Monday 30 April 2012

All my best Cumparsitas

All my best La Cumparsitas are danced in flat street shoes with other people's husbands.

Sunday 22 April 2012


I was just thinking about how there are some wonderful dancers from Chile; and realised that it's a perfect excuse to post some demo videos I really, really like. Carlitos Espinoza (from Chile) and Mamié Sancy (also from Chile):

I could watch Mamié Sancy for hours. The music goes all the way up from her feet to her embrace. She's well worth a YouTube stalking session. As is everyone else in this post. Here's a great vals with Carlitos.

And here she is with Felipe Zarzar, who I guess is probably also from Chile, but as a quick Google doesn't really tell me, I'll say that I don't know. You know the coolest thing about Mamié Sancy? She has a doctorate in Chemistry and a proper job as a research metallurgist with the Chilean Air Force. Interview at tango-hub here. Shall we try Google Scholar?

I want to watch Carlitos again, this time with Noelia Hurtado. I luuuurve this one. It goes, "Tinnngggg!!"

Alexis Quezada, from Valparaíso. Totally different from all the above, and mesmerising. Since I can do so from personal observation I'll emphasise that he goes in the 'outstanding social dancer' category even more than the 'outstanding demo/pro' category. Céline Giordano is French, as far as I know, and they're based in Barcelona.

I have no clue what is happening here; contiguity, history (one thing after another), or whether somebody did something to make this happen. And really, it's none of my business. I just feel like sending a card to the Republic of Chile saying something like "We have no idea what you're up to over there, but thanks, guys, keep it up".

Saturday 21 April 2012

Fans for men and women

Fans. In Italy and in the south of France, men seem to use them almost as commonly as women; I've even seen an Italian man include one in his Facebook profile picture. The highly efficient, plain-coloured cloth and paper ones are popular; so are the smooth wooden kind, sometimes with broadly or finely painted flowers.

I can only think of one regular partner here who normally uses one. I don't know why they aren't more popular with men. They are an excellent means of cooling down, and the men wear more clothes and get hotter than we do.

I think the Argentinians feel it's a bit effeminate or affected. But the Italians think it's cool.

They are beautiful. I have a really classy Spanish painted one for special occasions, and a very effective, cheerful plastic one with lace and a rose print that was a present from an admirer, which I use a lot. It has so many colours, it goes with everything I wear.

At festivals there is a bonus; if you have a distinctive one, and you use it all weekend, it helps potential partners keep track of who you are and identify you with confidence when you are sitting down. They can also tell their friends: descriptions of humans tend to be vague and emotional, but a description of a fan can be rather specific. (Obviously, this is only a bonus if you dance well. If being mistaken for other people is a plus for you, then you're better off working on the dancing).

I went to a festival in Barcelona last year. The organisers had bought a job lot in assorted colours of the kind of cheap, plain, brightly coloured wooden fans sold everywhere in Spain, they'd written the event's name on each of them in gold pen, added a healthy amount to the price, and put them on sale as souvenirs.

Friday 13 April 2012

Packing Light

(For a reader who wants to suss this)

Milonga plan:
Friday: Reddish skirt, black top, silver jewellery to brighten it, shawl.
Saturday (day): trousers (also streetwear), reddish top. Wash or steam top on return to hotel. Shawl.
Saturday (night): Black dress. Red jewellery. Shawl.
Sunday (day): Skirt again, this time with the other top. Shawl.
Shoes: only one pair is necessary for this set of outfits. But eventually, I put in another, extra-low, second-hand pair because I know some of the floors are very hard. I don't want to be dancing less than I wish because my feet hurt.
Emergency Chocolate for eating at 02:30.
Foldable shopping bag to do duty as milonga bag and street bag.

Other necessaries:
Underwear for all the above
Silk nightwear(packs to nothing).
Makeup, toothbrush, comb. Hair thingies. Contact lenses.
Thingie for plugging ipod into other thing, in case that's possible in the hotel [it wasn't], so I can do some exercise.
Camera, fully charged.

Streetwear and warmth:
Travel in jeans, t-shirt, cardigan, and shawl worn as scarf, coat, street shoes.
Street-to-dance trousers are already in.
2 pairs minisocks.
2 Clean t-shirts.

Spa visit:
Swimsuit. (Everything else will be hired).

Logistics (in top or outer pocket of bag):
Airport Security bag with shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, Savlon, deodorant, mascara
Purse of UK currency + debit card. Purse of Euros.
Fully charged mobile (it's only a weekend, it's not a smartphone, I don't need the charger).
Boarding card from online check-in.
Schedule and orientation sheet.
Notebook and pen.


My basic formula:

Devise an overall colour scheme for the whole weekend; for example blue/green/silver, or black/crimson/beige, or blue/purple/black/silver. Imagine you're thinking up the heroine's dresses in a really cheap romantic novel - you probably know the way they do it.
This colour scheme should result in a maximum of two pairs of shoes. If more are taken, it should be for other reasons of necessity like floor conditions and hours of dancing or your personal tendency to get blisters or the possibility of breakage.
One formal skirt or pair of trousers.
Two different tops that both go with the above, at least one of which should be washable and quick-drying, and at least one of which should be suitable for a daytime milonga as well as evening.
One formal one-piece.
One less formal skirt or pair of trousers for day milongas, that should double as streetwear and also go with at least one of the tops, preferably both.

If it's the kind of festival where there are more than four milongas in total (say, up to seven over a long weekend - F1 F2 Sa1 Sa2 Su1 Su2 M), then it makes sense to add another another skirt or pair of trousers some more tops. I may make space by leaving out the one-piece so that I have more outfits for the same amount of clothes, at least if some of it is washable. Then I try to make sure that everything, or almost everything, will go with at least two other things and produce a satisfactory outfit.

If you prefer to wear dresses rather than tops-and-bottoms, then that's a different situation. As long as they are not too bulky, you just take enough, and the only problem is whether they go with your shoes.

I think it's pretty easy for a woman to do a European-style 'encuentro' and comfortably fit inside the Ryanair hand luggage allowance. You just need a well-tried working wardrobe and confidence in your own style. It's not a good idea to vary your look much; if you take one dress in a totally different style, shape or colour scheme, all it does is confuse people about which person is you, waste time and cause you to miss dances. I've made this mistake a couple of times.

If I was staying in a hostel rather than a hotel, I might need to take my own towel, which would mean a slightly bigger bag. In winter, I use the bigger bag and I take thin layers.

But maybe the important part of my packing technique is a truculent, selection-committee attitude to my wardrobe. I try to get out of the frame of mind in which I want to take all sorts of things that I like, and get into one in which every piece has to justify its place by teamwork in pursuit of a plan.

Thursday 5 April 2012

Screw up early and often

When you dance with a new person, I think it's a good thing if your first mistake happens early. A missed lead, a moment of leader indecision, some interruption to the flow, whatever. Some followers are lighter than others and react more or less strongly to movements which may or may not be fully intentional. Some people's leads are softer or firmer or bigger or smaller or faster or slower or more or less complicated, and no matter how good they are, they are all different. The follower has to tune in. Once you've done something that felt like a mistake, and got out of it gracefully without making anyone feel bad, you can dance together with a lot more confidence, because you know now that mistakes don't matter with this person. You've proved that there's a working two-way connection there.

It's particularly good to get the mistakes in early if you're dancing with someone who other people want to watch, because the sensation of being watched, especially when you're not used to it, is horribly distracting and you don't need the extra stress of worrying about what will happen if you make a mistake. Better to get it over with.

I cannot, however, recommend announcing to your partner between tracks that "Part of tango is covering mistakes!" - especially not if you've just severely failed at that. If they lack confidence they will feel crushed, if they don't, they will just think you're a twit. Even if you did not fail, you throw your success away by drawing attention to it.

And if you're so vain you think that part of this post is about you, don't worry, I'm sure you're good enough to fix it.