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.