Thursday 29 November 2012

How to give a compliment

I was taught, I forget by whom, but I think it was in a book I've forgotten the name of, that a compliment should be:

something else with three syllables that I never could remember
sincerely meant,
and true.

It drives me mad that I never can remember what the other thing was.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Any shoes to dancing shoes

Dancing shoes are a big investment for the beginner. This post may, if you are lucky, help you postpone that investment until you are sure you want to make it.

But the reason I'm doing it now is this: nobody sells nice, women's shoes, that are good for leading. Women's tango practice shoes are designed for following, but not for wearing with a dress. Alternatives are either too delicate (ballet shoes) or just horrible (dance trainers or Greek sandals). It is possible to lead in heels, but difficult. They create mechanical issues that aren't such a problem in following, especially with the knees, and the angles between hips and shoulders.

What I ideally want for leading is a fully flat, feminine dance shoe. And there aren't any. I'm not exactly sure why not, but none of the brands has come anywhere close to acknowledging the possibility of a woman dancing in flat shoes; although women very commonly lead some of the time, socially and in classes*.

These, however, are nearly perfect. They're extremely comfortable, with flexible soles and a not-too-tight elastic band holding them onto the foot. They look nice and are very reasonably priced, too, from Clarks. You can get this style for under £30 in the sale, if you're lucky, and there are several colours and variations.

Lovely soft flexible shoe, well held on the foot

The only problem is the soles. They are rubber, which is far too grippy for dancing. Try to dance tango in these, lead or follow, and you'll do some damage to your knees or ankles very quickly. This is the problem with most sporty shoes.

Rubber soles are too grippy for dancing

Here is the solution. A roll of stick-on fabric bandage, and a small pair of scissors. What kind of bandage you use, is not that crucial - a flesh colour would be better than white, but I couldn't find any. You don't want any padding, though, just a plain fabric bandage.

Stretch very gently, stick, and cut roughly

Cover the soles at the front with the bandage. If it is elastic, stretch it very slightly, as it will stick better that way. But not too much, or it will come off at the edges. You will probably need two bands, and I find it works better if I make the edges meet, rather than overlapping them. Cut it roughly first, then carefully fold it back and trim around the edges of the sole. There's no need to do the heel, unless you want to, as you'll lift it off the floor when you turn anyway.

Trimming in progress

Rub the bandage well into the sole. You end up with a sole that's a bit less grippy than a new suede one, but will wear to about the same grip as a somewhat worn leather one. Just replace the bandage if it comes unstuck or you're no longer happy with the grip. This stuff comes in 5-metre rolls.

The new surface

While I'm about it, I'll point out that it's totally possible to follow in these. When I do, I take care to get my heels down. Men who follow well never mince about on tiptoes. Like leading in heels, I think it's harder, it's tricky to maintain the right sort of forward energy, but that's all.

Of course, you can also do this with heeled shoes. If you have a pair of flexible, comfortable, well-balanced heels that would be perfect if they weren't too grippy, you can adapt them for dancing in the same way.

Conversely, if you want to wear your beautiful dancing shoes to a party, the same trick works in reverse and protects their soles against the floor. Within reason.

Thanks to Blaz and Samar for teaching me this tip!

*  As an aside, although it's much less usual for men to follow socially, men's dance shoes are available with disguised heels well into the range of what is comfortable for following. But I don't know whether anyone chooses that kind and wears them for that purpose.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Praise of Other Women

Sometimes, men open their mouths and innocently say things like who they really, really like dancing with, and occasionally - very rarely - why.

Sometimes they even do this where you, madam, can hear it. And sometimes it's the case that you are not that person - someone else is.

Let me give my point of view about this somewhat unusual situation. I have always thought this was obvious, and indisputable, but it's not.

This information is gold dust. It is actionable intelligence.  

You should treasure it and you should be all, discreetly, politely, in moderation, ears. It would have been delightful, if it had been about you, but it is much more interesting and useful when it isn't.

But if you throw it away, like a soft-headed lady and not a woman of sense with a genuine respect for her own role in the dance, you deserve to stay where you are and go nowhere.

Anyone who's done more than a few weeks of tango classes at an intermediate level knows just how difficult it is to learn anything at all about what makes a good (as opposed to competent) follower. How impossible it seems to progress any further, to guess what's out there or what the next step might be, or to get any feedback that isn't misleading, useless, or irrelevant. Because there are so many little things and big things, subtle and hard to describe, and the people you dance with in classes have rarely experienced any of them.

Who wants - really, spontaneously, wants - to dance with you is the most reliable feedback you have about your own progress, and your only route to improvement. Going around chasing dances that don't specially want you, or getting offended at offhand praise of someone else, is logically equivalent to wiping your bottom with cash.

Rant over.

Okay, reality check. I realise that everyone's human. I don't really blame anyone for feeling a bit dashed or unconsidered by thoughtless or ill-timed praise of somebody else. It's destructive to be hard on yourself just for feeling anything. It's what you do with it that counts.

I'm also totally against *asking* for any kind of feedback in a social dancing situation. I just think that's super rude - it puts people in a very awkward position. Exceptions only for personal relationships that allow it. Asking for information about other people is a darkish-grey area, and generally speaking, I wouldn't do it unless I was sure the person I was talking to wanted to tell me whatever it was.

I also wouldn't blame anyone for making an rule for him or herself never to answer such a question or make any such remark - or never to do so in certain contexts, like at a milonga. You might decide that it's one of those practica-only things, or one of those things that you'll never volunteer. There's nothing wrong with that.

But sometimes we just have to notice how we think and feel, and not let it get in the way of our actual desires.

Monday 12 November 2012

A Connection

Because I was meeting an out-of-town friend, I went to my regular milonga straight from work, with just a pause for food. I got off the Tube train and realised I was early.

Rather than sit in a cold room all dolled up at the milonga, I sat down on the platform seat for a minute to finish watching a video in my ipod - it happened to be the one below.

A young lady sat down next to me and politely attracted my attention. What sort of dancing was that? Was it Argentinian tango? It's a milonga, but, yes, yes it is. She had had her first tango lesson this week. Oh, who were the teachers? She didn't remember their names - what did they look like? Er, quite small ... didn't recognise their description, but she thought they did a lot of ballroom as well. Well, what had she been taught? To focus here and walk backwards with the feet brushing. She never walked forwards at all, not like in this. Well, it sounded OK for a first lesson, she hadn't been taught anything bad, even if they were ballroom. That video looked wonderful. Really wonderful. They hadn't done anything like that, not even walked forwards once. Well, you have to work at tango, you start simple and then go on. Could I do that? Yes. I can. I had some more in here, here was another one. I have people in my ipod ... Oh, her hand in this second video was different. In the lesson it was like this, and were told to give a bit of resistance with this arm, for the turns. Oh, there is a lot of variation in how people do it, don't worry about it. There really are a lot of differences, it's not too important. In this one they don't need to do that because she's getting all the information, here. Can you dance tango and not be in contact? You can, people do, in my opinion there's not much point. Who are these ... and these other two? She would try to remember their names. But the lesson was such a nice experience. It felt like ... as though you fancied them, but not actually. It's not surprising straight men like it, is it! Yes, that's one of the best bits, you get to do this and it's so much fun you feel like you should get arrested, and then nothing bad happens. Actually, I have a video in here of two men dancing together as well. If you like that feeling, totally stick with it. I was going out dancing now, she could come with me, if she liked. She couldn't, she was meeting her sister. But one day. Definitely.

We didn't ask each other names - in my tango frame of mind, it just didn't occur to me. But if it was you, drop me a line, address top right. Here is the video, and here is another that I really like.

Saturday 3 November 2012

Last Tanda in Holborn

And the single women say:

That's not my sock.

This is my sock. Whose sock is that?

I don't know whose sock that is.

Are you walking to the train?