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: www.tangowest.co.uk - 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.

Saturday 4 September 2010

Didactic Dancing Ducks


Friday 3 September 2010

Turn up for DJs!

Carablanca have a special DJ, La Rubia, tonight (also it's open till one). If you actually care about DJing, why not consider turning up when this kind of thing happens, to see if she delivers to her billing, and encourage them to do this more. Maybe she will and maybe she won't, but if you actually care you might want to encourage the tendency to hire fully professional DJs with packed schedules all over Europe. They might be  a bit more expensive than the normal kind, why not make it worth it?

Because there's no point in anyone trying to differentiate on quality unless the customers react to it instead of automatically doing what they always do.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Practice Playlist for the boys

Playlist for a practice session, reposted for the other attendees. We're not trying to DJ here, just practice to a variety of good music. Because if we try to make an effort with the music, we will presumably dance better, and if we arrange it in an orderly, pleasant way we will learn it more easily. And if we don't spend time in our practice session faffing about with CDs, we can use the room hire better. I cut the playlist to a pair of CDs and stuck them in the machine.

If you have a tanda you like to practice to, share it with the world by sticking it in the comments. If you mention the album, people will know what to buy.

Notes: I didn't worry too much about the exact contents or order, beyond trying to avoid anything obviously jarring within the tandas and trying to have at least some variety of style between them. I didn't worry about trying to cover ground, either; I simply chose some artists whose music I own and like and who came to hand before bedtime on the evening I took to prepare. My collection is curiosity level, not expert or DJ level. But I only buy dance music, except by mistake, I'm not really interested in tango for listening except at a live concert.

I made relaxing cortinas in Audacity by chopping up the 'bell song' from Lakmé, leaving out the loud high notes, because they can scare people. It has a handy feature to find the silences for you, for your given threshold of 'silence'.

Title Type Artist
Milongueando en el 40 Tango Aníbal Troilo
Uno Tango Aníbal Troilo
La Maleva Tango Anibal Troilo
Toda Mi Vida Tango Aníbal Troilo; Francisco Fiorentino
Ah! Ou va la jeune Indoue? Curtain Joan Sutherland
El Tío Soltero*Tango Roberto Firpo y su cuarteto
El Apronte*Tango Roberto Firpo y su cuarteto
Estoy Penando*Tango Roberto Firpo y su cuarteto
El Moro*Tango Roberto Firpo y su cuarteto
Ah! Ou va (Instrumental) Curtain Joan Sutherland
El Jagüel Tango Carlos Di Sarli Y Su Orquesta Típica
Shusheta Tango Carlos Di Sarli Y Su Orquesta Típica
El Paladin Tango Carlos Di Sarli Y Su Orquesta Típica
Bahia Blanca Tango Carlos Di Sarli Y Su Orquesta Típica
Choses Curtain Joan Sutherland
El Lloron Milonga Francisco Canaro
Milonga sentimental - Ernesto Fama y Angel Ramos – 1933* Milonga Francisco Canaro
Milonga brava Milonga Francisco Canaro
il faudra Curtain Joan Sutherland
Yo Te Amo Tango; Female Vocal; Duet; Male Vocal Edgardo Donato
Sinfonía De Arrabal Tango; Female Vocal; Duet; Male Vocal Edgardo Donato
Un Libro Tango; Male Vocal Edgardo Donato
Carnaval De Mi Barrio Tango; Female Vocal; Duet; Male Vocal Edgardo Donato
Clochette Curtain Joan Sutherland
El Flete Tango Juan D'Arienzo
La Payanca Tango Juan D'Arienzo
Jueves Tango Juan D'Arienzo
Loca Tango Juan D'Arienzo
Il rougira Curtain Joan Sutherland
Rondando Tu Esquina Tango Osvaldo Pugliese
Emancipación Tango Osvaldo Pugliese
Recuerdo Tango Osvaldo Pugliese
La Yumba Tango Osvaldo Pugliese
finale Curtain Joan Sutherland
La Tapera (Vals) Vals Edgardo Donato
Quién Será (Vals) Vals Edgardo Donato
Estrellita Mía (Vals) Vals Edgardo Donato

* The Firpo tangos were an eccentric and rather unwise choice, they're so old-school, from the period where milonga and tango hadn't really seperated. They feel like milongas without quite being milongas - you could dance them as milongas, or tangos, or using some sort of canyengue-like activity, but it's a puzzle. The boys weren't sure what to do with it. I personally like them but they're not everyone's taste and they were rather a thoughtless choice for practice. Next time I think I'll bring something else instead.

Albums, and what they look like:
  • Troilo and Canaro - various sources including Joaquin's music-teaching disc and El Tango (very useful and educational 10 CD set, currently in stock at Milonga.co.uk). Milonga Sentimental was given to me by someone, I'm not sure what the source is.
  • Firpo - Tangos y Valsecitos
  • Di Sarli - Instrumental Vol. 2
  • Donato - RCA - Colección 78 RPM
  • D'Arienzo - Instrumental Vol 1 'Solo Tango'
  • Pugliese - Ausencia
Firpo - Tangos y Valsecitos
Di Sarli - Instrumental Vol. 2
Donato - Collección 78 RPM
D'Arienzo - Instrumental Vol. 1
Pugliese - Ausencia
El Tango - Pasión y emoción