Thursday 31 March 2011

Out of Office Message

I'm off again, with no internet access. Back 2nd half of next week. x

Sunday 27 March 2011

Guest Post: Is that your foot?

The following is a guest post from my occasional practice partner Ghost, with interjections from me.

"Is that *your* foot"?

I was near the end of a beautiful tanda with MsH. I was happy and content, in that nice, warm, zenlike tango place. And approaching a corner. Knowing that can equal disaster in London, I looked around and lo and behold the guy behind me was on a collision course. My options were rather limited to say the least; pretty much, get hit or change lanes. I opted for changing lanes.

Unfortunately the guy in front of me decided he didn’t want to be impaled by the bozo behind me either and he also changed lanes boxing me in. Ok it’s not the end of the world, yet. I can do a slooooooow sidestep and collect and that’ll get me through the remaining bar and to the end of the song.

And then it happens. I still can’t figure out how, but halfway through the sidestep I feel a foot start caressing the inside of my leg. A Committee is rapidly formed in my head to try and make sense of the growing sense of discombobulation. The foot in question would be MsH’s weight bearing foot and so by definition should be firmly on the ground and not halfway up my leg! On the other hand, I do have a friend who does variations of this with me using the embrace, her posture and a truckload of core strength, so it is technically possible.

But it’s MsH! If you’ve danced with her, you’ll know that she simply doesn’t do leg caresses. It’s right up there with dancing on the tables. Actually I think I’d have a better chance of getting her to dance on the tables…. And this isn’t subtle caressing either. It’s lasting quite a long time and is going quite a way up the inside of my leg. Maybe someone’s put something in her drink? [H: ewwwww!] The thing is, it is interpreting the music remarkably well [H: in what sense?] – if she was going to do it, this is what it would be. And it is possible that she simply took a second step to weight change and used dissociation to mask it. [H here: both my feet were in their expected location on the end of my legs, on the ground, thank you very much!]

On the other hand, if it’s not MsH, then as nuts as the idea seems, it has to be someone else. And so in my best Clark Kent voice I asked,

"Is that *your* foot"?
"No." [H: is what my foot?]

Beats me how on earth another woman got her foot in that position, and kept it there without colliding with MsH, not to mention why?! Answers on a postcard, or below in the comments.
Hedgehog here: my best guess is that this was somehow being achieved by the bozo behind. It's not actually that unusual in London to get gancho'd by another couple, conceivably even slowly; it is unusual at that particular place, because almost everyone who goes there dances sanely, but this man was a visitor and hadn't quite grasped the concept. Anyway, it sounds like one of those nervous-system experiments that uses a table, a mirror and a tickling stick to make you think that your arm belongs to someone else, or theirs is yours, or something. EWW.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Personal Friends

I get a lot out of the social side of tango. Once, for a brief period, I even got a personal enemy, the only one I've ever had as far as I'm aware. Since all I had done to offend her was get invited somewhere because I danced relatively well, I treasured her. The look she gave me that said "what are you doing here?" was pure gold, and if am fortunate enough to keep my faculties, it will give me joy, moral and social instruction, and innocent amusement to the day I die. (Her attempt at revenge was successful as far as it went, but so lacking in ambition that I really couldn't grudge it.)

But those sentimental memories are beside the point, which is from Melina:

Melina's 2 Cents: Tango Friends : Last weekend, I've been teaching in Amsterdam. As we‘ve been there a couple of times, we know quite some people and places. It feels good to come to a town, where you‘ve already made friends.

But it‘s sad to say good-bye.

... Tango is a challenging dance: it demands that we bring in our whole personality, our body, our soul. You give a lot and you receive a lot. No wonder, that Tangueros get addicted to that kind of nomad life!

But are we really making friends?

Do we not meet in a kind of bubble, where everything evolves about Tango and where huge parts of our life are blanked? Do you know the name of person you just greeted so enthusiastically? Do you know, if your dance-partner has got siblings, a wife, a husband? Do you know her job and do you know her plans for the future? Do you know, if he sleeps well at night or if he‘s suffering from a disease? Most likely not. Because all we talk about is Tango. We meet, we dance, we chat... and we leave again.
I think for some people, myself included, this is much more a good thing than a bad thing. It's possible to socialise with lots of people, from different backgrounds and with different world views, but subject to clear boundaries which we don't cross unless we really want to. It's very safe.

It's good to have the opportunity to take people just as I find them in the moment, without obligation, and it's good that they do the same for me. If  we take to each other, and other things come up in conversation, then we can go further, but there's no pressure or expectation that comes just from being there.

Many other social situations (other than work) have far too much pressure towards talking and asking about personal things and histories that are nobody's damn business, rather than simply acting like a good person. And for any creature who's inclined to be reserved, that increases isolation rather than diminishing it.

Melina's situation is more like mine would be without tango - meeting everyone through work!

[Edit: And it's also a great way to make friends and get attached to people. It's just that you don't have to and it's not the only or primary goal. The broader point of Melina's post when read as a whole, is that saying goodbye to those friends all the time can get saddening - and that's what travelling all the time is like, it's not necessarily a tango thing. There are lots of tango people I really miss if they are not (or I am not) around for a while, regardless of how little I know about them, so it must be hard. ]

Monday 21 March 2011

Out of Office Message

I'm away on business ... it was a bit short notice. I'll be back in another week or so. x

Saturday 12 March 2011

Small pleasures

I quite enjoyed doing my census, it's like writing a little "about me" to future generations - I lived in such-a-place, it had this many rooms, I rented it, I worked at such-a-work across town, I went there on public transport, I spoke English, I lived alone with no religion ...

I step out of myself and think about what information we think is interesting now, what will be interesting to them, what we say, how little we can communicate across time, but how much these mundane things mean in the shape of a life.

It's like watching an archaeology programme from the point of view of the dead dude.

I am told that in the 1901 census there are cases where the cat was named and filled in as a member of the household with an occupation of mouse-catcher.


This is a weekly, evening milonga on Sundays just at the north end of Hammersmith Bridge. Nikki is an energetic organiser and currently has three milongas going - the Crypt on alternate Saturdays, the diddy  one in Vino Latino's wine bar on Tuesdays, and this one every Sunday from 20:00 to 23:30.

The Class: Beginner and intermediate classes are given between 6pm and 8pm by Beto Ortiz and Asta Moro. They tend to stick to the basics and I've enjoyed dancing with some of their students. On some Sundays, when they are organising their own tea dance out in Aldenham, Nikki gives the classes instead; occasionally she has other guest teachers.

Layout and Atmosphere: it's a really nice room. Basically it's a church hall/concert hall/school hall sort of space. The floor is the right shape and good quality, and there's plenty of chairs with big, restaurant-style tables along the two long sides. The furniture is bulky and a bit crowded together, making it tricky to get into and out of the seats. You come in at the end where there's a stage (on which is the DJ box), and at the far end of the rectangular floor is a mezzanine with a staffed bar underneath. The lighting is quite good, and the space is pretty, with ornate upper walls. It doesn't get elaborated for the tango, except by projecting coloured light from the mezzanine. I suggest going up the stairs to the mezzanine to hang up your coat and change your shoes - there's much more room than there is on the rail downstairs, where your coat can end up blocking the door to the Ladies, and from up there you get an interesting view of the floor. I think your stuff would be perfectly safe. One time there was an elderly man sitting up there and looking lugubriously towards the stage, paying no attention to the dancers or anything else.

Hospitality: Good. There's a reasonably priced bar. Water is provided with a smile. My single G&T with ice and lemon was £4.40. No food. The loos are rickety - very cheaply maintained and cramped, with water tending to splash on the floor - and once you've managed to work the lock, you may have to yank on the top or bottom of the door to get out again. But it's clean, working, and properly supplied by the building's staff. You'll always get a smile and a friendly greeting from Asta or Nikki or an assistant on the desk when you come in.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: Just social dancing, yay!

What I thought of the DJing: The first time I went, Beto Ortiz DJ'd and did, I think, a perfectly reasonable job delivering the basics, just as he does at his own milonga. I was happy to dance any tanda. The second time, Nikki DJ'd in between being on the door. She plays tandas and cortinas in the traditional format, but it can't have her full attention. Sometimes other DJ's are employed; you can check on the website. The week of writing [sorry, drafting - Chris Jordan is DJing the week of publication], Asta will be DJing.

Getting in: £8, or £10 if you take the class.

Getting there and getting home: It really is a short walk from Hammersmith Tube - IF you know the way. If you don't know the way, it's scary. This is just about the most pedestrian-hostile bit of scenery I've yet encountered in London, even worse than the what-were-they-thinking tunnels around the Waterloo IMAX. So here's what you need to do. When you come up the escalators, you're in a baffling shopping centre. Bear right - how far you have to go depends which escalator you came up. You want the exit from the shopping centre that has a statue of some nudes standing on a box. At this point, turn left. As you go around, you will see a large church on the other side of the road. You want to be going down the road that the church is on, and for now it's easier to stay on the side where the church is, i.e. the left hand side. Use the crossings to get there and keep the church on your left. After a while, you'll see the tall lights of Hammersmith Bridge in front of you, and on the other side of the road you'll see a pub with Oxford in the name. There's a crossing right in front of it. Cross, continue briefly in the same direction you were going, i.e. towards the bridge, turn right and you're on Rutland Grove, you'll see a sign for the tango. From what I gather, it's also pretty difficult for drivers - there are directions on the website.

The website: Tells you where, when, how much, who's giving the class and who's DJing. No fancy annoying javascript or flash or noises or anything. 

How it went: Very well. I had a very nice evening on each visit in a comfortable, pretty space with a nice atmosphere. On the first visit I felt the flow was rather good, at any rate much better than average for London. There were plenty of people I wanted to dance with, and it was civilised and not at all bumpy; nobody even kicked the teenage professional couple dancing like an arse with six legs. On the second visit I still had a pleasant evening with minimal bumps, and so did the friend I had brought, but with less dancing and less flow. Although it's a long way for me, it's accessible, there are tandas and cortinas and traditional music, and it's a nice place.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

International Women's Day

My workplace had an event today for International Women's Day: there were 30 of us in a room in London, and then groups of the same size or smaller in about 12 other locations around Europe. We had a video call going round the locations, and we were asked what our reaction was to having the event at all, and some questions about various issues within the organisation. We discussed them and then had another video call with someone at each office feeding back whatever we'd said.

International Women's Day isn't widely known or celebrated here, although it's a public holiday in quite a few countries and a relatively big thing. I knew about it but I didn't know that this was its hundredth year; it was first celebrated in 1911.

Anyway I haven't got anything particular to say about it except that it was fun and quite interesting and some senior managers heard things they needed to hear, which was the point of the exercise as far as the company was concerned. What I got out of it was taking a little time to think about some things. Not so much about my own relationship with my employer, which is a very satisfactory one, although it's possible that the company and I could both get more out of each other if some things were different. But about the sort of big ideas this celebration brings to mind.

Take a moment to think about whenever you have been expected to be or think or act a certain way simply because you were a man, or because you were a woman, and have felt guilty or selfconscious or conflicted when you did not.

Take a moment to ask yourself when your affairs have been disregarded - especially by you - simply because they were your affairs and not someone else's, without any fair-minded assessment of their merits or importance.

Take a moment to consider whether advancement, recognition, respect, and remuneration in your place of work are based on skill, honesty, intelligence, fair dealing, or anything a sane human being would value, or whether they are based on the degree of submission to an abusive relationship with the employer; one that classifies the disregard of human relationships and human values as a badge of loyalty, while the smallest non-submission to the employer's expressed or unexpressed demands, no matter how capricious, cruel, pointless, unimportant or even criminal they are, is a shameful disaster.

My workplace does not have this common disease, or at least not very much or very badly.

One of the things that came up in discussion today was that, just by being women, we often escape falling for that particular swindle because we don't feel the social duty to fall for it. We also escape the recognition, respect, and remuneration, because our decision tends to be that it is worth it. There are other swindles we fall for more.

I would like men to consider that they also have these choices - in theory, at least. And if the choice is not there in practice, then I would like them to think about why.

Sunday 6 March 2011

xkcd playpen balls

My favourite ever xkcd:

So beautiful. I, too, was already too big when the playpen first appeared in IKEA.

Saturday 5 March 2011

Bernhard Gehberger

Bernhard Gehberger was exceptional at Carablanca last night. Super strong music, it engaged everyone and did a great job of delivering beautiful tandas, pacing the evening, and demanding and keeping the dancers' attention. I think it was brilliantly calculated for the crowd, which is always very mixed and can be difficult. It helped a lot that it wasn't too crowded (despite the large size of the hall, this milonga has problems when crowded). But there were some seriously good dancers there, and they were the loudest in the standing ovation he got at the end.

A friend who goes there told me he was also excellent at the Dome on Wednesday.

Here's a thought:

A change of priorities towards excellent DJing (like spending a lot more money on it) is the next step London needs to take. And I think there's a payoff lying on the table for the first milonga to deliver a consistently high level of competence, and take a big step up from there.

Tuesday 1 March 2011


Internet radio, it's here: PapaLocaRadioTango

It doesn't broadcast all the time. They announce when it's on in the Facebook Group, where you will also find online chat about the music (in Italian).

Right now they have a guest DJ, Giovanni Carta, and I've just been listening to a tanda of beautiful Biagi valses. And now it's Tanturi / Alberto Castillo. Giovanni is posting quotes from the lyrics on Facebook:

La vida es corta y hay que vivirla,
en el mañana no hay que confiar ...
Y en el pecho tembloroso de la reina suburbana,
un jazmín agonizaba cuando ella dijo: “Sí...”

LOVE it.

Wanna dance but there's nobody here!

Cabeceoing people on Facebook chat in three languages is hilarious but frustrating.

L'Oreal Extra-Volume Collage Waterproof - Nope.


£11.29, or £7.50 in the 2-for-1 offer.

Clumping, flaking and smearing on BOTH eyes - definitely not suitable for the hammering of Proper Tango, not really much use for anything else, on me anyway.

I'm wondering if waterproof is the wrong approach, because the problem we're dealing with here is contact with warm skin, and that probably adds up to a fairly good oil-based remover. The best result I've had so far (new bottle to be tried next weekend) were with a non-waterproof kind that had an undercoat. Further experiments to come, but I think £15 is too much for mascara.