Thursday 30 July 2009

Professional Integrity

More off-topic - well, I think it's quite on-topic in several ways, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the interested reader. Anyway, this guy is a gem.

It's all about trust. You can sell people a lot (or in this case, you can sell their mothers a lot) by telling them what they don't need, because it creates trust.

(Ladies: I think his tutorials are very handy.)

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Machiavelli on Minds

E, perché sono di tre generazione cervelli, l'uno intende da sé, l'altro discerne quello che altri intende, el terzo non intende né sé né altri, quel primo è eccellentissimo, el secondo eccellente, el terzo inutile, conveniva per tanto di necessità, che, se Pandolfo non era nel primo grado, che fussi nel secondo: perché, ogni volta che uno ha iudicio di conoscere el bene o il male che uno fa e dice, ancora che da sénon abbia invenzione, conosce l'opere triste e le bunone del ministro, e quelle esalta, e l'altre corregge; et il ministro non può sperare di ingannarlo, e mantiensi buono.

Because minds are of three types; the first understands by itself, the second understands what others explain, and the third understands neither by itself nor by the help of others; of which the first is excellent, the second very good, and the third useless. So it follows that even if [Prince] Pandolfo was not in the first class, he must necessarily have been in the second: because such a prince has the judgement to know the good and evil that another says and does, even if he himself lacks the initiative, and he sees the good and bad works of his minister, exalting the good and correcting the bad; and the minister cannot hope to deceive him, and so behaves well.
IL PRINCIPE The Prince, XXII DE HIS QUOS A SECRETIS PRINCIPES HABENT Concerning Princes' Ministers — Niccolò Machiavelli, 1513

In The Prince, Machiavelli was attempting something that had not been done since the Classical period. He considered history not as divine plan, but as an explicable sequence of events. There was chance, and there was human response to it; and the humans were motivated by the usual earthly things. And then he considered what we might learn. It's a book people have heard of - a book people still talk about, 496 years on. Because, while the events and the people he mentions are very far away, it is extremely clear that he saw the world as we do.

When I was about 18 I went and got the Penguin Wordsworth translation (the above is not that translation, but my own from my Italian edition, so errors are mine) and read it to find out what it said. I'd entirely recommend this. It's rather short. A lot of what he says feels applicable and plausible. With more years, I may more often think he's wrong, but I still think he's elegantly, interestingly wrong.

I don't think I agree, for example, that there are three kinds of mind. Or, if there are, each of us has all three, perhaps in different fields. But it's a very plausible notion, and anyone could think of examples. If I look for examples of the third kind of mind, though, I tend to find examples of lack of motivation. I don't think people very often understand something without wanting to, even if they are more than capable of understanding more complex things they do want to understand. I certainly don't think anyone gets good at something without wanting to, unless they're an autistic savant, and it seem unlikely even then.

But what really comes to mind when I read that passage again in isolation, is not the relationship of head of state and minister, but the parallel relationship of student and teacher.

Good and bad outcomes have a lot to do with teachers. But they have everything to do with the judgement and motivation of the student.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Bandoneón - seen, spelled, pronounced, and played

Creative Commons 2.0A few weeks ago I was chatting to someone about my dancing flower and joking that I might make it a little bandoneón instead of the guitar; that being a characteristic instrument of tango. [Image: Wikimedia, attributed under Creative Commons 2.0]

During the conversation it appeared that although my friend had been dancing tango for some years, approaching it via other dances, he had never actually seen a bandoneón, and thought it was shaped like an accordion - or perhaps even that it was the same thing.

There are things that people who know them often suppose, without any justification, that everyone knows. In this case, what a bandoneón is, and such necessary trivialities as what you are meant to do with the little ´ above the ó. I don't remember how or when I learned what a bandoneón was, but I know it took a while. So this is a "things I wish I'd been told" post; and it's also a little bit for my Dad, who is doing a distance-learning course in advanced Spanish, and is encountering wild assertions about the history of tango in his course materials.

Tangos are sometimes played on accordions; for example this is what Mazaika do. But the sound and the possibilities are different.

The bandoneón is a bellows instrument, square in cross-section. It has two voices, a high one played by the right hand and a low one played by the left hand. There are keys in the form of buttons at each end, and each key produces a different note depending on whether the instrument is breathing in or out. So it has, in effect, four keyboards, laid out to facilitate the playing of chords rather than scales.

To me, it seems a bit like a pocket pipe organ, and just one can produce an amazing quantity and quality of sound. Here, Klaus Gutjahr plays a Prelude and Fugue in C Major by J. S. Bach. The silent guitarist is Jörg Utesch and together they are Duo Opal (website plays music). I linked to this video to make a point in a previous post, but I think it deserves embedding.

The sound is a bit unusual, to a tango dancer; it's a new instrument, I suppose, and it's in a church. But it illustrates one of the things it can do. I'll post a different one lower down.

I find it fascinating to watch, because of the way the instrument breathes. They were invented in Germany, and it seems that new ones are still made only or mainly there; Klaus Gutjahr also makes them. There is a potted history here and another here. Learning to play one, at least as an adult, is widely regarded as a job for loonspuds deluxe (Yahoo group). The Wikipedia article has some pictures of the inside and a brief technical description.

If you want to spell "bandoneón" correctly you'll usually find on Windows at least that CTRL+ALT+o does the trick. Of course some people don't write the ó in an English sentence, but it helps with the pronunciation so I prefer to leave it in.

As for pronunciation, bandoneón is the name it ended up with in Spanish, and it's useful to know that the pronunciation of Spanish is, as they say in my Spanish-English dictionary, "adequately represented by its spelling", so if you simply sound it out letter by letter, you'll be more or less in the right place. The e is like the e in egg. Spanish has fewer different vowel sounds than English, and e is always pretty much like the e in egg. And a is always like in and, and o is always like o in on. Then there's a stress-marker on the last o, ó, so that means you say band-on-e-ON, and not, for example, band-ON-eon or bando-NEon. Where you put the stress is quite important, just as it is in English. If you put it in the wrong place, people may not know what you're trying to say. [Edit: or you might make an informed decision to treat it as a German word, since they use the same one, and choose to pronounce it the German way, which is probably easier if your native language is English - see Comments. But in that case, you should write o and not ó.][And there's more: in response to Andreas's comment, Simba has done some research on the etym(yth)ology of the name; so far, the name seems to be original, and not derived from 'Band Union', but he would like your input if you have access to certain books. Isn't it good when the Comments get going?]

And here's a bandoneón playing tango. You'll notice a long passage of right-hand only. Roberto Álvarez and Color Tango. This instrument is unlikely to be new.

Friday 24 July 2009

Jim the Realtor

I am posting this purely because it will make my mother and my sister laugh like drains. It has nothing to do with anything.

There's just something wrong with the scale. I feel as though someone is playing around with the scale.

Thursday 23 July 2009

Mosaic jersey - progress

There hasn't been a lot of knitting on the blog lately because I've been working on just one very time-consuming thing, the mosiac jersey, adapted from a vintage pattern. But I made very good progress on the train on my holidays, and even though I haven't been as busy as I should have since, I've now finished the back and front, sewn them together and re-done the ribbing at the bottom (downwards and circularly). Next I have to do the ribbing at the neck, and then set in the sleeves. They're not made yet - I've started one.

mosaic jersey body

Oops - a trailing end is in the picture. Considering that my gauge does not in fact correspond to the pattern, whereas my measurements pretty much do, it's a surprisingly good fit. The original must have been really tight. It does look tight in the pattern picture. The seams need pressing. I'm very pleased with it so far; it's a lot of work, but I think it'll look wonderful in wear.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Candombe, Canyengue - crowdsourced

Well that worked out well. I asked about candombe and the comments came up with all sorts of interesting things. Here's a followup post with the videos from those comments embedded.

First of all, Simba has a post about a documentary about candombe. That looks like a good place to start if you're interested. Tangocommuter suggested a book, perhaps to be treated with caution.

Maya had taken a candombe class with Paul and Michiko some years ago, and she found two examples of candombe being danced. Game Cat said this one looked like 'giros on E after a pint of Red Bull and bag of sugar ... it also looks fun'. (I thought E just made you warble inanely and love everybody, but I wasn't a Hacienda chick). Anyway I agree with him that it's a bit swingy and jivey and has a very 'live' connection. I also think they're pretty much doing the same things a lot of people who prefer to dance in open embrace do for a fast milonga. I'm not personally crazy about that style as applied to milonga, I prefer close embrace, but I do think it makes a lot more sense here.

Here's Maya's second example, a nice choreography that tells a story about itself, from Companhia Milonga Candombe:

Here are Facundo and Kely Posadas, also mentioned by Maya. I can hear the drums clearly in this one. This is mostly close embrace, but it also feels to me as though it's a little bit more its own thing; clearly there's a strong relationship to milonga, but I think a dancer of cuban salsa could find something familar too.

Now here's something that looks very different, and to music that's also quite different, but has some things in common: Canyengue. I hear brass I mean woodwind instruments, but not drums. This is exactly the same as what I was taught a couple of years ago as Canyengue. Definitely 'centripetal'. Marta Anton and Manolo 'El Gallego':

AFAIK the couple who taught me this (Paul and Michiko again) learned it from Rodolfo and Maria Cieri: the video TC linked to of them is interesting to watch too but has embedding disabled. I think Canyengue is a bit of a reconstruction. Which is fine by me. Anyway I remember it feeling very good, and for some reason doing wonders for my close-embrace tango, I wish I could dance it more often.

Interesting to compare and contrast both music and dances. Right, I seem to have picked up a stupid cough on my holidays, so you can think about the above while I go and breathe eucalyptus in a cloud of steam.

Tuesday 21 July 2009


So, what about Candombe?

The only piece I have in my collection that's described in the insert as a "candombe" feels quite like a milonga, but with a low-pitched drum beating a fairly complex rhythm that isn't just the habañera, although it seems to include it some of the time, and the habañera is definitely there in the other instruments. There's also some sort of bugle which gives it a New-Orleans-Party feel, reinforced by the sung words, which I don't quite understand but which sound like something vaguely along the lines of "Black man, I like your music, and that chick is pretty hot". I feel basically two beats that I want to step on, one of them divided in various ways. Probably you'd dance it as a milonga, although it feels like it deserves something different, maybe along the lines of what I was once taught as Canyengue. The orchestra is Francisco Canaro's, 1943.

This style of music doesn't get played much, but I like it and I think I've danced it as milonga a few times.

I could google it, and I probably will, eventually, but talking to people is more interesting and worth trying first. What do you lot think about it? Extra credit if you can say something from your own knowledge, I can google it myself.

El Once @ Crypt

*** UPDATE 2013 - NOW CLOSED. ***

The Saturday milonga in the crypt of St. James' Church, Clerkenwell Green, is organised by different people on alternate weeks. The layouts, hospitality arrangements, and DJs are different, and the organisers swap weeks from time to time. Their websites always agree about which week is which but they won't necessarily have each other's pricing or events right. This post updates my previous one on Paul and Michiko's night because some things have changed. You'll usually see announcements on Tango-UK.

The Class: I skipped the class but I've often taken them before. There's an absolute beginners class, followed by an intermediate class, followed by the milonga at half past nine. Generally, you have to be alert to work out where the intermediate class is going, but the alert and motivated student can learn a lot of very useful reusable techniques and concepts. And Paul leads extremely well. But it's a bit Zen. He won't necessarily tell you what the deal is.

Layout and Atmosphere: It's a large brick-vaulted space under a church. The wooden floor is large and smooth but has a slight slope, which I don't notice but some do. A shiny new wooden bar-like thing has recently been installed underneath the shelf-like thing on the far wall that's used to hold a projector or light equipment. The space for dancing is quite large and rectangular, you can get a good long walk down one uninterrupted wall. About a third of the space is given to chairs and tables, and it's possible to sit a reasonable distance off the dance floor, though not really to put yourself clearly out of play. It's nearly always possible to sit down. As for hazards, the pillars are slender but in groups of two, and two pairs interrupt the dancefloor; there are tramlines for a temporary wall, which can catch a spiky heel. It gets hot in there, but windows and doors can be opened and you can cool off near a door or outside. Old tango record sleeves and posters are projected on the large wall. It's not excessively dark but the lighting is coloured, varying with the projection. People generally find the atmosphere friendly and welcoming, it's not too difficult for beginners to get dances. The space itself is rather beautiful with its repeated arches in warm red brick.

Hospitality: Very good. They now have a second room behind the desk, where you can hang your coat and sit down to change your shoes. There's plentiful water in jugs flavoured with lemon, free, with plastic cups. It's unlicensed, so they can't sell alcoholic drinks, but a glass of wine is provided free. I had a cup of tea at 25p and there are herbal teas, instant coffee, and soft drinks available very cheap. There are also pieces of home made cake, and a friend of a friend told me she had bought a piece to eat and two to take home. The loos are what you'd expect from a church hall, cramped and awkward but clean and working and nearly always correctly supplied.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: It's extremely rare for Paul and Michiko to have guest teachers or a performance - it only happens once or twice a year. When they do, it tends to be someone genuninely interesting that you can't see every week, or even every year, so it's likely to be worth turning up. They do have live music every now and then, and you can rely on them not to hire a band without listening to it first. On this occasion, a quiet summer evening, there was no special event.

What I thought of the DJing: It's 80%-90% traditional, but not necessarily Golden Age. Some very early material is often included, which I like, and there's usually a small amount of the kind of modern music that has some appeal for me given the right partner. For cortinas, Paul uses inaudible announcements about the next orchestra to be played; I don't know anybody who's ever claimed to have understood one of these in full, though I occasionally hear the name of the orchestra or the word 'tango', 'milonga' or 'vals'. People do quite often clear the floor for the announcements, at least when it's not crowded so you have somewhere to go. Paul and Michiko's collection of music is large; I don't get bored, but it does get wierd sometimes. On this occasion the oddities I remember were a super-super-slo-mo recording of Milonga Sentimental, a recording of something vaguely familiar that seemed to change into something else for about ten seconds half way through, causing the entire floor to stop and look puzzled, an extremely hissy recording of I forget what, and oh, I don't know what else, I may have imagined some of it. He played one salsa interlude, which is usual. Usually there's something modern at half past eleven or twelveish; in this case an immensely long track that was quite nice for the first four or five minutes if you like that sort of thing. There was one man there who danced well to it, so I watched him. I've got harder to please since the last time I wrote about this, but I usually enjoy the modern stuff Paul plays.

Getting in: £9 on this occasion, more if there is a special event.

Getting there and getting home: Take a train to Farringdon or a bus to Clerkenwell Green. From Farringdon, turn left out of the station and immediately left again so that you're walking beside the train tracks. When you reach the main road, which is where the bus stops are, turn right and cross cautiously at the lights (cars coming from your left sometimes don't respect the crossing). Take the next left, which leads into Clerkenwell Green, an open space with a large island in the middle. Cross this diagonally towards the pub on the other side and somewhat to your right; as you get there you should be able to see the spire of the church, with its clock. Turn left uphill past the pub, and go in to the church by the left hand gate, up four steps then down, you'll be able to hear the music. Map link.

The website: Style of 1998 with itchy bits. It will take you ages to find anything, so I have done it for you: here are the bit about Paul and Michiko, the bit about the milonga, the milonga schedule, and the Monday classes.

How it went: Okay, it's usually thinly attended in high summer. This happened to be an unusually quiet night. I have had excellent nights there, and poor ones; the best probably when there was live music. The crowd seems to vary quite a lot over time, with a core that's older than average, plus younger beginners, plus people who just like the happy atmosphere or like the music or like the cake, and people who just can't bear to let Saturday go by without some tango. I've had better and worse nights there. It's straightforward to get a few dances as a beginner, and gradually more and different ones if you go regularly, and it's a Saturday night in a safe, accessible area, and you'll be exposed to a variety of music.

Update: I remembered this video of Gustavo Naveira & Giselle Anne's performance from December 2007: it gives you a good idea of what the space is like.

Sunday 19 July 2009

Chocolate Dip Cushion

Here's a Finished Object I never posted. This lay around as a UFO for certainly more than a year; a few weeks ago I bought a cushion the right size to go in it, worked in the ends and sewed on some miscelleanous buttons from my sewing box.

It's worked from corner to corner in garter stitch, front and back seperately. I worked a triangle from the point, increasing with a yarn-over at each end, then changed colour and did yo, k3tog at each end, decreasing down to the opposite point. As far as I remember the increases/decreases were on alternate rows. That left me with two squares, each with a row of neat little holes around each edge.

I crocheted front and back together through the holes around three sides, then along just one layer of the fourth, leaving the other layer with its holes free. Then I forgot all about it, and then later for a while I used it to store stuffing for cuddly animals.

Eventually I put a cushion inside and sewed some buttons on, using the holes of the open side as buttonholes. I do think it's beautiful. It was just something to do with these two lovely natural-sheep colours of organic Welsh wool from iknit.

Thursday 16 July 2009

Color Tango - Music Map

I saw the Color Tango talk last Thursday and couldn't write it up because I was away. It's a real bonus if you are ignorant about music, like me; they walk you through the history of tango from the last decades of the 19th century up to the end of the Golden Age, demonstrating everything as they go. You get an overview of what's important, what order it goes in, and what the music of the different eras sounds like, and why. People who are quite a lot less ignorant than me liked it too, especially the demonstrations (all-orchestra percussion! wow!).

They had lots to say about the musicians of different eras, their skills, and the way arrangements and the choice of instruments gradually developed from when the music started being written down. They showed us how the instruments of a typical tango orchestra - bandoneón, piano, violin, and double bass - are used for percussion in creative ways. And they showed how guitar, voice, and woodwind came in more, or less, at different times.

The part about Pugliese was particularly interesting because two of the band members were in Pugliese's orchestra for a long time. Roberto Alvarez was 1st bandoneón and arranger, and he explained and demonstrated the difference between what Pugliese wrote down and what he actually wanted played. This part is clearer on the DVD than it was live, although I'd certainly suggest going to one of their talks if you possibly can because it's always better to feel the music being played. And the camerawork on the DVD misses other important things.

I liked the way every band member had his and her piece to explain. I found that very engaging. It feels like a team effort of research and presentation. The musicians aren't just instrument players.

I bought their DVD, which was only a tenner and has the lecture on it. It has a near-professional-quality English translation, plus captions to help you keep track of all the names and to tell you exactly what you're listening to. Now I have a long list of music I'd like to buy. I personally like some of the very oldest music a lot - music for dancing on a dirt road rather than a ballroom floor. But that's just me. And I adored their Cumparsita with the clarinet. Unfortunately the DVD doesn't seem to be on the website.

Tangocommuter has video of them playing for dancing on the Friday, and a description of their music with some pointers to related bands.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Social Dancing - Videos

I've got a couple of nice video clips of social dancing from the mini-festival I went to at the weekend. I didn't think that post was really the place for them. These are from the Sunday afternoon, so it's full daylight and you can see well. There isn't a lot of real social dancing to be seen on video, so I think people need to see this kind of thing. It's informative if you're a beginner, and some of my friends will really like them.

In this one, I wanted to show you the cortina, because it's so pretty the way everyone clears the floor and looks so sociable about it. The tandas were longish, always four tracks. So enough to get used to a new partner and be thoroughly enjoying yourself and satisfied by the end.

This one is from later on, after all the workshops have finished. A lot of people have gone home or sat down for a rest, so the floor is rather empty, but there's some very fine dancing to be found in there, and you get a good view.

I'm not going to say anything else here specifically - I think I'd like to give my readers a chance to watch for themselves. Again, it's informative if you're a beginner - you can watch it a few times and think about what interests you and which couples you like to watch best. It's often hard to judge these things when the movements you see are not ones you know how to accomplish yourself, so don't worry if you are just starting and you don't know what to make of it. You can always come back and watch it again later, you don't have to have an opinion now.

Monday 13 July 2009

Festivalito de los Angeles, St. Wendel, Germany

This is an annual two-day festival in the picture-postcard-pretty little Baroque town of St. Wendel, which is in Saarland, Germany. It's organised by Melina Sedó and Detlef Engel, who are based in Saarbruecken, about an hour away and five minutes on the TGV past France. It's sponsored by the venue, Angel's Hotel (which I think is owned and run by a rather gorgeous lady called Manuela Angel).

The workshops are on Saturday afternoon, then you can have dinner (book a table; I shared mine with another lady), and the milonga goes from 9pm till about four in the morning or as long as people feel inspired to continue. I went to bed at 03:45, having held out, with unusual success, for a "quit while you're winning" moment. Then on the Sunday there is a "Tango-Brunch"; you roll out of bed at elevenish, have breakfast, then start dancing again from noon. At 6pm it stops, at which point some people have left to go home and the survivors are ready for their dinner, which was a whole 'nother thing - later.

The Class: The workshops were given by Fred and Caty Romero. They were in French, which was lucky for me as my French is quite a lot better than my German, approaching fluency on a good day. It was also translated into German, sometimes by Detlef and sometimes by a student volunteer. I took two of the six. (It's generally necessary to book with a partner, and I was alone, but Melina matched me up with a partnerless leader for these two and it worked out very well). The first workshop was called "the basics - walking and pivots" and the second was "harmony and slow movements". Both of them were interesting and full of really useful content, equally useful to the men and the women, and I felt they had been carefully thought out to illustrate important concepts. The second one in particular was challenging and useful for the women. There was also repeated emphasis on a line of dance, and help and advice for the students who had trouble achieving it.

I really took to Fred and Caty. They had empathy and seemed to love what they were doing; Fred chatted to me later about that and about his approach to DJing and about how he likes teaching in a different place from time to time with different students and different reactions; he seems to have a sense of adventure about it. They were lovely and I've never been gladder that I paid attention in French class and that my parents expected me to learn it properly. They don't speak any English, so otherwise I wouldn't have been able to communicate with them. Here are Fred and Caty somewhere else: [Update: new post with a video of them at St. Wendel]

Layout and Atmosphere: The hotel is pretty, an old building making very good use of natural light. It faces the cathedral. A temporary outdoor dance floor was put up at the front of the hotel; it then got a marquee roof in case of rain (there were a few spots on Sunday, but the weather was generally warm and humid with quite a lot of sun). The floor leads directly out from the hotel bar and restaurant which can be, and was, opened onto the square. There's also an indoor dance floor in another bit of the bar and both of them were full on the Saturday. The area around the dance floor, between it and the tables with umbrellas, was scattered with rose petals, and containers of orange flowers set around the edges of the dance floor. The sides of the marquee were opened and closed from time to time according to the variations of the weather. Here's a pic from Sunday afternoon, quite late, with the floor about one-third full compared to earlier.

Marquee dance floor

You can partly see from the picture that there's quite a substantial drop on three sides of the dance floor, which does focus people's minds on not doing anything reckless. You need to build trust. It made me just a little more cautious than I would otherwise have been about who I danced with on that floor rather than the other one. People danced in a civilised way, I got virtually no bumps and those I remember were just brushes from the side, I think.

Hospitality: It's a luxury hotel in a really attractive building. The service is excellent (it helps to speak reasonable German. Most of the staff don't speak English well, though some do and quite a few speak French). The food's very good. Everything's lovely. It costs quite a bit but the drinks were reasonable. Entry to the milongas is free, and you don't have to stay or eat in the hotel, so there aren't water jugs, which is OK with me if entry is free to an outdoor festival. I mostly drank coffee.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: The whole thing was a fascinating holiday from my point of view. On the Saturday evening, Fred and Caty gave a lovely improvised performance. Their style is a close-embrace salon style. I think they did three or perhaps four dances, and I really liked the middle one, for which Fred had chosen a beautiful piece of modern music, quite unlike anything else that got played, which obviously had a strong emotional message for him. [Update: video here.] As for other interesting things, I learned at least the following: If I thought the dancing flower was a tango pisstake, this was because I had not sufficiently experienced the presence and activities of Detlef Engel; especially when ostensibly dancing a perfectly square tango-salon, and with a perfectly straight face. Different class.

What I thought of the DJing: Melinda Sedó DJ'd on the Saturday night and Andreas Wichter on Sunday afternoon. Both of them obviously put a lot of thought into constructing tandas, both play cortinas, and everybody clears the floor for every cortina. I don't think there was a single dodgy tanda or track in twelve hours of dancing. However they both stick very strictly to a more-or-less 'golden-age' period, which is kind of the point, as far as they are concerned. Now there is absolutely oodles of good music in that period, to keep you going for as long as you like, so I have no complaints whatsoever about that. But there's no point in going if you don't like this approach, so be aware of it. I do like it: I also like some other approaches.

Getting in: Entrance to the milongas was free. If you don't live in the area you probably need to stay in the hotel. My extremely nice single deluxe room was €78 per night, including breakfast and use of the "wellness centre"; you'd only actually need to stay the one night, the Saturday. You could still do all the workshops and both milongas. I stayed three. The workshops with Fred and Caty were €22 each and I think the quality was very high, with a high proportion of really useful information, and we all got personal attention.

Getting there and getting home: It makes sense to stay in the hotel. There is other possible accommodation within a few minutes' walk, which might be cheaper. To get to the festival from London, I could have taken a plane. It would have saved me a lot of money, but no time. Instead I took the Eurostar to Paris, and TGV to Saarbruecken, and the local train to St. Wendel, and I knitted all the way. I left St. Pancras International at 09:01 and checked in to the hotel at about half past four, having lost an hour to the time difference, so the train journey took about six hours including adequate allowance for changes. They're not joking when they call them trains à grande vitesse. I booked the whole journey via the Deutsche Bahn website, working on advice from the man in seat 61. If I were doing it again I might use the Deutsche Bahn website to plan the journey, then book the trains seperately.

While I was changing trains on the way back, I went for a coffee in Saarbruecken and checked the location of Melina and Detlef's festival in September at the Johanneskirche, which I'll put on the map. I think you could get there in well under five hours from St. Pancras.

The website: The splash page has a real function, selecting your language. The info's all there, sometimes as JPG or PDF.

How it went: The dancing went exceptionally well. Now this was partly because I knew some of the people already, as it happened, but if I hadn't known anyone I think I would still have found it fairly straightforward to get my first dance, and after that there wouldn't have been a problem. It was a very congenial atmosphere. All levels were represented. The Saturday night was a bit intense and at one point I had to go to my room and cool my feet off, but the Sunday afternoon was very relaxed (see photo above). Those who remained at the very end mostly had dinner in a large loose group with the tables pushed together and this was in some ways my favourite part of the whole weekend; I've never been happier that I made use of the opportunities I had at school. Nobody can be selfconscious about speaking a foreign language when nobody's perfect, and some people understand and speak more than others, and you all want to understand each other, talking about things that interest and amuse you all, and there's no showing off. Just communication.

I think I should say a word about style. It costs a lot to go to a festival like this in comfort, so you need to make an informed decision about what you're going to get out of it and whether it's right for you. Woman or man, you need to know how to dance a front-on, close-embrace, continuous-connection tango, if you're going to get a lot of dances. It doesn't matter what else you know, as long as this is among your options. You need to like the Golden Age music, or there'd be no point. And if you are the bloke who I personally witnessed reversing at speed into two couples at once at Corrientes in June, please don't go because if you fall off that dance floor there'll be a broken leg, not necessarily yours. Okay?

Anyway I loved it. I had a top-class weekend.

Thursday 9 July 2009

Out of Office Message

I'm on holiday.

If you have my number and you feel inspired to text me the Ashes score while I am away, I will be most grateful, but it will be an international (Euro-EU) charge because I'll be in Germany, at this thing.

The computer is not coming, nor is the dancing flower. I'll be back on Monday night.

Talk amongst yourselves, if you like.


Wednesday 8 July 2009

Wheeee! (boleos)

You can lead high boleos all you like if we're at Portland Place at 9pm and there's nobody else in the room. Or just two couples on the other side.

When they go with the music, and they're well led, they're, Wheeeeee!!

I don't add any force of my own, at least not that I'm aware of, but my technique has improved dramatically just recently, so if you lead them successfully you can get quite big ones in most directions. It's actually quite difficult not to do them, ‘cause when the lead works they're not exactly a voluntary thing. It's nice to be able to relax and let them happen.

Anyway, I was thinking about this partly because of what people were saying about the painful and embarrassing consequences of un-led boleos and ganchos in comments to a previous post. And also because, while I was making an effort to improve my technique, I'd been worrying about whether I'd stiffened up and got scared to do boleos and consequently couldn't do them when it was safe. Anyway I checked with my teacher, and then I found on Sunday that I could adjust to the conditions and just let fly, so that was fine.

But, thinking about it, I do wonder if I can make a partial guess as to why people do un-led ones.

The fact is that boleos are rather difficult to lead well. That means that even if you go to a group intermediate class where they're taught, it's very unlikely that you will experience even one single example of a lead that would actually produce a high boleo on a follower with decent free leg technique. Especially if the teacher doesn't take care to lead it at least two or three times on every follower in the class (or he can't actually lead them well, either - perfectly plausible in some places and situations). And even if you do experience it, your body also has to be ready for it, and you have to have the free leg thing more or less sussed, to get a good result.

If you hadn't yet been to a class where they were taught, you might not even realise that they could be led at all. You might just see them and think they were put in by the follower independently, rather than being an organic part of the dance. Even more so if a lot of the ones you'd seen genuinely were un-led, because the people doing them, who you as a beginner naturally assumed to be good dancers, didn't actually know how to lead or follow them either.

(Remember I'm talking about London here, where there are lots and lots of people trying to learn tango, longing to learn tango, with absolutely no map and no access to any kind of thought-out overview of what it is. Just little bits and bobs of information, little dollops of technique and movement and disconnected partial explanations week by week.)

Either way I think you could be very fairly forgiven for concluding that although there may be some sort of weak indication from the leader, a boleo is mostly created by the follower, deliberately or habitually moving her leg in a learned way. It would be a conclusion very well supported by your personal experience. It would also be, in my view, Very Wrong and entirely at odds with any aesthetic or functional conception of Argentine tango that I could possibly see as coherent, and I think it would do a lot of damage to the technical possibilities of your dance; but it wouldn't be a stupid or unreasonable conclusion, and it wouldn't be contrary to the evidence available to you.

Now you may say that it flies in the face of common sense, because no-one has eyes in the back of her head. But common sense is a great betrayer; and it's mostly based on what you see coming from people you think should know better than you.

All of the above is even more true of ganchos. They're very hard to lead.

Monday 6 July 2009

The Dancing Flower encounters Pugliese

This week in Silly, the flower attempts Pugliese, memorably described as "the mescaline of tango". Like most people, it struggles a bit. We tried Rondando Tu Esquina first, but it didn't really work; the flower just went bananas, with boring results. As you might expect with mescaline, really. Nochero Soy is a personal favourite of mine, and works slightly better, but the flower is still at least as puzzled as most people as to what it's supposed to do with this stuff, and freezes in the quiet bits.

No one took any notice of the wooden flowers (except to dispute their species) so this week it's birthday cards. If you gave me one you might recognise it.

Saturday 4 July 2009

More reasons to dance (not necessarily tango)

Some time ago I wrote a little bit about why I dance tango.

Now Ampster has a nice piece about why he does. Some of it's the same and some of it's different.

I noticed that, like at least two others of my readers, he is or was also a student of martial arts, not at all uncommon among male tango dancers. At a certain point I wonder if they sometimes think "I could be grappling with this big hairy twerp trying to kill me, or I could have a beautiful woman in my arms, and the technical difficulty level and time commitment is about the same. Where did I put my brain?" But I merely speculate.

Ampster: Hobby for the old and broken: Its a vernacular that I feel special knowing. Its something that I can make people happy with, one partner at a time. Its a hobby that doesn't involve danger, combat, serious physical injury, pain, trauma, nor booming things. ... Most of all, its a hobby I can share with my beloved Mrs. Ampster.

One of the reasons we have in common is that many hobbies can be rather isolating. In his case, he wants to share with Mrs. Ampster. In my case, I have always had a tendency to be shy, and I have to actively take measures to reduce the harm that causes me. Social dancing is a very good approach. I definitely feel the same satisfaction in making other people happy, one at a time. It's pleasant and gives me confidence. But perhaps more importantly, it makes me happy. Because the dancing has real interest and challenge and and joy in itself I feel motivated to stick with it even when I am anxious, and that builds confidence too and gives me a chance to manage the anxiety and get comfortable with people, at least to a point I can work from. I'd certainly suggest some kind of social dancing, not necessarily this one - I think you should pick the one that appeals to you personally - to people who are habitually shy. You can make a decision that you're going to do it and then just stick at it, going to a class every week, and it has a certain structure and boundary to it as well as a sense of achievement and as well as being fun in itself. It has its own little world that you can find a place in. The fact that it's not easy means your mind is occupied with the task and not feeling bored or selfconscious. You can still hide at other times if you want to, or not, if having the practice inspires you to seek people out a bit more.

[Update: and twenty minutes later, he says more. I particularly like the bit about making friends you just happen to like.]

Thursday 2 July 2009

Something is eating my trees

I took this picture on 30th May, and since then it seems they've been eating at the same rate.

Here's an oak we've met before, taken this evening.

Walking in the edges of Epping Forest, I looked up to find some trees with hardly a leaf unmunched. The canopy in places seems more transparent than it should be.

My parents' garden, about five minutes' walk from where these pictures were taken, has been buzzing with insects from early Spring. There seems to have been a bumper crop of caterpillars, so there ought to be a bumper crop of little birds - swifts, martens, tits, robins, blackbirds. Here are two blue jays, not such a little bird. They're corvidae, with a similar body plan to magpies and crows, but a bit smaller. The wood pigeons are much bigger, but mostly leave the jays alone. Not very clear, because this is at the limit of my camera's zoom, the only downside of this camera. I was inside the house.

Even the mighty horse-chestnuts have been ravaged by something that eats the leaves from within and leaves red spots. I looked it up, and it turns out to be the Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner, a sort of moth.

I was myself savagely and repeatedly munched by the carnivorous kinds.

It's time for bed. Here is a briar rose, at least that's what I call it, tucking itself up for the night.