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.

Saturday 23 July 2011

Map Update

I've got round to updating the map - sorry about that, I forgot about it for about a year. It's mainly useful for the regular events in London, but I've included the ones further afield, or that I've only been to once, because it's just kind of fun to have a picture of where I've been.

It's zoomed in on central London, north of the river. Click "-" or use the "-" on your keyboard to zoom out and see more North and South, or zoom out even further to see the festivalitos in Europe, or even further to include the one on the US West Coast.

View Ms. Hedgehog's Milonga Map in a larger map

There are other milongas - these are just the ones I have personally located. I've deleted some London milongas that I know have been cancelled, it's possible others have. I usually won't know about it if I'm not a regular. A blue pin means I've checked the physical location but not been to the event.

Monday 18 July 2011

Raduno Rural, somewhere in Slovenia

This was the first Raduno Rural. Blaž Demsar, who some of you will know as a dedicated goer to other milonguero festivalitos, comes from Slovenia, where his family run an 'Agriturismo', which is a sort of cross between a farm and a holiday resort about 900 metres above sea level. And he dreamed up this. I'm hoping they'll do it again next year. This was the programme:

17.00 - 21.00 Grill welcome party on the spot

23.00 - ......... well past dawn Milonga
10.00 - 13.00 Milonguero breakfast on the spot
17.00 - 20.00 Milonga 

20.00 - 21.30 Dinner on spot for all
23.00 - .........
well past dawn again Milonga 
10.00 - 13.00 Milonguero breakfast on the spot
14.00 - 18.30 Farewell milonga

The Class/Workshops: There weren't any, it's not that sort of festival.

Layout and Atmosphere: Let's start with the view:

To elaborate:

There was a barn, with an upper floor, I suppose it was a hayloft. They took out the boards and replaced them all, then they added a layer of carefully-spaced foam strips, then a layer of some sort of smooth boards made of pressed recycled wood shavings, and then maybe some sort of varnish. The result was the best floor I've ever danced on - absolutely beautiful. The perfect degree of grip, and soft on your feet. Neither my feet nor my knees ever stopped me dancing, only the need to sleep. About 100 people were registered and it was just nicely full, not too big and not too small. Here's the dancefloor at the start of the Sunday afternoon milonga, nearly empty. There were rolls of felt that came down to cover the open parts of the walls during a cortina when it started to get chilly late at night.

Returning to the barn - then they added a staircase, benches along one wall, and a lot of little tables and chairs in new softwood. As far as sightlines were concerned, it all worked fairly well. I had decent results from staying in the same place, rather than chasing around, which is usually a good sign. But some of the seating was under a mezzanine at the DJ's end, and it was a bit dark there in the evenings. Lighting and sound were good, a little more white light in the evenings wouldn't hurt but I really couldn't complain. They're likely to tweak it a bit for next year. Downstairs were the tables for dinner and barbecue, hay for the low-budget sleepers, a clean and roomy loo, and walls also made of hay. The whole place smells of hay.

As for atmosphere, well, what can I say? It was super friendly and happy. It was mostly Italians, they're really enthusiastic. And Hungarians, Slovenians and Austrians, and at least a few French. Most of them danced well, some superbly. And me. Everybody had brunch together and dinner together and swam in the pool and lay on the grass and chatted in various mixtures of languages.

The following day, at a table behind my right elbow as I take the following picture, I observed an Italo-Hungarian game of what I understood to be Texas Hold'em, in Speedos.

It did get a bit chilly, around 15C, late at night. I found the temperature ideal for dancing, but I put my fleece on if I sat down for more than one tanda. The felt walls kept out the wind, but they're working on something to deal with the gap between wall and roof for next time. You need something warm to put on when you're not dancing or it's not so sunny.

Hospitality: Excellent. Quite apart from the lovely rooms, a long dancer-friendly brunch was included, plus the barbeque on arrival, a very nutritious four-course communal dinner with drinkable Slovenian plonk on Saturday evening, wine and water and a couple of kinds of home-made squash during the milongas, and doughnuts and coffee at 03:00. What else can I say? Dinner was served in the barn under the dance floor, at long tables with red cloths. The whole thing was designed by Blaž Demsar, who likes to dance all night, and catered by his excellent family, who run this Agriturismo place. People go there to ski in winter. (The ž sounds like French "ge" or Argentinian "y" or "ll").

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: Not a performance in sight, fantastic! Just social dancing.

What I thought of the DJing: The DJ lineup:

Enrico Malinverni - Friday
Alan Spotti - Saturday evening
Darko Popovič - Saturday afternoon
Fabiola Loik - Sunday

All (of course) played traditional music, tandas, cortinas, properly constructed, TTTVTTTM or similar.  Enrico Malinverni delivered as usual for the Friday (his Francopop cortinas make me happy) and so did everyone else. Except that Alan Spotti wasn't so much my thing - I thought he started well and ended well but had a too-looong period in the middle sending people to sleep with unrelieved pretentious drama (late-era, I suspect). Maybe taste, I dunno. But otherwise I thought it was all great. DJs will differ next year, obviously.

Sound was excellent throughout. They hired the system and installed it for the occasion. You could feel all the detail everywhere.

Getting in: My €97 included 2 nights accommodation on site (a comfortable pair of rooms shared with three Italian ladies and one from Kyrgyzstan, she hadn't come from there specially, though, only from Graz), full board and all four milongas. And swimming. There were also budget options down to €38 for a milonga pass, or €48 for more basic accommodation; people pitched tents on the grounds, came in camper vans, or brought sleeping bags and slept on the floor indoors or in the hay underneath the dance floor. There are good facilities for having a shower and getting ready inside the building downstairs if you don't get a room.

Getting there and getting home: It's half way up a mountain in a country that seceded peacefully from Yugoslavia in the 80s, apparently by erecting a Somebody Else's Problem Field on the border. You need to drive, or organise a car share from one of the nearest airports, three of which aren't in the same country - any of Ljubljana, Klagenfurt, Venice, or Graz. Slovenia exploits its strategic position as neither-here-nor-there by a system of very good through-roads, with toll charges just high enough to be somewhat annoying, but not high enough so that anybody bothers going the long way round from Austria to, say, Greece. You buy a sticker at petrol stations and stick it in your window, and then you drive slowly through the automatic toll gates. I was the person who'd come furthest for the event - it makes most sense if you're coming from Austria or Italy. I flew Ryanair to Graz and was collected from the train station by a delightful young tanguero who was a friend of the organiser. Our satnav got a bit confused by the toll roads, and a bit overexcited about all the hairpin turns up the mountain. But combining it with Google Maps and the directions provided by the organisers, we didn't have any serious problems.

The website: Coolest domain name: - and

How it went: I had a fab time.  Friday night and Saturday afternoon were my favourites. I went swimming. I danced and danced and dance, and danced almost entirely with people I'd never seen before. On Friday I don't think I sat down for more than 2 tandas even once. They didn't promise to balance numbers and I think there a few women over, but it didn't matter much because there were only 100 people, so everybody could find partners and share around. There was a wide range of styles going on, but the line of dance was mostly ok (although I could have done without the overexcited pillock whose violent, inane boleo gave me a painful bruise). Everybody else seemed to be having a wonderful time as well. At dinner on Saturday one of the Italians stood up and declared three cheers for Blaž and three cheers for the family, and he got them, three sharp, full-throated cheers, twice. He was a lovely dancer, too.

Oh yes, local customs: I got all by my first one or two dances by cabeceo alone, and I had the chance to refine my technique at that a bit. As is usual at this kind of event, same sex dancing and reversing roles are not an issue for anyone - everyone picks up very quickly on which women can and do lead and which men can and do follow, you just make the cabeceo a bit more obvious if you haven't danced with that person before.

There was good, simple food. The doughnuts at 3am impressed me. There were a couple of dogs (brought by guests, and welcomed) and some very small very blond Slovenian children running around.

If you got into the swimming pool and stood on tiptoes with your arms on the side, just where the warm water comes in, you could look across the valley and see high mountains and distant glaciers on the other side. It's the sort of place and activity that puts you in the sort of mood where you can be blown away by the wondrousness of a hoverfly in front of your face. There's a little herb garden above the dance floor, with places to sit and read or write or contemplate the view.

Look, the whole thing was totally, utterly bonkers, and I loved it. I had a ton of fun and I felt like my dance was really cooking.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Out of Office Message

No comments moderation or posting till the middle of next week. If the global banking system fails before close of business on Monday, then it might be a bit longer.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Nailed it

A quotation that cheered me up today - quoted in an opinion piece in the London Evening Standard, in defence of spinsters, broadly defined as women who do not settle down in a permanent relationship and have babies:

"There have been several Duchesses of Westminster, but there is only one Chanel"
-- Chanel

In some obscure way it reminds me of one I have on my desktop at work (the French pronunciation is important for this one):
"I have many good moments, but the one I prefer is when I kicked the hooligan."
-- Eric Cantona

I think they do have a common theme going on there. Other than being French.

Sunday 10 July 2011

Smiling muscles

You know that quivery feeling you get if you do something till you really can't do it any more, like some people do press-ups or something till the muscles in their arms 'fail', which means that they suddenly go all trembly and you fall down?

I did that today with my smile muscles. I had this goofy expression on my face and I felt it quivering.

And yes I was dancing.

The Aldenham milonga ...

... makes me happy. That's all.

Especially when I can get dropped off there as an escapee from Wedding Planet. I didn't even need to eat any cake. Just a cup of tea and a dance and I was ecstatic. Felt like I'd actually had a weekend.

Sunday 3 July 2011


Partly a response to Tangocommuter, but for me, it's just not complicated.

What does 'technique' mean to me?

You are easier and more fun to dance with if you have good balance, mobility, posture, control, clarity, confidence, freedom, flow, connection, and a nice reliable comfortable embrace that feels good. I am easier and more fun to dance with if I have good balance, mobility, posture, control, clarity, confidence, freedom, flow, connection, and a nice reliable comfortable embrace that feels good. The more we have those things, the more we can just get on with it and dance. That's what technique means to me. It means all the things that enable us to forget about how we do what we do and get on with the fun stuff.

My partners' technique

Other things being equal, partners with excellent technique are more fun to dance with than partners with good technique. Partners with good technique are more fun to dance with than partners with acceptable technique. Partners with acceptable technique are dramatically easier and more fun to dance with than partners who have poor technique - the step from poor to acceptable is the most important step. Poor means you hurt to dance with, and ruin my connection for everybody else, and I'd rather not do that, even if you're a lovely bloke and have been extremely kind to me. If the technique is poor, it does not matter whether those 'other things' are equal or not, they're not going to help us. If it's acceptable or upwards, they matter a lot.

My technique

I want to have good technique. I want to have have good balance, mobility, posture, control, clarity, confidence, freedom, flow, connection, and embrace. The more I have those things, the more freely we can dance. There is certainly some level of excellence I will not be able to reach, because of my personal limitations of talent, priorities, opportunity and time, but there's no reason not to do what I can.

If I can be exactly where we meant to be, exactly when we meant it, we have more possibilites than we have if I am just a bit off. We can do all those teeny tiny things that are the same as each other but completely different. We can be totally in the music. We can do more with it. We can have fun with it. We can inspire each other. We can both forget about everything else and really get into it. I can feel your heart. We can just get on with it and actually dance.

The better I dance, the more I can enjoy the extra possibilites of excellence in my partners.

I felt somebody's heart on Friday - I don't usually hear his heart. The DJ was playing some fantastic stuff (it was 'La Rubia') and we were really into it. To feel somebody's heart through a good suit jacket, you have to zone in and he has to be in the right place as well. And even then, it only means anything if other things are right. It's awesome. I feel like I shouldn't talk about it. But the better I dance, the more those moments happen and the more awesome they are. It's that simple.

How to get good technique

It would make sense to me if you did something that you thought would improve your balance, mobility, posture, control, clarity, confidence, freedom, flow, connection, or embrace. But who knows how you can best do that? Look, do whatever works for you. Private practice, lessons, yoga, group classes, exercise, feedback from someone you know and you think is well qualified to give it, whatever. You don't need advice from some random chick on the internet when you don't even know if she can dance or not.

A note about body conditioning

In the 1930s and 40s, working class women didn't own washing machines. My mother can describe her grandmother doing the washing in the fifties: it was many hours of hard physical labour. Just try filling a copper from a hand-pumped pipe that isn't anywhere near it, and heating a few gallons of water over a hand built fire, and washing a whole family's cotton and woollen clothes and bedding by hand, with a coal fire and the copper and a sink and a lot of soap and a scrubbing board and a mangle and a washing line. When I think about that, I ask myself about ordinary women's physical condition in the golden age of tango, and whether it might make some sense to do some work on that, since I sit in front of a keyboard all week long. Actually doing it is another matter, because I'm as lazy as anybody, but that's how I think about this stuff. Your mileage may vary.