Monday 29 March 2010

Ghost Guide version 2.0

Ghost, who I practice with from time to time and some of you know as a regular in the comments, has just rewritten his "Ghost Guide to Tango", his thoughts for himself and fellow students. The old version is still there as well so you can see where he's moved on.

Version 1 discussed his discoveries of can be done. Version 2.0 is about what a reasonable leader of moderate skill can actually expect to work, most of the time, with a follower of the skill level he will normally find himself dancing with. And conversely, which of the things that get taught all the time in classes may or may not be useful as practice tools but turn out to be rubbish at a non-professional level, confusing to learn, or just awe-inspiringly useless for social dancing.

I also think that people need to hear this, so I agreed to provide some comments from the follower's point of view. My comments are written in a different colour, and they're just the sort of thing I'd pipe up with if I were standing there when he said whatever he's saying.

Ghost also has a theory that professional demonstrations are difficult to interpret and often not that helpful to the learner, compared to watching your peers. So to make it all a bit more concise and clearer, he decided to add videos showing two normal-level social dancers, Ms. Pink and Mr. Bond, from the chest down, doing some of the movements that he is talking about. So the reader can see what he's on about (helpful if names in Spanish are meaningless to you - I've met so many people who thought 'boleo' and 'bolero' were the same word) and also what it looks like in real life.

I thought this too was a really nice idea, and I provided some video equipment and did all the video editing. That was fun and I learned a lot. I hope you enjoy the results.

I made a little kung-fu-comedy credits one at the end so it doesn't take itself too seriously. It might not be up on the site yet, but you can check back next week.

The whole thing lives on DB's site, here. (There's a lot on that site by many different authors, obviously not all of which I agree with. But you don't need telling).

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Ganchos and sincerity

Here's the deal on me and ganchos.

My free leg technique isn't pro level.

We are never likely to be going fast enough or to have enough momentum for my foot to swing up high as a natural movement. There's always - always - a tedious moment of standing still and thinking “oh, here comes a tedious trick to make us both look silly” before it happens. I think, and I get bored, very fast under certain conditions. It loses the flow completely.

I've been taught to fake them quite well (I was taught to turn the leg slightly so the heel goes towards him, and to swing rather than kick or hold) but it's a completely voluntary movement. This, I think, is what most people do, and it's certainly what I do after the wait for positioning is over, the reveille has stopped sounding, and I get some sort of a lead.

I'll usually fake it at least once, as long as the man hasn't done too many other things to annoy me. If it's once in a tanda, the man dances with real feeling for the music (that is, having some apparent sense of the melody and phrasing and at least the most obvious emotional content, as opposed to just being on the beat), and it's in the right place, then, okay. At least then there are other reasons to do it, beyond whatever version there is of a lead.

If I don't really intend to ever dance with him again, I can fake cheerfully because it's just the once. It depends. If there's anything else so seriously wrong that I don't care if it annoys him, I probably won't fake. I'll just stand there and smile and pretend not to understand if he starts talking.

If he were a friend, I might fake for the sake of peace or the conversation. But in strict moderation.

Basically the reason I don't like them is that my limitations, quite apart from the difficulty of the lead, make them insincere, and I prefer to dance sincerely. That movement isn't something I would ever spontaneously do to express tango music, and it isn't something I would naturally do in response to even the best of leads that actually happen in reality in social dancing. It requires a higher level of technique than is going to happen. I don't like my moment being killed, and I don't like faking.

I prefer what I am doing when I dance to be faithful to a reasonably consistent overall aesthetic concept, and that means not faking things. That's just the way it works for me.

[Update: when I click Publish on a blog post, Blogger shows me a 'success' page with some ads on it. It reads what I publish to try to guess what I am interested in. On publishing this one, Ads By Google offered me the following:

The Top 10 Golf Mistakes?
Biomechanics Software
Gait Analysis Software
Golf Swing Technique
Wrong, but still sort of spooky.]

Saturday 20 March 2010

Underappreciated literature, and other topics

Professional works like the Lehman Report are a very much under-read and under-appreciated branch of literature. The same is true of County Court judgements, and the like. The judgements of higher courts, though sometimes beautifully written (Lord Denning being the most famous artist in this genre) are highly technical and all about the law. But in any kind of a commercial case, courts of first instance consider the facts and have to decide who is telling the truth. And because the very fact that a case has come to court presupposes that something has gone horribly wrong in a business transaction, their judgements are, not uncommonly, full of suspense and deadpan characterisation. I enjoyed Cembrit v Apex, which is ostensibly about a rather technical copyright matter arising out of a disaster with some roof tiles, but contains such passages as this:

On 18 November 2004, Construction News published an article which was critical of Cembrit UK and based upon the materials Mr Leader had supplied. Mr Leader was delighted and telephoned Mr Penrose to say he was "gleeful", that this was "just the start" and "I am going to get well rough from here on in". Not surprisingly, Mr Penrose explained that he found this tactic very unsettling.
The fact is that mundane disasters about roof tiles are enormously dramatic to the people involved, and the things people do in response to this are all you need to generate drama.

The examiner in bankruptcy is not in the same position, but he rehearses the facts in much the same way. The Lehman report is on quite another scale, but it's still, at bottom, a tale of characters coming unstuck over time. Those unused to such things should just read the table of contents, which is 37 pages long and follows the elegant convention of whole sentences for headings, each summarising the paragraph it belongs to. But the quotes from all the emails are in the lengthy footnotes. You can get very lost in those.

At the other end of the scale, Felix Salmon has a story from Dean Jens illustrating the way a company of any size cannot behave in a coherent way, because what actually happens is limited by the powers of individuals trying to get things done.

Monday 15 March 2010

Soft milonga

Claire Loewe included this video in an email advertising some classes with this couple in a brief visit to London. I won't be taking the class, which is in the wrong part of town for me and at the wrong time, but I watched because I remembered the lady's name from a couple of years ago - at the time she was working with another partner, whose name escaped me until I remembered I'd posted video of them (it was Fernando Sanchez). However, the reason I post this milonga is simply that I love it.

It seems so soft, and tender - it starts with a broad smile from her and then it's unhurried, rhythmic, centred, gentle, totally in line with the feeling I have from this melody - and their remote, studious expressions seem somehow full of joy.

Like the previous video it's in a beautiful room full of beautiful light - since Nayla Vacca is the other element in common I wonder if she is the videographer, and puts a good deal of thought into it. [Edit: on watching again I realise the camera moves very slightly, rather than being on a tripod as I had assumed - so in fact someone else is holding it].

Thursday 11 March 2010

Me and Tango and some mad woman in the Indie

The first time I ever heard of argentine tango was at some point in the late eighties when a woman who was touring with a stage tango company had been interviewed for The Independent, which was what I used to read on the train to school when I was 13.

The interviewer asked some question about the dance which was based on having seen ballroom tango and all those little flourishes they do with their heads. The interviewee (I have no idea who she was but someone out there can probably deduce it) said very vehemently "there is nothing with the head! Nothing! It is with the legs!".

I liked, and for some reason remembered, this idea, perhaps just because of her vehemence or more likely because I had seen ballroom tango and thought all that head-flapping looked a bit affected.

I think I must also have remembered that the dance she was talking about had some connection with Argentina, but I don't know if I was aware that there was also a social version. At any rate, the memory dropped into place when I encountered tango again. It was one of the things that pleased me, and felt right.

Hello Ireland

Hi! I am getting a few readers from Ireland lately, especially Cork. Please jump in the comments, don't let Ghost and David and the other regulars have it all their own way!


Sunday 7 March 2010

The Gormlets

On my desk:

Art is so infectious.

Saturday 6 March 2010

Things that make me feel Sleazed

This came up in an email correspondence. In which someone (do you want to be credited? I'll edit) David Bailey said:

“Huh, I didn't even think it was _possible_ to be sleazy in AT.”
Oh, yes it is.
  1. The leader's right hand wanders up and down in a stroky way.

    Ewwwwwwww! And also tickly. Just Ew. I was chatting with a friend yesterday - I was trying to remember why I don't dance with a particular man who dances quite well. I remembered it as just not liking the vibe - nothing personal - and it was that, but my friend pointed out that his hand wanders up and down all the time, as though he were stroking a hairless cat. Eurgh.

  2. He makes eye contact while dancing (necessarily opening out the embrace to do this).

    There are lots of dances where eye contact is fine, and even necessary. But in tango, it feels like you're trying to make our interaction into something it's not. I know people do it in shows. There's a reason why they do it in shows, it's because it makes it look like something it's not. You do not have to be looking at me to be thinking of me. And also, tango is a progressive dance, please keep your eyes on the road!

  3. He opens out the embrace, leads something in a sort-of-patient sort-of-patronising way, tries to make eye contact, and simpers at me for applause.

    Oh, for goodness' sake. Controlling, impertinent, vain, silly. My thoughts are my own, luckily for you. Bugger off.

  4. He leads certain movements by jabbing the ends of the fingers of his right hand into my body. Sometimes just one finger. Ewwwww!! And also, Ow!

    Controlling, patronising, sleazy and PAINFUL.

  5. He leads leg wraps without moderation.

    What exactly makes you think I want to wrap my legs around you? Don't be so damned impertinent. Do it if it's in the music, maybe once a tanda, and we're good friends.

  6. Constantly intrusive knees.

    Get out of my legs!

  7. He's controlling generally. He gives the impression that he's so pleased he can make me do this or that. Sometimes with just one finger!

    Hard to articulate this one, but it's probably a personality thing and a combination of doing little bits of all the above, especially the simpering. People who do this are usually technically and musically well above average, but not people I'd ever dance with for fun. Domineering, bullying, oblivious, self-absorbed, boastful and boring and sleazy.

  8. Show-tango generally.

    You don't whistle or shout after a lady in the street, either, or talk about her tits in the pub at the top of your voice. If I wanted to be on stage, I would be. Don't attract the eyes of other people unnecessarily towards us. Especially with visually obvious things like turning the embrace inside out or spinning me around. Go and do a dance where those things are a normal element that doesn't attract the eye.

  9. Verbal wittering - "ooh, lovely, oooh very nice, ooooh I do like that!"

    Ewwww! Inappropriate. Shut up and dance. You can say very nice at the end if you want to, but don't say "ooh".

  10. He comes over and talks at me in a way totally unjustified by our real acquaintance, and hangs around at my shoulder, and won't go away unless I dance with him.

    Go away. I never gave you any encouragement, I was never more than polite, and I get this creepy stalking act. I already told you I don't want to go for a drink. This makes me want to dance with you less, not more.

I speak for myself as a hedgehog.

Wednesday 3 March 2010

Me and Tango and Blogging

I started dancing because I wanted to add something to my life. But I've said this before.

I wanted something that I could keep working away at for a good long while and would occupy a reasonable chunk of my time and attention in a way that benefited me and didn't destroy anything else that I wanted in my life. Tango just worked for me. It more or less still does. Now and then I take a little holiday from it, but it gives me a lot.

It is by no means a consuming passion, and never has been. It's not a search for Wisdom, or Bliss, or even aerobic fitness or body tone. Although obviously any of those things would be a bonus, should they choose to show up. I like the music, it speaks to me emotionally, and I love that I can dance to it, but I don't listen to it constantly and I am also just as fond of quiet as I was before.

What it is, is a really interesting and enjoyable pastime that gets me thinking about all kinds of things that I would never think about otherwise, and talking to people I like and would never otherwise have met, and also gets me out of the house and gives me a reason to dress up and look pretty and use my body and make an effort to do something as well as I can that nobody expects of me, but is purely for my own benefit and satisfaction.

I get about as annoyed by bullshit and badness in tango as I do in other areas of life. Not really more or less. Well, maybe less, in some ways.

It's also a pint-sized and entertaining world that I can contribute to in a small way by the easy and enjoyable means of writing a blog. I've done blogs before, on other subjects, and they're just fun. A modest amount of attention doesn't hurt, either; I'd be lying if I didn't say I was thrilled, some time ago, to learn that someone in 2007 still remembered* my pre-Blogger incarnation.

I could overanalyse for pages, but when it comes down to it, as silverofice commented on the previous post, I blog because it's fun and I don't really need a reason. Although of course each post is better, considered individually, if it has some sort of a reason for being what it is. It's quite a lot of work, but it's a kind of work that I enjoy. It keeps me interested.

“It's only rock and roll, but I like it.”
But after all, why not Rock and Roll? The above doesn't go far on the question of why tango rather than something else. I think there are a couple more instalments of me and tango on the way.

*I have to confess I have completely forgotten both Enrique Bernoldi and Gaston Mazzacane, but I haven't forgotten HHF.