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.