Thursday, 2 February 2012

Guardian Tango Facepalm Point-by-Pointer

I know I should ignore this article in the Guardian. The reader who read to the end would be more ignorant than before. I wouldn't have read it at all, unprompted.

But - well, hell. "--" marks the quotes for RSS feeds.

    --Waiting at the gate  ... I'm making a huge mistake.
We often know when we're making a mistake, we just don't know which one it is, that's the problem. I sympathise.
    --I'm flying to Argentina for a week, on my own, to learn to dance the Argentine tango. ... I haven't danced a choreographed step since 1982
Information: Tango has nothing to do with choreography. If you're dancing choreography, you may be in a stage show about tango, but you're not dancing tango. Unfortunately, readers won't learn that in this article. Also: a week?
--The only things I know about Argentina are that it's very far away, we went to war .. I saw a film where their king appeared to be Jimmy Nail ... the Argentine tango (I've checked with YouTube) is a complex dance, built on instinct, litheness and a non-coy Latin American attitude to sensual proximity to strangers.
The fair reading is probably "no clue for me, no clue for you, exotic, kinky, doesn't matter, I'm ok you're ok". It's annoying to see something interesting that I care about talked about in this timewasting, information-free way, but it's a bit self-centred of me to get upset about that.

Remarks about the British, the English, Argentinians and Latin Americans througout the article, contribute a lot to its air of extreme vapidity. But they add nothing else, so I will try to refrain from picking them up.
    -- Grab me without permission and I go rigid ....
Grab me without permission in the dancehall and you'll get a fucking volcano. Dancing is consensual, it has nothing to do with assault. If it does, change your teacher.
    --His website is full of shots of women chucking their ankles over his shoulders ....
That might have given you a hint or two that he wasn't a great choice if you wanted to learn to dance rather than pose and look like a fool. But I see this was a package deal, so you didn't have any say in the matter.
    -- "I feel a bit like crying," I confess pathetically to the Argentinian businessman ...
So it did give you that hint; but because you think that this is what tango is, you've ignored the accurate information coming from a bit deeper down in your brain. I congratulate you on the good instincts, but not on the research quality or the final decision.
    -- "Oh, don't worry," he says, unfazed. "Everyone cries in Argentina. You'll fit in well. We're very dramatic people."
Diplomatic answer. Good man.
    --As it turns out, I do fit in rather well. Buenos Aires is beautiful, hot and glamorous, and the malbec is plentiful enough to make me feel roughly similar.
Sounds very nice. My Argentinian colleague from "It's Somewhere Up In The Mountains" tells me that Buenos Aires has the greatest number of plastic surgeons and psychiatrists per head anywhere in the world. I just throw that in. [HEDGEHOG! stop being nasty. There was no need for that. They're probably doing half their business with foreigners. Oh.]
   --the suites are enormous, with showers that fit at least a dozen people ... and attended to by 24-hour butlers.
Sounds comfy; a ripoff if your goal was learning to dance, but since it isn't, it just sounds really comfy. I don't think I'll stay there when I go, though.
    --The weather ... the Campo Argentine del Polo ... Jilly Cooper.
The climate in those months does sound appealing. As for the rest of this paragraph, here is what I think it means:

"I'm in character as an airhead, so you can't possibly expect anything correct or informative from me. This article is nonsense, nothing in it matters, and if it annoys you, you have only yourself to blame for reading it."

Fair point. Why's it in the Guardian? And it matters to me.
    --Take a tolerant credit card
Mm-hm. (Wait. You're borrowing to do this? No, stop, this is not that rant. It does add to the general impression of eagerness to be ripped off, though. Telling us how much you needed would have been informative).
    -- flat shoes for shopping  ... stretchable fabrics ... steaks, brioche-based pies and cocktails ... mosquitos ...
    --And definitely, definitely try to learn tango.
Learn tango. Maybe what's going on here is that in her mind, "dance" self-evidently equals a choreographed stage performance for an audience. So, a bad lookalike of a stage performance equals 'tango' for the non-professional. Therefore, given that it's totally unimportant and she's pretending to be an airhead, she has 'learned tango' - completing all that can possibly be expected of her in that direction. Actual tango, tango de salon as they say, is not something whose existence can be suspected or imagined. This is an error I've discussed before. But it's really not clear, and perhaps I overanalyse.
    -- On day one of lessons ... wearing my stupid tango shoes ...
Somebody has been selling something here. And somebody has been buying it. It includes at least some shoes.
    -- ... Carlos seems to sense I'm going to be trouble from the moment he explains that tango is a dance where the man leads, the man makes all the decisions ...
Oooh, aren't you special. Information: to master the woman's part of any led-and-followed partner dance in the very varied family of traditional European-style partner dances where the man's part includes leading, you have to first learn to follow.

If you have a conscientious objection to the idea of anyone following, or to the following being (mostly and traditionally) done by women, that's a good reason to leave. This dance is unsuitable for you. It's not a good excuse to do it anyway and be bad at it on purpose. That's just insulting to all the other dancers.
    --and that – unless you want to be seen as either insane or a sex-crazed harpy – a woman never suggests a dance and monitors her eye contact with men.
I can't tell how much of this is the writer and how much is Carlos, who sounds pretty awful so far. Information: Practice varies, but women do 'suggest' dances, although there are good reasons not to if you can't dance. Monitoring your eye contact in certain ways and contexts is necessary, because it's used in the process of selecting and agreeing dances. It's quite complex and interesting stuff, too long to go into here.
--"Pghhhgh," I say, a sound of feminist dissent I find is usually understood in all languages.
In the circumstances, you are hardly in a position to articulate a thought-out feminist critique, so perhaps this one is fair enough to both parties, as far it goes. I'm sure he deserves it, and no doubt it panders agreeably to his prejudices, too, so everybody's happy and no harm's done.
--We begin with "the basic step",
Information: There's no basic step in tango in the same sense that there is for salsa or samba or 'back on five' jive. This has been written about interminably elsewhere, but to summarise, the so-called 'basic 8' is a traditional teaching method. In my opinion, it's the worst. A lot of Argentinian teachers use it. It requires no thought from teacher or student, it produces a brief illusion of progress and really bad beginners, it's not surprising to see it used here, and there's no point in discussing it further.
-- ... the one that carries two people round a dancefloor clockwise ...

Information: Movement of the couple around the dancefloor would of course be anticlockwise, like all other progressive dances for the ballroom. A friend points out that what she probably means here is that the "basic step," as described, produces a small clockwise movement for the couple. The lessons probably don't include any reference to an actual dancefloor or a line of dance containing other people.
--... What I can't do is let Carlos lead while I wrap around him, pulling a distant, yet vaguely lustful expression ...
There is some disagreement in the facebook comments as to the literal meaning of this sentence. Is it our correspondent, or is it Carlos pulling the 'distant, yet vaguely lustful' expression? People dancing actual tango generally look like they're enjoying it, although they also look like they're in the moment and concentrating quite hard.  They're not pulling silly faces for an audience. But of course, there's no reason to think that either of these people are enjoying anything, and we should remember that there's no actual tango here; the goal is, as we learn later, to make a photograph in which someone looks as though they might be doing something that people who have never actually seen tango, think tango looks like.

I repeat; if you are going to dance tango, you'll need to learn to follow, or lead, or both. If you have a problem with that, partner dance is not for you.
     --He seems furious at even the slightest hint of authority in my body language.

Information: Authority in the woman's (follower's) body language is a very good thing. I don't like the sound of this guy at all, but it's possible that the 'furious' is frustration at having failed to communicate the concept of following, which has nothing to do with authority or body language. Given what we've learned about the class so far, I'm not surprised by that failure. The writer's imagination, in trying to make sense of it all, may have produced a misunderstanding about body language. Or, her understanding of what he's teaching may be totally fair and accurate. I hear Carlos is "no fool", but that's not the same thing as being any good.
     --"Tranquilo," he says, 275 times in the first lesson. I'm supposed to be looking into his eyes,
To use them as rear-view mirrors, maybe? This is progressive dance, he should have his eyes on the road. The only place it makes sense for the partners to make eye contact is on the stage, and it's for the benefit of the audience, not each other. But these are technicalities.
    --or have my head tucked sensuously into his neck. To me, this feels wrong. In Britain, the only time someone touches you so tenderly, they're either your official "other half", someone you're about to get off with, or you're being sexually molested.
This was used in isolation as the lede, and so is probably the paragraph where tango people feel most disgusted. On reflection: helping people to overcome temporary awkwardness with a close embrace is an important part of teaching beginners tango. This teaching clearly hasn't even tried to do that. If you don't want to overcome it, tango is not for you, you won't be able to do it well. The elision between holding someone 'tenderly' and them being 'molested', is revolting. It insults my dance, it insults my nationality, and it insults my intelligence.
     -- So how come everyone else at tango school just gets on with it? I can't unlearn decades of social conditioning overnight, but I had better bloody well try ...
Exactly. Good point. Getting over this silly, trivial, basically imaginary problem could take, oh, tens of minutes. At least. Once you've decided to do it. As I said, I don't get the impression that this tourist-tat class in crap show-tango is helping. Oh, they have some backup, though:
    --Carlos's son, Maxi ... long periods of making me gaze into his eyes and hum along to the music, so we are "sensing the rhythms in each other's bodies".
EYES ON THE ROAD, Maxi. But wait - have his good looks assisted in communicating some part of what you were supposed to do?
    --dancing with someone so gorgeous ... whisking me around the floor like a compliant rag doll makes things much jollier.
Oops, no. Compliant rag doll - still no following going on. He's just muscling through it, apparently. Well, Maxi, I'm sure the publicity will be worth it. Did you have to 'dance' with any of the other students? Thought not.

Now we come to the accidentally-swallowing-a-truthgrain bit.
    --A small flash of tanguero spirit takes hold – the music,
Good, isn't it?
    --the flamboyance, the leg kicks,
Oops. Information: Flamboyance is for stage shows, it's part of what makes them so boring and clichéd. As for kicks, it's not possible in one week to have learned the technique that would produce a real boleo, which is what kicks fake. It is slightly more complicated than that, but not in a way that matters here. No kicks on the dancefloor, please. Thank you. And now we know for sure: this is a shit class for gullible tourists.
    -- ... the ability to grab a stranger and dance for four minutes emitting the vibes that you're wildly in love, then turn on a heel and walk off. Suddenly, it all begins to make more sense.
Dancing tango is ridiculously enjoyable. Partner dances generally are - this is not news - see Jane Austen. Tango delivers particularly well, because it's all about making a certain kind of short-lived music-based physical and mental connection that is a lot of fun. The vibes part is in the Not Even Wrong class - what you should be doing is not bad acting, it's dancing. But the truth of how that's done is complex, interesting, and would not fit in the box provided. And it's normally nearer twelve minutes, unless something has gone badly wrong.
  -- let go, float above your British worry and shame ... tango will grip you like a fever.
I said I wouldn't pick these up.
    --By day three, the tutors roar with glee as I dance rather proficiently, pulling the trademark Argentinian face ....
    -- I take group lessons, solo lessons and technical classes that explain precisely what muscle should be working where and when.
Fair enough, it won't do you any harm.
    -- By day five, I think nothing of venturing out into the rush hour traffic to dance with Carlos for a photoshoot.
Oh, this was the goal? A photoshoot? There isn't going to be an an actual dance, for instance? Eurrrrgh. But, perhaps wise. This is where people who actually dance tango reach for the sick bag, and think - please stay away from us. Posers are the worst.

On the other hand, I am a fairminded woman. This is London, and posers are not rare. If what you want to do is pose, rather than dance, I can suggest at least one place in London, on every week, where you will find quite a few likeminded people. Please email me. Just bear in mind that if you wanted to dance, I would make very different suggestions.
    --I don't care, and the passersby don't, either. ...
If I saw this every week, as they do, I think I would do as they do. Pass by.
    -- I miss Buenos Aires desperately. My tango shoes sit expectantly under my bed... now with a tiny touch of tanguero madness lying dormant in my soul.
Calm down, Hedgehog!  This is mere fluff.

Let's put the prickles down, and try to look at this rationally.

What's the harm?

It was only a week. Even if she does join the London scene, which is unlikely, she's got at least some chance of turning out perfectly fine. So leave that aside.

It's annoying to have all this wrong information in a popular newspaper. It was a lost opportunity to have some right information in a popular newspaper. Good teachers despair as they try to induce people to stop posing and pulling ridiculous faces, or unlearn horrible kicks. It makes them cry if a small class gets overwhelmed with posers who will never connect with their partner, because they only want an audience.

It's a crying shame if the tender, imaginative, musical, thoughtful and hard-working people who would soon dance beautifully, with wonderful connection, feel fabulous to dance with, and be real additions to the scene, are kept away by this violence of ideas.

But let's imagine a reader of this article who actually joins a beginners class local to them.  Maybe what has influenced that possible student is the tiny grain of truth in the article, plus real curiosity and a  dose of scepticism. That student - with the curiosity and scepticism and the unwillingess to be ripped off - has potential, and everyone's happy. After all, you don't have to know anything about tango to infer from this article that a gullible tourist got played. My mate the Random Cyclist spotted that in the first four lines.

The influence of the teacher will matter far more than the contents of the article. I think it's a mistake when teachers ask new students why they came, and I think the wise student should prepare a vague and uninformative answer for any such question, as I did before my very first class.

Apart from the poor bloody teachers, what really upsets people about this - misinformation - is the reflection on themselves. Realistically, for most of us, that's a minor nuisance unless you work with a jerk who knows you dance tango and won't shut up.
    ---Seven nights at Algodon Mansion, including five private lessons at Tango Escuela Carlos Copello, three group classes and a Rojo Tango show, starts from £3,200pp, including return flights with British Airways.
Wow. That's a lot of money. The total fees at market rates in London for the same amount of teaching would be about £230-£300. For that you could get much higher quality, if you were lucky or did a bit of research first.
    --WIN: Belly-dancing lessons in Morocco.

I think I'll give that a swerve.

Information: Here is a video of people dancing argentine tango de salon - tango-vals, technically, in this case - on a small floor in southern Germany.


Mark said...

I'm glad Sallycat, Terpsichoral and Tangodiver got to address a few of the issues on the grauniad page before they closed it to comments.

francoise_hardy said...

Argh! This week tango, next week knitting probably, and it'll be just the same. False expectations, money spent, perfunctory effort, poor result, point missed.

Anonymous said...

Ms Hedgehog, have you actually ever danced in Buenos Aires?

msHedgehog said...

@Anonymous: No - too far, too much time, other priorities for my cash, don't know anyone who currently lives there. Maybe next winter or the winter after.

msHedgehog said...

@Romney: haha. Well the purpose of this one is basically to relieve my feelings and the feelings of other people.

@Mark: I'm sure they did! I didn't notice that there was a comments thread, but then, I wasn't particularly looking for one.

Anonymous said...

Among all the teachers of tango that I had - mr Copello was not bad at all. He has got a big house in B.A. AND gives work to a lot of female and male tangodancers. Alors he does not only make money, he also takes responsability. NOT easy at all!
If you ask for posing junk - you get posing junk. Es un negocio.
I got what I asked for. Work in positura y prezencia. The inglish lady was happy - and so were I.

Go to Baires! Have a look at the diffilculties of a TANGO - LIFE!
The INGLISH lady descriebes her impressions. What´s wrong about that?
During the several hours - privados - mit Costello, I did not practice voleos or piernazos.
An institue where you get what you askes for - ist that bad?

msHedgehog said...

@Anonymous: yes, I think it is bad. A person should not pander to ignorant prejudice, especially when it harms other people. If a person does this who is capable of doing better, then that makes it not better, but worse.

Anonymous said...

Since you've never seen what this article is writing about, what makes you qualified to rant about the wrong information in this article, call the writer a gullible air head. You say how it annoys you to see something you care about talked of like this, but but you don't care enough about tango to actually go to see it in Buenos Aries. The newspaper ran an article by someone who did at least have enough interest to look for herself.

msHedgehog said...

@Anonymous: I've said nothing whatever in this blog post about how tango is danced in Buenos Aires; I'm talking about how it's danced here, and in Europe, by people who do it well (which isn't at all difficult to distinguish from badly, anywhere in the world). You are the person who's saying that pandering ripoffs are normal and accepted there. You're not making it sound good. And you sound like a fool.

Preen and Ogle said...

An informed and justified rant Ms. Hedgehog. You tell 'em!

Anonymous said...

I agree with msH.
The article seemed to be an advert for a tour, playing to the stereotypical view of passionate tango dancers (perhaps complete with rose tightly clasped between the jaws) and the shy and reserved English type. In my view, the article seemed to show a dated and misrepresented view of the dance.

The section regarding being grabbed without permission isn't going to encourage anyone to either travel to BA, or to take up tango (perhaps apart from for the worst of reasons).

msHedgehog said...

Preen and Anon2, thank you, it was kind of you to wade through everything.

msHedgehog said...

@Preen & Ogle, I like your name, by the way! Anon2 - as for the worst of reasons, I don't, to be fair, have a problem with anyone taking up a partner dance (or any other hobby or lifestyle) with the personal goal of increasing their chances of getting laid. In principle I'm "sex-positive", people can do whatever works for them as long as it's fun for everyone. What I feel is that portraying the relationship between the recreation and the sex as something it plainly isn't, is very disrespectful to the other people who practice whatever it is for their own varied and personal reasons.

Anonymous said...

I agree msH, have no problem with that either. Many people have found partners through tango, either long or short term ones, but what was described was a non-consensual grabbing, which could well make the reader think that this is a normal, and acceptable thing to happen in tango. Which of course it isn't.
Anon2 :o)

Cie said...

Ever since I read this feeble Grauniad piece I have longed to come to read your thoughts. Today I have finally had the chance, hurrah. Love you xx