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.