Friday 17 December 2010

Happy Holidays ...

... are optional. I couldn't possibly say it better.

I'm on holiday till January, with both the opportunity and the intention to be happy. If you have enjoyed this blog, please consider a donation to Centrepoint. [Update: also, this is fun! hat tip Language Log]

Wednesday 15 December 2010

How much joy of music can one small body hold?

If you can watch this right through and not be at least briefly happy, consider seeking medical advice.

hat-tip Theo Chatzipetros

Friday 10 December 2010

The Antikythera Mechanism - in Lego

Long-time readers may remember the Antikythera Mechanism; an astronomical instrument made in about 100BC, lost at sea, and recovered some 2,000 years later. It includes among other things a phase-of-the-moon device and dials predicting eclipses of the sun. Instructions for use were inscribed inside the case, and they're still working on [try this if that's down] deciphering and translating them. It's very beautiful. Quite a lot more seems to have been learnt about it. For example, it seems to implement a partly or mainly Babylonian model of the universe, and it specifies the date of an obscure athletic event that was only really interesting if you lived near Dodona in Western Greece.

A new article is freely downloadable from Nature, and written for the layman with some very nice illustrations.

Now Andrew Carol, a software engineer at Apple, has replicated the mechanism in Lego. It'll please the mathematicians among you:

And here's the first-pass replica, again, because it's so pretty:

Hat tip The Register

Thursday 9 December 2010

Ella Sharp - Todo Trajeado

The Rail
Ella Sharp designs and makes clothes for dancing tango and for all occasions. Her clothes are all brilliantly coloured - it's a non-negotiable artistic boundary that you can have almost any colour from time to time, as long as it's not black. They're made of beautiful fabrics and are full of fascinating little details of construction.

Most of her designs aren't quite my personal style, with their relatively formal structure and visible complexity, but they are varied. A couple of weeks after the show in the pictures I called back to see if she still had a brilliantly-conceived skirt that moves in a satisfying way when I dance and had been priced at 30% off. I bought it and I've worn it abroad. [Disclosure: there was no request to write anything but Ella knows perfectly well this is me and knew that perfectly well before fixing the price. It was in the sale because it had been a sample for a while. As far as I can tell it's perfect. I probably would have bought it on the day, and maybe at full price, if I hadn't been worried about work.]

Bustle bustle
The skirt fit me perfectly without alteration, but Ella also makes to order, and having something made to fit you that you really, really like is fabulous. I haven't had it done very often, I had a dress made once and someone's working on a suit for me, but when you can afford it, it's extremely worthwhile, especially for anything structured. And Ella's prices are very reasonable for the quality; you get something that you're likely to wear a lot, and I've certainly paid more for less where shoes are concerned.

If you ever perform as a dancer, then I would definitely suggest looking into it, as I think Ella's design talents lie that way. Especially if you're going for more of a grown-up look. Plus, if it fits properly then embarrassing wardrobe errors with bits falling off, or out, are much less likely. I think tango performances look much better in slightly heightened versions of normal clothing, rather than trashy stagey lycra tat, and some of Ella's one-offs are extremely fluid as well as colourful, perfect for the job. And only think, you could get it to match your favourite shoes.

I'm posting this because I feel that it's also very nice to get this kind of thing from a small business you can have a personal relationship with, when you have the opportunity and you happen to like the product.

It's classy. Ella brings her stock and holds sales at milongas from time to time, often together with Coleccion La Recoleta. You can also visit, view, try on, and buy at studio events in various London locations, and they're lovely, with tea, cakes, lots of chat and no feeling of pressure. Find sales and events at or join the Facebook group. The flyer on the right is for Saturday, 11th December, and clicking the link should take you to details.

Sunday 5 December 2010

La Milonga de La Luna

I believe this is intended to turn into a monthly milonga for 2011, but at the time of writing it's irregular and you'll need to check the website or the Facebook group to keep up. This occasion was an end-of-year party. It's organised by Eleonora Simoes. At ULU (University of London Union), Malet St, WC1E 7HY. 21:00-02:00.

The Class: There wasn't one.

Layout and Atmosphere: Once you get past the bouncers making sure you don't stage a sit-in, there's a nice lady doing the money and sitting in front of a coat rack, next to which are some chairs for your pupation into butterfly. It was a cold night, so this took me a while. The room's a theatre, with stage, big sound sytem, and a mezzanine or circle above. The DJ is tucked in below the stage, and tables with chairs behind them are laid out close to the wall, so you can sit behind but not walk, on the other three sides. There's a second row of bar-style tables along the open side under the mezzanine.You can reserve a table if there are four or more of you. It wasn't that full so there seemed to be enough seating for everyone. The bar is in the lobby under the mezzanine, and there's a large low platform, also with chairs, where the shoe shop and the cakes were. So there's plenty of room to sit out or socialise if you want to. The walls and ceiling are painted a very beautiful dark blue, the chairs are blue, and the silver velvet tablecloths looked very pretty and made me smile. I had no problems with the floor, which was perfectly smooth without being slippery. The room was fairly cool when I came in, but not cold.

Hospitality: Good. Coat racks for your stuff behind the desk, adequate seating. My single G&T was £3.50, tap water and bottled water appeared to be available from the bar. Actually someone got the water for me, so I didn't try to ask for tap water myself and can't vouch for it. On this occasion there were also some cakes on the platform in the lobby. The loos (ladies' by the bar) are clean and very well lit and in good condition, if a little rickety, pretty much what you'd expect from a university building. The coat rack was already near full when I arrived so your stuff might be a bit squashed if you come at 23:30.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: German Salvatierra gave a performance entitled "The Man With Four Legs". I didn't have a good view, but it's nice to see intentional comedy on a dance floor. Also, Coleccion La Recoleta were there with their Comme Il Faut tango shoe collection.

What I thought of the DJing: I'm actually not sure whether German Salvatierra was DJing, or Diego Doigenau (who's also the usual DJ at Negracha). Tandas, cortinas, 90% traditional from when I came in. There was one dodgy milonga that that didn't go in the tanda and about half the floor assumed to be a cortina, but I don't know who played it, it might have been an accident. Otherwise it was all strong music, mostly familiar, I had no problems with any of it.

Getting in: £13, well over the London norm of £10. Non-dancers and ULU members pay £10.

Getting there and getting home: Russell Square is, marginally, nearest. When you come out of Russell Square, walk left, crossing the street; turn right at the lights. You're now on Woburn Place. Take the first left, next lights, just after the big "International" hotel. Carry on past various university buildings till you get to the corner of Malet street. There is a red door on the street you're on, but this time a sign directed me round the corner to the brightly-lit main entrance. There were a lot of bouncers, who may be there all the time or might have been there in case we started looking like we wanted to stage a sit-in. Or a dance-in, or something. Go in, go upstairs (on your right) to the first floor. It's a few minutes' walk, but under ten.

If you returned to Woburn Place and went back past Russell Square you'd come to Southampton Row, Theobald's Road, and the Holborn area where lots of night buses go from. If you went in the opposite direction you'd very soon get to Euston station, where there are more. Last Tubes are between 00:25 and 00:45 on Saturdays.

The website: is at, but you're better off with the Facebook group.

How it went: I had a really nice time and I went home in a better mood than I arrived. It had a good atmosphere, which is often the case with Eleonora's events. When she had the same room as Negracha, but on Sundays, it was very striking how she managed to create a nice atmosphere with just a bit of embellishment and changing where the tables were. I thought about staying to the end, but quit while I was winning and took a train. The main reason I left was that England were 2 for 317 at Adelaide, leading by 72, which doesn't happen every four years, play started at midnight, and the siren voice of Jonathan Agnew was calling me to get home at 1am rather than 4. But also I'd already had some nice dances and the core of those who go to Eleonora's events are more nuevo-style in their tastes than me; so although quite a few of them are good dancers and I can totally work with it, I'm not quite their thing. Anyway, the evening made me happy.

Thursday 2 December 2010

Jaimito and the six-pack

Good luck to Jaimito, at Milonga Para Tres, in his experiment:

"There is a common belief among some people that it is impossible, or at least very difficult, to be in incredible shape and have a comfortable embrace. ... So right after I get stuffed tonight for Thanksgiving dinner, I'll start an experiment to get incredibly ripped, and still have a comfortable embrace, which will be verified through pictures and through the opinions of milongueras who dance with me."

Go for it! The common belief, incidentally, is bollocks. It's certainly possible to be in pretty good shape and have a great embrace. I haven't closely inspected the six-packs of any of the dancers I'm thinking of, so I can't tell you for certain how well defined they are, but I can think of several definitely fit men with definitely working tummy muscles and beautiful snuggly embraces. And fat men who you just bounce off of, boinngg.

I also happen to know that if you train in the right way, it is possible to use your tummy muscles to make the woman laugh. However, I don't advise you to try this unless you're pretty sure she's going to.

Getting dizzy, or not

Most of the time, when my partner leads more than a couple of complete turns in the same direction, I get dizzy. I appreciate a turn or two the other way, to counteract the motion in my inner ear. If it happens that we stop just after the turn - as can happen when someone is showing me or practicing something - then I feel the need to unwind myself before the conversation goes on.

I don't know any way of preventing this - I've been advised to open my eyes, but I can't really tell if this helps or not, and whether I have my eyes closed or open usually depends on other things. Once I notice being dizzy it's too late.

But on this occasion, we went round and round and round and round and round and round really fast in a really tight circle, faster than I had any idea I could go, and then it was the end, and I expected to feel dizzy, and I even said something about it as I was expecting it to hit me, but then I noticed that it sort of hadn't. I did feel a tiny bit dizzy, but what I mostly felt was out of breath.

What I want to know is, why?

Does being hot and out of breath overwhelm it?

I also happen to know that this particular person, besides being a very good dancer, specifically cultivates the ability to make women feel like they've hit it out of the park against good bowling. He's extremely stable, well built, physically fit, and has a particularly firm and reliable embrace. But there are other people who dance very well and have good embraces and I still get dizzy. So, is there something the leader can do, about the way he turns, to prevent the woman getting dizzy?

Was it something to do with the sheer speed? I think the centre of the turn must have been between us rather than centred on him, but I don't remember for sure.

Was it because we happened to be very much on the spot (the floor was nearly empty and it made sense with the music) rather than turning and progressing both at once? Does that make it easier not to be dizzy?

Maybe we just took a lot of small steps to get around the turn and we weren't really turning as much as I thought we were? I didn't dare open my eyes, so I didn't really have the faintest idea where we were in relation to anything except each other. Maybe the world wasn't whizzing past as fast as I imagined.

After we whizzed past the number of turns where I usually would have got dizzy I did notice something rising inside that said "I'm not giving in here". So maybe this sensation caused me to do something physically, I don't know what, that moderated the dizziness? I did think very strongly about dancing towards him, and letting my feet take care of themselves, so maybe there's something there that I can use in future.

Was it because it happened to be at the end of the tanda, and I got to stand still and hug him for a few seconds before having to walk to a chair? But that was exactly when I was expecting to feel dizzy, and I just don't think I really did. Or only a tiny bit.

Peculiar. Hard to know.

[Update: discussion in the comments suggests that high speed is the explanation - if you go fast enough it's easier to recover. But they won't work for the leaf-on-a-stream sort of turn that's much more common in tango]

Monday 29 November 2010


Bramshaw Village Hall is somewhere a very long way down a winding road into the New Forest (a very old forest, obviously) with wild ponies and deer and whatnot running around outside. Steve and Debbie Morall organise Saturday night milongas on the third Saturday of each month, and Sunday afternoon tea dances on the first Sunday in each month. There are also neo-tango milongas and courses offered at various dates, check the website for details.

The Class: There was a weekend of workshops with Melina and Detlef. Other guests are invited from time to time, and Steve is the regular teacher. Workshops tend to book out very quickly indeed, and they have a system for checking that you actually are at a level that's suitable for the workshops you book. Consult the website for details. I wasn't there for the weekend, only the milonga.

The end of setting up - they turned down the light in the kitchen later
Layout and Atmosphere: It's a large, rectangular room, another really nice traditional village-hall, with a red-velvet-curtained stage at the far end and corner at the near end occupied by a large kitchen hatch for refreshments. There are numerous coathooks by the entrance for your stuff, and some chairs for sorting yourself out, although not really enough hooks for all the people who came on this occasion so it turned into a bit of a pile. Around the other three walls are chairs and tables, directly against the walls. They have little tealights on the tables, and dark red tablecloths for a friendly glow. The floor is excellent, a proper dance floor in good condition with no problems. It's rather dimly lit, so most of your invitations have to be at shortish range, but it's not so dark that you bump into people and feel more like going to sleep.

They often have 'alternative' music playing in another room, on this night the other room was used as a chillout space. At one point Steve made an announcement about it because with all the people, the sound of chat and greeting had got a bit loud.

The temperature was patchy; it was crowded (I was told more so than usual) but it was cold outside and some doors at the stage end were open. It was comfortable for dancing but I'd suggest wearing layers.

As for the atmosphere, it felt great, I had the general feeling that the organisers were happy and wanted me to be.

Hospitality: Very good. There are lots of refreshments on offer in a large kitchen with a big hatch opening onto a corner of the room. Biscuits, crisps, teas, coffee, a tea urn, you can get yourself some water or a cuppa whenever you like. There are coathooks near the entrance for your stuff; they were overwhelmed by numbers in this case, but robust enough that I managed to dig my coat out fairly promptly from under everyone else's. The loos are roomy, well-lit and well-supplied, clean and working, and lots of people change in there after the journey.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: Detlef and Melina gave a brief performance. I enjoyed it - their style is purely social and I thought they looked very relaxed.

What I thought of the DJing: The DJ is Steve Morall, a passionate musician and bandoeon player. It was mostly traditional, with tandas and cortinas. I remember one tanda that was definitely, indisputably 'alternative', and perhaps two to four more that were arguably so depending on your definition. I remember enjoying the valses and milongas a lot. It it may have been the electrotango cortinas early in the evening that got me in the "what's this?" frame of mind so that I never felt quite sure where I was with the tango tandas, and at least some of my partners were having the same feeling. Your mileage may vary depending on your taste and who you are with and what you are used to.

Getting in: £7 for the milonga.

Getting there and getting home: There is no public transport. You have to drive, and/or stay at a B&B in the area (and they don't accept bookings for less than two nights, so that only works if you're doing a weekend of workshops or you fancy a New Forest safari). I was staying with a tango friend in Wales, who had more tango friends from further afield staying with her as well; and since there were six of us going altogether, we hired a minibus with a professional driver to take us there and back. At two and a half hours it was a very long drive for a short milonga, but worth it for the company. They recommend Google map link: Bramshaw Village Hall, SO43 7JE.

The website: gives you the details you need; the home page is here. There's more there than just an events list, and you may find Steve's articles interesting to read; he has a lot to say about what he's trying to achieve and how.

How it went: We arrived really early (having allowed more time than was actually needed for the journey) so I was there for the whole thing, and I had a really good time.

As it happened I had brought three excellent potential partners with me in the minibus, together with a lady friend who is a semi-regular there and could point out people she knew; but I also danced with others, one of whom turned out to be a friend of a friend, and saw plenty more that I would have liked to try if there had been time. Perhaps because getting there is such a project, it tends to attract committed and thoughtful dancers, and I had plenty of suitable choices without feeling hassled.

I felt that I could have had a larger number of higher-quality dances than I have had anywhere else in the UK so far - and the reason for this was that the middling level of non-professional dancers was unusually strong. I felt I had greater choice than elsewhere of people who are genuinely good social dancers, that is, at the level where their dance is natural and comfortable and enjoyable and musical and uncomplicated and without any major ingrained flaws, and you can just relax and have fun.

There were people thrashing around a bit, but mostly in the middle and harmlessly; the only real bump I had was with a table which had got out of place below my partner's eyeline, we had to stop and put it back.

The friend I was staying with, who is a semi-regular visitor, reports that she always has a good time there. If a friend is driving I'll certainly go again.

Thursday 25 November 2010

From her mouth to God's ears

Melina's2c: What impact can a travelling teacher have?

... And now comes the part, where I ruin my business ...
... Don‘t invite visiting teachers, if you cannot support their work locally. ...
... All of you, be sensible consumers! It is up to you to decide, how much time and energy you want to invest in Tango and what kind of classes you book ...
...Please, think about what you want to achieve for your Tango community and plan your events, workshops and regular classes according to that goals.
Er, yes. I have nothing to add, and no quibbles. I'd have thought this stuff was obvious, but about six months' experience was enough to tell me that it wasn't. Read the whole thing - there's evidence. If you want to comment, go over there.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Classic 'cabeceo' errors no. 1

"I know he prefers being asked by looking, and I tried it, but I couldn't get it to work, so I went up and asked."

Noooooooo! if you can't make it work, that doesn't mean you're doing it wrong. You probably did it practically perfectly. It means he said no, not right now, thanks. The fact that it didn't hurt is a feature, not a bug. Put him further back in your queue and try again another time.

Knowing who really enjoys your dance is quite informative and helpful and gives you a lot of confidence over time, I recommend it.

Milonga Brava

Can anyone find the lyrics to Milonga Brava? I have searched and failed. I have always been able to hear the first line, "I am the milonga brava, candombe ..." and then a line that sounds something like "I am the sound wave," which would be really good, better than "you are the egg men, we are the egg men, I am the walrus, boop boop be doop!" but I can't make out anything else.

The tune is one of my favourites ever.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Foreclosure crisis

For the readers who also follow the economy news, at some point you're going to hear about the "foreclosure crisis". I've been following this for a few months now.

If you want to understand it, a good place to start is here, with Mike Konczal's careful diagrams.

But the essence of all this is, that when it comes to rights over houses, which are pieces of land, it's no good just agreeing and handing over money; you have to actually do things. You have to actually do the things that the law says you have to do, in order to give somebody ownership of a house, so that if the loan secured on it isn't paid back, they can sell it.

The same applies to something called New York Trust Law. When you create a thing called a trust, so that it can own things, so that people can buy some sort of share in the income that comes from the things it owns, you have to actually do the things you are supposed to do and you agreed to do, in order to set it up.

If you don't, it's not that you have to fix the things you didn't quite do correctly. You can't fix them, and it's useless to try, because the trust never existed. It hasn't even evaporated: it was stillborn.

It's like computer programming. It's that strict, and the notion of 'a technicality' is utterly contentless. Getting the paperwork right is the heart of it; there are laws about how you do these things, which you have to obey, or the things don't happen. If you get it wrong, it's not just that someone can sue you: it's that it doesn't work. Lawsuits come later. Silly propaganda isn't going to help you. You don't own what you said you owned, you didn't sell what you said you sold, and it doesn't do what it says on the tin.

It doesn't sound so dramatic, unless you know there's trillions of dollars of this stuff. Who the hell even knows what a trillion is? [Be quiet, Ghost]. The recording devil of History's Greatest Foul-Ups will blench at the scale of this.

This is what the term was invented for:  EPIC FAIL.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

On Chocolate Cake

In Germany, chocolate cake is for MEN. Like Yorkie bars.

Male Germans frequently order chocolate cake if it's offered. It confuses English women, who think chocolate is something only women are supposed to like; some of us even feel a vague obligation to order it as some sort of gender performance. British men hardly ever order chocolate cake, quite possibly for the same reason.

Just goes to show how made-up and arbitrary these things are.

Question: is the British marketing schtick for Yorkie bars ("No Girls" written in big letters on a perfectly routine piece of commodity chocolate) unnecessary in Germany? Or is there some equivalent?

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Nice Arse

I was watching somebody dance the other day. She dances very well; so does the man she was dancing with. She is not one of those little voluptuous Mediterranean women; nor is she the ballerina type. She is more the sort of shape you would visualise wearing green wellies in Hertfordshire or knitwear in Oslo - tall, slim, angular, gentle, and totally on the beat.

And I reflected that regardless of your shape, whether you have a fat bottom, a thin bottom, a round one or a flat one, squareish, prominent, pear-shaped, athletic, negligible, or enough for two, following well in tango is going to make it look fabulous. Callipygousness in motion. If you want to feel good about your bottom, this will work.

It works in every style, except that I think the more you open the embrace the more it becomes about the legs instead.

(Whether it works for men as well I can't say, as I haven't had the opportunity to watch enough men who follow well. It doesn't happen that often, and when it does I tend to be busy dancing myself. But I don't see why not.)

Monday 15 November 2010

Old Oaks

A few weeks ago I did a little tourist thing with some relations, and visited Greensted Church. Its walls were built out of oaks, cut in half vertically and roughly finished with adzes on the flat side, either some time in the 900's or somewhere in the 1000's - no one is exactly sure. So these shining silver walls are either just barely under, or comfortably over 1000 years old.

You can see from the smaller picture, below,  that in other lights, the oak looks black. The brickwork at the bottom is Victorian; the walls were rotting at the bottom and they decided to cut off the lower part and replace it with brickwork, keeping the rest. On the inside they look deep black, and you can see and touch the adze marks.

If you go inside, you will find at the western end a  large table laden with the most delicious honey; a pale, waxy honey made locally that tastes of flowers and an indefinable spiciness, convinces you it will cure your cold, and is irresistible eaten straight out of the jar with a teaspoon, unspoilt even by toast. Put £3.60 (plus any extra donation for upkeep of the church) into the marked tin, and take home a little pot of heaven.

Sunday 14 November 2010

A feather

"I realised this evening ... it's quite a big room and the music is definitely coming from that corner, but when I'm dancing with you, you're so on the music, I can actually treat it in my head like you're one of the instruments and the music is coming from you."

Glow. I've decided to keep imaginary angel feathers in a little imaginary box in my sitting room.

Monday 8 November 2010

Oo Oo! Melina on Young Men

Melina has, at least for the time being, got the blogging bug. I love her first real post, which is about how nice it is that some of the young European (and British) male dancers are bright enough to appreciate dance quality in women just as much as youth and looks. I totally agree about the guys she's talking about, they're lovely.

Melina's 2 Cents: Good news. Really.: The young men are coming! And they are different ... I want to thank all these nice young men, for being who they are and helping to create a much more agreeable Tango community.

Read the whole thing, it's an entertaining story. The only thing I can add is that it also makes the young and pretty tangueras feel better about themselves to be noticed, and to see other women noticed, at least partly for merits that go beyond the obvious. And I hope in return we can all appreciate good dancers who are men of sensibility and sense.

Sunday 7 November 2010

A good choreography - Mark and Karen

Before I started to dance tango, I thought about ballroom dancing for a while, but it doesn't work for me aesthetically. I don't like the princess look and the smiles or the way the couples look away from each other. I could never imagine myself doing salsa or 'latin' without feeling a fraud. Jive or swing don't suit my rather saturnine personality.

Tango works for me, aesthetically, physically, and emotionally.

I'd like to show you a performance. Strictly Come Dancing was one of the BBC's better ideas, especially given the public service remit. This also involves cricket, incidentally.

Just watch 00:19 to 01:54, you can skip all the rest. And you most definitely should. Or, don't. If you really can't stand it, skip the whole thing. And then I'll tell you some things I thought about it then and think about it now.

Here are some things I thought then and now.

  1. Her dress is perfect. It's not a princess dress for little girls. It's not a theatrical costume. It's not a glitter bikini that you'd buy in the horrible clubbing shop on Oxford Street. It's a very good imitation of just-a-dress. The delightful illusion of nakedness aside (an illusion no-one would fall for, for one second) it's a rather modest dress I could easily imagine myself wearing. His suit goes the same way; it says, this is not about glitter or gauze. It's not about imaginary princesses. It's about her and him, man and woman. I still have to restrain myself from creating an unsuccessful version of this dress.

  2. The one overwhelming thing that this choreography, and their delivery of it, communicates to the naive viewer is the couple's absorption with each other and their own mental states. The story is about the close connection and the unbridgeable distance between two people. It is not about the dress or the shoes or the look of the thing. Their expressions are self-contained and remote, as though they were really thinking. (They're also not gazing perpetually into each other's eyes like stunned coots, a habit that annoys me in tango performances). There is no fixed smile, in fact there's no smile at all until the end, and that one is totally sincere. They are doing a very different thing, but this is the same sort of smile I sometimes share with some of my favourite people at the end of a dance. It says “we worked”.

  3. The choreography works (for me) with this piece of music, a song with a clear and frankly rather tangoey sentiment, and a sentiment that focuses on the woman's emotions and is sung in her voice.

  4. Mark Ravin Ramprakash (34,839 first-class runs as of today, high score 301 not-out, widely regarded as an international failure but averaged 42 against Australia) was born do this dance and no other. If you have read Simon Hughes' rather brilliant book A Lot Of Hard Yakka, you know, as I did then, that the generally mild-mannered Ramprakash was known to the Middlesex dressing room as "Bloodaxe" for his occasional tendency to flip out and reveal the seething interior.

  5. You would have to be a twit to think that this is how people dance socially. If you know that tango exists as a social dance, then you know that it isn't going to look anything like this. People being deluded by shows, as such, just isn't a good explanation for them dancing badly in real life. What the naive viewer gets from a show, is whatever the show tells them the dance is about. If the choreography is a good one, it will communicate the right thing, and that has practically nothing to do with technical content. Good choreography has something to say, and says it. If it fails to say what it means, then you can say it's bad art. That happens a lot. If it says something you don't agree with, then you can say it's wrong. That also happens a lot. But it doesn't follow from either of those that choreography, just by being itself, gives people bad ideas.
 This was the first time any version of "Argentine Tango" had been attempted on Strictly Come Dancing. (Note for Americans: as far as I know, this was the original and Dancing with the Stars was the remake for the US market). I haven't watched it recently so I don't know what they are doing with it these days; I wouldn't expect for a moment that the quality's been maintained. But I don't know at all.

On watching it again nearly four years later, I notice the choreography is cleverly put together for the benefit of the professional - Karen Hardy - who hasn't done argentine tango before and needs to make good use of her great body condition and ability to deliver a show, without getting bogged down. And by tremendous luck, Ramprakash's good condition, body shape, physical presence, and default style of movement as an elegant-to-majestic batsman is exactly what's needed here. He's absolutely capable of just standing there when required to do so. Winner.

Unless you know how to dance tango, the details are absolutely meaningless, and I think it takes quite a lot of experience to make sense of performances in any detailed way. It's the overall impression that counts.

And the overall impression was just what it should be.

Tango and the Internet Umpire for beginners

Argentine Tango is not standardised. It has a long, complicated history over a hundred years and at least three continents. There is wide variation in details of technique. There is wide variation in look-and-feel. There is wide variation in methods of learning and teaching. There is tremendous variation in quality.

There is no commercial system for teaching tango. There is no coaching qualification. There are no labeling rules. There are a few brand names knocking about, which do the mundane and mildly useful job that brand names do, as far as that goes, but that isn't very far.

Some people are a lot more fun to dance with than others, and if you get more skilful yourself, and especially if your musical ear gets better, the way that changes your experience of other people's dance and your own is complex and sometimes surprising and not always straightfoward or predictable.

There is quite a lot of information available on the web to help you assess what it all means. Some of it's true and some of it's false. Some of self-serving, some of it's wise, some of it's silly, some of it's mistaken, some of it's recycled half-understood platitudes, some of it's rumour, some of it's funny, some of it's useful and some of it's made up. And, obviously, if you understand what the internet is, are literate and have a trace of common sense, you already know all of that.

I don't always, or even usually, feel that I know which is which. I just have current working hypotheses and theories (some strong, some weak), and I try not to make stuff up. What I want to say is this:

No matter what you attempt or in what order, you will find someone on the internet to tell you you're doing it wrong. The only umpire of such sports is you.

Enjoy the journey.


Sorry everyone - been a bit busy this week with too much in my head. Meanwhile, TC has posted the other two parts of the translation of Melina's interview - part 1, part 2, part 3. I find it interesting and wise. The attributes she thinks a teacher should have are certainly much the same as what I look for - in anyone I want to learn from, about any subject. And she certainly has these herself. See her dancing at Salon Canning here, and here is their video channel.

Disclosure: I love them as people and I love dancing with Detlef and I love dancing with their students and for all these reasons I have a direct personal interest in more people listening to what Melina says.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Tango Commuter: Interview with Melina Sedó, part I

My friend Tango Commuter has a translation of Cassiel's long talk with Melina Sedó about teaching tango. [Update: part 2, part 3]

I know and like Melina. She and Detlef are continuously fully booked (if you want them you need to contact them now, or here, for 2012). It might be because their students dance better than other people's in less time. I think the interview is interesting. I particularly like these sentiments:

Interview with Melina Sedó: Teaching beginners is a big challenge and carries a great responsibility. It also has the most scope for getting things wrong. ...
... It all means that we have to help them feel good in their own skin, to openly and proudly embrace another person and then walk to the beat. ...

... If you tell any grown-up of at least average intelligence that Tango is about walking in the embrace and that before we can do any complex figures we have got to get to grips with the basics, they will understand. ...
... That doesn’t mean that students in our classes have to “cram” or train for months before they finally get to go dancing. Quite the reverse, we teach simple elements which mean that they can join in a milonga right from their first class.
There's lots more on the joys and problems of learning and teaching tango. Full English text of Part 1 here. I don't think the English version of the rest is up yet, but those who read German can get ahead and pick up the other two parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

I hate weddings

I'm all for people getting married, if they want to marry each other. But a marriage ceremony (at least in the European tradition) is a very simple affair. It traditionally requires the couple, some witnesses, and some sort of official, and the conversation, with answers understood, is basically as follows:

  • Who exactly are you two?
  • What do you think you're doing? 
  • Are you sure?
  • Anybody else here got a problem with that? This is your last chance. No?
  • Do you hereby marry each other?
  • Right, then, consider yourselves married, and the rest of yous are not to interfere.

There may or may not be religious additions; I have no objection to sitting quietly and watching that part, although I'm not that keen on being expected to participate as a matter of course. But in my book, the meat of it takes about five minutes, or twenty-five with sitting everyone down and faffing about, and it should immediately be followed by some announcement functionally similar to this:
  • The food is this way, the drinks are that way, the dancefloor is over there, and the band [or DJ, according to budget] will be on in an hour's time.
Or, alternatively:
  • We are now going to the pub. Follow me.
Waiting around for five hours making small talk in a cold tent in the middle of nowhere without access to food or a cup of tea is not a party. And speeches, if any, should be after the food.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Nature Watch

No pictures, I'm afraid, it was too dark.

I just got home from the Eton milonga (I had a lot of fun, so much so that I got into one of those flaps right at the end - overexcited and totally flustered and unnecessarily running for my train). And as I turned into my flats I saw the vixen who lives here. That's not unusual at all, she is not much concerned with humans and will sometimes stand still, watchful, until you approach within a few feet. But this time she trotted away at a much greater distance than usual, and when she turned into a garden I saw that perhaps this was because of the little one, half her size, that emerged from between the cars and followed her in.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Affectionate customs of the English

Desiderius Erasmus, 1499:

Letter to Fausto Andrelini: “Here are girls with angels' faces, so kind and obliging that you would prefer them to all your muses. Besides, there is a custom here never to be sufficiently commended. Wherever you come you are received with a kiss by all; you take your leave, you are dismissed with kisses; you return, kisses are repeated. They come to visit you: kisses again; they leave you: you kiss them all round. Should they meet you anywhere, kisses in abundance; in fine, wherever you move there is nothing but kisses.”

Since I got the above translation from Wikipedia it was necessary to check by finding the original Latin; my Latin is too rusty to translate it myself but I can at least say the above translation is reasonable. And this is a famous passage.

Nam ut e plurimis unum quiddam attingam, sunt hic nymphae divinis vultibus, blandae, faciles, et quas tu tuis camenis facile anteponas. Est praeterea mos nunquam satis laudatus. Sive quo venis, omnium osculis exciperis; sive discedis aliquo, osculis dimitteris; redis, redduntur suavia; venitur ad te, propinantur suavia; disceditur abs te, dividuntur basia; occurritur alicubi, basiatur affatim; denique quocunque te moves, suaviorum plena sunt omnia.

It's certainly taken me a very, very long time to get my head even partly around the practice of touching cheeks as though to kiss and pointing your lips the other way. To me it just seemed bizarre and insulting; if you are fond of someone why would you not kiss them? If the person is a cousin or a friend of the family older than yourself, then you kiss them on the cheek; immediate family get a peck on the lips. With personal friends it varies, but they get a sincere hug, with or without a kiss, but probably with. For a person you are sleeping with, not to greet them with a peck on the lips would be downright insulting, as though you were ashamed of the relationship, unless it is of very long standing and known to all, in which case it's not necessary. Colleagues and formal relationships mean some combination of handshakes or verbal greetings. I've eventually managed to accommodate the cheek-to-cheek touch into my repertoire as a friendly greeting, but it still isn't wholly natural. It feels as though it should be for someone I'm only pretending to like, or someone I am supposed to pretend not to like; or someone I would like to like, but I know doesn't want my affection.

Nowadays I'm just confused; I do the cheek-touch now, but I'm completely random about how many, and all the borders are muddled.

I think the customs of my family, before we had to accommodate ourselves with the big city, would have been perfectly recognisable to Erasmus.

Sunday 17 October 2010

Festivalito con Amigos, Saarbrücken

Some fairly typical buildings opposite my hotel
This is an annual event organised by Tangokombinat in their collective home town of Saarbrücken in south-west Germany. It's a  small-scale festival, but very international (it's an easily-accessible central European location, with good organisation and aims for a good quality of dance, so a lot of people go there). There are four milongas over three days.

All photos in this post are mine, none of the videos are.

Disclosure: I know some of the organisers and regard them as friends (albeit not people I see all the time or whose personal stories are any of my damn business).

The Workshops: I didn't take any (although I had planned to - my partner fell ill). So I can't say much about them. They had three sets of people giving the workshops, two from Argentina and one from Amsterdam, I'll mention them all later.

Layout and Atmosphere: There were four milongas, each in a different location. It would take too long to describe each location in detail, especially as the chances are it will change next year. They are all within easy walking distance of the centre of town. There were two big ones at night and two small ones in the day time.

Dancing in the Johanneskirche
It started on Friday night at Gemeindezentrum Alte Kirche - a good sized (but only barely large enough) rectangular hall-type space with tables on three sides, comfortable seating and a very nice floor. On Saturday afternoon there was a small milonga in Mutanth Studio, Karcherstraße - this is a bright, airy little dance studio with mirrors at one end and seating off the dance floor. It was packed (advance booking is essential or you will not be able to get in) and getting off the dance floor was a bit like changing trains at Oxford Circus in the rush hour; but the intimacy helped people get into it more. On Saturday night there was a ball - 'ball' seems more appropriate than 'milonga' given the layout and the magnificence of the space - at the Johanneskirche, which is the German-industrial-town equivalent of a Victorian Gothic church. You're sitting at a table or in a pew facing the dancefloor, or maybe on a raised platform at some distance from it, which is great for watching but not ideal for finding the partner you want for this specific dance. Finally, there was a daylight-to-dinner one at Theater Blauer Hirsch, which is a sort of cross between a pub/bar and a theatre - it's small, with the floor where the audience would sit for a play, with the tables at one end, and you walk through a pleasant bar. It was very prettily decorated with candles and autumn leaves - picture below. This was my favourite space, and is the one where they do their Christmas milonga.

Hospitality: Ok to excellent, depending on the venue. On Friday night, lots of water, juices, other drinks and some nibbles were included, and substantial sandwiches were sold for €2. On Saturday afternoon, lots of water and soft drinks and cake were all included. At the Johanneskirche all liquid refreshments including bottled water were for sale (but very reasonable - big bottles) in aid of the church building fund - you could get tap water if you needed it - and there seemed to be some cake included in the entry price. The Theater Blauer Hirsch sold good food (although it ran out), beer and other drinks and coffee for very reasonable prices, again there was a charge for bottled water, but you could get drinking water out of the taps if you needed it. The facilities were in all in order although I did have to queue briefly at the Johanneskirche.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: There were some short-and-sweet performances from the teaching couples. I found these quite interesting; they were all close-embrace-only tango but with markedly different and distinctive personal styles. At the Johanneskirche, Sebastian Coli Bazzini and Josephine Boza were youthful, leggy and well-glued. RodolfoEl Chino” Aguerrodi dances with a facial expression of deep distress, as though this is his last dance ever; his partner Miho Omaki as though she's President of the Freedom to Party Party. It was compelling, for me. At the Friday night milonga, Antonio Martinez siezed the mike and made a long announcement paying tribute to Detlef and Melina and how much he appreciated their way of dancing, then proceeded (with Francesca Bertelli) to do a demo that was really quite reminiscent of them but at the same time quite different. It all went on for  quite a while due to announcements being made in at least three languages, but I didn't mind. Anyway, I also enjoyed watching them all socially and I like the thing they do at the end where all the organising and teaching couples do one dance all at once like a mini-milonga - so I'll embed this one:

Christian Tobler and his DJ display
What I thought of the DJing: It's 100% traditional, tandas, cortinas, people clear the floor for cortinas. On Friday I felt Christian Tobler front-loaded the energy a bit, it got people started but those who arrived later found it a bit harder to get going. It was all good though and I liked his ingenious track information display. Andreas Wichter DJd on Saturday afternoon, I was dancing nearly all the time. At the Johanneskirche it was Andrea Degani, at Theater Blauer Hirsch it was Uwe Willié. I had no problems with any of it. It wasn't all the same by any means, there were experiments, I liked parts of it much more than others, and at some times they played music that was pretty demanding to dance to well and you can only really play when you have confidence in the dancers. Having them be able to do that was part of the fun. They were all professional DJs-for-dancers.

Getting in: The pass for all four milongas was €40. It's essential to book early or you won't be able to get in to the smaller ones. You need to bring the pass with you and have it marked for each milonga.

Getting there and getting home: I stayed at the City Hotel, and walked happily to and from all the milongas. Some of those on a tighter budget stayed in a youth hostel which is less central but it's still all perfectly walkable.

As for getting to Saarbruecken itself, you can fly to Trier and take a train from there, but I took the Eurostar directly from London. You change trains in Paris (there's a five-minute walk from Gare du Nord to Gare de L'Est) and Saarbruecken is the first stop on the inter-city-express to Frankfurt. It's only just beyond the French border, and French is quite widely spoken there, I heard it often in restaurants. The train from London to Saarbruecken takes between five and six hours in total depending on how much time you spend stopping over in Paris. Morning trains get you there between lunchtime and teatime, having lost an hour to the time difference; an 8am train home got me back in my flat for lunch. Flying such a short distance is significantly slower, what with faffing about at airports, but it's much much cheaper.

The website: and Neither gets updated very frequently [Edit: Melina reckons weekly, but if you want to know where she and Detlef are and what's going on, I'd recommend following them on Facebook, plus you get the Extreme Ironing and miscellaneous banter. Edit: added FB link.] but there's usually a downloadable PDF with the complete programme, addresses and everything.
La Despedida at Theater Blauer Hirsch

How it went:   Really well, for me. It was long enough for me to really get into it. I danced with many friends, from home and abroad, fine dancers and delightful people. There were so many lovely dancers from so many places. Mostly I had bits of a language in common with them, sometimes we could find two that were mutually semi-intelligible for between-dance remarks, I enjoy that. The quality of dancing generally was high, and although there were some who were not so skilled, and there was much variation in personal style, there weren't really any clueless showoffs bouncing about causing problems for other people. I saw one significant bump, and I had a few touches, more at the evening than the daytime milongas - the floors were pretty crowded a lot of the time. My favourite was the last one, which felt particularly happy. I personally prefer the smaller spaces to the larger ones, as in the larger ones I find it harder to circulate and dance with the people I want to - I find them a little disorienting and develop a tendency to hide. Plus I think they make some people very tense, especially if crowded, and that's not good for bumps. But some people probably have the opposite preference, it depends on your social character.

The seams were getting a bit tight in places, and they want this festival to stay fairly small with a relatively intimate atmosphere, so it's likely the format will change a bit over the next few years. Possibilities include changing the mix of venues, or dropping the workshops and going more in the 'tango-marathon' direction; any or none of those things might happen. They also do an event at Christmas, check the website for details.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

A cross between Hercule Poirot and the Star Wars cantina

"... It's a cross between Hercule Poirot and the Star Wars cantina ... love the music"

... the response of a friend and colleague to a short video clip (about fifteen seconds) of social dancing

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Hat-Shelled Crab

Here is the thing I've been knitting. I got to deliver it down on the coast last weekend.

Hat-shelled crab with eyes on and ready to go

It took two balls of yellow and one ball of red, 100% wool superwash. The stuffing, as usual, is the polyester washable stuff they sell in John Lewis.

The two little legs at the back are red because I made eight legs before half-remembering that crabs have ten, and looking it up to check - and I didn't have enough yellow left. But I like them like that, the effect is crab-like. The pincers lock together quite nicely too.

And here he is in action:

Hat-Shelled Crab guarding 2-week old owner from evil spirits

Joan Sutherland

Joan Sutherland has died: obituary here. But this is enough:

Just amazing. Warm as toast, and amazing, all the way up and all the way down. [Thanks to T for link]

Monday 11 October 2010

TangoDeSalon Tea Dance in the Middle of Nowhere

This is a tea dance (which means it's in the afternoon and there are refreshments included) at Aldenham War Memorial Hall, Grange Lane, Letchmore Heath, WD25 8DY, running from 2pm to 6pm on a Sunday. It is not a fully regular event, so far - at the moment it happens every couple of months. The next is on 24th October 2010. [Edit summer 2011; it's now every 2nd Sunday of the month. Edit 2012: it got popular and is now every other Sunday: 2nd and 4th. Also, there are now cheese-and-spinach veggie empañadas.] It's organised by Asta Moro, Beto Ortiz and friends.

Disclosure: I was there because my friend Flower, who helps to organise it, invited me and made it possible for me to get there. She had not asked me to write a review - she invites all her tango friends all the time because she wants to make it a good milonga - and as is my custom I insisted on paying the normal entrance fee. I was pleased to see Flower and was predisposed to have a good time.

The Class:  Before each milonga Asta and Beto do a two-part class. [Edit 2011: this is the basic format but they invite guest teachers from time to time, in which case it will be a workshop format.] Part 1 is walking and basic technique, Part 2 introduces something-or-other a little more complicated that's practically useful in social dancing. In this case it was a turn good for making use of the corners. Broadly the approach is to build up basic skills with regular attendance. Also, they're very explicitly against anything that creates a tendency to kick people or causes problems with navigation and they issue a warning if they think you might get the wrong end of the stick. Both parts were attended by dancers at higher and lower levels of competence; Part 1 was designed to be suitable for beginners. I did not actually take the class, as I had not planned to and was keeping Flower company while she sat at the door, and finishing my knitting, but I thought it did what it said on the tin.

Layout and Atmosphere:  It's a good quality village hall - a good sized traditional style rectangular building, painted black and white on the outside, with a stage at the far end. Nicer than you could get in London for five times the money, which is the advantage of village halls in the middle of nowhere. For the milonga they add little ornaments like electronic candles, welcome signs, a sari draped along the stage, pretty blue paper tablecloths, beaded lampshades and so on. Lighting is good, with a lot of natural daylight coming in through the windows and the fire doors along the sides.

Along the left hand side are little tables, each with three chairs; along the right hand side, just chairs against the wall. Along the left side you can walk behind the tables to get to the refreshments. At the far end the dancefloor is bounded by the stage, and the part of the entrance end that's not taken up by the door also has chairs. There was plenty of seating for everyone. Once it got going after the class, it was well attended and felt all afternoon like everyone was having fun. The food and drink are set out on a couple of tables at the far corner and as I'd arrived at the setup stage with Flower, I saw that the exact layout of these was the fruit of much discussion as to how to provide good access to the food without eaters getting in the way of the dancers. It was worth spending some time on this, as the end result was pretty much successful.

There are some pictures at the blog.

Hospitality: Very good. Water, tea, coffee, and I think some wine are included as well as a mountain of food. It included strawberries as well as apple pie, cakes, scones, cookies (I mean big american-style homemade cookies, not biscuits), all the usual nibbles and Beto's excellent homemade empanadas. They are smaller than the otherwise-similar Cornish miner's pasty I had eaten on the train, but extremely tasty, in a light but structurally-sound pastry case; I remarked on their herby goodness and Beto informed me that onions are very important. A couple of them were about right to keep me going for five or six tandas but you could easily stuff in many more. There was so much food that they forgot to put out the sandwiches.

The loos are between the outer and inner doors: the ladies is very roomy, with coathooks, but there's only one of it, with a tiny mirror, so you couldn't really change in there. I think there are more through the door at the back. The facilities are what you'd expect from a village hall, clean and hardwearing and functional as long as it's all treated with care, but not luxurious.

The hall is a bit cold in winter and is difficult to heat; you'll be fine once you're dancing but you may want a woolly layer for the pauses and before you get going.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: Beto and Asta gave a modest demo of a tango and a milonga, with mild heckling in between from a female friend of Asta's in the audience. It was short and sweet, best kind of demo in my view.

What I thought of the DJing: Tony Walker DJ'd. He plays good music. For this milonga he was briefed to play 100% traditional, and did so. Tandas were of 4, normal proportion of milongas and valses, cortinas were Golden Age bluesy things. There were a couple of technical hitches that interrupted songs, and I swear he played the same song twice (in different arrangements), but it passed the test that I was dancing most of the time and thinking it was beautiful. I think most of the time Beto DJ's, I don't know anything at all about his DJing except that I liked what he played for the class and he has strong views about what is dance music and what is not. [Edit 2011: he's a reliable DJ. You can check him out at Carablanca sometimes. Also guess what, they've bought a proper sound system! Proper quality wires, speakers on stalks and everything! Edit 2012: 2 more big speakers to go up in the gallery and even out the sound.]

Getting in: £8 for the milonga or £10 for the milonga and class.

Getting there and getting home:
I took a train to Watford Junction [Edit: now normally Radlett, which is nearer and on a line from St Pancras] and Flower picked me up from there and set me down again afterwards. I'm not sure it's possible to get there on public transport. It's a bit confusing if you drive - the DJ and several others got lost, check the map carefully. There's parking at a little group of shops opposite.

The website: Notices here, and there is a Facebook group.

How it went: It was fab actually. I danced nearly all the time and it was all good. I was in no danger of running out of people I wanted to dance with. People danced in a civilised way - they stuck to the line of dance - they were listening to the music - they kept moving - a high proportion were highly competent, although there was also room for the less experienced. I had very few bumps and those harmless. I had confidence accepting dances from people I didn't know. It's very new but seems to have acquired a pleasant crowd already; I'll definitely try to go again.

Incidentally, it is possible to go to this and then go to Tango South London afterwards [Edit: now not the same weekend so question doesn't arise]. One couple there actually did so. It makes sense, as they are both aiming for similar things and I'd expect them to attract quite a few of the same people. Lovely atmosphere.

Thursday 7 October 2010

Out of Office Message

Back on Tuesday.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Music and Rooms - the medium and the message

The speaker in this one points out how the content and form of music is partially determined by the kind of place it is meant to be played in. Put like that, it sounds rather mundane, but I find the whole thing fascinating and rather inspiring as a way to think about music.

I think it's a little bizarre to say that Allegri's Miserere hasn't got rhythm - I've performed this piece (not very well) and rhythm is absolutely crucial - but I suppose I know what he means.

The revelation to me was how small the hall is for which Wagner wrote his operas. Just that piece of information makes that music make significantly more sense to me.

Added: I have no idea what's wrong with his neck.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Saarbruecken Map

Since I know a couple of my friends and readers are going to the festival at Saarbruecken this weekend, and I've already spent the tedious hour with Google Maps working out where eveerything is supposed to be and when, it would seem churlish not to share it.

The pins are the hotels listed on the Facebook page.
The round reddish things are the milongas. The one with a spot is also the location of the Friday workshops.
The blue round thing is the Saturday and Sunday workshops.
[Update: I realised I needed to use more colours so that the key is readable. Click here to go to the map, and then you can set it to the zoom level you need, and print it out with or without the full key and your own notes.]

View Saarbruecken in a larger map

The one at the bottom is the Sunday milonga. If you zoom in and ignore that one I think it is all easily walkable, based on my observations of passing through the town. For scale, I think it only took me about ten to fifteen minutes to walk from Saarbruecken Hauptbahnhof, which you can also see, to the Johanneskirche. But the Sunday one seems a rather long way, so I have to find out how to get there. Some sort of bus or tram probably goes that way, and it doesn't finish late. [Update: this turned out to be perfectly walkable, it doesn't take long].

If there are any mistakes you know of PLEASE comment - I am doing this because I have not been there before, except passing through.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Tango West

Tango West have milongas at the Redland Club, Bristol, every other Friday (but check dates), and on special occasions from time to time. This visit was one of their Saturday late-nighters, 8pm-1am on a Saturday in September.

The Class: there was no class on this date. There are classes before the regular milongas, taught by the organisers, Michele, Iwona and Andrew, and they also have Andreas Wichter (who some of you will know) regularly on Wednesdays, dates shown on the website. You can take it, therefore, that the focus will be on practical social dancing, and that's backed up by what they say about their aims and who they admire on the website.

Layout and Atmosphere: If you approach from Burlington Road, you will see a big sign on the side of the building with the Tango West name. They have taken over full or partial responsibility for the hall, and so have a good deal of control. As you go in it feels more like an upmarket village hall or school hall than a gym or health club as you might expect from the name. There is an entrance hall with the kitchen opposite you, the loos on your right behinds some felt screens with notices, and the dance hall on your left. You have a bit of space to sort yourself out and take your coat off. The dance hall itself is quite large, more or less square, and has a pleasing wooden ceiling with a peculiar construction I don't know the name of but which reminds me of a sort of hammer-beam, only going all the way round to make a square. I think it's really some sort of steel suspension thing. The floor is the same colour but a different pattern, and in very good condition. You are asked not to wear shoes that may damage it, and heel covers are available. Refreshments are to your left, along with a sofa, under a sort of partly-curtained gallery, and there are plenty of chairs set around little tables on the other three sides of the room. They warm it more with I think a red gauze curtain under the gallery, and little purply fake tealights on the tables. There are no chairs alone or against the walls.

The hall as a whole is good looking and comfortable, and contributes to a warm atmosphere.

Hospitality: Excellent. I was greeted in a very friendly way on arriving (I was very early, having guessed wrong how long it would take me to walk from the station) and given a seat at my own little table where my friends joined me later. Plentiful water, wine, pots of tea, coffee, and various fruity and salty nibbles are included, with disposable cups and the now-standard pens for writing your name on them. Tea - standard and Earl Grey - is served in proper cups and saucers, out of a pot. There were enough seats for everyone. The loos are roomy, clean and working, with hooks for your stuff, so you can do a fair amount of fixing your outfit and makeup before you make your entrance.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: They were trying an experiment of seating most of the women on one side, most of the men on the other, with mixed groups along the third side opposite the door, and encouraging people with announcements to use the 'nod' for getting dances, and to clear the floor between tandas so as to make it possible. It didn't entirely work out - there weren't enough men or women arriving alone to be able to do it convincingly, and Bristolians like everyone else are inclined to sit with their friends and would consider it rather bizarre to be told they couldn't because of a chromosome. But it was interesting and worth a try. The lighting was good, but the hall is a bit big; although I had no problems at all zapping partners from reasonable distances away, I couldn't make it work to the other side of the room. But it was fun to try and would have worked better with a bigger turnout, especially of men, or more people who were used to getting their dances that way.

Otherwise, just social dancing. There was a birthday vals; two of the ladies involved in organising it have a birthday on nearly the same day.

What I thought of the DJing: Andrew Oldroyd DJ'd. [Update - looked up surname and added, as I see from an anonymous comment that some people read "Andrew" and confuse it with "Andreas" naturally enough as he is well known as a DJ - I don't know if Andreas ever DJs at Bristol or not, but he certainly didn't on this occasion]. 100% traditional, tandas of 4, cortinas, golden age, standard proportion of milongas and vals. I enjoyed it, it was orderly and varied. Just a bit of a hiccup after the birthday vals. Andrew told me that he had somewhat changed his approach to DJing recently, and others said they thought it had been a fairly dramatic improvement.

Getting in: £9 on this occasion, I think you could get £1 off for booking in advance. They have a membership scheme at £20 per annum which gets you some discounts on classes and entry; you might think this worthwhile if you plan to take a lot of classes there.

Getting there and getting home: I took a train from Paddington and changed at Bristol Temple Meads to be deposited at Clifton Down, within a few minutes' walk of the venue. Turn left out of the station and walk uphill along Whiteladies Road with the church on your left. Turn right when you reach Burlington Road and continue to the next corner where you will find the venue. It's an easy walk, there are shops and people milling around. It probably would have been just about possible to travel back to London the same night, especially if I had left early, but I did a 'tango sleepover' with a friend who was driving back to her home in Cardiff about 40 minutes away, and took a train back from there the next day. There are also quite a few hotels, guest houses and serviced apartments within a short walk, which you could use if you went for a special event. The trains each way took about two hours and the ticket each way was about £28 - I could probably have done better by booking more in advance. A map is given on the website.

The Website: - you'll need to scroll down. It's a bit mixed up but it's all there and straightfoward to find - where, when, what, and how much it is to get in, and it has been updated since my visit in the places I'd expect. The About page is quite interesting.

How it Went:  Not knowing many people there, I chatted to the lady sitting at the next table when I came in, and to my friends when they arrived. Perhaps because the scene is evolving quite fast at the moment, I got contradictory advice, I made a few over-cautious decisions, and I probably missed one or two dances I could have enjoyed, especially early in the evening. But the dances I had were all fab. The turnout was just a bit  low on this occasion. It's a nice venue with good organisation and now that I have the practicalities sussed, if it were a special occasion (the kind that makes lots of people I want to dance with come out of the woodwork, like Melina and Detlef's visit earlier in the year) then I would definitely make the journey again. [Added: oh yeah, there was a good ronda throughout and as far as I remember I had just one or two very minor contacts. I think my heel made contact with a chair leg and maybe someone's trouser hem. No harm done. Sorry I'm not at my best today.]

Sunday 26 September 2010

Discoveries (off-topic)

I have a bit of a queue of posts, including at least one review, but I've been on a training course all week and had no cognitive surplus.

In the meantime, some recent discoveries:

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Take-home happiness, and I don't care about styles much

It's a good night when you have a totally joyous last tanda, to keep for the whole weekend. Que lind@. Big smiles. Or "<3" as they say on Facebook.

I've been lucky enough to dance with wonderful dancers who have quite big differences in what is laughingly known as "style", and in aspects of technique that go with so-called style and personal preference.

As far as I'm concerned, nearly all of these differences are completely trivial and meaningless compared to the differences in personality, musical response, and interaction between two actually-good dancers whose 'style' looks technically the same. Once you get into people who actually dance well, who have something that works for them, so that their own personalities and joy come through, it just does not matter much.

This is not a standardised dance. People use the techniques that they need to do what they judge will make a good dance, and leave out the ones that they don't.

I like to be able to deliver whatever it is they need to dance their dance. I don't want someone who dances well to adapt to what he thinks I want. I need him to adapt to what I can do - but not to what he thinks I want, because I don't know anything. I may have preferences or favourites to some extent, but go ahead, persuade me to change my mind. I want my partner to dance this dance the way he thinks it should be danced with me.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

iTunes AArgh

Not only do you have to tell it to use "Artist" instead of "Album Artist" - but also, you have to go through the tracks one by one - this doesn't seem to be available when you select more than one - and un-tick the thing that says "part of a compilation". Because what that actually means is "hide this artist from all the menus".

This is a pain when the ticky thing has attached itself capriciously to about half of a 10-CD set with nearly 200 tracks of tango music. Why would someone think that was a good idea? Maybe, like me, they just didn't know.

Still at least I've now worked out why I couldn't see half this stuff. And now I can - mostly - see them.

Practice playlist bug-fixes in progress.

Saturday 11 September 2010

Follower influence

There are funny things that happen with some dancers and the music.

I can can occasionally find myself dancing with people who dance to the rhythm but nothing else, especially with vals and milonga. It's on the beat, in a general way, but it feels rushed, formless, and robotic. They don't seem to hear the melody or phrasing or tension or emphasis or any of the detail, and it feels more like jogging than dancing.

It's possible to respond by dancing, taking your time and interpreting all the leads in a way that does hear the melody and phrasing, always following, but varying your swooshyness and lightness and the way you move, sending music back up through your body from the floor. I'm not talking about ornaments here, or stopping dead, or breaking the connection, or doing anything that interferes with navigation. Just stubbornly insisting on dancing rather than jogging.

If I try this, what sometimes happens is that they start to respond to to the music themselves, enough so I can tell the difference. They may not be able to sustain it because they haven't practiced, but they notice that it is possible and they start to do it.

This does not always work. I don't think it will work if they have been like that for too long. Some people are irretrievable, at least by me.

You might worry that there is a risk here, that you won't be following, that you will be back-leading or responding to the lead in an unpredictable way.

Here are my arguments for not worrying about this:

  1. Someone who has this problem isn't going to be someone who wants to weight-change you a toe at a time. If he knew that was possible, he wouldn't be doing this. He's moving mechanically and with pretty low level of precision. So there is actually plenty of room for interpretation, if you have the confidence. Your toes are your own.
  2. You are taking full responsibility for the quality of your own dance, and you are making him look better than he is, both of which are the Right Thing To Do.
  3. And if, later in the evening, you do dance with someone who can weight change you a toe at a time, that person will almost certainly be dancing to the music, in which case it's entirely a good thing if you do too. You will not have sabotaged yourself by unplugging your ears from your brain.
  4. If he's not only off the music, but wants you to be as well, there's no reason why you would want to dance with him again, anyway, so it's a win-win situation.
  5. And supposing he tells all his friends you don't follow: either they already know he is a terrible dancer, in which case they won't care, or they think he is a good dancer, in which case you won't care, because they are probably worse.
  6. It will feel like a bit of a fight, but it will be much more bearable than trying to ignore the music, which is bad for your dancing, stressful, and really very difficult to do.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Dance and Male Quality in the Biology Letters

Good Dancing may be sign of Male Health, Scientists Say - BBC:

Dr [Nick] Neave [of Northumbria University] asked young men who were not professional dancers, to dance in a laboratory to a very basic drum rhythm and their movements with 12 cameras.

These movements were then converted into a computer-generated cartoon - an avatar - which women rated on a scale of one to seven. He was surprised by the results.

"We thought that people's arms and legs would be really important. The kind of expressive gestures the hands [make], for example. But in fact this was not the case," he said.
"We found that (women paid more attention to) the core body region: the torso, the neck, the head. It was not just the speed of the movements, it was also the variability of the movement. So someone who is twisting, bending, moving, nodding."

Movements that went down terribly were twitchy and repetitive - so called "Dad dancing".

In the video at that link, Dr. Neave adds:

"The head and the neck and the torso can move around three different angles - forwards and backwards, side to side, turn around - and somebody who's putting all those moves together, in a different way, and making them sometimes big and sometimes small, and showing variability, and flexibility, and creativity in the way that they move their head and their neck and their body, they will be percieved as a good dancer. A bad dancer is someone who engages in very rigid, stereotypical movements. A head nod - a headbanger, for example, is a bad dancer."
Makes sense to me, huh. In so many ways.

I know that science reporting is often pretty dodgy. But in in this case they do tell us what journal the article is in, the Royal Society Biology Letters, which allows me to check the abstract and say that the news article doesn't go much beyond the abstract itself, which (in part) says this:
Linear regression subsequently revealed that three movement measures were key predictors of dance quality; these were variability and amplitude of movements of the neck and trunk, and speed of movements of the right knee. In summary, we have identified specific movements within men's dance that influence women's perceptions of dancing ability. We suggest that such movements may form honest signals of male quality in terms of health, vigour or strength, though this remains to be confirmed.

Indeed, it's possible that moving the core body region in a controlled, varied, creative and twisty way is just genuinely quite difficult, which I think is what they're saying with the technical sense of "honest", and certainly doesn't contradict my personal experience (hello, confirmation bias).

In fact I have several questions about this, such as how the subjects rated their own dancing, how other males rated the dancing, whether there was any definition of dancing, and whether the researchers went beyond the distinction between 'professional' and otherwise. Part of the abstract I didn't quote also implies that the dance of men was found to be more informative than the dance of women, and it would be interesting to know if that was true, or if they didn't measure any female subjects for some reason, or if there just wasn't enough difference between female subjects they measured to be able to tell. I also wonder what the overall goal of the study was and whether it's part of a wider programme of research. The article will be available for free in a year's time; at the moment it costs a rather eye-popping £27, which I don't think I can justify.

And also, why the right knee? Did it matter if they were left-handed? In fact, can you tell from someone's dancing if he's left-handed or not? I know you can with at least some beginner tangueros, who (I remember noticing) if not given definite instruction or obstruction sometimes start with a motion to the right instead of the stereotypical leftward weight-change.

A little bit more digging finds two videos from the study.

There's a lot more in the Letters about animal locomotion, although I don't think any of it changes the lots-of-data-and-no-theory situation.