Saturday 30 January 2010


I'm just doing posture stuff so I can do whatever, what do you want to work on?

You might know this ... I was dancing and I got a volcada accidentally and I don't know how. D'you know how they work?

Ermmmm .... I know what they feel like. What were you doing when it happened?

Someone came out in front of us and I went "Oh, shit!" and I stepped back and I got a volcada.

Well ... hang on ... if you just put me on one foot ... and then you sort of go ... no, hang on a minute, let me show you ... If you go up like this ... Then I'm not going to to change feet. Right ... okay ... now hold that and step back ... now step forward and put me back ... there.

Oh yeah! That's funny. How did that happen?

Well ... you were scared, and you're tall, so you went "erk!". And she wouldn't know, she'd just follow and you'd get one of those.


I expect that's how they invented it. It was probably some plonker coming out in front.

Note hoisted from comments: little ones in close embrace with a man taller than me are nice and very easy to follow, but please don't do big ones or attempt them in an open embrace unless you know what you're doing and you really, really mean it. The lady can suffer serious long-lasting damage if it goes wrong. Especially if she's not that strong or you're shorter than her - please practice very carefully.

Monday 25 January 2010

Tangology @ The Langley

UPDATE This one has now moved to the Warwick: 1-3 Warwick Street, London, W1B 5LR. Same organiser, I haven't been to it yet.

Since leaving Wild Court, the Tangology Sunday milonga has been looking for a venue and has now ended up at The Langley bar, near Covent Garden. It's been going for three weeks.

The Class:
There's a free beginners' lesson from 17:00 to 18:00, and a few people had clearly enjoyed it enough to stick around out of curiousity. Then there's a general-level class from 18:30 to 20:00 when the milonga starts. I haven't taken classes with Eleonora but she has a good reputation for the basics, from what I hear; her dance is predominantly nuevo-style.

Layout and Atmosphere: A downstairs Covent Garden bar. Follow the stairs right down from the door. Go past the long bar on your right and the cloakroom on your left. (It didn't seem to be staffed, but if it is when you go in, it would probably be an idea to leave your coat there as there isn't much room inside and your stuff gets all over the sofas, shoes everywhere). Whoever is taking the money is at a high table at the end, and the dancing is through the door behind them. The cement floor is a narrow triangle with the bar on one long side and some raised seating round a triangular table taking up the other bit of the more or less rectangular room. The DJ has a booth in the corner by the door and there are other off-dancefloor spaces to sit down at the points of the triangle.

It's dark, with glowlights (what are those called? The ones that make all sorts of surprising bits of clothing glow) and a disco ball. The strange shape of the floor actually works well. It's been surprisingly orderly, so far, even when quite full, maybe because people have to pay attention and think quite hard about how to manage the triangle, together with the fact that most of the seating doesn't encroach on the floor. It's not quite so good for getting a dance if you don't know people - maybe there's a tradeoff there. It is good for socialising with your friends, and it's good for watching.

The floor is cement, smooth for cement, but very sticky without talc. There was plenty down and it was ok, I could dance without injury. But if you have any knee or ankle problems you may want to be extra careful, and of course it's very hard.

The bar in there isn't staffed, a good thing as it would be very awkward to try and get served while people were dancing. If you want a drink you'll need to come out and go into the long bar. Which smells terrible, incidentally. If you leave late you may have trouble finding your way out if the doors to the stairs are closed. Just push.

The curious beginners at the start did something rather nice for the atmosphere. Later on it's mainly just serious dancers and (with that and perhaps Ewa's DJing, I'm not sure) I felt it was nice and calm and comfortable.

Hospitality: Mixed. It's a bar. It does bar food. Two double G&Ts with ice and lemon - one for me and one for a friend - came to a rather startling £16.40. There's a cloakroom that appeared to be open. I've used the loos on two occasions out of three visits, and both times the floor was very wet, the second time also very dirty. Everything worked, with plenty of hot and cold water and plenty of fully functioning cubicles. But you can't wear your good shoes in there. Admittedly it was raining outside, but the venue management doesn't consider it necessary to mop up, although they do consider it necessary to have "one to a cubicle" signs. A "deluxe cocktail venue" it may be, for a given value of deluxe. The milonga itself, though, feels comfortable, with nice seating, the bar service is prompt and professional, and talc had been put down to improve the floor.

Anyone or anything interesting: Just social dancing.

What I thought of the DJing: Eleonora's DJs all play 90%-100% traditional but have a wide variety of views about cortinas - every tanda, every other tanda, apparently at random, or not at all - but their tandas themselves are pretty reliable. Ewa, on this occasion, played cortinas between (I think) tandas of four, and played some Di Sarli just when I felt it was going to get a little bumpy; it chilled, and I thought she did a good job. (The cortina was Take Five, which I have always wanted to dance to as an experiment, I don't know whether it would feel like a really wierd spaced-out milonga or an even wierder vals).

Getting in: £6.

Getting there and getting home: Under a minute's walk from Covent Garden. Bear left out of Covent Garden tube. Cross the zebra crossing to Marks and Spencer's, continue left, and the street is first right, you can see it from the Tube exit. The Langley is hard to see at first but it's just past the Mexican place. Caution: it's Sunday, so the last Tube to your destination may be well before midnight - they stop an hour earlier than other days.

The website: At the time of writing, Tangology hasn't been updated with the latest venue details, but I wouldn't look there anyway. Check the announcement list. The bar has its own website, with menus and whatnot.

How it went: It attracted committed dancers in various styles who coexisted peacefully. The only really noticeable bump I got was a genuine error, sincerely apologised for. Quite a nice floor, some good dancing going on. The difficult surface can be dealt with, although if you have any knee problems you might want to take extra talc. The odd-shaped floor seems to make it surprisingly safe. When you're not dancing you can sit down in comfort and watch other people, or enjoy the music. In the first three weeks, there hasn't been a rival in the centre of town, the house at 33 Portland Place having closed for business; so there's no knowing how it will develop, but it certainly has a core from previous versions of the same milonga. That core is pretty 'nuevo,' which isn't really my thing, but there were still a few partners who would appreciate my dance or whose dance I would appreciate. If it is your thing then this would be a good place to go (although you will still be dancing it to traditional music).

Friday 22 January 2010

It's WHAT time?

Normally if you absentmindedly leave your alarm clock in another room, you wake up at the same time anyway, but if your next-door neighbour in this thin-walled block of flats has been watching action movies till 3am, maybe not.

That's what happens if you live alone and would really prefer to hibernate in winter.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Tango @ the Light

This is a new milonga on Tuesdays at The Light Bar, E1, organised Pablo and Luciano, who I always think of as the Embassy Boys. It only started just before Christmas.

The Class: There's a beginners' class, followed on this occasion by an intermediate class with some guest teachers. I think there's normally just one beginners or 'general-level' class taught by Pablo. I skipped both. The charge for the classes is £10 but entry to the milonga, from 9pm, is free.

Layout and Atmosphere: Walk through the large ground floor bar, which is not-at-all full of Shoreditch housemates and tentatively canoodling suits. Go up the stairs at the far left hand corner, following the breadcrumb trail of small "Tango at the Light" stickers past the loos and up to the first floor bar, which actually turns out to be a sort of mezzanine. The DJ desk is on your left at the entrance, and the rest of that wall is occupied by the bar. It's dark. It's big, it's square, it has a smooth dark wooden floor, there's a disco ball, and some tealights. To your right is the low wall over which is the opening into the downstairs bar; the designers had a good thought when they cut the top of this at a 45-degree angle and padded the top, the right height to lean your elbows on. In summer the big windows around the other two walls would give it a nice light airy feel, I think. There are big squishy brown leather sofas with tables between them, and they've moved some of them around so that you aren't necessarily facing the dance floor with your feet on it - you can sit side-on and nest, or chill, or socialise if you want to. There isn't anywhere obvious to put your stuff, other than all over the sofas mixed up with everyone elses, but you could probably simplify things by leaving your coat in the cloakroom downstairs.

Hospitality: Perfectly fine. The bar does food, the menu including at least plates of chips. The upstairs bar was professionally staffed all evening. A double G&T with ice and lemon was a fairly steep £6.40. It's January and I didn't get thirsty - I forgot to ask for water - sorry, I do that in winter. The loos are clean, dry, with big sinks and everything properly working, painted a glowing dark red. The place is clean, the staff are professional and the seating is comfortable.

Anyone or anything interesting: Just social dancing.

What I thought of the DJing: Pablo DJ's, with occasional interventions. The music was all traditional, with Latin-pop cortinas (Lalalalalalabamba! etecetera etcetera!). It was very straightforward, with rather a lot of valses. I think the tango tandas were fours. There were one or two little muddles but nothing practice wouldn't cure. I left during a set of good milongas, at about 23:15. It goes on till midnight but I didn't stay. The only problem with the music is that it has to be really loud to drown out the leakage of different music from downstairs. And when you dance over to that corner of the room you can clearly hear the downstairs music, so you have to focus to tune it out. I have no idea why the music downstairs needs to be as loud as it is, especially when downstairs is practically empty. Maybe that will evolve.

Getting in: Entrance to the milonga, from 9pm, is free. Obviously it's courteous to buy something at the bar. Update 21st April 2010: it's now a rather minimal £3.

Getting there and getting home: Take the Bishopsgate exit from Liverpool Street station and walk left on the same side until the glittering walls of glass give way to brick and disrepair. It's on the left after the second crossing, an opening at the end of a long brick wall. The map on the website and the flyers is accurate. It only takes about five or six minutes. The walk feels perfectly safe and there are quite a few people around. It ends at midnight and it's on a weekday, so you should be able to take the Tube home even if you stay to the end. There are also lots of buses from Bishopsgate and all around the station.

The website: Updates, directions, pictures etc at Simple, does the job for now and should be very easy to maintain. The map is currently at the bottom of the page.

How it went: I arrived very early and danced some crazy nuevo-ish stuff with partners who hadn't had enough exercise lately. That was followed by a nice little bit of salon as more people arrived. It got steadily more salonified as it filled up - but stayed both unusually young and much more orderly than I had expected it to be, based on my first visit, which was before Christmas. The floor is very large, and the peak was only about a dozen couples. Although there were at least one or two near-absolute beginners and at least one or two people who like to stand still and give a lesson mid dance, and some non-dancers getting in the way at one corner, the atmosphere remained relaxed as far as I noticed, and I had no bumps. People frequently cleared the floor for cortinas. The floor is very roomy. You could safely take big steps and go for a fairly brisk walk if you wanted to.

I had a relaxed evening, I didn't dance with lots of different partners - it hasn't really developed its crowd yet - but I had a nice time. The problems for me were the loudness and the leakage from downstairs; some people would also find it too dark to dance easily or safely, and it was certainly too dark to see across the room well. It's new, and I don't know how it'll turn out. I had the opportunity to dance a couple of different ways, I enjoyed the music, I enjoyed the cheery youthful atmosphere, I didn't get kicked or kick anyone else, it didn't stress me out on a weekday.

Sunday 17 January 2010

Tango @ 33 cancelled tonight

If you want to know why a director of the company that owns the venue was arrested in December, it's in the Serious Fraud Office press release. I can't see that this in itself would be a problem for the milonga, the problem seems more likely to be that Westminster City Council have got an interim injunction [picture of pole dancer, PSFW1] to enforce a planning notice outstanding since 2006 to the effect that commercial uses of the house are not permitted. Compare the house website.

That's likely to be a serious problem, so I should imagine the milonga will be cancelled permanently and they'll have to find another venue; getting planning permission doesn't sound like a runner to me. However, do check the milonga site (plays music) for updates.

1 Probably Safe For Work

Saturday 16 January 2010

Ranting about ornaments

A few friends and acquaintances hire a room once a month and get together for a practice session. We all live in different parts of London and normally go to different teachers, so we tend to do quite a bit of talking about things.

Tealight: I can do styling in Ceroc - because I'm just dancing, but in tango I'm going oo-err, relax my shoulders! balance! relax my hips, keep my feet together, free leg ... I try to do ornaments, but it's too much to think about.

Hedgehog: I wouldnt bother. Just deal with the other stuff. Honestly, when I started I just danced for a quite a while and didn't worry about them and then I was dancing away going tweedly-deedly-dee with a nice partner, and the little taps and things just turned up1.

Supermini: I can do them but I don't know when to do them, I'm always wondering if I was expected to do an ornament there ... I don't understand what's expected.

Hedgehog: I don't think anybody has any right to expect anything. I think they're supposed to come from you. Like - now it's going, dadada dada, da daaaaah da, da daaaah da, da daaaah da, papapa papapapa papapapa papapapa pa2 ... You have to do them when there's something there that goes Ping, that makes you have to move. Otherwise they don't make any sense and you trip yourself up.

ManWithPlan: From my point of view, it's just strange when the woman does a really elaborate ornament that makes sense because it was a big moment, and then thirty seconds later she does exactly the same one. And then thirty seconds later she does it again and it's totally out of proportion.

Hedgehog: I really hate it when they do ornaments in a move in a class, the thing is, if a teacher tells you to put an ornament in a specific place in a step, there's no way it's going to be with the music more than once, and if you try and do stuff fighting the music, your brain just melts. Even if you don't know why, it just feels wrong, and you've got enough to worry about following without trying to fight the music, and why would you anyway? It's better to be in a class where they don't even speak to the women at all. You can just practice whatever they're doing with all the different leaders, and ask for help with whatever comes up. And at least you dance better at the end and not worse.

1. Not all at once. They turn up one by one over time. They're a bit quirky and some of them don't make the cut, and disappear again, but they're all mine and not somebody else's.
2. Bahia Blanca - Carlos di Sarli.


Update: promoted from a discussion in comments about the rarity of ornaments and so-called 'leaving space' in Argentina, read the whole for context:
>>What if the ladies want to do an ornament? Where's their room for expression and interpretation? How can they "create together" if the follower is not allowed to have any creative input?

@DB: She is. She has a lot more creative input, in my opinion, and certainly much more equal and important, than she does if her input is confined solely to superficial twiddles and remarks on top of a speech by the man, which is how I perceive ornamentation. It's in the varying qualities of her movement and the influence of her connection and musicality, and it's fully integrated into the whole; like the difference between singing together in harmony and taking turns to talk. However, I take your point that it needs explaining, and I am definitely not qualified to explain it. It's invisible, the ideas are not obvious. Passing them on takes a lot of knowledge, and you have to be able to show and explain as well. It's not easy, and I don't think women are generally well served there. (Indeed, nor are the men, if they end up believing the same things).

All I think I can say is, that the kind of dance Cherie is talking about feels quite different and a lot more interesting.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

A Talk about the Iliad

Some time ago, I discovered a wonderful lecturer. She speaks very well, and not from notes. The title is "The War That Killed Achilles", and this is a book talk. [Edit - the embedded video below is an extract, the full version is here].

I did not know (about 06:30) that the First World War was so named — ‘First’ — for the first time — in September 1918.

And from the transcript:

“I think this tragic wisdom is what is embedded in the Iliad. In other words, its antiquity is part of its message. Not only is it 2,700 years older than us and we can read it and respond to the familiarity of every single scene, every single dilemma, and every single issue, but it was also, in itself, old by the time that this poem was composed, around 700 or 750 B.C.”
The transcript includes the Q&A session which is just as interesting as the talk.

The reason I remember this today is that I was reading a copy of The Economist from last year:
From memory to history

With the deaths of Harry Patch, at 111, and Henry Allingham, at 113, the last memories of fighting on the front in the first world war have gone.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Nightmares and a Bad Conscience

Imagine a dancing class in which the subject matter, time, location, organisation, and teacher are such that these conditions occur:

  • Leaders and followers - as booked - are exactly even.
  • All the followers are, at least, competent to a level well above what's needed for the class.
  • About a third of the class have booked as couples, and have the option of sticking together.
  • Exactly one of the non-paired leaders is a complete nightmare to dance with, to such a degree that those students who have also studied martial arts can name the things he is unintentionally doing to the women who dance with him, and the specific art in which each of them is taught.
The unspoken rules of conduct observed among women are, more or less, these:
  • If you booked as a couple you are allowed to hang on to your man, sacrificing opportunities to safety. Only a quite exceptional sense of honour, or a spirit of enquiry worthy of the Beagle, would lead you to do otherwise, and no-one will resent it, or at least not much.
  • Over-seventies are exempt.
  • Everyone else takes more or less her fair share, and will suffer in her conscience if she doesn't.
Frequent rotation keeps anyone from missing too much of the class, but when he's that bad, once is enough for anyone, and after a while it can turn, very gently, into a case of every woman for herself.

I wish I had a pet behavioural scientist, or some sort of pocket omniscient Jane Austen, who could watch and somehow measure and describe the subtle and blatant manipulations of space and attention, the moments of guilt, resignation, and relief, the subterfuge, the acting, the shirking, and the occasional bursts of self-sacrifice with which the women divide up the work. He can't be got rid of, so somebody has to dance with him.

Or you could just film the whole thing from the centre of a high ceiling and speed it up.

Can you tell that I'm suffering in my conscience? One possible game-changing move would be to get one of the men present who is a competent follower to dance with Mr. Nightmare, while one of the followers able to do so switched to leading for a while. But that can't really happen, because dance classes are civilised events, and it could all too easily result in a smack in the mouth.

Sunday 10 January 2010

Nothing to say at all

And having done that last one it's only polite to add that I have absolutely nothing to say about Osvaldo Zotto, either, but Alex does, and then he includes video, links and some long extracts from various articles. Tango Pilgrim has a more personal note.

Saturday 9 January 2010

Nothing to say

I didn't know Tete Rusconi and have nothing whatsoever to say about him; I think my favourite tribute so far is Irene's. Hat tip TangoCommuter.

Buenos Aires 2008 - Part 9 I thought he wasn´t going to ask me after all, because he had spent the entire evening dancing with flaquitas ... What was it like dancing with Tete? ... it was like a very terrifying ride on a roller coaster, but kind of fun too. ... you cannot anticipate moves or go faster than him, or be too involved with your adornments, because you will miss the lead, and he won't dance seriously with you. ... It was a really challenging dance, but he was very musical because all his moves connected with the music in a percussive way (I don't know how else to describe it). ... Alberto was very proud of me, and Paulina agreed, dancing with Tete is "muy dificil".

Read the whole thing, it's funny and interesting, with all sorts of observations about people and styles and a lot more detail about what Tete felt like to dance with. Her description is more or less what I would have guessed from watching him on video. An honour, a lot of fun, but you might find out whether you're just a 'skinny' or not, and you'd better make sure you're going to like the answer.