Wednesday 30 December 2009

Happy New Year

To me, the turn of the year really happens at Christmas, which in my family is an entirely traditional feast-day with no religious side. We rejoice in those we love, we create warmth and light, we spread it around as we feel inspired, and after this, the days get longer.

When I get home I'll upload a picture of the family table [Done - on left], with a goose properly stuffed and cooked by my sister (with help from my father and me) potatoes, carrots, and parsnips all roasted in goose fat, sprouts sautéed with pepper and bacon, gravy and fine Australian wine, to be followed by a Christmas pudding prepared by my mother and me and containing an apple, a carrot, the candied peel of several kinds of citrus fruits, the rind and juice of a lemon, grapes preserved in three seperate ways, breadcrumbs, a little flour, brown sugar, almonds, marmalade, beef suet, eggs, a small glass of stout, a sherry glass of brandy, and four kinds of spice. Then you steam it for six hours, mature it for up to a year, steam it for two more hours, then set fire to a ladleful of brandy and pour it over the top.

If you have enjoyed my blog, and have not finished all of your giving this winter, please consider a donation to Centrepoint. I contribute £12 a month to the upkeep of a room at Centrepoint. On the inside of my front door is a photo of the young woman who lives in it for the time being. She was homeless, and alone, in danger from those who ought to have cared for her as my parents still care for me, and now she has a safe place to start, a room of her own, with a bed and a bathroom and a quiet place to study. But they can make good use of one-off donations, too.

Tango stuff:

This year all I did with my tango was work on musicality, musical understanding, and posture and embrace. I did get noticeable improvements in all those things. Two six-hour small-group workshops (with Andreas Wichter) for technique, and some private lessons (with Tango en el Cielo) for technique and musicality gave me a lot to work with. I took the occasional group class, but mostly on tango music. I'm ok with where my dancing is, I'm only willing to give it a certain amount of time and priority, but it's important to me to be a good social dancer, not less good than I should be, and it's probably time for some more work in the new year. I tend to develop random, bizarre little quirks at a fairly constant rate, so I need checkups and feedback from time to time. It might also be time to step out of my comfort zone a little bit and look for some new partners.

I learned that it's possible for women to have a significant influence on how men dance, and how they think about their dance, simply by the way we dance. More than I thought. It matters if he can weight-change you a toe at a time. It matters whether you have or haven't got a default step length. It makes a real difference if you know how to vary the way you move to express your personal impression of the music.

A couple of people emailed me or spoke to me to say they liked the blog or found it useful. A couple of women found the reviews helpful when going out dancing on their own for the first few times. And that was the idea, with the reviews, so I like that. Commenters added a lot - you know who you are. As for the friends and relations and silent readers, you know who you are too, even if I don't.

Thanks for reading, and I wish you a happy New Year.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Out of Office Message

I'll be on holiday for a few more days. I hope your Christmas, if you are somewhere they do Christmas, was as nice as mine.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Actually Good

The thing that really hits me, watching this again, is the ludicrous contrast between Miss Hampton and Mr. Dokes, and all the other dancers you can see. Is he doing anything particularly fancy, fast or physically demanding? No, I don't think so, and neither would you if the lady were 80 years old. But they seem to be in a completely different world from everyone else visible — except the band. Especially towards the end, from about 04:30, where the youngsters seem to be thrashing around more and more like ‘brute beasts that have no understanding’, while everything Dokes and Hampton do is there for a reason.

It gets more and more revelatory to me every time I watch someone Actually Good.

Of course Mr. Dokes can dance more energetically: here he is again, with a plainly delighted young lady (Denise See). But he still always knows when it's time to stop one thing and do something else, or just stop.

Dance is playing Air-Sax, Air-Drums, or Air-Bandoneón with your whole body, each instrument infinitely mutable in shape and function, but keeping its sound.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Around the blogs in Winter

The solstice has passed; the days will grow longer. I'm tidying up some of the links on the right, and perhaps I'll put one of those blog-watcher things. While I get on with that, a few good things you might have missed.

Tangocommuter, in case you hadn't noticed, is back in Buenos Aires and his posts are even more interesting than last time. Today, he's getting very good advice from Cacho Dante, and noticing that lots of the students are very young. He's also going to Porteno y Bailarin. Also, art.

Mari is writing beautifully about the embrace, about Tango Moments of WIN, and about Entrega Soup and the impossibility of doing any such thing on a chaotic floor.

Simba has written a fab article about what to listen for in tango with proper examples, written out as well as made available for playback. In November he finished reading Anne Hollander's book on the history of the male suit, and wrote a great post on suits, skirts, and the modernity of tango.

Pilgrim has been thinking about angry men (it's funny), musical women, and floorcraft.

Read them all.

Sunday 20 December 2009

The sort of thing that you might do for fun

The reason I post this video by Céline Deveze is not that there's any particularly wonderful dancing going on (though most of it looks pretty good to me and it's crowded but doesn't look bumpy), but because everyone seems to be having such fun.

The tango that appeals to me is a relatively simple, physically undemanding dance, with all of the complexity provided by the music, and it's the sort of thing that you might want to do at a party, for fun, with lots of different people, some known to you and some new, sometimes perhaps even in fancy dress.

I think we often make it too difficult and dramatic.

On the other hand, it's rather a subversive thing to do. All these people are much closer together and involved with each other than ballroom dancers, or jivers or lindyhoppers would be. They're much more intensely connected; they are varied in age and in other things, and some of them are very beautifully dressed, or wearing ears or tails or elaborate feather masks or imaginative costumes. And they really look as though they're enjoying it. Naughty, huh? Almost as outrageous as four women swiping a meeting room and knitting together for an hour at lunchtime.

Céline's next "Week-end milonguero," with fancy dress ball, is in the last week of January.

Saturday 12 December 2009

The music they had in their heads

I have always felt, without being able to specify very well, that tango music has a lot in common with 19th century opera, which I like, but with the advantage that you can dance to it. It may be simplistic, but in the same way that Argentinian Spanish sounds, to me, like Spanish spoken by an Italian, tango sounds to me like Puccini for dancing.

It makes sense, because Puccini, Verdi, and so on would have been what all those Italian musicians grew up with and had as the furniture of their minds - the sort of music that would have been performed not just professionally but for fun, as indeed it was by my grandmother's Scottish family.

Here's a well-known Puccini piece. (Man about to be executed sings about the last time he slept with his girlfriend - "e lucevan le stelle").

That's a modern operatic tenor (José Carreras, 1978) with a full orchestra. Caruso, with 1910s recording technology and taste, sounds quite different singing the same song - and perhaps the weakness of the technology makes him sound much more like those Italian immigrant musicians would have sounded. If you have time, it's worthwhile to compare:

Mix that up in your head with some of that zarzuela Domingo has always been so fond of (Spanish operetta - "pretty woman in love"):

This next one is Caruso again, in 1914, with Ruffo, singing Verdi's version of Othello. The higher voice is Caruso (Othello), the lower voice is Ruffo (Iago), persuading Othello to an unjust vengeance. I put this in because it's Verdi and he has his particular zip which I keep hearing in tangos, still without being able to tell you what the zip is.

For those who like the sheer emotion in traditional tango, here's Domingo for a second time, singing Donizetti's "una furtiva lagrima" - the pictures are out of sync with the music. The story of this song is that the woman he loves let fall a tear, and he's just realised what it means - he has her love. He could die, and ask nothing more. Domingo is just the best at this stuff.

This is the kind of thing that the golden-age musicians must have had in their heads when they set out to create their music. They weren't imitating it at all - but this, it seems to me, was what gave them their concept of what music is all about and how you use it transmit emotion.

I do have a recording of Domingo singing tangos, which I bought to find out what it sounded like, and I don't think it works. It sounds wrong, in tango terms, from start to finish, and incidentally totally undanceable. But it is very interesting to see what happens when a great singer just treats a tango as a Spanish-language art song, and here he is singing El dia que mi quieras (Carlos Gardel) with Daniel Barenboim at the piano. Fast forward to 00:48 to skip the tedious intro, I did.

You wouldn't dance to it, but you see what he's doing.

Of course it goes without saying that all the music above would probably have been familiar to Gardel's audience, too. But it's not that widely known here. It's not difficult or inaccessible music, but it's not a routine part of the popular culture in the same way that it would have been when Gardel was playing El dia que mi quieras, or even as it was when my grandmother's relations were making their own entertainment in Australia with performances of Bizet's Au fond du temple saint.

I don't really like going out when it's so cold!

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Hello Dance Today readers

Hi there!

I sent off the commisssioned article for the December issue of Dance Today and then forgot all about it. I've just received my copy in the post and noticed that the editor has put my blog address at the end in case anyone wants to look. So this is specially for you, most of all if you have not done tango before.

If you're coming to tango from an interest in dance, you have probably already worked out for yourself that argentine tango is not the same thing as ballroom tango, and social tango is not necessarily similar to what Vincent and Flavia do, either (that's stage tango - some teachers make this distinction more consistently than others, but if you want to dance well I think it's helpful to keep it in mind, it makes everything a lot easier). I personally think the social form is much more expressive and interesting, though less spectacular, but I came to tango from a different perspective with no experience of dance.

Here are a blog and a website by tango dancers with previous experience of other kinds of dance:

Ampster Tango - Ampster did ballroom first and has a lot of interesting things to say about his experiences making the transition, especially the parts where he went down the wrong track.

Learning Tango - David and and Chris both started from Ceroc, and their articles about their experiences are good and there are some contributions from others and London class listings too. I don't agree with it all by any means, but it's always interesting in one way or another.

Here are all my posts that I think are likely to help tango beginners. If you're thinking of taking a class, the most useful might be the Beginners' Questionnaire.

The 'beginning' posts overlap with the longer lists I've labelled musicality and music. Not all of those are tango, but most are. Or if you want a laugh and some tango music, just watch the dancing flower. All those are fun whether you're a beginner or not.

[Edit some hours later: I hadn't read the whole magazine. For an example of candombe, which is great stuff, see part way down this post.]

And generally, there's a large and lively tango blogosphere - you can start with the links on the right, and those will take you to lots more, but Tangri-La has a really long list. On very rare occasions I contribute to Dance Forums, and there's a lively tango discussion board there. And there are lots of calendars around - here's one at Tango En El Cielo.

Have a ball! Or a milonga.

Some interesting emails

From a couple of weeks ago. Emphasis mine.

Email 1:

“Contents: This class is designed to help students understand the notion of connection in tango as a technical tool. We will teach you to dance from your centre with the whole body using your intention to connect with your partner, the music, the ground and the rest of the dancers on the dance floor.”
I don't remember that last bit being mentioned in the ad for a class at Negracha before. I could be wrong. Sounds like a good thing, anyway.

Email 2:
“n.b :We welcome all styles, and with a dance floor as large as ours we are happy this is possible. Our only request is that we respect each others space (no overtaking, stepping back into someone else's space, wild crossing into other peoples lanes etc!), making our milonga a happy social gathering, where everyone can safely and blissfully dance together!”
I don't remember reading that message before, either, but that could be because I live too far away from this particular place to think about going under normal circumstances, and didn't read that far down. Nice, though, I like it. It definitely encourages me to consider going there.

Email 3:
“we're running - for the very first time - a course on choreography. ... By the end of the course, you will not only have learnt new skills, but you should also find that your social dancing has indirectly benefited.”
What interests me about this one is that the writer felt that mentioning that possible benefit would be a good idea. It's nice to hear they have that in mind.

Monday 7 December 2009

Postcards from the Salon

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

I think that some people I talk to who haven't danced anywhere but London, sometimes assume that there are only two points on the continuum, London and Buenos Aires, with nothing in between. They take it for granted that the standard of dancing and the standard of experience in London must be at least normal, and they conclude that defensive driving, being frequently kicked and bumped, and continually having to master fight-or-flight in a zigzagging, jerking, braking, crashing, bouncing, incoherent, amusical, unpredictable dog's dinner of variously oblivious, incompetent, maddened, tense and frustrated people is just what comes with the tango territory.

With no experience of the real normal, as you might find, say, an hour away in Eton, or a few hours away in Scotland or Germany or the south of France, they're not convinced that any change is possible or necessary. It is, but they will only be convinced by experience, not assertion.

So I think it's important, and it makes a real difference, to create at least one space where people can experience an orderly floor and a relaxed atmosphere. They're trying to do this at 33 Portland Place with the “salon room” downstairs. They have a dedicated room, with a playlist that's trying hard, a notice on the wall and sweet little flyers with basic instructions. Their website is pure Flash so I can't copy and paste, but I've taken a screenshot which should be readable if you click on it. (I think the rather un-idiomatic English is because the first version was dictated by Adrian Costa).

So far, whenever I've gone there, it's more or less worked and delivered an orderly floor on which I could relax and dance properly at least 70 percent of the time. The first four times I went, I didn't get kicked or bumped even once - not a touch. There were people who didn't realise there were rules, and there were people who did but who had technical problems following them (more on that another time) but not enough all at once to screw it up completely.

It tends to work best for the first half of the evening.

I don't actually agree with the flyer's implication that this represents a particular style of dancing beyond the literal meaning of tango salon, that is, tango for a social dance hall as opposed to a stage. For example, I wouldn't, based on my own experience alone, contrast it to ‘nuevo’. Twenty-odd people on the First Friday of each month who have all said Yes to a Facebook page that says, among other things:

You will be expected to dance in an anti-clockwise route around the dance floor, not overtake, and dance appropriately i.e. no drops or aerials etc. Practice moves are not to be done on the dance floor but to the side out of harms way."
have in my experience actually delivered a very orderly and relaxing floor for at least the first two to three hours downstairs at Negracha, where the music is definitely ‘nuevo’. (Last Friday I could even live with a lot of the music). However, I understand why it makes sense to talk about it as an alternative ‘style’. It's easier for people to consider learning a new ‘style’ than it is to consider becoming courteous and competent - and if the result is the same, I'm willing to overlook a little therapeutic lying to smooth the transition.

I don't know about you but it's shocking how much better I dance, and for how much longer, when I'm not in physical fear.

Saturday 5 December 2009

Milonga Marina, Plymouth

The milonga is at the National Marine Aquarium, and when it's on it's a monthly event, but, sadly, this one was the last one for a while.

Disclosure: I know Andreas and Lynn, and consider them friends; they were happy to see me and since I'd come such a long way, offered me guest status; but I did not accept it, because if you do that I can't give you a writeup.

This writeup is of limited use to anyone anyway because the Aquarium is closing for refurbishment and won't open till April. No-one knows yet whether the room will be available then or not. I'm going to use my usual format anyway.

The Class: There isn't one, just the milonga.

Layout and Atmosphere: The dance floor is in the café at the very top of the National Marine Aquarium. As you come up the stairs you can see a table with a white cloth, and the floor and the DJ, with her own little floor-facing table, on the other side. Having said Hello and handed over your money, there is a space with some coat racks and chairs for metamorphosing yourself from woolly caterpillar into twinkly butterfly. This process took me several minutes, in late November at Plymouth docks, and I was glad not to be doing it on the edge of the dance floor. Then you go round a bit of wall and see a small bar where an employee of the Aquarium serves hot and cold drinks with biscuits, and then there are some tall tables and sofas.

The rest of the room is a glass-walled, curved space looking out over the quay, with fishing boats, charter boats and small sailing yachts visible far below. Around the outer wall are little round tables with white tablecloths, candles, pretty fake rose petals, and enough chairs for everyone. You will not find yourself sitting with your back to the wall and your feet on the dancefloor. The floor is small and roundish or maybe triangular. It was quite well filled with a dozen couples on it, which I think was what I counted at the peak, but the dancing was calm and orderly so more would be able to fit, dancing small. Lighting is good but not harsh. You can catch someone's eye from the other side of the fairly small room quite easily.

It is a very pretty, light and airy space, nicely set up for dancing, and I was intrigued by the idea that if you were on one of the boats outside, the dancers going gently round and round on the brightly-lit dancefloor behind glass at the top of the Aquarium would look like a school of tropical fishes. The atmosphere was gentle and civilised as though everyone was relaxed and enjoying themselves.

Hospitality and comfort: Good to fair. The layout was more comfortable than I'm used to and the general look and atmosphere much nicer. I appreciated the biscuits. My single G&T was £3.15, but sabotaged because the Aquarium had run out of ice and lemon. I didn't really want it and drank tea instead at I think £1.80, which is a lot for tea, but what you'd expect from a tourist attraction like the Aquarium. Because it was cold I forgot to ask for water; bottled water was for sale at the bar. The loos are on the second floor - take the little lift down and they're on your left. They were clean, working, properly supplied and roomy, with just a few spots of water on the floor. And very well lit - I had awful panda eyes.

The cold was the only problem. The room was really quite cold, I suppose because the walls are almost entirely glass, it's open to the huge space of the stairwell, and it was very, very cold and windy outside. It might be hot in summer. Now the cold had a big upside, in that the men mostly kept their jackets on and didn't get sweaty; I had only one even slightly sweaty tanda. But if I'd known it was so cold I would have worn a different outfit. Or a bra.

Anything or anyone interesting that turned up or happened: There were Greta Flora tango shoes for sale, which I haven't seen before. They came in a variety of heel heights as well as designs and colours, and the little detachable flowers are very nice. I saw some on the dance floor too and they looked good. The two ladies who were selling them don't seem to have a website, but they're in Totnes and the first email on their flyer is annasalsa at gmail.

What I thought of the DJing: Lynn Collins DJ'd. It's 100% Golden-Age tango music. I remember noticing many things I liked, but not particularly things that get played all the time. It kept me interested and the time flew. The tandas are fours for tango, so you can get into it properly, or threes for milonga and vals. The cortinas made me feel cheerful and refreshed.

Getting in: £10. When you get to the Aquarium you won't see any sign that it's open or anything is on. The sign at the front says "Pedestrian Entrance" or something, with a big arrow pointing to a very small, ugly, clearly shut door. Ignore that door, but follow the arrow and the pedestrian pathway on the left right round to the back of the building - it still looks shut - until you see a lit glass door with Aquarium employees inside. Maybe this door is left open when the weather's warm. They will open the door when they see you outside it, and let you in, whereupon you hear the music and can follow it up the stairs to the top.

Getting there and getting home: Even if you live locally, I think you probably need to drive or get a taxi. The area didn't strike me as pedestrian-friendly - certainly the entrance to the Aquarium isn't - and I didn't see any buses. I think there's free parking. I was staying at the hotel across the road, and although the area felt perfectly safe I wouldn't have wanted to walk from much further away, especially afterwards. The station is really much too far.

The website: Tangokombinat. Milonga announcements appear on the News page, but it's not just about the milonga, it covers various activities, have a look around. Announcements are also usually posted on tango-uk.

How it went: there were more and less experienced dancers there, but nobody needed to open the embrace to do a turn. There was a clear line of dance all the time using the full size of the floor, sometimes with two or three couples in the middle, and people were respecting each other's space. The only thing my heel made contact with was the leg of a stray chair.

I could relax. I could dance. I could even dance well. I remembered that tango is actually good. I could hear all of the music properly all of the time. I met neither General Melée nor Major Scrum. I didn't have to sit with my back to the wall and my feet on the dancefloor, hide from anyone, watch my bag, leave my stuff in a big dusty pile in the dark, or even change seats unless I wanted to. I met congenial people. I had really good dances (much better than I would get in London) with friends and strangers to good music in a charming setting. Not getting bashed into every three seconds or having to be on guard meant I could maintain a reasonable level of dance to the end of the evening, and if anyone was unsatisfied with my dancing he didn't let me know about it. You should consider my bias, in being used to London, and in being happy to see friends. But as far as I'm concerned it was magic.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Very Girly Baby Hat

My colleague has a little son already, and is delighted to be expecting a girl.

This hat is Very Girly. The basic shape is just an octagonal hat worked from the top down, but I made it Girly with a pink wool/cotton mix sock wool, a picot cast off, and some crocheted motifs.

(It looks a strange shape because it's being modelled by a little Chinese porcelain vase from the V&A shop which just happens to be nearly the right size and shape if I stand it upside-down - when worn by a baby the ribbing would fold upwards. This is an improvised pattern, it's stretchy, I'm hoping it'll fit).

Work circularly, with dpns or magic loop.

Cast on 4 and do a little i-cord for the stalk. I like stalks on baby hats. If you don't like stalks then just use any centre-out cast-on you like.

round 1: k1, m1, 4 times.
round 2 and all even rounds: k.
round 3 and all odd rounds: m1 at 8 points around, evenly distributed, until the circumference is large enough for the intended Baby. Use a baby head size chart.

That's the end of the shaping.

Motif band: Purl 2 rows. Knit 2 rows. Purl 2 rows. Knit another 15 rows. * Purl 2 rows. Knit 2 rows. Repeat from * once more. I got a noticeable jog with this pattern - it would have been much better if I'd thought to cover it with some jogless-stripe method or other, so try it.

Switch to 1x1 rib and continue till the hat is long enough for intended Baby. Use a chart again.

Cast off with a picot cast off.

Make crochet motifs and sew them on. The flower is a completely standard Irish crochet rose - all books on crochet motifs or Irish crochet have them. Any sort of flower, knitted or crocheted, would have done. But be aware if you are in the US, or you learned to crochet from a book written in the US, facsimile books of Irish crochet lace motifs may be using the British/Irish stitch names, which are all off-by-one if you're American. I use that notation too.

The leaves I improvised as follows:

Ch of 20 for the full length of leaf plus stalk, make a picot by slip-stitching into 4th ch from hook, then work back along the chain:
1 dc, 1htr, 1tr, 4dtr, 1dtr into same ch as previous dtr, 1tr, 1htr, 1dc
3 chain - turn so that the remaining chain, which forms the stalk, passes under the 3 chain - and work back along the other side of the leaf towards the picot, exactly as above.
Sl st into the picot and fasten off leaving a long tail for sewing it on.

Monday 30 November 2009

Milonga de mis perros - lyrics

I couldn't find the lyrics of this milonga I wrote about last Friday, but Anquises has very kindly transcribed it for me (and you). [Update: spotify link, so you can listen, here.]

I have added my own rather free translation at the bottom, attempting to make the English lines fit closely enough to the music that you could sing along if you wanted to understand what you were dancing to, and have the right ideas in the right places.

Mis perros gauchos

Cimarrón, Capitán
ellos son mis camaradas

Yo no tengo más amigos
que mis perros compañeros

Yo no tengo más camaradas
ni los tengo ni los quiero

Cimarrón, Capitán
a mi lado siempre están

Cuando me ven
con un pesar
mis penas dan
en consolar.

El Cimarrón y el Capitán
de la lealtad
hacen galardón.

Si alegre estoy
alegres van
El Cimarrón y el Capitán

No saben qué es
hacer traición
no lo sabrán
ni el Capitán ni el Cimarrón
ni el Cimarrón


My gaucho doggies

Cimarrón, Capitán,
They are my only friends

I don't have no other buddies
Than my dogs to stand beside me
I don't want no other buddies
I don't want none, I don't need none

Cimarrón, Capitán,
they are always here with me

Whey they can see
my chin go down
they try to chase
away the frown

My Cimarrón and Capitán,
They get the prize
for loyalty

* And when I smile
they jump for joy,
do Cimarrón and Capitán
They wouldn't know
how to betray
They wouldn't know
Not Capitán, not Cimarrón.

[Repeats from *]

Not Cimarrón.

Friday 27 November 2009

La Milonga de mis Perros

I have this CD, "Candombe" by Francisco Canaro and orchestra.

On it is Milonga de mis Perros, "Milonga of my dogs". The words are easy to hear (I think - I don't understand it all) but the piece as a whole is a beautiful little tone poem that makes me cry.

The poet has two dogs, who are his only friends, his companions. We learn their names, Cimarrón and Capitán. And we hear their voices, and even their shapes and personalities. They respond when he mentions their names.

Cimarrón (which seems to mean "Runaway" or "Maverick" in the farming sense, or in some contexts an escaped slave) sounds like a little, yappy, bouncing dog, perhaps something like a spaniel. He's played, I think, by the right hand of the bandoneón. Capitán has a deeper voice; he sounds like a bigger dog, perhaps something like a labrador or one of those big hunting dogs that runs around with its nose to the ground - and he's played by the left hand of the bandoneón.

We can hear their pattering feet and the way they run around, jump up and down and play and bark at things, prick up their ears, and come at the word of command.

It's such a brilliant little piece of music. I don't know why it makes me cry.

[Edit: to clarify, the band is Francisco Canaro y su Orquesta Típica, the singer is Carlos Roldán, and the track is dated 1942 and titled La milonga de mis perros and it sounds absolutely nothing like a 'nuevo' track I have somewhere called Milonga de los perros.]

[Update: muuuuuch later, I have worked out how to use Spotify, so if you have Spotify and want to listen (free) to this track, you can do so.]

Thursday 26 November 2009

The Adventures of Saj

I have just been very much cheered up by an overheard conversation on the Tube.

The speaker, who for the purpose of this story I shall call Saj, was a man of about twenty years, insigificant build, immature facial hair, lots of gel, and somewhat deceptively innocent appearance. He described his exploits and adventures as a Londoner and Manchester United supporter (you may now have detected a certain nonconformity) to two friends, the more vocal of whom I shall call Jaz.


So I'm on the Victoria Line and the coach was FULL of Arsenal supporters. I'm there in my United shirt and it's FULL of Arsenal supporters. And me! And they're going "YOU-Manc BAS-tard! YOU-Manc BAS-tard!!"




And then they all got off at, where is it, Finsbury Park. And it was so full, they picked me up and carried me, they carried me, onto the platform with them. About eight of them, they just picked me up.




I couldn't do nothing about it. They just picked me up and carried me, and I was on the platform. And then they went, "YOU-ehhh! YOU-ehhh! YOU-ehh!!" And the train went.




And then they all went. And I had to wait four minutes for another train.


That is quite funny, actually.


And then, I was at Kensington tube, and it was a Champions League night, it was the night United had lost to, to, and Chelsea won, and there was all these Chelsea supporters and they all got on the train.




So I stood there in front of the door and I went "CHEL-sea RENT-boys!! CHEL-sea RENT-boys!!" through the door and the doors closed, and the train moved, and I thought, they can't get me now!




And then one of them pulled the emergency cord!




And the train stopped!




So I went, "Oh, Shit!!" and ran as fast as I could down the platform.




And they nearly stopped me at the front of the station, you know, because they thought, like I'd done something, why the cord was pulled.


He, he, he!


Sometimes I have to question my sanity, I really do.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Who was General Melée, anyway?

I have noticed recently that as soon as there isn't a general melée, it becomes possible for people to tell when they personally do something that eats space or disrupts the flow, because now it makes a difference, when it didn't before. People who always assumed their own floorcraft was fine and all the bumps were someone else's fault, suddenly have convincing evidence that something they normally do, doesn't work.

So they change it. Two or three partners have told me that they were changing their dance for this reason, and I have heard the same about others.

And on the occasion I'm thinking of, even though quite a few people were beginner-to-middling dancers who danced rather mechanically, and so found maintaining the flow quite challenging, it still worked and I didn't get a single touch, even though it was full enough to go to two lanes.

Luckily, it seems the things that do work are often the ones that are simple to lead and follow, which doesn't hurt at all. Ghost noticed that, here, and he experiments with some easy but powerful skills, here.

Monday 23 November 2009

I, too, shall now make every effort ...

... to promote the meme of Dr. Escalate Embuggerance and Dr. Holistic Feisty.

That link's from Language Log, and I'm quoting the commenter called Mertseger. How this accident happened is explained here.

I don't know why, but I feel that Holistic is a female name, like “Holly”, and Escalate is probably, but not necessarily, male. It could be one of those crossover names, like “Evelyn”.

Saturday 21 November 2009

Striped Gecko with Bobble Toes

This is another baby present. The body starts at the nose with Judy's magic cast-on for toe-up socks. The nose increases just like a toe-up sock but with increases every third row instead of every other row. At the end of the increases, I made Aran bobbles for eyes. The body is a tube, using Techknitter's jogless stripes (I allow them to travel). For the tail I decreased at the same rate as the nose, but offset by 45°, so at the centre front and back instead of at the sides.

The fun part is the feet. The toes are aran bobbles, and on the underside is a moss-stitch triangle to represent the velcro feet that geckos have. You could literally sew velcro on, and have a handy toy that sticks to bedcovers, toddlers' clothes, and whatnot.

bobble toesI started the feet at the toes, as follows.

Cast on 25 using Judy's magic cast-on for toe-up socks (i.e. 25 on each needle). Knit 2 rounds.
Round 3: On the top, k2, make bobble, *k4, make bobble, repeat from * 3 more times (5 toes), k2. On the bottom, k2, *p1, k1, repeat from * till 2 st from end, k2.
Round 4 and even rounds: k on top. On bottom, keep seed/moss stitch pattern correct, reserving 2k at each end.
Round 5 and odd rounds: 2 decreases on top and 2 on bottom for each of next 2 odd rounds. Then 4 decreases on each side in following odd rounds till you're down to 9 stitches top and 9 bottom. On the moss stitch side you keep the decreases at the edges, on the top I put them between the toes to make a nice anatomical shape.
Gecko foot underside
When you're down to 9 just knit straight till it is long enough, stuff the foot, and do a 3-needle bind off, leaving a tail the length of your arm for sewing it on.

The way I know of making an Aran bobble is like this, but you could use whatever kind of bobble you please:

Into next stitch, k1, yo, k1, yo, k1 (5 sts on needle).
Turn. P5.
Turn. K5.
Turn. Slip 1, p1, pass slipped st over. P1. P2tog. (3 sts on needle).
Turn. Slip 1, k2tog, pass slipped st over. (Back to 1 st on neede).
Continue from there, as though nothing had happened.

The last step is to embroider the eyes. This has to be done last (same principle as when they paint a religious image in India).
I learned quite a few things making this, some of them the kind of things I ought to have known but that only really come with specific experience. It's not perfect, or even close, and if I was making it again I'd make it a bit differently. I'd make the tail bigger, and the body smaller, I'd add some shaping behind the head, and I might use just two colours and perhaps add a cable down the spine. The moss stitch, to my shame, is messed up on one of the back feet by a misconcieved pattern of decreases. But it was a work of discovery and will be loved by a fellow knitter and her baby, who might be moving to a tropical climate soon.

I really like the bobble toes.

Monday 16 November 2009

I'm busy knitting

I'll get back to you.

Sunday 15 November 2009

Adrian and Amanda Costa - now with transcript

Danny asked for a transcript of this interview in the comments on the previous post; I find it pretty hard to hear, myself, so I should think he's right about not being the only one. I've done my best below, I can't hear every word (Amanda is clearest) but I think I've got all the sense.

CLAIRE LOEWE: What is tango-salon for you, if you could essentially say what is important for you about tango-salón?

ADRIAN: For me tango-salón is, the first, be able to respect the people dancing, I mean, what I think about social dancing, about respect for the other ones; is be able to dance with the music and really know what you are doing with the music; is trying to do that with elegance, and make the womans feeling like a queen.

CLAIRE: [To Amanda]: And do you feel like a queen?

AMANDA: Yes, In his arms yes! Depends on the man. But for me, it's more, the walk; and how a couple can be, er, to share the space with the others; and the, the harmony with the couple and with the others and with the music; and not ... with together, not .. in [inaudible] in opposition with all that.

CLAIRE: All of those things are things you've become very well known for here, people are crazy about you, your musicality, I think until you both came here there hasn't been a teacher really, who has clearly spoken about the musicality, [inaudible] you've spoken about the music, and also about the floorcraft, you know, how every single figure fits in with the direction, the first things, it feels like, you've taken tango a level up in London, singlehandedly, the two of you, have done that because your teaching is so clear. So, I really want to thank you for that, if I see the dance which you've brought [inaudible] to our school here, [inaudible] ... hopefully, my students, they're respecting each other, I hope there's no fighting going on as we're talking here, maybe, behind us, there's somebody ... it looks pretty good.

AMANDA: They are walking!

ADRIAN: [inaudible]

CLAIRE: They're in their lanes. And they're doing - how are they doing? [inaudible] the experience of teaching here?

AMANDA: In this place, it's very easy because you gave all the fundamental things, the ball-room, the technique of the ball-room, the embrace, the posture, the walk, so, it's easier. In the other part of London, it's more like a fight. But - we win, together. We win sometimes - not win, it's not a fight, but, we convince to do less, and with more quality, than more, and without quality. There are more ... [fades out].

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Adrian and Amanda Costa talking to Claire Loewe

I'd like to see more of this kind of thing. Old milongueros talking are fascinating, but they're not available to teach us, so it's nice to hear teachers who are available to us from time to time, and are young and likely to remain available, talking about what matters to them and what they think they are trying to transmit. Here, Claire Loewe asks Adrian Costa to summarise what tango is to him. He does good job of that, and then Amanda adds her own nuance.

I would have liked to hear the rest of what Amanda says at 02:35 that starts "not a fight, but, we convince ..." (What I think she's saying sounds like a good plan, but it fades out to their performance before I can be sure).

Thanks Tango South London for doing it and posting it.

Monday 9 November 2009

Good writing about good writing about clothes

Anne Hollander in Seeing Through Clothes, which is about the history of representations of the body and clothing in Western art:

[George Eliot] speaks of the kinds of bonnets that “were then the fate of women,” and she magnificently describes the way a lady sobbing in the transports of deep distress must yet contrive, with a nicely calibrated blend of instinct and calculation, to rush through a narrow door without crushing her wide buckram sleeves. George Eliot must herself have seen it done in the enormous fashionable sleeves of 1830, when she was an observant eleven-year-old girl.

Sunday 8 November 2009

Present in progress

Present in progress
Originally uploaded by mshedgehog
I've recovered, at last, from the blue thing, and I'm starting to be more productive. Here's a present for the next baby in my knitting group. At the moment it's just a striped tube with bobble eyes, but it's going to have interesting feet.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Generous dancers

Something a few of my very favourite male dancers have in common is not a particular style or technique, but a great personal generosity in their dance, especially when the woman is not very experienced, or is someone they don't know. (I'm sure lots of women are notable for it as well, I just don't know because I don't dance with them).

One of them was the person who danced a vals with me at my very first milonga and made it seem perfectly straightforward and tons of fun and gave me enough courage to keep on with the classes despite the fool who, fifteen minutes later, persisted with the vague leads, pained looks, and incomprehensible verbal instructions until I could no longer hold back tears.

You dance who you are, up to a point, and I have always assumed it must be a reflection of character. But I don't really know. Even if it is, you probably need a certain level of skill to express it successfully. I don't know exactly which skills are important, but Ampster has written a beautiful piece about that, and the rewards of gaining them.

But I can tell you what it feels like. It feels like a reflection of someone who not only likes women as people, but actively enjoys the idea that we're not necessarily perfect or under control.

I don't ask this quality of everybody's dance. There are lots of ways to be a lovely dancer, that's part of the interest, and this is just one. But if you see that possibility in yourself, wherever you are, cultivate it, because it will be a real contribution to your scene.

Thursday 29 October 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 27 October 2009

DJs and demos, the short term and the long

DJs are cheap, and demos are expensive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 26 October 2009

Changing Embraces

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Commuting Music

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

Sunday 18 October 2009

Salon Room at 33 Portland Place

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 14 October 2009





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


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


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


He probably lives here.


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

Monday 12 October 2009

A tango class with no dancing

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 10 October 2009

Miscelleaneous and appealing to the animal

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

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

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

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

Monday 5 October 2009

The other way round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 4 October 2009

Smooth striped beanie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 2 October 2009

Adrian and Amanda Costa - fluid embrace

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

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

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

Thursday 1 October 2009

Charlie Watts

Playing with Jools Holland, and others:

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

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

Monday 28 September 2009

Side note on getting dances

On a side note: I remember a very wierd transitional period of about three or four months. Before it, I regarded every dance I got as a bonus, accepting all offers with equal curiosity, while they slowly increased in quality and number. I organised my evening to maximise my chances of being asked, avoiding only people I had danced with at least once and verified as hopeless.

Afterwards, I never got five minutes to sit down, and I organised my evening in whatever way I could to get some kind of control over it. In between there was a strange period where I got fewer and sometimes worse dances than before and I wondered if there was any actual point in improving at all. The switch between getting no dances and getting more than I could handle was unbelievably sudden and I still don't know why exactly it happened when it did. Maybe I fixed something, I still don't know what; or maybe it was processing time, while people changed their minds about how I fitted in.

I've had other transitions since then, and now it all works completely differently. So that was an aside. But it was strange.