Monday 30 March 2009

The petals are dropping

The pink petals are already falling. It's been a windy few days.

Cherry petals droppedBut some of the hawthorns or may-trees, I think that's what these are ...

Hawthorn spray... are flowering in great profusion.

Hawthorn snowThe little bit of bright blue is not a sliver of sky fallen to earth, but a plastic bag, abandoned on the common by some barbarian hand.

Saturday 28 March 2009

Friday Night

17:30 Leave work.
18:30 Get home. It's the weekend!
Take off coat and immediately change glasses for contact lenses.
Assemble all parts of intended outfit. (New dress).
Cook and eat something. (2 boiled eggs and toast will do.)
Have shower.
Put kettle on.
Find shoes and put in bag.
Make tea.
While tea is brewing, put new dress on. Dither about whether new dress requires the presence or absence of a bra, tights, or leggings, for correct effect. Conclude that the bra had better be there, but not the tights or leggings. Put dress on again.
Drink slightly overbrewed tea and put face on, except lips.
Finish tea.
Do hair in appropriate style with respect to dress.
Dither about jewellery. Try on alternatives with dress.
Brush teeth.
Do lipstick.
Forget about having found shoes and start hunting for them again. Can't find them. But find a different, better pair. Go to put them in bag and discover previously found shoes. Swap shoes.
Arrange purse, keys, etc between correct locations to reduce likelihood of losing both, even in the very unlikely presence of a thief.
Arrange cheap but intensely practical viscose dupatta to protect up-do from wind and sleet.
Woolly cardigan.
Coat, woolly socks, footwear for walking.
Review kitbag: Keys? Y Purse? Y Shoes? Y Phone/mp3? Y Oyster card? Y
20:40 Get away from mundanity for a few hours.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Vintage Fashion

This poster for a musical has been catching my eye on the Tube. (Sorry the pic is so small, it's the only one I could find of this poster, but the poster looks better from a distance, anyway). I'm not really very interested in who this man-boy is or why he is holding a microphone, but I can't help saluting the genius who put him in knee breeches. It says the 1945 vintage look is over — and 1905 just doesn't do the job. This season, to look both radical and right, you have to go back to Trafalgar year*. I quite like the Enlightenment angle, and of course the hobbit hairstyle is just right.

Actually, it's not true at all. The shops are full of ghastly eighties tat. A pity. Although some of the drapey dresses are a little bit 1805, when I think about it. I tried one on today and it was all right, but hadn't been done with any conviction, and was just too boring from the back. Generally the high street was a rather unsuccessful mess.

Clothes are powerful works, full of meaning. This costume made me think of the Nelson and Napoleon exhibition which I saw at the British Maritme Museum in 2005. The two artefacts that stuck in my mind — both of a kind so rarely preserved — were Nelson's last-worn uniform, with bullet holes, and Napoleon's burnous. They were both rather small, slight men. The burnous — scarlet and magnificently worked, brilliantly displayed in a dark-lined, glass-fronted cupboard on a featureless figure, as though being worn — would have been a little short for me.

*1805, for my foreign readers and those who don't read Patrick O'Brian.

Tuesday 24 March 2009


    Spring evening —
Street tree
    Puts dress on.

I love my new camera. The light was so low that the macro autofocus wouldn't work - even my eyes were struggling - but it has a little magnification window that appears unprompted when you use manual, so I could get the bud in the centre sharp.

I think English headline language is very haiku-like. The best translations of haiku into English sound like strangely peaceful headlines or wire stories. [Edit: I've changed the link to a better one with funny comments.]

Sunday 22 March 2009

Raising expectations

Yesterday I went to the Crypt earlier than I usually would because it was Adrian and Amanda Costa, and I wanted to take the class. Unfortunately I still missed the first third, partly because of the rugby, but mainly because I'd forgotten my Tube route was partially down for some scheduled repairs. It would have been rude to join at that point, and it was also extremely full (good thing, too) so I just watched and listened with a cup of tea. But I was told this:

Adrian had started the class by explaining and demonstrating the rhythmic distinction between milonga, tango, and tango-vals, and how to tell the difference.

And I am pretty sure of this:

This simple, necessary information was new to a large proportion of the students, most of whose faces were not new to me, and most of whom had been dancing for more than one year. And important parts of it would have been new to me, too, if I hadn't happened to take that class with Joaquín Amenábar.

Which — is a scandal. And here I cut two paragraphs of rant: but I think it's a scandal and I don't really give a bugger what the excuses are.

So, back to the class. Adrian gives pretty good quotes and I really wished I had a dictaphone, but in running for my train I had neglected to bring even a pencil and paper. So paraphrases of what stuck are the best I can do.

"If the traspié it is there in the music I can choose, to do it or not to do it. If it is not there I cannot do it."
(The class was working with a tango here, not a milonga, and by traspié he meant what is usually called "double-time" in English, in the sense of double the number of steps, each of them in half the time.)

The class was asked to dance doing whatever they liked, but mostly just walking, and always doing the double-time only when it was there in the music, not always then, and not otherwise.

And the women were expected to listen, too! Amanda assumed that we could figure out ourselves how to do whatever ornament we liked, and told us to do one for the traspié if and only if the traspié was there but the man didn't put a step in himself. The women were not treated as being there to serve, nor were we treated as lawn ornaments, studying to look as nearly as possible like a tasteful display of identical plastic flamingos. It was assumed without apology or discussion that we were there to learn to dance well, for our own pride and enjoyment; that this was a possible goal; that it was worth attaining, without other justification; that we were capable of attaining it, with some work; and that we wanted to do so. Yay!

Towards the end Adrian made the class stand still and listen again to the entire tango, pointing out that it repeated the same pattern, with the double-time in the same place each time, and a suspension (opposite of a double-time) also in the same place each time, and if you missed it the first time, the ability to count to seven and find the start of the musical phrase gave you numerous other chances. He pointed out that this is very common in tango. There are repetitions following some structure that you can understand and predict with fair reliability if you can count to eight and listen as you do. Yay!!

The class concluded with a rather long lecture, and hardly anybody dropped out. They all appeared to be listening carefully. All of it would, if applied, make anyone who heard it dance better. Yay again!!!
"There are two kinds of dancers, dancers and movers. If I don't know why I am doing what I am doing, I am just moving. If I hear it and I choose to do it, I am dancing, even if I am like this [contortions, posture of an old man]. If I choose not to do it, I am still dancing."
That last one reminded me of the class they gave on Friday at Conway Hall, which was about floorcraft, and nothing else.
"If I am this close to him [too close to the man in front] I cannot go here, because he is there. I cannot go here, because the woman is there, and I cannot see. I cannot go this way, because it is a backward step and I cannot see. I have no possibility at all. But if I am this close [leaving a metre of space] I have many possibilities."
Yes! It was made explicit that you do not step into the blind spot. You do not step backwards. You leave space, just like on the motorway. You look where you are going, not at the steering wheel. You do not weave from lane to lane. Whenever you learn a new figure, said Adrian, before you make use of it in the milonga, you have to practice it; and when you do that, you find out which way you'll be facing when it ends. If it's any way other than forwards in the line of dance, or if the figure means that you change lanes, step backwards, or step into the blind spot, it's your responsibility to work out how to start it or adapt it so that you don't have to do those things. You can make your salida diagonal so you don't have to cross lanes sideways into traffic. Women were given advice about posture and footwork that helped to keep everything straight and the couple to move with confidence and safety and control.

I know!! Shocking!!!

And the point was this: if everybody follows these rules, it does not matter at all what style you dance — you can do whatever the hell you want, whatever you think is right for the music, whatever appeals to you, because everybody is respecting each other and giving each other enough space and not taking more than their fair share. Everybody gets to share the love. Everybody gets to see what you create. Nobody has to feel restricted. Again, I wish I'd had a dictaphone, because that's what I heard rather than what he said, but you can ask anyone.

The whole class was made, through various exercises, to follow these rules for one dance, and it was a revelation. Everybody had space; the whole room was dancing together, each couple doing its thing, not a chaotic mess of predators competing for territory, but a large gathering of consenting adults there to have fun.

It only lasted five minutes and it instantly fell apart when we tried to do something else as well, but I can only hope those five minutes left an impression on the participants that the skills of basic respect for your fellow dancers were skills worth aspiring to, worth giving some attention, and worth encouraging in other people. And I at least had fewer bumps for the rest of the evening than I usually do there. I think the total was one and a bit.

And since those little rules of thumb sound more complicated than they are, here is a diagram of Adrian and Amanda, with the green arrows showing safe directions and the red dotted line showing the contrary. 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. (For example, you can see that they could rotate a little bit to the right about their centre, and walk straight; or they could go the way they're already pointing and zigzag, pivoting at the boundary; or if they took one step in that direction they could then quite safely do a clockwise turn about the woman's axis).


I don't think A&A are coming here again till October, but I hope they do because this sort of teaching, and the sort of dancing they do, raises people's expectations of themselves, of their teachers, and of each other. More, please.

xx Very Stroppy Phase of Moon Hedgehog

Saturday 21 March 2009

Spring, continued

Spring leaves and catkins

Specially for Sallycat

Not a Newspaper, Apparently

Michael Fowke informs us all that the Financial Times is not a newspaper, but something on the astral plane, in the mystical desert. I'm not clear whether these locations are coterminous or intersect at right angles, or whether one is a region of the other.

In support of his contention, you hardly ever find it lying around on the Tube.

Thursday 19 March 2009

Oblivion - very delicately danced

Here is another video, in which I think are good illustrations of not dancing to what isn't there, and making choices about what is there. I have to turn my head to avoid feeling queasy (I think the sideways framing is a way of getting their feet in the picture, in a space where the camera can't move back and can't get a clear shot from any other position - the cameraman, bec, is a pro, which is why this looks so nice). I liked this video the first time I saw it, but I like it more now because I'm less ignorant and I listen and watch better.

I always like the sense, in Adrian and Amanda's performances, that they really are dancing as equals, in every way, but in musical expression specifically.

On the question of how you understand musicality, this is a popular and challenging track and there are lots of different interpretations you could compare. Like this one for example; it takes quite a different approach. One difference is that the music in the video above is played live by the Luis Tango Quintet, at a more or less standard dancing speed for a slow tango, whereas the recording in the other is much slower and includes a longish silence towards the end. Both performances are described by their authors (Adrian confirms it, in Spanish, in the YouTube comments) as improvisations, so that is not a difference.

Adrian and Amanda Costa are in London again this weekend, schedule here or here. I'm seeing a lot of searches for their names, and I like people to find what they are looking for - but if you want listings and announcements, you're better off at Arlene's, 'cause I only talk about what's happening if I feel like it and have something to say. I really like A&A though.

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Not dancing to what's not there

The most challenging thing in those musicality classes with Joaquín Amenábar was not dancing to what isn't there. It's the same exploring music with the help of his book.

I decided that for me it was the most important thing - because I found it surprisingly difficult. You listen carefully to find the beat, you start the clock in your head, maybe you count to orient yourself, maybe you even continue counting. The count in your head adjusts smoothly to variations in speed, but it can overwhelm the detail, and it's very easy to keep dancing mechanically to this count and think you are dancing to the music when you're not.

You catch yourself doing it a few times, and you manage at least once not to do it when you might have done, and you feel the difference. Suddenly, you see other people (or yourself) gyrate through silence and fill it, not with stillness or a movement that expresses silence, but by dancing to what just happened, or what they anticipate will happen next, or what they imagine is happening in some alternative universe. They were doing it before, and perhaps so were you, but you never noticed and you can't remember. It's alarming.

Saturday 14 March 2009

Multiple Perspectives

This painting is a tourist map. At first glance it is all confusion, and I didn't know which way to turn my head. But a longer look revealed an immensely practical, informative map for pilgrims to the temple complex of the Pushti Marg sect.

Whole map

It is full of detailed directions, easily understood and remembered. Go through these arches, it says, and you will be in a paved courtyard with this rather complex layout. The office you require is down this narrow passage, attended by a guard. You will be walking towards a domed tower.


Walk along the outer wall to your right, and you will reach another entrance with a windowed tower. Follow the paved pathway to a certain temple.

Entrance with tower

Behind this feature in the outer wall, with two towers, is a water garden. Its entrance is here.


The central shrine, where the cow festival is held, is entered through the door adorned with elephants, in a square courtyard with an earthen floor.

Central shrine

It's a fascinating use of multiple perspectives; we looked at it for quite a while.

The exhibition is Krishna & Devotion — Temple Hangings from Western India at Asia House, 63 New Cavendish Street, London W1. It's a collection of devotional hangings used by the Western Indian Krishna sect, Pushti Marg, and some paintings connected with them and with the temple complex as a place of pilgrimage. It's £2.50 to get in. Asia House is a cultural charity and probably doesn't have much of a budget. The exposition is only the barest description of how these works are used and what is depicted in them; it doesn't cover any technical details or relate them to any wider artistic traditions. But there was a well-informed attendant, and a catalogue is on sale.

Thursday 12 March 2009


Can I just say:

It is a privilege to dance and to interact with people who love me, who set a value on me as a dancer, as a person, as a woman, even in a few cases as a writer. Men and women who take the trouble to say a few sincere, kind words of appreciation if they enjoy dancing or being with me or they like my smile or think my dress is nice today. People who will do something or say something to make me feel better if I seem hurt. You know who you are.

People for whom "how are you", is more than an empty shell thrown in passing - and contains, if no extravagant pearl of true affection, at least an honest oyster of genuine regard for some minor contribution or other that I make to their lives.

I hope I return it as best I can. Even if I can't give back what every pearl is worth, that doesn't mean I don't value them. I know what a privilege and an honour it is to be loved.

(Rubbish metaphor there - I don't even like oysters. They always make me ill. I don't know what the hell I was thinking last time I ordered them. I must have been trying to impress my Dad.)

And an administrative note: there are lots of comments, and I still have no computer. I'll hoist some of the interesting bits, over the weekend, if I get time.

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Firm Foundations

Have a look at Tangocommuter's post about experiences of learning tango for a short time in Buenos Aires, compared to his experience here. I think it's interesting.

I think that people I dance with who have good posture, and decent basic technique — really basic technique, the kind of thing in the Detlef&Melina video I posted — are the people who are free to dance their own dance, each individual and distinct from other people's, and memorable in its own way. I can tell who I am dancing with. If you've got that stuff, the rest of it follows, and you can take it wherever you want to go.

It is absolutely possible to get that here. (At least here in London, and in Edinburgh - I don't know about otherwise). There are teachers who can, and do, teach it, at least to those students who seem to want it. You don't have to go to Buenos Aires. But you do have to know that it's possible, and you do have to think that it's something you want.

Monday 9 March 2009

The sensation of cartilage

I had a strange dance with someone I didn't know.

He was fine except for one truly bizarre little quirk - he insisted on turning his face towards me, as though he were trying to gaze into my eyes. This is not good in itself, since it means he's not watching the road. But it's an even stranger choice if you have a very long rubbery nose that keeps prodding your partner in the temple or the ear.

I'm generally not crazy about noses in my hair. I'm even less crazy about noses in my ear canal, so I drew my head away from it as best I could. The attempt was useless. It was cartilage all the way.

I opened the embrace and the nose just cleared my forehead. Maybe I should have tried a V-embrace, but I'm not sure that would have been an improvement - the nose might have ended up in my eye.

Why wouldn't a person, in this situation, turn his face into the normal position? My skull is quite hard, and could have injured him, and the solution is so obvious, I would have thought it would be instinctive and immediate, at the first blow. But, apparently not.

Sunday 8 March 2009

First Friday

There is a bunch of modern-jivers who also do tango. On the first Friday of the month they take over the downstairs room at Negracha (which has good DJing and quality 'nuevo' music these days) with a mutual pledge to make all comers welcome. Someone brings cake. You'll find the cake - and a welcoming committee of some combination of Ken, Chris, David and friends - at the table near the door.

They have a misspelled facebook group called Let's Go to Nagracha's. But you don't have to be on Facething to get cake or welcome. However, if you are, I think there might be a little discount or something if you say the right thing at the door. I'm not sure about that.

I went this Friday. The people are lovely, and it's good to get out of my comfort zone dancewise. I'd forgotten just how much more physically demanding that style of dancing is; I slept like a log.

Some other milongas have their own Facebook groups - it's not a bad idea, but I think the welcoming committee is more important.

Edit: I missed my own point. I should have added - I don't care for this style of music, which mostly doesn't make me want to dance, although as long as it's good quality stuff I can always find something to like and express if I'm dancing with someone who likes it. Some of it's quite beautiful. I particularly don't like that it forces me to shout, and stops me from hearing, if I want to sit down and chat to a few friends - which is an important part of the whole thing for me. I'm not, when it comes down to it, interested at all in the dramatic style of dance that makes sense with this music, although again it can be fun from time to time if it's led well. It is fun, but it's not like dancing tango. (I still love you, Ghost and DavidBailey. Anyway, both of you can dance tango.)

What I'm saying is, I really wish there was a welcoming committee for the real thing, and I would like some of my other commenters to think a bit about how that might be done.

I don't wish this for myself, as nothing ever stopped me going to milongas alone as a beginner and getting - with few exceptions - a dance or two to start me off. Standing at the edge of the dance floor, smiling around, and fidgeting in time with the music worked for me, roughly 100% of the time. Taking the class, or sitting down and chatting in a friendly way to the other women, also both worked well. But for me, a large part of the point of the activity was to overcome shyness. That was essentially what I considered myself there to do. I am also very bloody-minded, and I utterly refused to be defeated by the fuckwit at my first milonga who chose to lecture me until I wept. On the other hand, I shall never forget the other dancer who showed me what a vals should feel like, made me think that I could dance nicely, danced the whole tanda with ease and grace and a smile on his face, and said "step over" when I didn't know what a foot in the way meant and I looked at him with hedgehog eyes ¿¿like this??.

But it doesn't seem quite right to me that such a high level of persistence, determination, and luck should be a prerequisite to learning to dance tango. Call me a Tango Socialist. But people are not going to get this from their teachers, and I'm not sure organisers can offer it directly. Welcoming new people is a job to be shared among the older siblings, and David, Chris, and Ken are doing a fine thing.

Monday 2 March 2009


This is how it was a month ago:

Reflection in snow

The trees outside my office are still transparent, casting no shade.


But they have these:


My new computer is still on back-order, however, and I'm getting fed up with carrying my work laptop, so I might not be blogging much for a few days.