops it up so you can wander away from here and keep it playing) [Edit: now moved here] has just played me "Nobleza de Arrabal".

You can play the track directly at - not sure if that will work outside the UK.

I love it. Doesn't it sound like Ennio Morricone tango? It just sings "Clint Eastwood" to me. And you can dance to it! You don't have to just sit there.

I also love the Hugo Diaz mouth-organ spectacular. How could anyone sit still listening to that?

While I'm on insane virtuosity, I haven't listened to Spem in Alium for a while. Thomas Tallis - he knew all about the pauses.

Wednesday 27 February 2008


This is a real conversation that happened to me about 2/3 of the way through a dance that was going really, really well.

Leader (very dreamily, as though reciting poetry): Do not fight meeee ... I am older and stronger than you .... and I will always win.
Hedgehog (very, very quietly, right down the ear canal): Do not instruct me ... I am here to dance ... and I can fight back. [Thinks: what exactly are you accusing me of, and what makes you think it makes sense to issue physical threats to a woman who's dancing with you?]
Leader: Only joking.
Hedgehog : [Thinks: It's supposed to be funny to point out that you could phyiscally hurt me if you chose? Well, I'll cream you when it comes to brains, but I don't point that out as a 'joke'. Shut up and dance.]

The rest of the dance was even better than it started, if anything. He was really good. And I got lots more dances from everyone who was watching us. He just had really weird ideas about what it makes sense to say to a lady.


Monday 25 February 2008


Pourquoi les Francophones lisent-ils msHedgehog? Ce sont les fans des excellents Veronique et Marek qui me faisent visite?

Soyez les bienvenus :)

Sunday 24 February 2008

dancetango @ The Crypt

*** UPDATE (Spring 2013) - Now closed. ***

When and Where
There are two milongas at the Crypt. There's a milonga at the Crypt in Farringdon every Saturday, but the organisers alternate - Nikki and friends of one week, and Paul and Michiko of El Once the next. You can check the schedule on either website; last night it was dancetango and that's the one I'm talking about here, although the space is the same of course. Nikki also helps organise other events around London, look at or check the tango-uk mailing list for details. [Update 14th Aug: added search terms to tango-uk link.] Either way, there's an absolute beginners' class at 7:30, followed by an intermediate class, and then social dancing from about 21:30 till around half past twelve.

The Class
I skipped the class. Most of the intermediate classes on dancetango's nights are given by guest teachers, so it's a good place to go regularly if you want to vary your ideas; check the schedule, but also check the El Once schedule for the alternate weeks. Last night's was Jill Barrett on vals and a little cha-cha ornament for leader and follower.

Layout and atmosphere
I've been there many times and the atmosphere is always welcoming and friendly. I've seen Nikki take particular care of strangers, such as a couple of ladies from Edinburgh who wanted to know the local customs about who asks who to dance (yes, ladies can ask, and yes, they can dance together, of course). It's a rather beautiful brick-built space, with two doors to the outside, and windows high in the walls. The windows open with a long pole like they used to have at my school, and there is a door that opens to the outside so you can cool off if you need to. Presumably it is or was once the crypt of the church above, but I've never seen any dead christians wandering around. The room is large, and is gently divided by the layout of tables into 2/3 dancefloor and 1/3 seating; there's quite a long smooth slope to the floor, which I never notice, but some people do. I like the way Nikki and her assistants lay out the tables. I think it works well, it's easy to circulate, sit down, and get a dance, or rest. There are rails and plenty of hangers to put your coat on. A projector in a curious cage thing high on the back wall makes pictures on the other wall, and I often get distracted by the interesting shadows. Nikki uses lots of coloured lights, and even has a smoke machine, which makes a dreamy atmosphere, but a very surprising farting noise.

HospitalityVery good. As much water from the jug as you need. Tea, coffee, cakes, soft drinks and bottled water from the cool box, are all very cheap. The wine is free. The loos are what you'd expect from a church hall - cramped and a little eccentric, but clean, dry, and working.

What I thought of the DJingNikki is very fond of milongas, which she has been known to play four in a row right next to the salsa interlude. It can be a little chaotic but the general style is classic, nothing adventurous or unusual. Good if you don't like cortinas but just want to keep dancing to whatever comes along.

Getting in
£8.50 or sometime £10.00 or a little more if there is a guest teacher; check the website.

Getting there and getting home
Out of Farringdon station, turn left and immediately left again, walk all the way along the street with the wall, and cross the main road at the crossing to your right at the end, outside the busy nightclub. Opposite you and slightly to the right is the entrance to Clerkenwell Green, and once you there look up to see the spire of the church just off the square on the other side, with the clock on it. Go there and go in by the left hand gate, up four steps. The entrance is down the stairs. Or take a 55 bus to Clerkenwell Green. Lasts trains from Farringdon are at about half past midnight, and here is the local Night Bus Map.

The website
Recently tarted up. Simple, with the information you need. Image-driven, you need to switch them on. No noises. Click "Go To Map" for the location.

How it went
Rather well, last night. It was a bit thin - quite possibly a lot of people had done as I nearly did, and stayed at home to watch England v France in the 6 Nations - but I had some really good dances including some with regular partners, one with a talented beginner who I'll certainly dance with again, and one with someone I'd seen before, but not danced with, and hope to dance with many more times. We kept looking at each other with silly smiles between tracks. At the end of that it was close to my usual time for leaving, and I decided that was the dance I wanted to take home with me, so I went. There's always a good mix of levels and it is friendly to the inexperienced.

Zoë Jakes

I got this from a posting on Tango-L, one of the fascinating little tidbits that makes it worth wearing out your delete key on all the others. There's one regular poster on there who also does belly dancing and she says it's done wonders for her tango. This is a dancer she admires. Looking at this, I think even a little bit would do wonders for just about any kind of dance - but to get this good, you probably wouldn't be doing much else.

Talk about core stabiliy, axis and dissociation. Especially from 02:08. I mean, I can imagine how you get this to go like that and that to go like this - even quite fast, with practice - but all at once, and in three perpendicular directions? We should try some of that.

But also, I think this is a beautiful, expressive, and very musical performance, brilliantly put together.

Part of its relevance to the tango discussion was that this is not, of course, entirely classical "bellydance," but a style very much of the performer's own invention and expressing her own culture, sensibility and musical world as well as those of the sources her technique comes from.

Friday 22 February 2008

Monochrome subjects in colour

I'm fond of black-and-white, especially for portraits and action shots, but I also find it satisfying to photograph in colour subjects that have very little.

In black-and-white it's all about the range of tones - black to white - light as a quantity. In colour it has a quality too.

This is one of my favourites; I took it some years ago on the Pacific coast of North America, near Seattle.

Some people feel this picture is improved if you cover up the surfer with your thumb; I prefer it with. But consider what the surfer with his yellow board would look like if this were a black-and-white picture. Try imagining-out the yellow, and see what happens.

The Stocking Problem

Warning: girlie post. Here I discuss the practical and aesthetic question of what to wear on your legs when dancing.

I have three pairs of dancing shoes, and two of them are open toed. I would have bought closed toe if I could have got them, but nobody sells tango shoes with closed toes. My Werner Kerns (designed for ballroom, and now my much-battered class shoes) are the only ones I can find, and they're nice, but a little bit dull. My experience with shoes designed for tango suggests that buying them on the internet is a bad idea, and I have very little time and inclination for offline shopping. Life's too short to fight your way around Covent Garden on a Saturday.

With an open-toed shoe, there are essentially three options. Option 1 is bare legs. As far as I'm concerned, polishing my legs or having them polished to that degree is just too much trouble most of the time. Option 2 is making a feature of the hosiery; a good option, and works well in winter with a bit of extra glitter, or with fishnets at any season. Option 3 is wearing the kind with unreinforced, invisible toes. That works out expensive, because in the absence of the usual reinforcement the chances of both toes lasting more than one evening of tango are small, and at £2.50 per leg for hold-ups that does get vexing. It's cheaper if you buy tights, but I personally don't like tights, except warm woolly ones in cold weather. If the purpose is mainly aesthetics - a smooth and unified appearance of the legs - rather than warmth, I prefer to let the air circulate. Stockings are a possibility, but they're rarely sold and you have to faff with the engineering.

My favourite solution are the skin-coloured fishnet hold-ups. They're as tough as opaques, and their visual noise conceals a thousand irregularities. The silicone grips are much better than they used to be, and very reliable these days, especially now I'm not quite so painfully thin as I was in the 90's. It's best to buy the same brand all the time so they're interchangeable - then you don't get orphaned legs when you accidentally heel yourself in class. But finding enough pairs of the the right sort can be a real problem - nobody ever seems to have more than two in the right size and style, or stock the same kind twice. And it's such a pain to fight your way through the crowds, not finding the thing you want.

But look! Someone has realised that for the grown-up woman, these things are commodities that are better bought online, just like disposable contact lenses. I've just ordered five pairs of my favourite kind - I'll let you know how I get on. Tights & More were the cheapest for the ones I wanted - there's also Stockings Direct and FigLeaves Hosiery if you want to have a go. I notice that Tights & More have a parent organisation, Stockings HQ, which is probably worth a look if you are exceptionally particular, or you are a bloke secretly reading all the way to the end of this post. Go on, make it a present for someone. They have the proper Forties style.

Thursday 21 February 2008

Tara Tango Shoes?

[Edit: I did eventually get a response from Diva Boutique, who advised on sizing, accepted my order, and told me that they are expecting another shipment of Tara shoes - so apparently they are still in business, just not answering their email. The shoes were delivered and are very nice - see second post]

Has anyone been able to contact Tara Tango Shoes? One of the email addresses on their site does not answer, another actually bounces with a permanent fatal error, and the international number they give has been disconnected.

I was trying to contact them for a size consultation - and when the email didn't answer, I did consider guessing the size and ordering anyway - but that could be a mistake if they're not really in business any more.

Monday 18 February 2008

Marek & Veronique

Veronique Bouscasse has posted some video on her YouTube channel from the performance at the Welsh Centre I described in a previous post. I liked it, and apparently she does too. Here it is.

I'm not sure who made this video - I don't remember who was standing where the camera is. [Edit - it says that Daniel Martinez made it]. I'm never in shot, incidentally.

I think it's very nice and unpretentious. You can't see her face very well, which is a pity because I remember she looked really happy.

Sunday 17 February 2008

How long should I wait for the lady to finish her ornaments?

Somebody said this to me yesterday, and I've seen it said elsewhere:

"I'm never sure how long I should wait for the lady to finish her ornaments."

Ornaments are the little twiddles you do with the free leg in between steps. Some people do a lot more than others, mine are rather modest. I do little taps and perhaps two taps or a wave or even a squiggle if I'm having a good night and feel particularly inspired. I'd be a lot more cautious with anything like a beat in front, depending on the leader, because it requires more skill and is much closer to the edge of what I can deliver without too much sacrifice of concentration, although I'm getting there. I quite like the idea of the more exciting ones like the cha-cha, I think I could fit them in now, and I can imagine wanting to use them, but again I would be rather conservative about who with, when and where.

But what my friend was talking about is more this sort of thing (thanks Jennifer for all these vids), the little lines and circles on the floor which you do when the leader leaves a space for it, and can take up quite a bit of time.

I am not actually that keen on some of it, as it can very easily get clichéd, fussy, and totally amusical if you don't watch yourself, especially since it requires little skill. But I like heel-taps and upward turns of foot.

How long should you wait? Well, I think that it's my job, as the follower, to be ready to go on the next beat.

If you leave me a space I can fill it with whatever the music suggests to my mind, as long as I'm always ready to go, on the next beat, from the same logical position I started in. If I'm not sure I can pull out of whatever I'm doing in time, I don't think I should be doing it at all.

Just go when it's time to go, and I'll deal with it. That's my answer. But what do I know?

If I remember, I'll ask about it at my regular class tomorrow, and see what my teachers say.

What do you think?

Saturday 16 February 2008

Bless Babel

I have a real affection for colleagues who conduct all their phone conversations with spouses, lovers, smelly housemates, wedding photographers, attention-seeking mothers-in-law, and people they go to the pub with, exclusively in Gujarati, Finnish or Afrikaans.

I can just about puzzle out written Spanish in a newspaper - if schoolgirl Italian doesn't give a clue, schoolgirl French or Latin will - but even if I become fluent in Spanish, tango lyrics are so slangy and obscure that I'm unlikely to understand them unless I go and look them up.

No bad thing. The tune of Por una Cabeza makes me cry. When I looked up the title ("by a head") I decided not to pursue the lyrics further. An extended whinge about fast women and slow horses is not something I'm going to relate to sympathetically; my reaction is "you're a pillock, grow up;" much better just listen to the music.

Friday 15 February 2008

Knitting on Lufthansa - apparently OK

Just for the record, I knitted openly on Lufthansa flights from Heathrow to Munich and back again on Monday and Wednesday last week, and nobody confiscated my needles or paid the slightest attention.

I was using 4mm/40cm bamboo circulars to knit a long thin swatch, testing some patterns in Rowan Wool Cotton. I had taken the precaution of knitting a good few centimetres of swatch beforehand, so that the knitting would be unmistakably knitting, and not just yarn and needles. Going through security, I put the knitting in the outer pocket of my hand luggage, where it protruded slightly and was clearly visible to anyone who looked, but I didn't draw attention to it or make any enquiries as to whether it was OK. The bag also contained my business laptop - which I had to leave in at Heathrow, but take out at Munich.

I was travelling with hand luggage only, wearing a pencil skirt (stretch denim, no belt), a warm woollie and heels. My experience of business travel suggests that this attire attracts the minimum interest from Security.

Wednesday 13 February 2008

Things left behind

I have no idea whether it's the usual practice at the Max-Emanuel-Brauerei milonga to hand every lady a flower on departure. But my companion and I got one each.

I left behind, this morning, in my single-occupancy corporate twin hotel room:

  • Both duvets and both pillows piled on one bed
  • A copy of Monday's Financial Times
  • A single red rose.

Max-Emanuel Brauerei, Munich

When and where
Argentine Tango every Tuesday at the Max-Emanuel Brauerei, Adalbertstraße 33, 80799 München

Layout and atmosphere
A very pleasant room with sofas on a raised platform at one end, tables at the other, a good sized dance floor in the middle, and a bar along the side. Warm, soft lighting, not dark. There was competition on the night, so there was hardly anyone there when we turned up at about 10pm. More turned up gradually, mainly men. There were about six couples on the dance floor at the peak. [Edit: I'd estimate room for 10 or 12]. The DJ is apparently well known in Munich's Argentinian community, which is why I was there, because I'd found the place by asking an Argentinian colleague who lives there to find out where we could go for a dance after our meeting and dinner.

Good - a nice bar with reasonably-priced drinks, and I think my friend got a glass or two of free tap water from the bar. She certainly got a glass of prosecco and a very nice German dessert. Pleasant lady on the desk. Dodgy loos, though.

What I thought of the DJing
Started very traditional with lots of things I liked, then did some salsa which people danced a mixture of dances to once they realised it wasn't a cortina (that made for quite interesting navigation), a milonga set or two, then something really, really wierd but very beautiful from Iceland, then back to traditional valses, and more fairly normal stuff until it started to go neuvo and then a bit bonkers (candombe?) after 11pm. I enjoyed it. I was told that the DJ was an actual musician and there was nothing in his DJing to contradict that. He is called Mundo.

Getting there and getting home
Take the U3 or U6 to Universität. Turn left out of the station so you are facing the hard-to-miss Siegstor ("Victory Gate"). Turn left again and walk two blocks to the Max-Emanuel Brauerei. It is all in blocks, like they do in America, so you can't easily get lost. Walk to the back and up the stairs past the loos. The U-Bahn runs till 2am so you can probably reverse the process to get home, but taxis are also cheap, the city's not that big, and you can get one at the Siegstor, as I did.

Getting in
€6.00 to get in, much cheaper than the cheapest of London.

The website
The one I found belongs to the venue and tells you where it is, when, and how much it is to get in. Does the job.

How it went
I was exceptionally lucky in my first dance, and also in the unexpected absence of much competition. So I hardly sat down all evening. My colleague (who doesn't dance - yet - but is a fine gossiper) found out that this was unusual and apparently new girls tend to spend a lot of time "ironing their skirts" by sitting down. I got lots of good dances and no bad ones, two were very good and one of those I thought was exceptionally musical. I had a very nice time, and even if you didn't dance much it would still be a nice place to be. My colleague - who, as I said, doesn't dance, because it's something her grandmother used to do - got the bug from watching me in the wierd Icelandic thing and started saying she had to learn this. We discussed what to look for in a teacher, and she immediately got her first lesson from a friendly chap who had just danced with me and happens to work for the same company as us and could recommend one. All in all, a very successful evening.

And now it's time to retrieve my colleagues from behind their giant beer glasses and get on a plane home.


Tuesday 12 February 2008

Luna at Heathrow

Someone at the Cafe Nero at Heathrow Airport yesterday afternoon had decided to play something I knew. I think it's called "Luna," I've danced to it many times, but I couldn't remember for sure.

Do the staff get to decide for themselves what music they play?

And that's all I'm going to type on this damn German hotel keyboard ...


Sunday 10 February 2008

Tango Disambiguation

I am fortunate to be part of at least two vaguely subversive subcultures - argentine tango and social knitting. If I mention knitting, practically everyone will know what it is. "Tango," however, is ambiguous and needs to be explained.

I usually say that ballroom tango is to argentine tango as baseball is to cricket. There is a well-known historical relationship, and there are features that show you the common ancestry. But no-one who played either, or watched both, could ever confuse them for a moment. It occurred to me recently that an even better analogy might be the relationship between American Football and Rugby Union. American Football is carefully planned, episodic, and highly dramatised. Rugby Union should be fluid and continuous, and to get a good game, every single player must be able to improvise. But of course they have a very recent common ancestor, certainly within the 20th century.

There is no reason why a person can't play both games (either set) or do both dances at the social level, but anyone who does will tell you that although some of the skills are the same, most of them are different, and the general character of what you're doing diverges very much. The chances are that a person will prefer one or the other as a means of self-expression, depending on your environment, but also on your personality if you have the choice.

A very misleading feature is that both dances can occasionally be danced to the same music, although I think that would rarely give a satisfying result.

I'm going to show you a couple of short videos to explain. These are peformances, so the activity these people are engaged in is necessarily different from the kind of social dancing you'd do in the appropriate club; but in this context the difference won't put you on the wrong track. First, here is an attractive couple dancing a ballroom tango. I don't know who they are, but the video makes a good illustration.

Notice that their connection is at the hip or lower ribcage, and with the arms, and both maintain a very firm, consistent, outward-leaning frame, as though they were posing as a vase of flowers. The upper part of the frame doesn't alter unless it is opened entirely to do some kind of spin or dramatic accent. You can see that their hands stay in the same place. I think of this frame and posture as characteristic of all the dances known as "ballroom". Notice also that they're looking away from each other and their heads are far apart. Consequently, it makes sense to do accents and ornaments with the head, and this happens a lot. It makes the general character of the dance formal and dramatic, for people in evening clothes.

The music has a very strongly-marked regular beat, like a march.

Next, here is another attractive couple dancing an argentine tango. They are Ney Melo and Jennifer Bratt, quite well-known teachers in the USA.

Notice the completely different embrace. They look very nice, but nothing like a vase of flowers; the most obvious feature to the uninitiated would probably be how the eye is drawn irresistibly to her bottom by every move. That's because their connection is not at the hips but with the upper torso, near the shoulders; it can often be between the woman's left underarm and the man's right shoulder, although you don't really see that in this case. Both stand with their torsos fully upright, and the frame is not rigid, but fluid; see how they open out from 01:50 to 02:09, and then close again. While they open, she grasps his right upper arm so she still has a connection to his shoulders, which is where the lead is coming from, and he releases her with his right hand, then gathers her in again. They dance with their heads close together, often actually in contact (02:20-02:30), and her eyes are always within his frame. In this embrace it makes no sense whatsoever to do dramatic accents or ornaments with your head; it would break the frame completely; anything of that kind that's detectable to anyone but the couple themselves must happen between hips and ground (02:50 onwards, but also throughout). It would be rather pointless, and risky, for her to wear a long dress - although you will often see some truly spectacular shoes down there.

The music is also more fluid; it has the same quadruple beat, but the beat is not spelled out in the same way; it's there, and you can see it in their feet, but the melody and instrumentation wind around it like convolvulus.

There is actually quite a bit of variation in the embrace. Often you will see a more directly front-on embrace in which the follower will face over the leader's shoulder, but she will still be looking inwards rather than out, and it is very common and natural for the follower to close her eyes. You will also sometimes see a couple leaning quite sharply inwards, balancing against each other at the shoulder with their feet quite far apart. There is an in-between I do with some people in which our heads do not quite make contact, but I'm staring fixedly down his ear canal; that tends to happen with men who wear glasses, and it's the result of me slightly changing the angle of my embrace to avoid accidentally bending them or hurting myself on a corner.

Even if you are absolutely clueless and you have never danced anything, I think you will now be able to tell the difference, should you unexpectedly come upon a dance called Tango.

If you'd like to fit it on a small piece of paper, I suggest the following diagnostic tests, roughly in descending order of conclusivity:

  1. Are they making a vase of flowers, or a display cabinet for her bottom?
  2. Is there any fancy stuff happening above the neck, or is it all between hips and floor?
  3. Do her eyes point outwards or inwards?
  4. Do their heads come into contact at any time?
  5. Is every beat clearly sounded in the music, or am I expected to fill it in myself? (Not always conclusive - argentine tango is also danced to music that sounds a lot like clubbers' lounge - but often a good clue)

I don't think that will leave you in doubt.

Saturday 9 February 2008

Veronique Bouscasse and Marek Szotkowski

First, housekeeping: I am reliably advised (by a PhD Linguistics whose profession is advising people how to say difficult words, how cool is that?) that Marek Szotkowski would be MAR-ek Shot-KOF-ski, the capital letters indicating stress. [Edit: I have to check this, however, because we both believed at the time that he was Polish, and now I think he is actually Czech - I will get back to you if it turns out to make a difference. I missed the opportunity to ask him how he pronounces it himself.]

Anyway, Veronique and Marek gave the class and a performance at the Welsh Centre tonight. I've taken one class with them before, and I got the impression both times that they were very nice people, and careful, intelligent and conscientious teachers.

A warning: they follow the highly unusual practice of starting the class exactly at the stated time, and I missed the first five minutes as a consequence.

They're both rather tall - especially him - musical, and elegant. Veronique does a bit more of the talking but I had the impression that they're sharing the work equally. Marek has a youthful face but a good deal of natural authority. The class was quite well attended, but they were in control of it and took care to ensure that everyone had the chance to participate. They watched the students attentively and Marek was kind and adapted his advice well to the leaders of different ability I danced with. They made themselves available to answer questions.

It started (plus or minus five minutes) with some technique excercises and then built up progressively in a very systematic way I wouldn't be surprised to learn was typical in France. The material was really very simple but I thought it was high quality. You could use it as a continuation of the technique exercises, and it also illustrated some generally-useful things. Leading the follower to walk forwards, outside and inside the leader, is not something you'd do very often (because it requires the leader to step backwards at least once, rarely a good plan) but it does reveal some possibilities you might not otherwise have thought of, including the simple but elegant two-point turn they made out of it at the end, in which the follower steps forward, outside the leader to his right, and pivots so that you end up facing the other way.

Some experienced leaders surely found the class too basic, but others got a lot out of it and the material was the kind of thing that's enjoyable and quite interesting for the followers to execute and contribute to. I used it as an opportunity to warm up, tune in, and think about my technique; I had to think about controlling momentum. Veronique gave a good deal of time to technique points like not making sliding noises on the floor, and how the follower should deal with the slightly unusual forward step. I thought she was intelligently aware of the kind of mistakes you can make when you're inexperienced and having to scavenge for information in classes where the followers often get ignored. Some of the excercises gave the followers the opportunity to lead - just simple sidesteps, but a useful experience.

Definitely recommended if you like a logical progression in your class, you prefer a social and undramatised style of dance, and it's important to you that your teachers are nice people with an intelligent professional attitude. I also thought that you didn't need much experience to get a lot out of it.

Someone I spoke to during the milonga also said, I paraphrase slightly, "What I like about him is, he's not Latin Lover, he's not all moody and up himself in the class."

The demonstration was charming, very musical, unfussy, with lots of interesting little details you could learn something from. It really felt improvised, with the little eddies in the flow and pauses that happen when it is. They look as though they genuinely enjoy dancing with each other and they're just letting you watch. Especially her; she looks like she's thinking "ahhh that's nice." They got changed but still wore normal clothes you'd wear to go out dancing - indeed, the only distracting element was that the hem of his jacket needs repair. They both danced with each other and with other people in the milonga both before and after their performance, as well. [Edit: here's a video of the vals, posted some time later.]

She was wearing the first platform tango shoes I've ever seen in action. They seemed to have really thick soft cushioning on the sole. That would be lovely - where can I get some of those? Does anybody import them so I can try them on?

The performance was given in good light, they were happy for people to make videos, and they imposed no restrictions. You can see a couple of videos on her YouTube channel and his YouTube channel (probably the reason they don't share one is that they've only got together recently) as well as some of each of them with other people. I like the ones of them together more than the others, I think. Although the dress she's wearing in Vida Mia is amazing.

Thursday 7 February 2008

Supermarket Tango

This is lovely. I don't like the end (it's funny, though), but I love the beginning.

As well as a funny short film about tango, it's rather a nice demonstration not only of some characteristic footwork, but also of the traditional, wordless way of asking someone to dance. (Obviously the shopping trolleys are optional). I usually find it far too complicated for me - but maybe this shows you its charm.

Tuesday 5 February 2008

Walking-Forwards Shoes

Three or four months ago I did a class (on how you physically go about expressing musicality) in which I was required to walk around to the music, without a partner, with variations in how the free foot moves in relation to the standing foot and in relation to the beat.

It was a very useful exercise in lots of ways, but one of the things I learnt from it was that, although I was now rather good at walking backwards in high heels, my walking forwards in high heels was, frankly, not so hot. You don't walk forwards very often, following; it's just the occasional step here and there, mainly in turns, so that you can go for a long time without noticing that those specific steps are a bit clumsy.

This, it seemed to me, was one of those little problems in life that can be solved by Shopping. So here are my walking-forwards shoes. They're higher than I would normally wear in real life, but I chose them because I like them so much I actually do wear them; at weekends, to any special outings, or even to work when I'm feeling a little defiant.

I could dance in them - they're well-balanced and the soles are smooth, and street shoes you can dance in are very useful for outdoor festivals. But they're patent leather, so they stick to each other when I collect my feet. My teacher says that happened to him once in a performance, before he knew better, and tripped him up; but he adds that there's stuff you can buy to put on patent leather and make it unsticky. What's it called, where do you get it? I'll have to pop in to a shoe shop and ask.

Cable Sampler Hat (Sailors' Society Woolly Hat 2)

Here is my second hat for the Sailors' Society. I used this one to try out some slight variations of traditional cables, of the kind they use in Aran sweaters and other seafarers' garments as were customarily knitted all round the edges of Britain until very recent times - and still are occasionally. I wanted to find out whether I liked these particular cables and how they looked in relation to a ladder pattern I'd also been thinking about. I like the plaited cable most, but the others are interesting too. It strikes me how pleasing the simplest plain six-by-six one is, especially in relation to others which cross at different intervals. You can have lots of fun with cables if you're fond of numbers.

1 ball Rowan Cashsoft DK
1 hat-sized (40cm) 3.5mm circular needle (optional) and a set of 3.5mm dpns.
Gague is not crucial, this is pretty much a one-size pattern. If you're eccentric enough for it to matter, you'll already know to change needle size. Use the size that makes a fairly dense, smooth fabric for you with standard double-knitting.

Cast on 96.
Knit 3 rows k2 p2 rib.
Knit 1 row purl.
Follow chart. The plain six-by-six cable crosses every 6th row, everything else every 4th row. So the whole thing repeats after every row 12.
Stop after completing row 47.
Row 48: purl, placing markers at 8 points evenly around (i.e. after every 12th stitch).

Returning to k2 p2 as the basic pattern, decrease on either side of each marker on every other row until you have 8 sts, changing to dpns as necessary. Thread wool through all sts and weave away ends. (This is not exactly what I did in the hat shown, I decreased every row until the stitches were halved and then thought better of it and knitted a few rows straight - that's why there are those strange but quite-nice-looking holes - but it is what I ought to have done and would almost certainly have worked better. Do as you please.)

Here's the chart, click it to download.

I love dancing with women

In the first part of my regular class tonight I danced several times with a woman who's taking the improvers' class as a leader. She leads beautifully and is more and more fun to dance with every week. She likes dancing with me, too, so we cheated a little bit and got each other more often than was strictly fair.

Some people don't like dancing with a woman leading. I don't know why, because they're usually rather good - it's much easier to learn to lead well if you've had the opportunity to learn to follow first. So many of the problems have already been dealt with. It's not an absolutely reliable rule, and the slighter physique can present its own problems with the embrace, but they're not more severe than any of the more routine problems, just different. I have lots of fun dancing with women and will happily give it a go with any woman who asks me socially. Quite apart from enjoying the dance for itself, there's also the high probability that we'll make each other look good, and the additional feature of inspiring men who can dance to split us up. In my view, anyway. I don't know whether the same advantages are there for the woman leading. A few men are reluctant to dance with women who lead.

Anyway, this is mostly an excuse to post this, which is a really nice milonga performance from Moscow:

Arranging two pairs of tits can be a puzzle to the inexperienced, but the puzzlement is momentary. If they're small, it's not really an issue. Even if you're exactly the same height, a swift adjustment will easily put one pair above and the other below. If they're big, it still only damps the signal if they're allowed to move from side to side, and any well-fitting bra will solve that problem. I know one teacher who just leads with hers (no other strategy, in her case, is possible) and her lead is perfectly clear.

Sunday 3 February 2008

Internet marketing for dance teachers

Doug Fox @ GreatDance has a timely and interesting essay about how dance teachers might use the internet as a marketing tool. He sets out a detailed plan of what he would do, and it pretty much makes sense to me. It would probably work, especially in a growing market.

Doug has in mind that a teacher might want to do two things: increase class sizes, and sell instructional videos. I think it makes a difference which you want to do - the second probably requires a lot more ambition, more expensive equipment, and a higher level of non-dance skills. For those who teach a social dance and also organise a club, there's obviously scope for promoting that, too.

You'd be starting from a pretty low base. Of the websites I know of for London milongas and teachers, almost all are very unsophisticated. I'd date most of them between 1996 and 99 in look and construction. They do generally tell you when it is, how much it is, and where - with a bit of hunting, sometimes - but none of them does more than that with any effect. Two or three have a professional look and feel, with some fancy Flash or a bit of design about them, although I personally wouldn't say that that makes them better websites. I'd call those ones style-of-2001 to 3, even the newest which appeared this year. They have no dynamic content, and one of them commits the gaffe of making a noise when you load the home page, calculated to embarrass you at work.

None of these teachers or organisers has attempted to use any of the strategies outlined by Doug. Why is this?

First, my best guess. Yes, costs for these things are low - except in terms of time. Most of the teachers I know have day jobs, and I doubt any of them can touch-type English at speed. To me, it seems as natural as talking - but most people can't, and not being able to makes all this stuff laborious and slow.

For video, there's also quite a significant cost in skills and equipment. You need a good-enough video camera, ideally the kind that can be wired for sound, which most consumer models can't, and an assistant who knows how to use it. You also need a reliable broadband internet connection, and a computer powerful enough for video editing that belongs to you, not your employer. I have all these things at home, and I can use them - but I'm not a dance teacher or a muso, I work in IT, and the computer has been my normal means of conducting all day-to-day business and organising my social life for at least seven years.

Instructional videos of DVD quality would require a whole different level of kit and investment. I do know of a salsa teacher who's making a DVD - but it's a lot of work.

Some of the teachers I know do make videos of visiting performers, for their own private use, so they certainly have the skills to make promotional videos good enough for YouTube. I'm not sure that any of them would be that keen on the idea of instructional DVDs, in principle. But none of them has published a single vid of any kind that I've seen, neither to promote themselves, nor their milonga.

A few of their students, on the other hand, have made and published videos that could be used that way. And I think there'd be scope for barter there, if you wanted to do it.

So why don't they do it? It could be skills; it could be that they're happy with the current size of their classes and the attendance at their milongas. Or it could be entirely a matter of time.

Or, in a few cases, it could be a matter of attitude and beliefs. Quite recently, I've seen one couple who teach in London give a performance, before which they had it announced that although you were welcome to video them, they asked you not to put it on YouTube. They also took the precaution of making the room very dark. And in fact there is not a single video of them on YouTube, although I think there's one of him dancing with someone else.

I have no idea what their reasoning was, I can't think of any argument of my own in that direction that makes sense, and on that evening I didn't have a chance to ask. Next time, perhaps I will. Or if you have suggestions, pipe up below.

Sailors' Society Woolly Hat 1

Here's my first hat for the Sailors' Society. I've been knitting industriously lately; it's good for my temper. I finished this some time ago but didn't get around to finding someone to model it in daylight - at this time of year, it's still dark by the time I get home. Here is my Mum wearing it for me.

Just over 1 ball, annoyingly, of Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran, or any equivalent found in the John Lewis bargain box.
Set of 4 4.5mm double-pointed needles.

Gauge is not that crucial, but when laid out flat and unstretched the hat measures 12cm across half way up and 16cm across at the bottom, where the number of stitches is the same but the cast-on flares it out a bit.

Cast on 72 with a stretchy cast on, and join.

All k stitches will be twisted (knitted through the back, "kb"). You could make it even stretchier by purling through the back as well, but I think it's too much trouble. Or you might use a little less wool by knitting normally, but the texture would be less pleasing, the twists wouldn't look as good, and the stretch would be less.

Rows 1 to 11: *k2b, p2, repeat from * to end.
Row 12: kb 2nd st on left hand needle, then first st, slip both off left hand needle. (This is the same as slipping the first stitch to a cable needle but quicker). P2. Repeat.

Knit 2 more pattern repeats, then 12 more rows like row 1. You could probably reduce this to 6 and still have it long enough; I wanted it to cover the ears quite generously.

Make it hat-shaped by decreasing one stitch at 6 points around on every row. I did this by narrowing each rib in turn, first the purls, till all the purl ribs were one wide, then the knits, then eliminating the purls. This gives a nice, even look without an obvious star-shape. Do this till you only have 6 stitches left. Pass yarn through the last 6 sts and work in all the ends.

It looks very small, laid out flat, but the twisted knits make it very stretchy. It fits me well and I have quite a large head. They also give it a nice visual texture.