Saturday 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas ...

... but don't feel guilty if it isn't. That only makes it worse. Merriment is optional.

If you have enjoyed this blog, please consider making a donation to Centrepoint, right now. They are short this year.


Friday 23 December 2011

New toys

Since I started doing regular classes in Brazilian Samba*, for fitness, and because it's good for my figure, I've got stronger in the muscles that go around the body from the top of the hips to the shoulders. The column firms up and gets more mobile and obedient to command, especially at the back between hips and ribcage.

A side effect, which I would never have thought of, is that now my tango partners can clearly feel through my embrace, not only which foot I am on and where it is, but exactly where my hips are in rotation. You can lead one of those little forward and back floor-level boleos, where the free leg just does a little curl around the standing leg, and you can feel the whole movement happening. I can tell that they can tell exactly how I am doing it, softly or sharply. A movement that seemed nice-looking but otherwise fairly pointless, suddenly becomes a true sensual pleasure for both of us, and a way for my partner to hear my music.

Everybody wants to play with it!

*It doesn't look like the ballroom version at all.

Saturday 17 December 2011

Hilarious Translations Department

This post is a present for those of my Argentinian friends who get wound up by bad English translations of song lyrics.

One of the ways I like to practice a language is to read something too difficult for me. I'm relaxed about not understanding two-thirds of it, I learn lots of new words, and I get a sense of achievement from just making sense of the structure of a sentence.

In pursuit of that, I have been dipping into a book borrowed from my Dad - a translation into Spanish of a not-particularly-good English detective story. It hasn't been a good choice, except for one line.

Early in the tale, the writer quotes the well-known couplet attributed to John Ball, preacher of the 1381 Peasants' Revolt in England:

"When Adam delved and Eve span,
who was then the gentleman?"

Don't say "Adam". (Ball's point, for my non-native-speaker readers, was that no-one is a "gentleman" by birth: if all humans were descended from the same parents, the feudal hierarchy of nobles and peasants could not be based on the law of God).

It looks pretty straightforward, to me. But what they've put is this:
Cuando Adán sondeó y Eva se revolvió,
¿quién fue entonces el caballero?

And I said to myself: that can't possibly be right, can it? "Span" is the past of "to spin" - and yes, that can mean to revolve quickly on one's axis, but here it doesn't mean that at all. It means to make thread by twisting together fibres, such as wool or flax. Which, of course, is what Eve was doing while Adam was delving (that is, digging) the earth, to grow food. 'Se revolver' can't possibly mean that - why would it be reflexive? She wasn't standing there and turning around, like Malvolio in Twelfth Night. She was spinning fibre.

I was a bit doubtful about 'sondear'. I wondered if the translator was seeing both "delve" and "spin" as metaphors for some kind of deep thought. They're not - they mean using a spade and a spindle, respectively, to grow food and make textiles. In this English sentence, neither of them can possibly be taken in any other sense.

My dictionary being inconclusive, I checked with a Spanish native speaker. Not only is the 'spinning' wrong, but it seems 'sondear' is catastrophically wrong too. It actually means 'to sound' or to 'take soundings' - in the maritime sense of to measure the depth of the sea using a long rope with a weight at the end. Nothing to do with spades at all.

So what they've written is:

When Adam took soundings and Eve revolved, who was then the gentleman?

Which sounds like some sort of Dada-ist poetry; it is bizarre, dreamlike gibberish. And there's a place for bizarre, dreamlike gibberish; but not as a translation of this direct, forceful utterance, persuading the workers to throw off their chains.

Disastrous. My informant pointed out that the choice of a perfect tense rather than an imperfect is also questionable. It should probably be 'araba' and 'hilaba,' because the digging and spinning are usual actions rather than a single event; but I think that's minor. Maybe they wanted to make it rhyme.

Anyway. While thinking about this, I wondered, did Eve really spin? How far back in the history of humanity, as opposed to religious stories, does spinning really go? I remembered reading about this research, which uses the genetics of human body lice and head lice to infer that the practice of wearing clothes goes back at least 83,000 years and perhaps 170,000. If these clothes were made of skins, spinning was not necessary; but if they were made of cloth, the thread must, I suppose, have been spun.

As for evidence of spinning itself, it seems to go back a very long time before recorded history, but nobody really has any idea how old it is, as far as I can tell. Ancient pots are embellished with patterns created by pressing a cord into the wet clay. The Greeks of Homer said that spinning was taught to humans by Athene, who turned Arachne into a spider for getting too good at it. The Navajo say they learned it from Spider-Woman.

From what I can find, it seems to be old; at least in the tens of thousands of years. I don't know if there are humans anywhere that don't traditionally spin, but there are climates where clothes are a useless burden, and where local plants and animals do not provide any suitable fibres. So even if there are, they might have forgotten how, rather than never learned. There's no obvious upper limit on how old it might be.

Here is someone spinning, in the Himalayas.

And here is a Navajo elder doing the same thing with a longer, but otherwise similar, spindle, while explaining the technique. There are many different techniques, and many forms of spindle, but the essence of the process is much the same.


Monday 12 December 2011

Miscellaneous lessons learned

Going out when you wouldn't otherwise have gone out, merely because someone else is going, is virtually always a mistake. The dance or conversation you intended to have will not happen, and the perfectly good reason why you wouldn't otherwise have gone there, will still be true.

If you're going to do it anyway, (which, if you are anything like me, you will, just because you have to roll the dice sometimes) always have an alternative point to the evening. Even if it's a humourous one.

Wednesday 7 December 2011


Barcelona - brilliant sunshine, 10-15°C.

The Tolkien Facade

The Sagrada Família was designed by Antoni Gaudí, but what it looks like, is J.R.R. Tolkien and H.P. Lovecraft got drunk together in Bali. One of the facades definitely has a tentacle thing going.
Detail of the Tentacle Facade

It has fruit on its pinnacles. He persuaded the Catholic Church to build this thing?

Miranda Hats

I last visited Barcelona about 20 years ago, and at that time, I don't think you were allowed inside yet. Since then the building works have progressed very well, and the inside is absolutely enchanting - a forest of limestone, granite, basalt and porphyry-clad columns, full of dappled light.

The forest

Fifteen metres above the congregation are galleries with capacity for about 1,000 singers - you can see them clearly in the picture above. The organ was played briefly while I walked around inside - it sounded good, without annoying echoes.

The canopy is stunning:


And, looking down -

Sky Turtle holding up a pillar

- look at the little Sky Turtle!

Thursday 1 December 2011

Out of Office Message

I'm off the grid again - back on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Dalston Tango in the Evening Standard

Despite some hilarious but unimportant errors (er, Luis is not Brazilian) and the bizarre headline (headlines never have anything to do with the writer) this is rather sweet:

Especially in the way it presents tango as a civilised entertainment for young people, and specifically a hell of a lot more pleasant and interesting than alternatives in Dalston. It's true; if you're dancing tango, getting drunk or high as well is very much optional rather than compulsory, and there are tight practical limits to doing both at the same time, at least unless you've had a lot of practice.

I was going to say that the article exaggerated the role of the East End; tango is not new to London, not by a couple of decades, and the East End is the latest place to get it rather than the first. But, on reflection, it changes all the time, and the milongas they mention certainly have an important role in the way it's has gone in the last couple of years and the way it's likely to go next. For the person likely to be interested in the article, that's what's important. (Then I started looking for my review of the Light Temple - it's stuck in draft, I can't remember why, and I haven't got time to fix it right now).

Congratulations to Luis and Elizabeth for managing to sound quite sensible and more or less like themselves, when transmogrified by print. That can be a bit of a lottery, I think you did well.

I have been to this milonga a couple of times, but not since the place was refurbished. I felt then that it was good choice for beginners, depending on who was teaching, and it sounds like it still is. In theory it's much nearer me than central London is, but it's a lot less accessible given the day and the time. That's nice in a way, as it might stay local and get its own crowd, which can be a very good thing.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Dance is not necessarily Art

When people dance at parties or in nightclubs, they are not making art. People dance to celebrate good luck, or to encourage their team, or for religious purposes, or because it's what they do, like the round dance they do in Catalonia on Sundays. I don't think any of that is art. But all these things are timeless and common and part of daily life.

Sometimes I enjoy watching good dancers dance, but that doesn't mean they have any artistic intent, and it doesn't mean that I am doing the same thing as someone consuming art.

There's nothing wrong with artistic dance. Lots of dance is certainly art. But it is wrong to talk as though dance is necessarily performance, and that non-artistic, non-performance dance is some sort of inferior 'just-for-fun' offshoot, defined as low-quality, because high-quality dance would be art. This belief does real harm to people who would enjoy non-art dance and be good at it, and real harm to dance communities.

The concerns, priorities and purposes of art are totally different from my concerns, priorities and purposes when I'm dancing, and they're mostly incompatible. This is a problem that non-art dancers have to solve when they are asked to give a demonstration to satisify other people's (totally reasonable) curiosity - a problem tackled by Elizabeth here and by Melina here. I like performances that solve this problem well and inform the curious without without misinforming them. It's not easy to do, it requires thought and self-awareness as well as empathy with the audience.

You see this unexamined assumption, that dance is a subset of art, in virtually all mainstream-media references to dance. It irritates me how non-art dance - surely the majority of all dance, considered worldwide - is either presupposed out of existence, or horribly deformed by a totally imaginary requirement that it make sense as a performance.

There should be more people dancing, more commonly, than there are, without being obliged to feel all artistic about it. And without feeling that if they ever get good, they'll automatically be artists and expected to teach or perform. Those are all totally different vocations and have no necessary connection with each other, or with just dancing. They're not needed to validate the quality of anyone's dance. (And they don't, incidentally).

Being an excellent social (or indeed solo, or religious, or football-terrace) dancer is a valid and possible goal, and it's always nice to have more of them.

Monday 21 November 2011


As discussed on the train  ... some links.

For those who weren't on that particular train, this is a country dance in 6/8 (or I think of it more as groups of 4 triple measures) danced in a line formation with specific steps in a fixed order, so if you want to join in you just have to learn them and practice at home till they can't go wrong. People play it sometimes at milongas, Beto sometimes plays it after the end at Aldenham. It's much cooler if you can keep the lines straight, so some of us were half-arranging to practice it together.

The most likely 'gotcha' looks to me like the full (swapping places) turn and the introduction being sometimes over eight and sometimes over only six measures. (Is it consistent, so the introduction would tell us which?)

First album I found on itunes, as far as I can tell from the previews this seems to have at least one example where the full turn is over only 6 measures:
Los Mejores 13 - Folklore - Chacarera - Various Artists

Saturday 19 November 2011


When I've had a really lovely dance, it seems like the little girl inside, the little girl who didn't have to go to school yet and was full of joy, is smiling and holding a balloon.

Sometimes I like to stop, and just enjoy having a balloon for a while.

If the DJing and the dancing is going so extremely well that I just can't stop, I can end up with a whole bunch of balloons, each different, to look at on the way home.

Monday 14 November 2011

Aran Vase

Aran Vase
Here's the other object I started on the Eurostar.

I like pottery. I was thinking about the beautiful pots that archaeologists sometimes find in tombs, and how distinctive they often are to particular times and places, but also how regular; so that styles and shapes of pottery can date a site with surprising precision.

I was also thinking about the way textiles hardly ever survive. And the way that the women and men who knitted traditional seafarers' garments of the British Isles would start with a more or less fixed basic design and set of techniques that worked well with the materials, and then execute them with a range of motifs and variations that they personally favoured, or that they learned from family members or friends, or that their own invention suggested. Always bearing in mind that the result had to be a practical and beautiful garment, acceptable to the intended wearer. More or less the same conditions, then, that governed the production of pots.

Anyway, this came to mind, more or less as it looks, although I work out a lot of the details as I go along. It has four little feet so that it stands up nicely, and the inside is the same shape as the outside.

Generally, it's designed to be looked at, but it's also an excellent place to put down a pair of glasses.

I'm going to be working on some more designs like this.

Embrace (dialogues) part 2

Interior, Practica

Ok, I just want to try this because if I understand what it is, I'll be able to do it or not do it on purpose instead of accidentally. I'm going to do it normally first.

- Dance -

Mr. Hu
Yep - ok - this is what you normally feel like.

Right, now I'm not going to move anything, but I'm going to try doing it another way.

- Dance -

Mr. Hu

Is that the kind of thing we were asking about? It might be a bit exaggerated.

Mr. Hu
Yes, that's it. Change it back!

Ok, just a sec.

- Dance -

Mr. Hu
... yes, that's back to normal. Wow. That's totally different. Show me again?

- Dance -

That's quite disturbing. You feel like a totally different person.

I was still following you, though. I wasn't not following, I mean, I wasn't having any problems following, that I was aware of.

Mr. Hu
Yes - you were - you were doing everything, but, in comparison, it felt totally disconnected. What are you actually doing? I can't see any difference at all.

Ok, we're standing like this. And the way I think of it in my head is ... my arms and head are the same, whatever is comfortable and seems to work for the partner, it doesn't really matter.

Mr. Hu

The way I do it is - I go fuzzy - I want to blur the boundary between your nervous system and mine. And then - I want to to be really, really curious about what's going to happen next. So I go curious and I go fuzzy-fuzzy ... I want my point of concentration, where my mind is, to be in there, about where your centre is. Now, I'm guessing that what happens is, people dance like it makes sense to dance in classes, which mostly isn't like that.

Mr. Hu
Hang on a second. Let me try doing that too.

 ... okay.

- Dance -

Mr. Hu
Oooh, that's really interesting. I like that, a lot. I'll try that next time I'm following. But I really like it when we both do it.

I'm not sure if I can tell the difference yet, let's stick with it and see how it goes.

Mr. Hu
If you do that and somebody is trying to wrestle you ... it'd be a disaster. So, you turned it off ...

I hardened the embrace a bit, hardened the surface, brought back the boundary, and concentrated sort of more behind myself. Doesn't prove anything general, but at least I feel like I understand what's working for me now. I hate it when stuff just changes randomly for no reason.

Mr Hu
Don't do it again.

Mr V [a visiting acquaintance interested in the discussion]
My girlfriend used to be like that, everybody would tell her how beautiful her feet were, and I was, "your feet? What about ME? Oi! I'm over here!". And she, like, she'd totally missed the point. And then I got her to try [some exercise or other, can't remember what] and she got it, and she went, "Oh!! ...  I'm not sure I'm OK with you feeling like that with all these other women." But then she got over it and she danced a lot better, she feels really nice now.

Fair-minded woman, obviously.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Embrace (dialogues) part 1

This is a subject that's been intriguing and puzzling me for a while. I'm finding a lot of friends and acquaintances who have various problems, experiences and solutions. This is one conversation, slightly edited but not substantially. Don't be freaked out by my friend's apparently bizarre martial arts analogy. It's normal for him.

Virtual Interior (Facebook Chat) slightly edited, but not substantially.

... I am trying to work out what his problem is. He was complaining about the women, that he can't dance with them because they have "zero embrace" and I can't see why it doesn't work.

Mr. Hu
After Friday i think I know what he means

Like, he tried dancing with X because he said she looked like she could dance, and then it was a disaster, he said there was very little following going on - and I don't understand that becuase it just can't be the case that she doesn't follow. So I have no idea what he means.
So what's your theory? (What do you mean, Friday?)

Mr. Hu
:collects thoughts:
Loosely speaking, being "plugged in" is a massive simplification of what it can be

I mean, he seems to do okay with me, he even quite likes dancing with me
and I don't understand how what she is doing can be THAT different from what I do, it looks the same to me.

Mr. Hu
To use martial arts as an analogy, imagine two olympic fencers going at it full speed


Mr. Hu
So there's imppecable technique, posture, rhythm etc


Mr. Hu
Now imagine two samurai, facign each other standing completely motionless, swords undrawn

okay ...

Mr. Hu
trying to feel for want of a better word, each other's spirit / inner calm / experience

observing each other

Mr. Hu
very deeply


Mr. Hu
but here's the twist
After a while one of them will bow deeply, turn and walk away. No swords are drawn
But the one who walked away lost

Right, fair enough, I suppose they know what they're doing.

Mr. Hu
So imagine the differnece between thinking you can beat this guy (fencing) and knowing deep down you can beat this guy (samurai)

okay ...
Not sure how this applies, but conceptually willing to go with it

Mr. Hu
No go back to tango embrace
Imagine the difference between focussing on your technique as you dance and focussing on him as you dance

That's okay, it makes sense, but I still seem to manage just about (although it's tough) even after a 3-hour workshop

Mr. Hu
hee hee

So there must be a fair amount of leeway there
For potential follower distraction
And I would have thought it would be enough to accommodate her easily
It feels like a reasonable explanation but it doesn't seem enough

Mr. Hu
There's a difference between knowing that it's possible, being interested in doing it but being distracted , and not knowing it's possible at all

Oh. Okay
Maybe it's that then
That's tough to solve

Mr. Hu
Or I guess more simply, I can drive and talk and still get you home. If all I could do was talk...

We'd go nowhere

Mr. Hu

And if all you could do was drive we'd still get there

Mr. Hu

just less interestingly

Mr. Hu
Which is probably you in the above example

Yeah, okay
Above, when you said you thought you understood it since Friday
I don't know what happened on Friday, or which Friday
i.e.that you might know what he was on about

Mr. Hu
Last Friday had a ephiphany dancing with someone at Negracha

Oh right
What was the epiphany

Mr. Hu
that there's a lot more to plugging in than meets the eye

Was the dance working, or not working?

Mr. Hu
Working very well. never experienced anything like it in tango before


Mr. Hu
Yup. But conversely given that your friend is a lot more expereinced than I am, if he's after that and beyond, I can see why he's getting grumpy


Mr. Hu
In a similar vein I can totally see why you would choose to dial it back with someone who had messed up posture / musicality etc

As in why the follower would?

Mr. Hu


Mr. Hu
Which I think was what he was trying to tell me with a story about him dancing with someone who looked really good, but felt ugh

I suppose. Actually, I think I have an idea now about what it is. Let me try turning it off and on at the practica next week and you can tell me whether that's it, or not.

Mr Hu

[Part 2 to follow]

Saturday 5 November 2011

Music with Holes In - Biagi and the Dancing Flower

Biagi, to me, is music with holes in; it has an open, airy texture, like a Swiss cheese. A lot of people find it challenging to dance to, perhaps in apprehension of falling down the holes and embarrassing themselves. It's wonderful stuff, though.

Here, then, by the request of some very dear friends, (one of whom said that her perception of El Flete had been transformed by the Dancing Flower's interpretation) is Biagi's "La Viruta" danced by a piezoelectric plastic flower. Just in case you were in danger of taking this tango nonsense too seriously.

The Dancing Flower loves Biagi! Analyses in the comments please. (I know the video quality isn't too good - the original is high quality but my internet connection doesn't really have the upload speed for HD - sorry).

Monday 31 October 2011

Mucho Mucho - D'Arienzo

A-ha! I can now give you links to (some) things I'm listening to. You might not have to download the Spotify player for this link to work - but if you do, it seems pretty reliable, and makes talking about music on the internet easier. You can stream it:

Juan D'Arienzo – Mucho Mucho
The above link gives you a high quality stream. There's a version on YouTube with some meaningless graphics, and you can get it on iTunes. It doesn't sound great on my computer speakers - if you have quality earphones you'll probably want to use them to hear the bass. I can't hear it at all if I don't plug mine in, and it's very important.

It comes on this excellent-value 10-cd set El Tango. Some of the recordings are messed up - there's one D'Arienzo milonga which seems to play at half speed, and there's something wrong with all of the Di Sarli. But it's full of interest.

I listened to this one a couple of times and absolutely loved it - most of all because it reminds me of someone I know. In fact, when I played it to my regular practice partner he thought of the same person.

So why had I never heard it played? As a piece of music I think it's brilliant.

I can only make out some of the words, and as usual I've failed to find them online. But I think it's about that sensation of being in love for five minutes while you dance, forgetting everything else, and the music seems to be about the sensations of being in love generally.

The violins have these butterflies of melody (at the start, and at 00:45)- the piano catches its breath a few times, skips a beat and goes crazy (01:05-01:15) - the bandoneones enclose you in a swirling, disorienting, obsessed wall of sound, especially when the voice comes in after 01:40. What a dark voice (apparently Armando Laborde, recording dated 1953). The sung melody has a little change at 02:30 like a plea. It's telling you to dance along the edge of chaos.

Oops. That doesn't sound like a great idea.

D'Arienzo in general makes some people feel a bit seasick, and this is a very marked example.You might listen to this and feel alarmed and queasy rather than excited - it could go either way.

And, on a few more repetitions, I decided that I just don't think it's a good choice for social dancing. At least, not when the voice comes in and pushes and pulls at the rhythm. It's great as art-song, but both melody and rhythm are really strong, and whatever you do, you're going to be fighting one of them. That's not a good thing on a social dancefloor. There's this beat, this melody, and the swirling walls of sensation, shutting out reality, the sense of risk and disorientation - I can just see this causing mayhem, purely by people dancing to it in ways that make perfect musical sense. It might be rather good for an exciting stage performance, I'm not sure, but when I play this and try to imagine a social dance floor as a whole, it just doesn't work for me. You may disagree, and another practice partner said he had heard it played, just not anywhere I went.

But I love it for listening.

Thursday 27 October 2011

FCA2011 - Carole Beauxis et Bernard Casas-Reales

I've been raving about what a good time I had without actually telling you where I was. I was at the 2011 edition of "Festivalito con Amigos" in Saarbruecken, Germany. As for the social dancing, which is the actual point of the whole thing, I'll just tell you I had an amazing time and leave it at that.

The actual reason that I wanted to post this video of two of the guests of honour, Carole and Bernard, is that I thought her look, ROCKED. [Sorry - 2 links to same vid - will fix later fixed, embed now shows the Rodriguez that I was trying to show.]

The dress, the hair, the necklace, the shoes. You can't easily see it, but the skirt is translucent, and embellished near the hem with two plain bands of black velvetyness, about two fingers wide and two fingers apart. I just loved this look. It was a sort of fairy-goth-mother incarnate. (I know that's a shop in Spitalfields - link not necessarily safe for work - there is no connection - it was just the name that came back to me when I saw this outfit in action). Here's their other dance, the Biagi. I also think her following is superb, and her dancing really inspires me. But it's the look I wanted to rave about. I can rave about dancing whenever I want.

The other guests of honour were Alexis Quezada and Céline Giordano, from Barcelona, and Monica Paz. Here are Alexis and Céline doing a lovely squiggly Di Sarli to unusually well-informed applause, and another Di Sarli, but a milonga. (Here's Monica Paz dancing with Andreas on the Friday). The two small demos plus this seemed rather shorter than single demos seem at home, possibly because it was different people, possibly because I was actually sort of interested, and possibly because the night was so much longer than at home that the demos seemed very short in proportion, plus I was already knackered and rather enjoying a rest.

I enjoyed watching all of the guests, especially dancing socially. People who have social dancing as their main focus like this, tend to dance even better socially than they do for exhibition, and it's a big part of the fun of these things for me.

The DJs this year were Uwe Willié, Andreas, Bärbel Rücker and Lampis Zalavras. Bärbel was new to me, I found her music really interesting and I remember enjoying the Pugliese tanda a lot. Lampis had an amazing day - this was my first experience of the DJ getting an ovation from the floor at the first notes of the last tango of a tanda. The whole thing went brilliantly for me. I was blown away. By the middle of Sunday afternoon my inner self was somewhat confused about whether I was currently physically dancing or not. I also believed, during one dance, that I had giant wheels, like a Ferrari, that went round exactly once with every step of our walk.

I wrote up details last year; as expected, they abandoned the workshops (there were none, at least not as part of the event) and simplified the whole locations business. Info at (link goes to English-language page).

Saturday 22 October 2011

I heart dancing tango

The high from last weekend has only just faded. My regular practice partner says I feel like I've had an upgrade.

At the end of it I was back to something I have thought before - how does it come about that I can do something that much fun with all those men (and some women), and not catch anything or get pregnant or arrested? You don't even have to fancy them; they can be any age or appearance, everyone goes home afterwards, and it's all cool. It all seems so simple.

And it was so great to dance with so many new partners; some I'd seen (but not danced with) before and some I'd never seen at all.

Who thought this up? Sheer genius.

The upside of being crap

A brief exchange on Twitter between two Arsenal fans that deserves a wider audience:

Gareth Parker
Looking back on yesterday, can't help but worry that I celebrated the 2nd goal as though we'd won the league. I'll be cheering corners next.
JD Evans don't see it as a downside, that's the advantage of being crap dude.
Never forget to celebrate and enjoy small successes from moment to moment. If you can keep doing it when you get good, you're laughing.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Mouth Mouse

I was so bored knitting the garment I was working on that I just had to make something else. So I knitted this on the Eurostar and the ICE high-speed to the festival and back.

Mouth Mouse.

I had no idea what it was, it just came out of my head. I showed it to Carole Edrich and she said "It's a Mouth Mouse".

This is the back.

Rear of the Mouth Mouse.

That's it really. Who needs a reason?

Monday 17 October 2011

Central Europe Rock

I'd been dancing till 3 in the morning on Friday. I danced from 2 till 6 in the afternoon. I had an hour's nap, then fell into the bistro under my hotel and ordered a pizza, a salad and a cup of tea while I wondered how I'd cope with 9 till 3am that evening.

Five middle-aged guys came in with two guitars, a blues harp and a drum kit. They set themselves up while I ate my pizza. The singer chatted me up for a bit while the pianist faffed with the mikes. Then this happened:

I'm sorry about the disastrous video quality - you can't see a thing - even though I had half-understood that there might be live music, I was so dozy it didn't occur to me to take my proper camera downstairs. But they were called Doctor Tom and Friends, and they played boogie woogie, blues and rock and roll from about 8pm to about 21:30, and gave me my energy back for Saturday night. Then they stopped for a break and I went to the milonga, with my buzz back. They rocked!

The speech in German at the end is the singer taking the piss out of the guitarist, although the two of them spoke French between themselves, as happens a lot in that area.

I love my life.

Observation for Pratchett readers

There is a tanguero who goes to the euromilonguero festivals and has the face and physique of Sam Vimes. Not the ones he has in the not-quite-there cover illustrations. The ones he ought to have. Some of you are sure to know exactly who I mean. He doesn't smile very much. His natural expression is a dignified gravity. So you notice it more when he does smile. He has light-coloured eyes which sometimes look blue. He dances beautifully. He walks. He travels with a rather glamourous lady.

I can't help asking myself if he ever has to ask the same question Sam Vimes asks about half way through Night Watch, the one that starts in a conversation with the Patrician's aunt and ends "I could have done with it then"? But it's not really a question you can ask. Least of all when you've just been dancing tango and you don't have a language in common to any level of fluency. Other than tango.

My smile is tired

Best festival yet, ooohhhh yes.

Amazing dances, the Sunday was unbelieveable, but as an aside, I'd never seen Carole Beauxis before, she fucking rocks. I don't think I'd even heard of her, what was the matter with me? Hopefully someone will post video, but in the meantime, that's how you spell it.

Thursday 13 October 2011

Out of Office Message

I will be off the grid for a bit, back next week.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Fair Play on the dancefloor

A gentleman wrote to me about this photograph (taken by me standing on a chair) of dancing couples at about midnight on a Friday night in Devon:

Abrazos Devon
“What we loved about the line of dance photo was the beauty of men collectively dancing together,and fair play triumphing. So suitable for most Englishmen, when they're given the option.”

I think 'fair play' is exactly the right notion for tango. It is play - it is not art. It can, optionally, be sort of  competitive, when people feel like it, and that's totally fine and all part of the fun and satisfaction. But when it comes down to it, it's play, and not playing fair doesn't make you a creative genius, it makes you a sociopath, or at least a pillock. It makes you, in short, a cheat, and not fun to play with. You play as well as you can, and if it's better than someone else, everyone respects that. But you play fair.

The above rather lovely line of dance  is exactly what you would expect British dancers to do, given the choice, if they just behaved normally and made tango their own, something they do for fun in their own warm and fuzzy way for their own reasons, and might do rather well if they put some work in -  instead of treating it as some exotic bullshit that isn't supposed to make sense.

My correspondent - who is visible somewhere in the photo, but I don't know where as I don't know him by sight - described this large-scale cooperative dancefloor as 'particularly moving', and added:
“I think you might be surprised how strongly some of our men feel about this. They don't like the men who try subtly to cheat the system.”
As the under-13 street cricket club in my car park say, "You got to do it properly! If you don't do it properly, it's Not Out!"

Thursday 6 October 2011

Great following, and a playlist

I love the following in this. I just love it. I also think the leader's dance is very well suited to allowing the follower to shine.

I've seen them dancing socially a few times. After some reflection, it occurred to me that I should probably stop staring at Claudio and pay more attention to his partner, but it was very, very difficult to do. I can't help thinking of other people I would go out of my way to see dance with Claudio - ideally, socially - rather than the women they usually perform with, but I leave that as an exercise for the interested reader.

This seems to be the website of their club in Venice. While I was hunting around in it, I found this post: 4 modi di ballare Bahia Blanca (four ways of dancing Bahia Blanca), and if you understand Italian then do read the post and the comments as well as watching all four videos in the playlist. I agree with the consensus there - but I found it interesting to try to describe why. The first one (Chicho Frumboli) is an intentional red herring, I think, it's far more interesting to decide which you like best of the others. If I can work out how to nick the playlist I might do it here.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

my computer ...

... needs a rebuild. And I am procrastinating about that and consquently this as well. Sorry about that.

Sunday 25 September 2011


There are millions of acorns, ripe and falling, making a noise as you walk through the forest, 'plop' - 'plop' - 'plop'.

I grieve a little less for summer

They crunch under your feet.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Considering Hair

The rather hypermasculine style of long hair for men, worn completely unbound - or 'naked hair', as Melina vividly calls it - is hardly ever worn for dancing, probably because of its impracticality if you're trying to dance with someone. It's far more common in specialised IT trades, and for scientists (see: Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists), engineers, and people who work in TV and radio studios. It tickles your partner's face, and they might blow in your ear.

Women tend to confine their hair at least in some sort of hairband or decorative headdress, men at least in a ponytail.

So, do I put my arm under, or over, the ponytail? Hair can be rather slippery, and I might accidentally pull it. But putting the arm underneath means excessive handling, which might be going a bit too far; and the whole process might have to be done again if we adjust our embrace during the dance. So I usually put my arm on top and let him worry about it, he can flip it out himself if he wants to. Or I put my hand lower, below the end.

The ponytail, to any length between shoulderblade and waist (depends on your genes), could - I think, wrongly - be perceived as the tango equivalent of the "Hair Explosion" affected by some holders of university professorships, perhaps to give an impression of genius, or perhaps to help their students remember who they are, or perhaps because to them it is the epitome of normal.

In my view, the true tango equivalent of the Hair Explosion is not the ponytail, but the Latin Mullet. I have never forgotten a deep-black and exceedingly glossy Latin Mullet that I encountered early in my tango career - I wouldn't have laughed at all if he hadn't also chosen deep-black patent leather shoes with a precisely equal gloss.

If people are not too flustered or absentminded, they sometimes flip it forward over the shoulder to keep it out of the way, as part of their routine going into the embrace. I think that's sweet, I really like it, and I try to remember to do it on the few occasions I dance with my hair down. Lifting it up so I can put my arm underneath is perhaps just a bit flirtatious ... but as long as you're going to maintain the embrace, I don't have a problem with it.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Bailamos @ Tango West, Bristol

Last weekend Tango West decided to strike out a bit and organised a full-scale weekender at the Redland Club, with dancing on Friday night, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon. I've visited them before so I won't repeat the practical details, just talk about this event.

The music: For DJing they used two of their own, who are known as reasonable and reliable, and booked two guests:

Friday milonga Apertura 8.30-12pm DJ Andrew (Tango West)
Saturday Matinee 2.30-6pm DJ Mabel (Tango y Nada Mas)
Saturday eve late Milonga 8.30pm-1am DJ Andreas (Tangokombinat)
Sunday tango café 3.00-7.30pm DJ Michele (Tango West)

I liked all the DJing - it was all properly put together, in the standard format, the tandas made sense, it was all tango music and I never got stuck feeling sabotaged or uninspired. The favourites with me and the people I was staying with were Mabel and Andreas, which would make sense, as they were the guests - otherwise why book them?

Getting in: You could book all four sessions in advance for £32, but advance booking was not required. I paid for the whole package on arrival on Friday night and I think it was still £32, but if you only came for one or two sessions, that was fine too.

Miscelleaneous practicalities: Hospitality is great, as I said before, and there are plenty of refreshments included in the price. The space actually belongs to the Tango West organisation, and the floor is in very good condition. It does, however, get sticky when it's humid, so choose your shoes accordingly. Talc is not allowed as it slowly degrades the floor. My leather-soled shoes were fine, but the suede-soled ones for Saturday night were a mistake. They really do look after the floor. A man's heel disintegrated on Saturday night and scattered little bits of rubber over a radius of about two metres, like the little soft 'marbles' you get from racing car tyres. Andrew, Michelle, Iwona and an assistant were ready with brooms, mops, sprays, and everything necessary by the time the cortina came, and spent an extra-long cortina as the most glamorous mop-and-brush crew you're likely to see.

Layout isn't perfect, there weren't quite enough seats in the room for everyone on Saturday night, or, I think, Sunday afternoon - so some people ended up standing along the open wall where the kitchen is. I never found myself without a seat, I only moved about once, and I don't think I ever saw them all occupied at once - but if you were less lucky you might have had to go and sit away from the dancefloor for a while if you wanted a rest.

Getting there, getting home, and how it went: All these were connected. Making it a whole weekend of extended-session tango with reliable DJs meant that it was worth people's while to come some distance and arrange accommodation. There are lots of B&Bs in the area, and the organisers also tried to match up visitors with local dancers' spare rooms. I stayed with a friend, who filled her house with happy tango people, it was lovely.

What really makes this sort of event is the people, and that worked out excellently. The location is two hours from London on the train, and very accessible from the whole M4 and M5 corridors. You can get a local train to the station near the venue, or for about £8 get a taxi from Bristol Temple Meads (queue outside the station). People came from the Thames valley, Southampton, Plymouth, the New Forest, and Cornwall - generally, people from all points West who would normally go to Eton, Bramshaw, Menuda Milonga, Aldenham, and so on, as well as the usual Bristol and Cardiff crowd. 

Those who are willing to travel long distances tend, of course, to be those who put more effort into their dancing. Over time that means they also grow more discriminating about music and organisation quality. And putting on a long event like this where you can confidently expect decent DJing makes it worth those people's while to travel for at least part of it in the expectation that others will too. Then the presence of people who other people want to dance with, attracts the other people who want to dance with them, and who have reason to believe that their chances of doing so justify the distance. And because no classes are offered, it attracts those who want to dance socially rather than take classes for their own sake. You can do something that I don't think is achievable (here, yet) with a regular or short milonga.

The upshot of all that was that I was there for all four sessions and got to dance with lots of lovely people who were only there for one or two, like the gentlemen from Cornwall, as well as those who were there for the whole weekend. None of these people would ever normally come into London to dance - it's far too expensive, time consuming, and risky, and doesn't make a lot of sense. I'd only see them at things like Abrazos or (if I'm lucky) the European festivals, and all that means a lot more trouble, expense, and advance planning. So it was a great opportunity and I appreciated it. The travel and being away from home was emphatically worth my while.

All in all I had a really good time. I think that since it worked out well, they may repeat the exercise two or three times a year. Given the success of this first attempt, I think they could consider being more ambitous and having an all-guest DJ lineup with perhaps one extra special one. I certainly hope so, but at any rate I would happily go back multiple times for much the same event again.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Another digression, and return, via Flamenco

Part of what fascinates me about this (I can't look away), apart from its sheer excellence, is that she is also the principal source and leader of the music. It's more like shamanism than dancing. This woman generates stupefying power.

It's possible that what appeals to me most about every dance that appeals to me is the shamanistic aspect - the trance, the flow. Everything from the Haka to the tango. When they don't have this, I don't really care about them.

Thanks to Andreas for sending me the link and pointing out the "stop now" flick of the hand at 00:45. The YouTube comments (in Spanish) inform us that she died a few months later; and also that she was a pioneer, and broke with the concept of flamenco-light for women. I have no idea whether any of that is true.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

One to Watch (los Pumas)

Okay, if you hate Rugby stop reading now. I have tango stuff in the queue but it's all stuff I have to work out how to write, and spend hours on, and I'm not getting round to it.

Until finding it on YouTube (with commentary in Spanish!) I had completely forgotten what a fantastic game this was; the opening game of the last World Cup, France v Argentina. This match converted Argentina into, basically, everybody's second team. They went on to reach the semi-final, and beat France again in the third-place play-off. I'd also completely forgotten that on the way, they hammered Ireland. Admittedly Ireland had misplaced the plot, but they were still Ireland, with some seriously good players. Part 8 of the playlist doesn't work, you have to skip it.

There was no way they could have met England in that tournament anywhere except the final. This time, Argentina and England are in the same group. It's happening in New Zealand, so they play each other at 09:30 this Saturday morning - it's free-to-air on ITV and ITVHD, and on ITV Player.

Argentina still have only an amateur league at home; all their professionals play in Europe. They've lost a lot of very experienced players since the last tournament; their superb captain, Pichot, has retired, and the excellent Juan Martín Hernández is injured. But nobody really has any idea at all what's going to happen. Next year, if all goes well, they're in the Tri-Nations; which is good, if awkward for their fans in Europe. I would have liked them to join the Six Nations just for the fun of it, and plenty of supporters would have come out of the woodwork here, but I see the logistical problems for home support; and the Tri-Nations could do with them.

Anyway - I'll follow their adventures with interest.

Wednesday 31 August 2011

Man in Black

El Greco - Portrait of a nobleman with his hand on his chest
Museo del Prado, Madrid
I have just been re-reading Anne Hollander's Seeing Through Clothes. It's a art-history of European fashion. In it, she mentions this portrait, as an illustration of the history of wearing black, especially with white details. Along with the influence of fashionable clothes on how people paint nudes, and the interaction of how people dress with how they imagine themselves.

In my paperback, this picture is reproduced poorly and in black and white, and I can't tell whether it supports her argument or not.

But now, with a little bit of searching, I can find the picture at its home, the Museo del Prado, Madrid. I can not only see this full-colour reproduction on the left, but zoom to an ultra-high-resolution photograph of the work, and study the wonderful fluid brush-work of the lace, the discreet whorls and touches of colour that suggest the brocaded pattern and the shinyness of the tunic, the transparent blues and yellows of the skin, the confident, airy delicacy of the sword-hilt.

On the same page I can read a description of the work, with a theory about who this man is, and listen to the audioguide with two voices discussing the fame of this picture and how it is seen as embodying an idea of Spanishness.

And not only that - for the very reasonable sum of €10 plus shipping I could order a very high quality A4-sized print (A3 is €20) of the picture for my own personal album of interesting pictures, supposing I had one, perhaps I should, and peruse it on the sofa. I love that museums do this. The National Gallery does it too.

I am just old enough, I suppose, to still think that's amazing. Also, I don't know exactly why he chose these clothes, but I think he looks very serious and very sexy.

Monday 29 August 2011

Transformational and Transactional Politics

If you want to make any significant long-lasting change in any human thing, any community or practice, that is a political act. Whether you want to institute universal healthcare in the USA, minimise match-fixing and spot-fixing in cricket, or replace clowning with dancing in your local milonga, as soon as you really attempt to do something about it, you are fundamentally attempting to do the same sort of thing - on the continent-sized, medium, and microscopic scales respectively. There are many ways of going about it, even on the tiniest scale.

Here, via Naked Capitalism, is an article by Eric T. Schneiderman from 2008. In 2010, Schneiderman was elected attorney-general of New York. Recently, he's been using his powers to investigate bank fraud (which is what he's supposed to do, but for reasons you need some background for, this is widely considered surprising).

Eric Schneiderman: Transforming the Liberal Checklist: Transactional politics is pretty straightforward. What's the best deal I can get on a gun-control or immigration-reform bill during this year's legislative session? What do I have to do to elect a good progressive ally in November? Transactional politics requires us to be pragmatic about current realities and the state of public opinion. It's all about getting the best result possible given the circumstances here and now.
Transformational politics is the work we do today to ensure that the deal we can get on gun control or immigration reform in a year--or five years, or twenty years--will be better than the deal we can get today. Transformational politics requires us to challenge the way people think about issues, opening their minds to better possibilities. It requires us to root out the assumptions about politics or economics or human nature that prevent us from embracing policies that will make our lives better. Transformational politics has been a critical element of American political life since Lincoln was advocating his "oft expressed belief that a leader should endeavor to transform, yet heed, public opinion."
I invite you to read both this and the article by Matt Stoller praising Schneiderman that directed me to it. To follow Stoller's completely you'd need a little bit of background about mortgage fraud, but you can get the general idea without it.
Power Politics: What Eric Schneiderman reveals about Obama: A lot of people have asked why New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is going after the banks as aggressively as he is. It’s almost unbelievable that one lone elected official, who happens to have powerful legal tools at his disposal, is doing something that no one with any serious degree of power has done. So what is the secret? What kind of machinations is he undertaking that no one else has been able to do?
I’ve known Schneiderman for a few years, back when he was a state Senator working to reform the Rockefeller drug laws. And my answer to this question is pretty simple. He wants to. That’s it. Eric Schneiderman is investigating the banks because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. So he’s doing it.
...  In all the absurdly stupid punditry, the simple application of free will to our elected officials goes missing. Yeah, Obama got money from Wall Street. But Obama is choosing to pursue a policy of foreclosures and bank bailouts not because of any grand corporate scheme. He just wants to. He thinks it’s the right thing to do, and he’s doing it. If you don’t think it’s the right thing to do, then you shouldn’t be disappointed in him any more than you might have been disappointed in Bush.
I think there are valuable insights in both of those, that we can all use in our tiny lives.

Milonga 8

EDIT January 2012: This milonga lost its venue over Christmas and has now MOVED to a new venue near London Bridge. I haven't tried this yet.

This is an under-new-management version of a milonga that already existed but I never got around to trying. It's at 8 Hop Gardens, off St Martin's Lane, near Leicester Square, WC2N 4EH. It's now running every Friday from 21:30 to 02:00, organised by Grant.

Update: on second and third visits, I found much better lighting, which made it much easier to get dances, and I also found more of them there to get.

The Class: There isn't always a class before the milonga. On this occasion there was, but I didn't attend it. Classes at various levels are listed on the website.

Layout and Atmosphere: You come in through a corridor and down some steps, and it's just what it says on the door, a Quaker meeting hall. It's a very nice rectangular space, fairly small, with seating along two sides, one side being a low, long platform with small tables and red tablecloths, and the other a long broad bench. I think it's nearly the ideal size and shape for a small milonga; if you were having a meeting you'd be able to discuss things across the room without needing to raise your voice, but it's not cramped. Beyond the tablecloths, I don't think anything else had been done to the room to make it more milonga-ish. There's a quite beautiful big window at the end where the DJ is, with what looks rather like some sort of giant grass outside, and the refreshment and chillout room, actually a library, is at the other end. The floor is very nice, wooden, smooth, and not slippery or sticky. It's too dark for getting dances to be easy, but not extreme or darker than is usual for London. The Quaker pamphlets in the library are quite intriguing if you feel like having a nose around; I noticed that, for Quakers, "advice" is a countable noun with a plural, "advices". I've never ever heard a native English speaker use that - it must be a sixteenth-century survival, how interesting.

Hospitality: Very good. A selection of teas, coffees and soft drinks is laid out in the refreshment room with proper mugs, and included in the price, so you help yourself. The loos are roomy, clean and well-lit and have rather spiritual notices about living in peace with the world and switching off the lights. The venue doesn't allow alcohol to be served. At the entrance to the hall, where the desk is, there's a nice long line of coathooks where you can leave your stuff, and because refreshments are included you don't need to take anything inside and have it be on the floor getting in the way. So I left my bag there, zipped inside my coat.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: Just social dancing. And there don't seem to be any plans for performances, which is a major plus as far as I'm concerned, your preference may vary.

What I thought of the DJing: DJs vary, check the schedule. This time it was Mehmet, who played 100% traditional in tandas with cortinas. I was fine with most of the tandas. The cortinas were too short to really clear the floor, and people didn't, which added to the difficulty of getting dances and the tendency to stick with fixed partners. They also use Ewa Zbrezska, whose music I get on with fine. Under the previous management there was a lot of later music, like there is for the Thursday practica - that seems to have changed.

Getting in: £8, or an even more reasonble £7 if you join as a member (you also get a login to the website, but I don't know what's on the other side of logging in).

Getting there and getting home: Take Exit 1 from Leicester Square tube. Turn left, so you are passing the Garrick Theatre, and take the second left (which is a street of bookshops and art shops). When you come out at the other end, you'll see Hop Gardens is just a little to your right across the road, with a Gym Box on the corner. Cross carefully - watch out for near-silent bicycle rickshaws, drunk pedestrians and, at the time of writing, a huge hole in the road. The building you want is the Quaker Meeting House, which is on your left. Press the labelled bell, and wait for someone to come and open the door. Trains go from Leicester Square till about half past midnight, but it's open later and doesn't start to fill up till about 11. There are numerous night buses nearby, and if you already know the way home from Carablanca or Negracha, you are pretty close to there anyway. The only problem is the buses can get full at 2am, so dress warmly if you're going to do this, you might have to wait a while.

The website: - nicely presented, does the job and gives you a nice, accessible list of events, practicas and classes at the same venue, as well as the milonga. Well-written and includes an accurate, properly-configured embedded Google map.

How it went: I'd gone there specifically to meet two people I really love dancing with, so I can't really assess how well it would have gone under other conditions. It's small. The crowd was rather young. Most of the dancing was not really my style, and required a lot of space in proportion to the size of the room. But that was by no means true of all of it, and at least some of it was high quality, especially after 11pm. The floor was pretty orderly if you took space requirements into account. Because it's small, I'd want to arrange for at least one or two likely partners to be there. However, it might be a good choice for the more experienced visitor, especially if you can live with a wide range of styles.

It's easy for me to reach, with a straightforward route home even if I stay till 2am. I really liked the room, I was ok with the music, and I liked the price, especially with the bonus of no performance and a cup of tea included. I think I'd find it difficult to get the dances I wanted, because of the darkness and people not clearing the floor, but I can adapt to that, given the small size of the room. I will definitely consider it as an alternative to my usual place on occasions when it has a better DJ or my usual place has a performance, especially if I can overcome the style problem by persuading one or two regular partners to join me despite the absence of beer.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

IWantSomeOfThose brainwave-controlled cat ears

Yes, brainwave-controlled cat ears. They're hilarious and I really, really want some. I want to know what happens if I wear them and try to dance. I think they would go up most of the time, and down if I really got into the zone. Or maybe they'd go round and round and round ("concentrating and relaxed"). The awkward sensor would be a problem, but it's possible they'll make it less awkward by the time it goes on retail sale.

They don't actually appear to be on retail sale, even in Japan, so they might remain vapourware for another year, or indefinitely. But there is just so much fun to be had with these.

As far as I can tell, the outer layer is just fake fur, so it should be pretty easy to remove and replace with something better. The clever part, if they've actually done it, is that there's a bit more miniaturisation of the EEG sensor equipment, relative to existing commercial toys, although I'm not sure why more of the bulky electronics aren't hidden inside the ears. A fashion product, no matter how wacky, needs to look better. After doing a little reading, I'm also somewhat sceptical about how far the ears are controlled by real changes in the brain and how responsive they are to random electrical noise in the environment, and also about whether it would work at all on a person who was moving, rather than standing still. But it looks like it should work at least to some degree.

The brand name is "Necomimi" which as far as I can figure out with help from Google Translate, means "cat ears", although there might be a bit more to it, since the characters it comes up with are not the same as those at the top of the video. Fair enough.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Dancecraft and tarot

There are some people
for whom the gentle brownian motion of a flowing ronda
is such an important input to their improvisation
that if you take them out of a moderately busy dancefloor and make them do a 'demo'
their dance seems formless, at a loose end, or goes a little off the rails ...

It must be a bit like that static feeling of "I need input!" when the mind is paralysed with possibilities and can't make a decision.

... Is this person for me?
... Should I accept this job offer?
... Who is the right choice to bat at no. 3?
... Shall I go there tonight, or not?

Practically any input will do, but it needs the right amount of randomness, if it's too chaotic it just makes more stress. The classic example is tossing a coin - because once it's in the air, you'll know which way you want it to come down.

Tarot and many similar procedures serve the same function. With a skilled, empathic practitioner it's completely unnecessary for either the client or the practitioner to believe in the efficacy of the ritual as such, or accept any of its claims. Some people can make up rituals on the spot. All the procedure does, is provide just the right sort of random inputs that people need to discover what it is that they already think or want.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Two good feelings

1. When you haven't seen each other for a while and the embrace feels like it is quietly hungry to dance with you.
2. When they feel like they don't really want to break it at the end of the tanda - nothing sleazy, not at all - just taking it gently. Some people feel like they are mentally clearing up the feeling and putting it away on a shelf, others like they are just leaving it there like a Tracey Emin art project and tiptoeing away. I like both.

Monday 8 August 2011

It's wierd round here

Very wierd. Going very quietly to bed  ...

[yeah it's misspelled. I think it looks better my way]


You may have seen one of those science articles in the news, about opinions. It was not an experiment with people, but a computer experiment modelling three types of social network with different properties concerning how the nodes were connected to each other.

The summary at Livescience reflects all the others reported elsewhere.

In all cases, a few people within the network held an unwavering, but uncommon, belief; everyone else held a traditional view but was open-minded. They found that, regardless of the type of network, 10 percent remained the threshold required to shift the majority opinion once the true believers began to speak with everyone else.
Now, I was a bit sceptical of this - if you dig for the actual journal article this kind of report is based on, it often turns out to say absolutely nothing of the kind. So I did the digging, and Google Scholar found me the article. It doesn't seem to be in the journal that Livescience said it was, but the authors have previous articles in that journal, so perhaps it will be. You can nearly always find them, anyway, if you have the authors' names and the year.
Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities
J. Xie, S. Sreenivasan, G. Korniss, W. Zhang, C. Lim, B. K. Szymanski We show how the prevailing majority opinion in a population can be rapidly reversed by a small fraction p of randomly distributed committed agents who consistently proselytize the opposing opinion and are immune to influence. Specifically, we show that when the committed fraction grows beyond a critical value p_c \approx 10%, there is a dramatic decrease in the time, T_c, taken for the entire population to adopt the committed opinion ...
For the time being you can actually download the whole thing in PDF, I had to skip over the mathematical parts but I know some readers won't need to, and might be interested.

The acknowledgement of military funding at the end is interesting, and tells me that this research was seen, at least by the US military, as possibly useful in practice. But then, I've heard they felt the same about staring at goats. My question would have been "what happens if you have 10% committed agents to each opinion?" But they don't discuss that.

Anyway. It's not clear to me that they're saying anything about anything outside a computer. But socially speaking, based on my personal experience within various little communities, I find the story plausible.

Obviously, they're not asking whether it matters if the 'opinion' has any merits. But on reflection, I wouldn't be very surprised to discover that, in as far as real life reflects this, the merits of the case made little difference after persuading the first 10%.

My first thought was, 10% seems fairly low. But on reflection, 10% seems very high for true commitment - for people who are really certain, won't shut up, and can't be persuaded. That's not so common.

If you get to 10% of some community really committed to some idea, that probably means you've already persuaded enough relatively normal people that it stops mattering if some of the first 1% were sociopathic loons who constantly went around making people want to avoid sharing their opinions. Indeed, the role of cocks, bores, witterers, malicious obsessives, and the variously deranged in disseminating both bad and good ideas surely deserves some careful empirical study, along with the different roles of other familar social types such as the Nice Person.

The digging process led me, incidentally, to two social-psychology articles about the process of persuasion and the relationship between the merits of the arguments, the qualities of the source, and whether people think it is a majority or minority opinion:

When credibility attacks: The reverse impact of source credibility on persuasion


The effects of majority versus minority source status on persuasion: A self-validation analysis

But, having read them, I won't trouble you with their arguments. They didn't convince me that their experiments meant anything.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Hello Dance Today Readers

Hi there! And thanks to Dance Today for the recommendation! I haven't got a copy of the current edition, so I don't know what they said exactly. But the best place to start is probably the Favourites on the right -->.

If you want to go dancing, you'll find milonga reviews further down, and if location is important to you, start with the updated map and zoom out as much as you like.

Here are all my posts that I think are likely to help tango beginners. If you're thinking of taking your first class, the most useful might be the Beginners' Questionnaire. If you're working out what you think tango is, have a browse through the tag list, also on the right.


Monday 1 August 2011


I don't usually post anything about forthcoming events, because where would it stop, but I really like Andreas's class descriptions, and this is the sort of workshop that people swear never exists, and tediously moan about the non-existence of. So it just seems worthwhile to post this and point out that it does exist, and you can get it if you really want it.

DISCLOSURE: Andreas is a friend of mine. I usually take his small-group workshops, and I like them, but I'm not taking this one 'cause I'm going to be in Folkestone.

Intensive Small Group Workshop
in London Saturday 6th August 2011:
A 3+ hour small group workshop (a maximum of 5 couples!) with Andreas Wichter.

Floorcraft should not put limits on your dance. It should enhance, inform and shape your dance. The underlying skill - what I call "dancecraft" - is what allows you to bring your steps to life, change them at will and to improvise freely so you can interpret the music, while being connected to everyone in the ronda.

The "Dancecraft" workshop contains numerous exercises to help free you from the shackles of memorized or ingrained sequences, improve improvisational ability, and incorporate other couples' movements on the floor into your dance in a positive manner.

In this 3+ hour class we will look at integrating floorcraft skills with the demands of expression and musicality. There will be numerous exercises for precise leading and following and variation of turns and other elements to meet the demands of fluctuating space on the floor as well as that of the music.

With the aim of letting the flow of the ronda shape our dance, we will work on flexible turning skills to make and change turns and direction changes on the fly. For shaking off the shackles of routine, we will have some improvisation exercises to enable us to change any step at any time to fit the situation.

Please book with a partner.

Solid basic skills (posture, embrace, walking, parallel & crossed system transitions, turns) are required.
Saturday 6th August
The Room
33 Holcombe Road N17 9AS Tottenham Hale
13:00 - 17:00 (includes short breaks)
max 5 couples, £45 per person
Location Info:
If you want to take it though, you need to get in touch with Andreas (andreas AT tangokombinat DOT de) immediately. Get on his mailing list or ask to join the facebook group if you want future dates. As I say, this is an exception, I'm not going to announce them here.

I can't decide quite what it is I like about the class descriptions - they're so careful. And in real life he's so funny.

[Edit in response to a comment: in terms of level, my rule of thumb on what the above means would be that if you (as your half of the couple) can't already do a complete turn without needing to open the embrace at all, you're going to be struggling in most of Andreas's small-group workshops. He does always briefly cover posture and embrace at the start, but dancing comfortably in an uninterrupted close embrace is a basic necessary skill in his world, not an advanced skill. If the class is specifically about that, of course that's different.]

Rectifying ten-year 180° errors

It struck me this weekend what a difficult position people are in when, based on new information, they suddenly decide that what they have been "dancing" exactly the same way for years on end is not actually tango at all (I guess this might apply to other dances too, but let's stick to what I know) but something else entirely, and that, actually, they think that actual tango is much more interesting and generally better and they would really, really like to be dancing that instead.

For example, they decide to stop running around like a deaf psychotic spider, blaming their partners for everything that otherwise-inexplicably doesn't work well, and start dancing like a rational being who can walk on two legs and detect emotional content in music. This is suprisingly not-that-unusual. Ampster describes many only slightly smaller epiphanies very vividly.

But, in practical terms, it really must be a very tricky situation if you don't have somebody sharing the road with you like Ampster does. Changing established physical habits takes time and work. It means a lot of temporary failures. If you want to maintain a radical change of posture and embrace and movement for more than a few minutes, you're going to need constant practice and well-informed feedback. And that means that you're going to need new partners.

The people who danced with you before are at least willing to dance your old dance. Under the circumstances, that probably means that they aren't, at the moment, even able to dance your new dance (if you're right that the new one is better, then if they were, they would have been doing it already, and not dancing with you. Logic). The people who can dance your new dance, on the other hand, probably know what dance you've always danced. They already know to avoid dancing with you, because the chances are it's a bad experience for them and a pointless exercise; and it's going to take quite an effort to convince them to go anywhere near you.

This is not an easy problem, but it certainly is solvable, because lots of people have solved it over the years. I suppose there are two obvious options, and you could even try both at once:

  1. Change your regular milonga. Most of your regular partners will stay at the old one (you can always go back there to see friends) and at least some of the people at the new one won't remember you.
  2. Change your style of dress. This is the strongest possible signal that you have made a decision to change your dance.  It also goes very well with a change of posture. The sudden appearance or disappearance of a jacket and tie is powerful magic. For women, changing style is more complicated.
Obviously you could also talk about your experience and thoughts, which might make sympathisers come out of the woodwork who are willing to take a bit of a risk to bring somebody in their direction; and it might also persuade them that you won't blame them for your difficulties. [Edit: some better ideas in the comments].

I should think it takes a lot of patience and a lot of work. But if you're making that kind of decision, then you're deciding it's worth it.

Thursday 28 July 2011

Lily Allen

I was going to say something else, but I've just been listening to part of Test Match Special from the second day of the first Test against India: their tea-interval interviewee is Lily Allen.

She's into Test Cricket. Her husband plays village cricket every Sunday. And I just noticed that her attitude to cricket reminds me of mine to tango. (This is not an exact transcript as it's just too hard to control the slider that rewinds it)

Aggers: ... you have been coming to the games, you've been watching Sam get the odd wicket, and a few runs here and there - do you - Test cricket takes a long time to get into.
Allen: I'm thinking this is a long term commitment - and you know, hopefully, when I'm a member of the MCC ...
Aggers: Are you on the list?
Allen: I think today I've been added to the list.
Aggers: Have you!
Allen: yeah, six years till I'm an associate member or something ...
Aggers: Yeahh ... gosh ... I mean ... you'll be nearly fifty, you'll be fifty-five! Now this'll cheer you up - you'll be my age, Lily! Before you're a full member
Allen: Are you a member yet?
Aggers: Yes I am a member
Allen: Just! hahaha
Aggers:Yes, just! for one year! You'll be my age
Allen: Oh well, that's fine, I'll have had a good innings. - I think, you know, I want to learn a lot more about the game but I'm not pushing myself, I'm into cricket, I've made the commitment, I love cricket, I'm into cricket, I love being part of it ... This PR company have taken over the twenty-twenty, and they sent me an email, "We've taken over the marketing for twenty-twenty, will you come to some matches! it's a more glamorous version of Test Cricket with a more carnival atmosphere!", hahaha ...
Aggers: And how did you respond?
Allen: Not interested! Sorry!

She's not in a hurry, but that doesn't mean she's not serious.

And she's learning to knit! "I'm so not rock and roll any more". Rubbish. Cricket is rock and roll.