Monday 30 June 2008

The Flying Teapot

Cherie has some interesting pictures of what people do with the open-side hand.

Of course there are problems we all have to solve about how much pressure to give with this hand, and when. It's not easy to judge, especially when that arm aches from the day's work already. I know I don't always get it right; sometimes I'm too stiff, sometimes wobbly. A lot can go wrong with this simple thing.

But let's assume for a moment that we can manage a gentle, equal and opposite springiness, so that I can follow well and you can lead well.

Given that, I don't mind what you want to do as long as:
  • You don't hold my hand above my head, so it hangs from yours like a drunk in a doss house. (My shoulder level's better, but I can cope with as high as my ear).
  • You don't forcibly twist the palm of my hand outwards or upwards. It hurts. I work behind a screen all day, I do this blogging stuff in my spare time, and now you're adding to the damage. Please let me keep my wrist straight.
  • You don't do anything ostentatiously affected that makes you look like the matador and me look like the cloak.
I'm sorry to say all three of the above apply to the Flying Teapot, where you pretend to pour tea from a height into your ear, and I feel like a piece of washing pegged out on a line. This particularly annoys me because the men who do it are often good dancers, who dance a gentle, musical style that the woman can really enjoy, and who have made sincere, prolonged, and partially successful efforts to imitate the Tango Gods who've taught this bizarre little quirk. I am extremely unwilling to risk offence.

So there's no way I'm risking a No. It's not painful enough to sacrifice a good dance, although I may well regret it the next morning. And I'm not so good a dancer that I can afford to protest at a practice that has the explicit personal endorsement of the people who've seen fit to endorse this one. (I doubt these deities do or did it quite so much when they weren't posing; but it's visually distinctive and inspires imitation. A pose is ok; four minutes is too much).

But this is my blog, so I can start a rumour that it might just have its downside in a non-professional context.

Ooooh, controversial. Jump in the comments with your views. If you sometimes do the Flying Teapot, please explain why you chose it, or who taught it to you, and what they said; the comments are much more interesting if your views differ from mine. I'm willing to concede on the looks point. Pain is a fact, and so are my own physical limitations, but one woman's affectation is another woman's elegance, one woman's pegged-out washing another's artfully-draped haute couture.

Sunday 29 June 2008

Fernando and Nayla

It was announced on Tango-UK that Fernando Sanchez and Nayla Vacca will be teaching a class at the Dome on 9th July "teaching in London for the first time".

Actually they taught a class at the Crypt (it was Paul and Michiko's night) when they first came to England about this time last year. But it was only one class, so the mistake is quite trivial. I missed the class that evening, but came in before its end. Fernando was teaching in a pair of frayed jeans much too long for him, and I remember thinking "child, your Mum needs to accept that you're not going to grow into those, and get you a pair of shorter trousers". They both seemed very sweet and they danced beautifully, but they looked about sixteen.

Then they changed into beautiful black dress and suit for the performance. He looked like a toddler dressed up for a wedding, especially in the milonga.

Anyway, I wanted an excuse to post this video. The dancing is nice, but isn't this a beautiful room? It looks like the kind of conservatory-extension that sometimes gets built on to the standard English semi-detached house (I think Americans call it a duplex). But a large one, perhaps replacing the garage; and some hand of genius has installed a pure white dance floor, and mirrors along the inside wall. It looks out onto a typical garden, full of that lush, deep, various green, so much greener than it is down here. The day is overcast, and the light is pure silver. This light, this room, and this garden could very well be in Leeds, where Fernando and Nayla have been in the meantime, but I don't know for sure.

I see Fernando has grown a beard, probably a sensible plan.

Thursday 26 June 2008

Dad Tracker - Santiago

Here he is!

My Dad has celebrated his retirement by walking methodically all the way across northern Spain from St. Jean Pied-de-Port (in France) to Santiago de Compostela.

He got there before lunchtime today. Here he is in front of the cathedral.

It took him just over a month, from 20th May to 26th June. After spending a week with a friend of his in Galicia, he'll be back here wondering what to do next.

And below is a map of all the waypoints I blogged here and here, courtesy of Google.

Well done Daddy, I love you very much.

View Larger Map

My Mum, meanwhile, is in the Antipodes, visiting her relations and meeting their sheep. I miss her too. Both of them will be back soon, and thoroughly pleased to see each other.

Beef Madras Pie with Pickled Lime

Can I just say that that pie was a work of genius.

Mmm, they said, somewhere in Sussex, I do like Madras with lime pickle. It's very nice. I know what we'll do, we'll put it on beef and onions, and stick it in a pie. People will like that.

The makers of this deeply British dish are called Farm 2 Kitchen and can sometimes be found at Walthamstow Market (outside the Library) on Sundays. Among many other pies, they also do the "Aztec," which involves beef, chillies, and chocolate.

If they had a website, I'd link to it, but they don't. According to the label on the pie I've just consumed, somewhere in Sussex was Unit 6, Bates Green Farm, BN26 6SH, tel 01424 843 413, email at AOL, f2kpies.

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Dad Tracker 3.0

My Dad is still walking across Northern Spain, and texting me daily. I'm making a new post, rather than 'bumping' the old one, because bumping the post is just awkward. And also, he's found out how to send me pictures from his phone, and I've found out how to forward them to my email. For his journey from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France, on 20th May, to León on 14th June, now with added pictures, see Dad Tracker 2.0.

Montes de León, 18th June16th June: 31k today. 3k to Astorga, then over the mountains at west edge of meseta. Blister on little toe, but surviving.
17th June: Good day, lovely scenery and weather, looking forward to climb to highest point tomorrow, 1500m, less to descend.
18th June: Molinaseca, 8k from Ponferrada. Wonderful weather and mountain scenery, difficult descents. Picture: Montes de Leon (left).
19th June: Long, hot day. 30k to Villafranca, should reach Galicia tomorrow, feet permitting. Long, hard climb.
With love from Galicia, 20th June20th June: Missing everyone. In Galicia. Wonderful day's walking in mountains. Picture, with love from Galicia (right). And a second picture of flowers (left), "Looks like the Lake District here".Looks like Lake District, 20th June
21st June: 30k to Samos, Galicia. Huge monastery.
22nd June: Ferreira (can't find on map). 100k to go.
23rd June: Palacio do rei. Rather dull day, walk, and place, but can take easy now, only three days from Santiago.
24th June: Arzua tonight, 45k to go.
25th June: In Arca (can't find on map), 21k to go. Should be in Santiago for lunch tomorrow.

Monday 23 June 2008

Los Dispari 3, 6, and 7 - walking and turns

So, a much briefer account of three more classes with Jorge Dispari and Marita 'La Turca' organised by Tango in Action. (I'm spelling it Marita, the same as TiA do on their website, because I clearly heard Jorge so pronounce it - but mostly you see it written 'Maria'. Will someone tell me, is Marita just a diminutive? If so, I'll go back to writing it the usual way.) Previously: Class 1 (Essentials of Villa Urquiza style, embrace, posture, elegance), and Class 2 (essence of milonga walk).

3) Technique for the Tango Walk: details, tips and suggestions for the perfect Tango de Salon Walk

I didn't go to this one, although I considered it, so this is second-hand. But, I did dance at the weekend with a regular partner who had taken it, and his dance had been subtly but completely transformed. He was nicer than average to dance with before, and sometimes very nice, but suddenly he was a lot nicer. Apparently, he had had the class telling off, to the effect of "stop doing spins - nobody does spins - and it's very rude to do them less than two-thirds of the way through a dance" - and had had a revelation that it's fun to just walk. He was the sort of leader who never does moves he can't do, but constantly worries about boring the woman, not realising that if she has a trace of her own musicality she probably gets pretty bored with constantly expressing someone else's. Somehow, the Disparis had got this idea through to him. His dance had coalesced into a delightful musical walk with the occasional smooth turn or half-turn, and I was a happy hedgehog. There was also something about not repeating crosses too close together. My informant was finding by experiment that this advice was good, but he wasn't quite sure what Jorge's point had been, or why it worked; it may have had to do with drifting sideways or interrupting the flow.

Now, 6) Turns: unveiling the secrets for the execution of smooth, elegant turns - balance, hold, the lead and the woman's role, and 7) Turns part II: more advanced turns with complex footwork for leaders and decorations for followers.

These two I did take, and the second followed on from the late-starting first with a fifteen-minute break. I struggled much more with the Spanish than in the previous classes, because there was a lot more digressing as well as a lot more technique. The part about the woman's role included very specific disagreement with people who teach that once the turn starts, the woman should continue going forward, side, back, and so on until it stops. Every step should be distinctly led, Jorge repeated, and the leader's right hand helps to give the forward, backward, or sidewaysness. The woman should never take a single step by rote, and should never, ever have to think about what she should do; she must be free to 'feel'. He told us that some professional couples prearrange a signal with the open-side hands which tells the woman to keep turning so the man can stand on one leg and do ornaments with the other one, and not lead; he condemned this as fake and tasteless, and said it made him think of a poor little horse pulling a giant lorry. The woman should not be doing all this work, in his opinion. [Edit: I forgot a bit. He said here that the man should 'make himself shy,' and be showing the woman off, not himself.] (If you're wondering what this does and doesn't mean technically, watch a few videos of Jorge, and other people, before deciding what you think he's on about. From 02:25 in the video below might be relevant, for example, together with the bit about footwork, below).

Quotes included:

"The lead is round - the turn is round - Marita and I are also round ..."
"The turn is linear ... everything in tango is linear ... "

Those weren't, in fact, contradictory in context. The point of the second one was that the turn should start with a short backward step by the woman, the leader releasing her somewhat, and not a sidestep, as most of the class incorrectly assumed. It was not a turn out of the line of dance and back into it, but a turn on the spot, without leaving the line of dance at all.

The man's footwork was technically demanding, featuring a smooth complete turn on the spot, changing feet only once and using an opening and closing coiled-spring movement of the hips. In the second class, another turn was added in the opposite direction. You can see something rather like it, but much more so, in the video above, especially from about 02:35. These foot movements have names, and someone asked about the difference between two of them, but I don't remember that part clearly enough to repeat it. Anyway I don't think it would help much, compared to standing on a smooth floor and trying to work out how to make yourself rotate on the spot by wrapping one leg around the other and then unwrapping them again. The important technical points for men were to do with where the free leg is in relation to the standing leg, in front or behind, and that you open the hips for an outward movement but "squeeze your balls" (I'm not going to reproduce Stefano's pussyfooting translation - I'm telling you what Jorge said) when the free leg comes in front. So those points are probably what you should think about, if you want to try this at home. Other points were that you should always be on the balls of your feet, but without visibly lifting the heel - just releasing it from the ground - and that you always point your foot in the direction you are going, and outward, not in.

I think there's a fair chance that most of those who couldn't do it without losing their balance would find they could do it if they came back to it next week, but also a fair chance that they won't dare trying. Certainly a few were disheartened by the end; some just because they'd booked for too advanced a class.

By the end of the two classes I was exhausted, and my own dancing had gone backwards, if anything. We didn't change partners enough, which makes it far more difficult to find and fix problems.

I'm glad I heard what I heard, and the effect on many of the leaders was certainly good. I also think I learned something from watching Maria. The only point of technique she uttered in my hearing was to do with the free foot, the man's, in fact, tapping down en pointe rather than on tiptoe. But the same certainly applies to hers, if you watch. I felt I learned something from observing her and how she moved and responded to the music. I would have to be feeling a lot happier in myself and more sure of my leader to make use of what I learnt, but I have done my best to file it for a better day.

I can't tell you about the evening milonga. I was too tired, and couldn't have got there without crying, so I went to bed.

Sunday 22 June 2008

Dancing Hero Worker Statues

This is classified on YouTube as "Sport - extreme," but I think it's dance. I suppose it's possible that could be said of many body-building competitions. I also think it's amazing. (This is another one for you, MB).

And will somebody please remind me what this piece of music is? I don't think I've heard it recently, perhaps not since the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the tune is deeply familiar to me. It feels like the sort of thing Bestemianova and Bukin might have used in the eighties (remember them?). People in the YouTube comments say it's from a 1992 movie flop called "Conquest of Paradise", but my memory says that's nonsense, for ten-year-olds who've never heard music, like saying Vaughan Williams' Rhapsody on a Theme of Thomas Tallis is "from Master and Commander". It reminds me of part of Carmina Burana, but I don't think I've ever known its actual origin and I'm not even sure what language is being sung. It might be medieval vernacular Latin, like O Fortuna, or it might be almost anything.

And if anyone can read the Chinese characters, do translate.

Hat tip to Lory.

Saturday 21 June 2008

Los Dispari 2 - Essence of Milonga Walk

The title of this class was "Milonga: essence of milonga walk and simple figures of Milonga Lisa (single time)," and it was billed as an all-levels class. Here are my notes.

For my impression of Jorge and Maria, which didn't change, see Los Dispari 1 - Villa Urquiza Style. Tip: at the end of each class they scamper outside for a smoke, so if you smoke and speak anything like reasonable Spanish, you have a great opportunity to chat.

They get a lot of respect. People listen and remember and take it seriously. That means they can spend the entire class on something really, really simple and how to do it properly, and everybody present will try really hard. Nobody expects them to teach some exciting move. You can get that anywhere. What people are there for is whatever Jorge Dispari wants to say about how to lead. It makes for very valuable classes that make a huge difference to people.

The class was delivered entirely in Spanish with Stefano and Alexandra acting as interpreters and assistants. This works OK, and see previous post, but you'll follow better if you understand what Jorge is saying. It isn't at all difficult, but some people who couldn't follow it got confused as to what they were being told was right, and what wrong.

We began with a test milonga to assess everyone's level. It was instantly apparent that the clue level was low. Even the best were generally dancing faster tango.

The class then started with some general advice about floorcraft, with emphatic, repeated warnings against stepping backwards, unless in the forward line of dance. The other general point was that movement in milonga tends to be sidelong. Next, they showed us a very simple walking step, and the aim was to get us doing it properly by the end.

The step itself was so simple I might even be able to write it down clearly. I am fairly sure this is exactly what we did, and we did pretty much nothing else.

Start with leader's back facing the centre and follower's back to the outside of the room. Imagine a clock face centred on the leader, with 6 towards the centre of the room, and the direction of dance at 9. The leader is facing directly towards twelve and the follower six. (Notice that means we're NOT in a V-embrace - we are front-on - see previous class).
Be in CLOSE EMBRACE. No shirking.
Leader steps with right foot forward, outside the follower and towards elevenish, so somewhat in the direction of the line of dance, but more forward, and the follower back with left.
Leader and follower collect feet, change weight, and pivot (but not too much, certainly not more than 40°).
Leader steps back with right (now stepping towards sevenish), follower forward with left (outside to the leader's left).
Both collect, change weight, and pivot, so both are ready to start again. Repeat this right around the room. The result is a zigzag progression in the direction of dance. It's just a step, always with the same foot, a transference of weight, and a pivot with the feet together.

Once this is working well, introduce double-times in the leader's forward step only.
Once that is working well, introduce double-times in the leader's backward step only.
Don't mix them all up until you're ready! Concentrate on your embrace and your posture and your lead. The result was a marked improvement.

In this video they do something very similar, but with a sidestep interposed, from about 01:27 to about 01:35.

Points that came up included the following:

Don't open up the embrace. It makes this difficult and ugly. You should be moving together. They demonstrated how awkward it is if you pivot past each other, so that you slide across each other and break your connection.

The leader's arms [frame] must both move with his chest. Don't turn your chest and leave your arms behind. They're important. You should be holding the woman properly with your right arm and using it to communicate, especially in the pivots. [See previous class].

If you are doing too much sideways and not enough forward and back, it is difficult to get the follower to step outside you. If you can't make it happen, you're probably pivoting too much. And it looks "very ugly," contorting you and destroying the elegance.

Someone asked the question: we are crashing our feet together a lot, what are we doing wrong? Jorge said that it means something is wrong with the lead. If you lead, her feet go, and then your feet go, it is not possible to touch feet, because her feet are not there. [This is hard to see from demonstrations, and it did not get fully translated, so I am not quite sure that's really what he said. I may have based my understanding on my own personal analysis of why this works, which is: this sounds like three things one after another, and it is, but the reason they can all happen in that order within one beat of a milonga is the body lead. The body lead in close embrace is fundamentally different from a jive or salsa lead - the transmission time is not two beats, like in salsa, but near-zero when it works.]

There was a piece for followers, on presence in the embrace. Your left hand is important. Your right hand is important. Your arms must not be floppy, but the rest of your body must be relaxed. Your arms must be very 'alive' and present.

I just concentrated on that. Getting the right things in the right places consistently, when dancing with a lot of different men, none of whom I have reason to trust, takes a determined mental effort and a lot of concentration. I'm not naturally fearless; I'm a fairly small, fairly defenceless creature, instinctively good at keeping clear of trouble - and inclined to curl up and go prickly if I can't.

This was an excellent class, but probably the wrong one for me. I was interested in the content, but I already dance milonga frequently, and well, with leaders who can do it. The all-levels billing of this class attracted mostly leaders who dance milonga very poorly or not at all. It might have been the right class for me this time last year, when I would have ended up with a lot more bruises but a greater sense of personal progress.

I'll also be taking a class on Sunday, billed as Intermediate/Advanced, and I'll let you know how I get on.

Los Dispari 1 - Essentials of Villa Urquiza Style

Tango in Action have some big names doing classes again: Jorge Dispari and Maria (or Marita) del Carmen. Here they are dancing together, below. I haven't been taking any classes since March. The quality of my dancing has improved a lot since then, from dancing more, socially, with people who dance better that me. But I felt it was a good time to take some more, picked for interest. A total of eight are scheduled, and I had time, budget, and energy for four.

[Housekeeping edit: here are the other classes I went to: Los Dispari 2 - Essence of Milonga Walk and Los Dispari 3, 6, and 7 - Walking and Turns]

This first class, on Thursday, was all about the embrace. I thought it was great quality and value for a lot of the people who came. The title was "Essential Elements of the Tango Villa Urquiza style: posture, embrace and elegance," and it was billed, I think correctly, as an all-levels class.

Jorge and Maria arrived in good time, looking pleased to be there, and greeted everyone who was waiting individually with a Hola and big smile and a kiss on both cheeks. They are both smaller than they look on YouTube, where for some reason they've been filmed mostly from floor level. I am barely average for the lower North Sea coast, but still just taller than him in my heels. She is little, but makes herself bigger with a "Hello, I'm High Maintenance" look. They seem very fond of each other, but not in an irritating or distracting way, which is nice. Every time he is going to dance more than a few steps with her - every time he intends to progress more than half way round the floor - she gets a kiss on the forehead to snuggle her up.

The class was delivered entirely in Spanish; Stefano interpreted. The interpretation was patchy, but my thin smattering of relevant Spanish, together with their expressive gestures and clear demonstrations, was more than enough for getting the gist. I don't really speak Spanish, but I understand enough to follow Jorge Dispari talking about the embrace at least as well as your basic Portugese footballer can follow Alex Ferguson talking about football. He speaks clearly, and there are no difficult concepts or words. But you would get less out of the class if you didn't understand any at all. Here's a video of him teaching with their daughter Samantha, so you can assess whether you'd understand.

It began with a pep talk about how pleased he was to see us all so passionate about tango. Then we were asked to take partners and just dance two tangos so they could observe us.

Next came detailed advice and demonstration about the embrace. I'm just going to summarise as much as I remember, more or less in the order it came up.

1. Those who tended to hunch over (so that the woman has to hang herself from their shoulders like washing - I hate this) were emphatically told not to, especially by Maria, who said very little in general but responded to this with a "NO!!", a lively imitation of the fault, and as much physical pushing and pulling as seemed to be needed to get the point across.

2. The man's right hand is alive and important. This is very difficult to see - an embrace can look good but not be good. Jorge demonstrated by embracing a student with a good and bad embrace in turn and getting her to identify the difference; then Jorge and Maria went around and physically embraced all the leaders individually to get the idea across. Once the embrace is nice, the fingers will not be splayed. We danced another track concentrating on that.

3. The embrace is front-on. The woman is not being dragged along under the man's right arm. Nor is she at right-angles, facing sideways to the man's left; this is possible, but it puts a dangerous amount of strain on the woman's back. Embrace the woman's spine. Don't both face in the same direction, to the man's left. You can't walk in a straight line with your head pointing to your left - try it without the woman, and see. The leader is facing forwards and the follower, back. There were more demos and advice about togetherness and closeness and a talk about how the embrace shown is relatively difficult for the leader to achieve, at first, but gives much better connection and repays patient practice.

They used a very simple figure to illustrate the principles. The leader walks outside for two steps, then there is a tiny invisible 'up-lead' to make her next step a short one. She crosses left over right and then pivots and steps over his left foot, which he has interposed; she does a tiny forward ocho the other way, and pivots, and they walk out, now back in parallel feet. You can see them do something rather like it, with a bit more going on, from about 00:29 to 00:37 in the video above. It's quite characteristic of their style, and the point is that they stay fully connected and front-on throughout.

There were some miscellaneous points that came up. It's a good idea to start a dance with a walk. [Hedgehog: oh yes please! From Jorge's mouth to the ears of every leader in London! Give me a chance to tune in!]. If you have three metres of space it is better to take three good-sized confident steps, than five little ones. If the music tells you to pause, pause, don't move just for the sake of moving. If you have no space, do some little figure on the spot.

Throughout the class they conscientiously observed the leaders individually, and gave encouraging, specific, constructive feedback. They pointed out who was the most improved since November, when they were here last; who danced well but needed to work on the embrace; who danced well and lacked nothing but confidence; and so on. All the leaders got specific guidance that could and did make a real difference to the quality of their dancing, within an hour and a half.

The only weakness of this class was that there was very little direct instruction for the followers. The only thing I remember was the remark that you cannot dance with a corpse, and the follower should give adequate response and feedback and presence with both arms, without being tense. This is normal for this type of class, and I was OK with it, given the subject matter, but some people could probably have done with more. A follower can still get a lot out of valuable information and experience out of hearing the principles explained, and feeling what happens, what it's like, and how much better the connection can be, when the leader improves his embrace and posture radically within a few minutes. I found it illuminating, and advanced my understanding of what can go wrong, and how it all works.

Towards the end was another general talk; now you are dancing, you look better, you have more energy, you look as though you are enjoying it. But now it is your choice whether you improve or not. Nobody can dance well all the time. We can repeat and repeat instructions, but you have to decide you will DO it. Don't lose it now.

Next post - the milonga class.

Tuesday 17 June 2008

Interview with Gustavo Naveira

Every now and then among the the dross, the delusion, the bitching, the boredom, and the sheer anti-anity of Tango-L, is Something Quite Interesting. I delete so you don't have to.

Here, courtesy of Brian Dunn, is an updated interview with Gustavo Naveira, who has the feet of a dragonfly and, quite obviously, the mind of an entomologist. Illustration below.

Don't you find yourself wanting to clap with the music?

As for the interview, there are some interesting factual reminiscences, but I like this: "I think it’s a mistake to believe you have to learn tango by having to go through cultural barriers. This is a superficial barrier."

He must be so much fun to play with.

Monday 16 June 2008

Cuisses de grenouille

Cuisses de grenouilleSorry about the fuzziness - my cheap, elderly digital camera struggles with medium close-ups, and it's too late now to take another because I didn't get round to posting at once. These are the legs of a frog. It's a present for my friend's baby. Her blog is called "Puddock" - a Scots word for frog. The baby is due in a couple of weeks.

To the right is the rest of the frog - currently hind-legless. I made the pattern up as I went along, but I did take enough notes to write it up if necessary. He has a simple cable pattern down his back. I used the Magic Loop method to knit him circularly, so there are no seams on the body. All the sewing-together is grafting ends, like sock toes, or fake-grafting to join legs to body. I also made the joints of his legs by sewing through both layers - the legs are just tubes.

Puddock faceI started behind the eyes and made his body, then stuffed the body, picked up my provisional cast on, leaving buttonholes for the eyes, and knitted and stuffed his face. Finally I grafted his nose. Now I've made two front legs and two hind legs, and sewn on the front ones with fake grafting. Here is his little face. He needs eyes, and I think they are going to be crocheted, and probably yellow.

Sunday 15 June 2008

Dad Tracker v2.0

27th May 23:54
I think I'll just make one post and update it from time to time. (My Dad, who has no religion but very long legs, has just retired, and is walking across northern Spain by the ancient pilgrims' route from France to Santiago de Compostela. He is communicating by text message, which has its own charm as a literary genre — like a return to the telegraph). The links are from Google Maps.

20th May: Saint Jean Pied-de-Port, France.
21st May: Splits first leg, crossing mountains, in two. "Scenery amazing buzzards and kites just need hardening love".
22nd May: Roncesvalles, Spain. Scenery amazing. Feet OK. Optimistic. Sends vaguely-addressed postcard.
23rd May: Rain. Scenery still amazing. Basques not inimical.
24th May: Pamplona. Only 700 kilometres to go.
25th May: Resting in Pamplona after rain, steep paths, waterfalls, mudslides. Feet still OK.
26th May: Puente La Reina. Roman bridge. Storks nesting on church. Town asleep till 5pm. [No link because Google Maps appears to have the wrong place].
27th May: Estella. Sits on steps waiting for Tourist Information to open.

Updates begin: 28th May 20:18
28th May: Los Arcos. Slept badly in pilgrim hostel last night, so sleeps in hotel. Here's the flash map again, with the local information and culinary advice, which in this case includes roast sucking pig, trout, and "renowned cheeses".
29th May: a postcard arrives. It sketches the pilgrims, walking alone or in small scattered groups, admiring the view or photographing each other against local shrines. There is no pressure to walk together, and no competitive spirit. Very friendly, open and pleasant. Text message: feeling good, 29k to Logrono.
30th May: another postcard, from Pamplona, showing a bunch of Basques doing something really insane with some cattle, and on the written side a drawing of a very small child standing on tiptoes trying to operate the button of a water pump which will drench him if he succeeds. Text message: the Rioja; red earth, flowers, goldfinches.
31st May: eating chocolate in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Good coffee. Rain.
1st June: Phone call. Weather terrible, socks wet and difficult to dry. Pilgrim hostels have their humourous moments. The plan is for a rest day and a night in a proper hotel once a week. Speculations on why people do this, and in particular why some people do it more than once. Romanesque churches reminiscent of one another. Appreciations of home from a distance. Happy voice.
2nd June: Weather somewhat better. Flowers beautiful. 27k. Saw a redstart. Used washing machine. Smell better but wetter.
3rd June: in Burgos. Accommodation in huts. Hotel tomorrow. 550k to go.
4th June: rest day in Burgos. Sent some stuff to friend's house. Now on meseta, flattish terrain for several days. Room to self tonight, bliss.
5th June: Horrible 30k flog through rain and mud.
6th June: Itero de la Vega. Nice weather, but feeling sick. After 20k took room to self, 2hrs sleep.
7th June: 14k to Frómista. Feeling much better, slept 14hrs. Lovely romanesque church.
Carillon de los Condes, 8th June8th June: 1st two hours flat, boring, damp. But easy day. Convent room. Think OK. [Edit 25th June: picture added, Carillon de los Condes, left].
9th June: Passed half way! Over 390k so far. Endless plain of meseta, 800m above sea level, cold North wind. About three days from León. Missing everyone.
10th June: Holed up in Sahagón with tendonitis. Seen doc, very kind. at least engaging with language and country. Have to reduce km and hope it will go away. All part of fun.
Crazy fiesta in Sahagún, 20th June11th June: Leg getting better, still in Sahagun, try 10k tomorrow. Fiesta tonight with bull running, will try to take pictures. [Edit 25th June: added picture, right, "Crazy fiesta in Sahagún"]
12th June: 10k to Bercianos. Problem tomorrow, either 8k or 23k. May try 23 slow with long pause. Can't get into emails with spanish keyboard @.
13 June: Managed 21k. Very tired, weather good, walking easy but just ticking off days. Sent postcard. León tomorrow.
14 June: Watching Spain v Sweden in bar in León. 26k, ok. Spanish families dressed to kill. Nice atmosphere.
15th June: 20k further on, weather better, sleeping on veranda of nice albergue by choice, hope wind doesn't change. "A baby sparrow came and sat on my hand he's been hopping about enjoying the novelty of being a bird these are such quiet places love x".

Saturday 14 June 2008

Corrientes - Tango Extravaganza festival night

[Update 29/10/2009: there's a significantly updated review here.]

Corrientes is usually on a Saturday, and I'd never been. I have uses for Sunday, and it takes too long to get home. But this week it was open on Friday for the opening night of Tango Extravaganza, and there were two bands and a performance, so I went. As I probably won't go again soon, this will stand as my what-to-expect post, and I'll point out the differences from the Saturdays as best I can. Please add information in the Comments if you normally go there.

I wasn't at my best - I was feeling low - so keep that in mind. I'll try to separate it from the useful information.

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. It looks like a school, it smells like a school. If school was a fun experience for you, this will put you in the right frame of mind; if not, it won't. I'm not saying nothing can be done about this, but it would probably be too much work.

The room seems to be a large drama studio. The floor is enormous and of excellent quality; there's also a very large low stage, almost the same size again, with the same highly polished light wood flooring. It's so huge that I had few bumps despite some dreadful floorcraft (which might not be typical at all - comments, please). The stage was opened up for dancing on this night, and is also handy for sitting on the edge of. Generally, I got the impression that this was the venue where the Latin haircuts go, and women who dress in US-style tango gear. The lighting is quite high but gentle, and small tables are arranged around the edges of the room, with chairs along the walls. As at Negracha, there's no division between floor, refreshments, and seating, so it's up to you to preserve your feet, your drink, and your things. The band had one corner of the main floor, with the amp on the stage.

It doesn't exactly have an atmosphere, as such, it's just a place where you can go and dance, and maybe chat if your friends are there as well. I might have enjoyed this much more on another night. The layout doesn't make it easy to find people, though. There's nowhere away from the floor that you can sit to be sure of a rest; the only options are to remove your shoes or dig in your handbag, and sometimes even those didn't work. It deepened my impression that Corrientes is for the hard core, but again, it may not be typical (comments please).

Hospitality: OK. No free water, but bottled water at £1 and wine in good sized, if undried, glasses at £2.50. Served with a smile from a table in the corner. The loos are what you'd expect from a school building, numerous but not especially well equipped or clean. Nowhere to hang your stuff, you just have to leave it on or under chairs, so a kitbag is recommended.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: there were two live bands and a performance. Joe Powers played a very good harmonica and sang, but thought it made sense to introduce the band between numbers - not between tandas, but between numbers. Duo Napoli Casares played guitars and sang - I liked their sound, and their announcements were short and relevant. It's very nice to dance to live music. The performance was by Bruno Tombari & Mariángeles Caamaño. I remember sharpness, twinkliness and a sense of fun. It included some interesting moments of moving their feet out of sync with each other - hers first, and then his - which it would be instructive to try to lead and follow. I liked this more in tango than in milonga.

Getting in: £13, but this was a special night. It's open late, though, so this might be normal, Negracha is £12 after all. Corrientes is open late and some people go here after the Crypt. I don't think this is feasible unless you're driving.

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. However, it doesn't get good until after the tube closes, so consult TFL for night bus routes.

The website: The Corrientes website tells you about the organisers and gives decent directions, but doesn't tell you when it's on or how much it is to get in. It uses frames. Corrientes is usually open on two Saturdays a month, but you probably have to monitor Tango-UK or join Facebook (group) to see which ones. Tango Extravaganza has its own website - Flash required, remarks in previous post.

How it went: Not having been there before, and this being a festival, I danced with a lot more strangers than is usual for me these days. It may not always be this way, but the giant floor appears to be much liked by people who do giant steps, frequent back sacadas, and a lot of throwing the lady around and wrestling with her legs in those strange upside-down ganchos, whatever they're called, putting her in fear of being tripped and hurled to the ground. Some of it was well-executed, and on another night I would have felt pleased to have delivered it all, which I mostly did. On this night, I couldn't see the point. I wasn't at my best, I felt too underpowered to negate mowing arms, the fighting crypto-ballroom drama just made me feel tired, and I'm not fond of having my knickers knocked sideways by total strangers' impertinent, clueless knees. But my evening gradually improved after midnight, and the leader I had to abandon last week forgave me. Having had a nice dance near the end, I rested my feet till it was time for a lift home. The floor is lovely and I would go again if I were feeling strong, if I had Monday off to catch up on sleep, and if I knew I would see a few friends. And, to be on the safe side, I think I'd wear a pencil skirt.

Thursday 12 June 2008

Tango Extravaganza, 33PP, Negracha, Conway

Everyone who lands on my blog by searching for tango at 33 Portland Place, at Negracha, at Conway Hall or the Welsh Centre, please be aware that this weekend 13th - 15th June they are all closed in favour of the "Tango Extravaganza" festival, which is held at Corrientes (Chalk Farm) and 4 Wild Court (where Negracha usually is). I'm not sure about the Adelaide - check Tango-UK before setting out, and for everyone's announcements.

I think other things are closed as well, including something by tangology, but DanceTango will definitely be at the Crypt on Saturday as normal.

The festival website is at

[Update: and apparently it is not too late to book workshops. Given the design of the website, I can't say I'm surprised. If you want to see what the workshops actually are, click Bookings, twice. Now scroll down in the letterbox in the middle. Decode the illogically colour-coded and inadequately described 'levels', and learn them by heart. Scroll some more, and learn by heart the abbreviations for the teachers, except for the one that's wrong and is abandoned further down. Scroll some more, and scroll up and down for a while to puzzle out the relationship between times, locations, and descriptions, peeping through a letterbox. Now make careful manual notes, not of the times or descriptions themselves, but of the teeny tiny code numbers beside them. Then scroll further and make notes of the prices. Finally, scroll right to the bottom and apply your noted code numbers to the otherwise cryptic booking form. Somewhere between the prices and the form are some confused details about how to pay, with at least two bank accounts, and a reference that may or may not be someone's telephone number and may or may not have a slash in it. It seems that if you pay by cheque, you will be sent a ticket, but if you pay by bank transfer you will not, and it's not apparent what reference you use or how you get in.

I'd suggest printing the whole thing out if you want to try this, but none of the workshop descriptions sounds interesting enough to bother, so I'm certainly not going to try it myself.]

[Second update: The map links on the website are made useless by the enormously long pin stuck in Google Maps. The postcode for Corrientes on the website is not even correct - put it into streetmap and you'll see. The correct postcode, which takes one minute to look up from the address on the post office website, is NW3 2BQ and the resulting, much more useful map is here. It is actually the school building opposite Chalk Farm tube, but they don't bother to tell you that. Maybe it doesn't sound glamorous enough. There are a couple of rather desperate emails on Tango-UK today saying you can still book workshops, and even pay on the door for the "limited places" they've been going on about; but please to turn up 20 minutes early.

Can you tell incompetence irritates me? I must remember this is not my usual world.]

Wednesday 11 June 2008

El Once @ Crypt

*** UPDATE 2013 - NOW CLOSED ***

There are two milongas at the Crypt, Farringdon, on alternate Saturdays. I've already covered DanceTango's one. This week's was El Once - Paul Lange and Michiko Okazaki and friends. The milonga has been going for fifteen years, at this venue for eight. [Update 14th August: check schedule here; Update Apr 2009: They've dropped the wacky virtual performances described below.]

The class: I was too late for the class but have taken these and their regular Monday classes many times. Paul's Zen Master approach doesn't suit everyone, but leaders who are curious and want to get good often find it illuminating, and alert, self-directed followers can get a lot out of it too. He's very keen on developing things organically and exploring the possibilities of basic elements. Michiko reels him in now and then. When he's danced with me in class I've had the impression that (a) the signal is going from his mind to my feet with absolutely no effort from me, and (b) more time is available than there is with anyone else. Double-time ochos in milonga actually worked and were right on the beat. He used to drive racing cars, which possibly has something to do with that. If a racing car were a living thing, I think she would experience the difference between drivers who've got it, and drivers who haven't, in much the same way.

Layout and atmosphere: For a description of the space see the post about Dancetango. The floor is large but has a bit of a slope, and if you like really thin-soled shoes you may find the two metal tramlines for the room dividers more annoying than I do. Paul and Michiko lay out the tables a bit differently, with the tea bar under the projector instead of behind the amp, they do not use a smoke-farter, and the lighting is less strongly coloured.

I like their idea (which was new to me this week) of using the projector to display record sleeves - they're interesting but not distracting or intrusive, and they're perfect for atmosphere. Much more appropriate than the usual landscapes, and more interesting than snapshots of people. I've never met anyone who could hear Paul's announcements of what's playing, so it would be lovely if they corresponded with the music. But they don't, yet. They look great, though. The crowd of regulars is probably older on average than the DanceTango crowd, but it varies and there's quite a lot of overlap. I think there are some really good young dancers who come for the music. It is friendly to the beginner, and there are one or two regulars who occasionally bring their under-16 children, who are welcome. There's quite a bit of overlap with the regulars of the Welsh Centre or Conway Hall, although I have the impression this is not as true as it used to be. It could be just that attendance has gone up in both.

A unique, regular feature of this milonga is the virtual performances. It's common for a screen somewhere to show a performance, usually silent and having nothing to do with what's playing, but here it's not possible to have a small screen. The projector is high up on one side of the room, and the opposite side is a huge blank wall. You can't make a small picture. So what they have been doing for the last few months is stopping the dancing for a few minutes and showing a DVD-quality virtual performance by whoever they think is interesting. Some people like this and some people hate it, but every time, so far, I've learned something, even if only What Not To Wear. I remember in particular a Nuevo-style one a few months ago, to something by Piazzolla, which was remarkably beautiful and musical. This week the second performance was Mariano 'Chicho' Frumboli and Céline Ruiz (example video) and I forget what the other one was except that she was wearing a truly bizarre pair of arseless trousers. I'd be happy with just one vid, but for now there are always two.

DJing: Paul surely has the largest record collection on the scene, the most varied, and the most interesting, and it's not just tango by any means. He's also an actual musician. I doubt there's anyone else in London who would, or could, respond to an overcrowded, somewhat disorderly floor by playing a set of absolutely brilliant Hugo Diaz tangos (that link is not one of them, but is all I can find of the artist on Lots of people went and got a cuppa, I lucked in with someone who can dance to it, and I had a ball. The music at this milonga has never, ever bored me, nor is there ever any rubbish. He may play Nat King Cole, crypto-flamenco or really wierd things, but you won't be bored. Usually there's a salsa set at some point around elevenish; sometimes something to jive to, or the odd one where you have a choice, just to give you something to think about.

Hospitality: Very good. Plentiful water, free, in jugs, with added lemons. Wine (included) Biscuits (included), various herbal teas, ordinary tea, instant coffee, and home made cakes much nicer than you will get elsewhere, all under 50p.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: Duo Napoli Casares appeared unexpectedly with two guitars, sat on two chairs, and sang and played two beautiful twenties tangos for us, without amplification. People shushed and some danced, including me, and it was lovely. I can't find a website for them but I think they are at Corrientes on Friday for the festival.

The website: Style June 1998, with itchy bits. Close your eyes when it loads to avoid flying text. It will take you ages to find anything, so I have done it for you: here are the bit about Paul and Michiko, the bit about the milonga, the milonga schedule, and the Monday classes. Otherwise, look for the CDs and DVDs for sale, especially when they're trying to make space in the record collection.

Getting in: £8.50, includes wine and biscuits.

Getting there and getting home: See previous post.

How it went: I was so absorbed that I had to leave in a terrible hurry, abandoning a gorgeous dance mid-tanda - how I hope he forgives me - and taking someone else's cardie home with me! I think I know whose it is but I still have to arrange to return it. If you are the Japanese lady whose Marks & Spencer's cardigan I confused with my identically-textured Dorothy Perkins navy blue one, three buttons, on the next chair, please do drop me a line (address top right). Paul tells me you have mine, so we can swap any evening you happen to be in town.

Sunday 8 June 2008

Carablanca [The Welsh] @ Conway Hall

Conway Hall from the front[Updates:10th Nov 08: new, updated review here. 27th July 08: added pictures of the building. The venue has now changed permanently to Conway Hall.
14th August: added search terms to schedule link.
8th September: They've changed the name to "Carablanca" - updated post title.

Danny and Diana's milonga every Friday at the Welsh Centre has moved for the summer to Conway Hall. Do check before setting out, as they haven't got all the Fridays. You can pick up the leaflet at the Adelaide, Corrientes, the Crypt (any night), the Dome, and Vino Latino's. A good place to check the latest programme online is at the tango-uk yahoo group. People will, of course, continue to refer to the milonga as the Welsh Centre despite it not being at the Welsh Centre, since tangotheargentinoway is too long, and people are not yet used to "Conway Hall". I went along to have a look at the new place.

The class: it was Los Ocampo, who are great, but I had to go home first so I missed it. The regular beginners' and recent beginners' classes can't run here, because there's no room. [The classes restarted in January 09, see website]

Layout and atmosphere: Conway Hall is the home of the South Place Ethical Society, built in 1929 as a place for the Society to hold lectures, meetings, concerts, and whatnot, with 'facilities for refreshment'. You go in and there is a rather fine atrium with a tiled floor, a very handsome desk which is so high the person taking your money has to sit on a bar stool, and pew-like benches around the walls which I found convenient for sitting on to remove my wellies. I was delighted to see from a sign that while we were dancing tango in the main hall, the Amateur Entomologists had the Bertrand Russell Room. The hall is a high, large, wood-panelled, almost square room with a gallery around three sides and a generous stage on the other. It reminded me of the halls of some Victorian schools, but geometrically proportioned in a way that suits the idea of an Ethical Society. It's the sort of room that you could easily imagine serving as a temporary synagogue or mosque. Most of the ceiling is glass skylight, and hanging opposite the stage is a square clock. Above the stage, on the wall, it says, TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE; the application of this advice is left as an exercise for the reader and needn't detain us here.

The floor is dark wood and includes a scattering of surprising, slippery, brass circles about 10cm across. The first one I encountered nearly sent me flying, after that I was fine. Depending on who you dance with, you might want your grippier shoes. The sound was fine, the lighting had a few problems, but it was the first night. There's nowhere to hang your coat - they have to go in a pile on a table - so I recommend a large kitbag. [Update 27-07-08: this has been fixed with a couple of hanger rails.] The familiar red tablecloths from the Welsh Centre cover tables along one side. It was a lot less stuffy than the Welsh Centre, although it didn't feel exactly cool. You can also go into the atrium to chill.

This was the first night, the lighting required emergency repairs, and the atmosphere isn't quite sure what it is yet. It was well attended, and it seemed to me that the crowd was a mixture of the people who normally go to the Welsh, people who find the Welsh too warm, or awkward to get to, and had come to see if they liked the new venue, and people who would normally go to Negracha, just a few minutes walk away, and were trying this as a prelude or instead. I also thought that because the floor is more or less square, the logical line of dance would have to be circular with a huge hole in the middle. This is awkward, doesn't happen naturally, and didn't happen. The outcome of all that was a lot of zigzagging about, and I got more bumps than I would normally get at the Welsh, but fewer and less serious than I would expect at Negracha. I'll be really interested to see how it works out. My instinct would be to put two giant pot-plants, or something, in the middle of the floor, to create a virtual rectangle, but that might be just too strange. It's quite easy and comfortable to sit at a table and watch, and people who did were enjoying themselves. The tiled floors make it possible, if you want to, to wander out and have a little practice session in the atrium or the circular bit of hallway where the loos are; I noticed a couple of beginners I knew using that to puzzle something out.

What I thought of the DJing: pleasant as usual, sprinkling of milonga and vals sets, nothing eccentric, nothing I remember specifically.

Hospitality: Good. Plentiful free water from jugs. Wine and other drinks are available from a makeshift bar in the corner, staffed by various friends. I really like the idea of supplying whiteboard markers so you can write your name (or draw a picture) on your plastic water cup, and not waste them. This was new to me, and very thoughtful. The loos are numerous and supplied, but newish and I think poorly built - not all were in order by the end of the evening.

The website: Here is the website for the milonga, and here is the venue. The history of Conway Hall is quite interesting and the one for the milonga does the job.

Getting in: £8, £10 with class.

Conway Hall as you approach itGetting there and getting home: Map here. Take the right-hand exit at Holborn station, cross the road, and walk to your right past the sushi place. Take the first left, which looks like the entrance to a shopping centre but is actually Procter Street. You will see the Square Pig pub at the corner of Red Lion Square, which has gardens in the middle; Conway Hall is at the corner furthest from you, the entrance slightly hidden. Look up for the sign. When you leave, you may be asked to go out by the other door, in which case go left, then left again to get back on track. It ends at 12:00 so you can get the tube home if you don't fancy walking back past the station and going to Negracha.

How it went: I benefited from what had happened with the mix of people, and had a highly satisfactory night. It will take a while for people to decide whether they like the place, so it develops its own crowd, and I'm looking forward to seeing how that turns out.

Thursday 5 June 2008

Torvill and Dean

Here are two videos from my childhood. I knew they were good - I watched on TV at the time. But I'd almost forgotten how good they were. I didn't understand what was good about it. I just knew that I couldn't speak or look away.

Here they are dancing to Barnum in 1983. Look at 01:05, and 01:15. The mimed clown costumes at 03:20. The mimed trombones at 03:40. Hear them?

And here it is - Bolero, 1984. The story enacted is about a pair of lovers who climb up the side of a volcano and throw themselves in. Notice the little dip at 01:45. Hear it?

There are no links. There was never any routine in any routine of theirs. And notice what happens to the commentary in both.

A problem with watching that last performance is that it makes it hard to watch anyone else dance anything at all to the same music. I get the same thing, listening to Plácido Domingo singing E lucevan le stelle - it seems so definitive, so fundamentally right and proper, that anyone else's recording sounds like Domingo without the Domingo. But that's how it goes.

Going to milongas, workshops, and whatnot, I see quite a lot of tango performances. And I do sometimes see dancing that's technically brilliant, and bores me stiff. It's not because it's 'show tango'. There's nothing wrong with show, and I like a good show as much as anyone. What makes any dance dull or exciting is not the style - it's the content, I think.

Monday 2 June 2008

A View

On Saturday I had lunch in the restaurant at the top of the National Portrait Gallery. We had a window table, looking over Trafalgar Square.

From this vantage point you notice that Nelson's Column is surely the most purely absurd monument in Europe, and doubtless in the World Top Ten. Why exactly did they make it SO high? The base of the statue, set on this ludicrous maypole - and allegedly quite a good likeness, as if anyone but helicopter pilots could possibly know - is well above the tops of the restaurant windows, which look down on the gallery's dome.

In South Asia, as I was saying to an Indian colleague, they would be more honest about these things, and couples who wanted children would sit on the lions and kiss.

Sunday 1 June 2008

My Embrace

Last week I danced with someone I don't see very often, and he said I'd become "very soft" to dance with. I've always been light, but now I'm "soft" too.

Not only was this totally unprompted praise from someone I like dancing with and learning with, it also happened to be exactly what I'd been working on and trying to achieve. Result!

I had a poor evening two weeks ago, an evening when I felt I could please no-one, least of all myself, and I ought to have gone home at 10pm. I was dissatisfied with my embrace. I had an awkward start, and then some problems with someone who was rather short and held me very tightly, rather low down.

I hung around, and was asked by someone I'd wanted to dance with for a while. I then went home in a state of intense annoyance because I'd just had a very discreet, silent private lesson. A finger on the back of my right wrist, pressing it firmly down. The little smiles. Letting go with his right arm, which is like putting up a big neon sign saying RELAX, WOMAN!. At least he was taller than me, which makes it easier. All of the discreet, silent critcisms were probably justified, and I knew it, which hardly helped. I was trying to relax, but you know what that's like when you're deep-down annoyed, and the most fundamental aspects of your personality are saying "who do you think you are to give me orders? No I do NOT Know Who You Are, get back in the queue." The hedgehog, cute though she be, is a wild creature and nobody's pet.

However. It all added up, when thought about on trains, to some very useful feedback and a clear physical conception of what it was that I'd been wanting to change. Now that I know what I want, I've been working on it, and I can now deliver it more often than I did before.

What it feels like to me is mainly that I have made my left arm heavier and have somehow lengthened my back a little bit. The result for me is a better connection, with higher resolution for detail. The main thing I changed to achieve it was to start my mental checklist lower down, not by relaxing the neck and shoulders but by raising the breasts, standing up straight, inhaling, and making quite sure that I get them high enough up before placing the left arm. Then relax the neck and shoulders. I've also resumed the practice of doing a few press-ups every morning. I'm not exactly sure why that helps to create a relaxed embrace, but it does.

Anyway, I'm counting this as progress. I'll be trying to keep it that way, but now I'll be paying attention to putting energy into my steps. I've improved quite a bit recently and I can deliver things I couldn't deliver eight weeks or so ago. But I think before I get any further it might need to get rougher for a while.