Monday, 21 October 2013

Here's a thing about performances

I wrote a really ranty post and left it in draft because I couldn't quite find the right tone; and then I discussed it with Carole the Photographer, who knows a lot more about two relevant subjects than I do - dance-as-performance, and Argentine culture. It turns out there might be a really nasty cross-cultural "gotcha" here. Which is more interesting than rants. [Edit: she was really talking about stage shows ,not shows in milongas, see comments, but I actually think it's relevant because the kind of performance I'm talking about acts like a stage show and forgets that it's in a milonga.]

So here to begin with is my very British rant - which probably a lot of Europe would agree with - and which represents how I actually feel about this. Please don't be too upset.


If the milonga is only three and a half hours long,
And you are giving a performance,
And most of the people are there to dance socially (or even if some of them aren't),
And even if your performance is quite exceptional (or especially if it is, to take a wholly imaginary example based on many experiences, totally phoned-in 'salon' stuffed full of silly-ass back-sacadas)
And no matter what your mates in the crowd do (buying your own hype is a bad bargain even for princes),

Here are some things you do:

You move briskly from dressing room to stage and back,
You refrain from excessive faffing between tracks,

And you sit down after a maximum of four.

Sitting down after three tracks or less might get you a reputation for modesty, professionalism and good manners.

Going on longer doesn't convince people you are stars. If you are, they'll be able to tell, by watching your dancing. Also, you sound ridiculous preaching about social dancing if you make it it abundantly clear that you don't give a monkey's about other people's.

I know it's a tough job, but sitting down is not the toughest part.


Here's the problem, as Carole explained it to me:  In Argentina they expect you to go on as long as you are allowed, and they signal you when to stop. They also basically assume that if you want to go on longer about something - anything - it means you are passionate and sincere about it. And if you are brief, then you aren't.


In Britain they won't tell you to stop; they expect you to know, accurately, when to stop, taking into account both your own popularity and other people's time for social dancing. They expect that as part of your professional skill. So, Carole tells me, travelling Flamenco shows and such-like always shorten their acts for the second performance in London, and some of the more intelligent ones work on imaginative curtain calls to replace planned encores and manage the process of getting off stage to everyone's satisfaction.

And - here is the really nasty bit - if you go on and on about something, the British think that you are insecure and don't really believe what you are saying.

"The lady protests too much, methinks" 
 - is one of Shakespeare's most famous and often-quoted lines, and it means precisely this. If you go on longer than is necessary to persuade the listener, you must be trying to persuade yourself.

Anyway. Three is safe and communicates modesty and a genuine interest in social dancing. Four may be demanded if you are genuinely popular, in which case it's polite not to waste time. Five? In a milonga three-and-a-half hours long with a class that overran by twenty minutes? May not have the intended effect.


Anonymous said...

looking forward to other peoples' comments on this one :)

C said...

What are the actual and perceived reasons for performances?

Tangocommuter said...

Another point: Buenos Aires milongas tend to go on for at least six hours if not more. Where there are performances (not by any means everywhere, and often by local dancers rather than teachers) it's a change of rhythm, feet get a rest and everyone still gets plenty of dancing. & anyway there will be three or four six-hour milongas tomorrow night too. Ah, what luxury!

tangocherie said...

My opinion is that 3 songs are one too many. People are at a milonga to dance, not to watch. It's preferable when "performing" to dance one fantastic one, and then do an encore if the applause warrants one. And then sit back down. This is what Ruben and I have always done.

I remember watching a famous dancer perform a tango, vals, and a milonga and it was so boring--because all 3 rhythms looked the same!

Here in BsAs milongas, no one performs 4 songs, waiting to be stopped, so I disagree with Carole on this point.

msHedgehog said...

@C: that's a good question. I think it's usually a mixture. Sometimes organisers believe, sometimes with good reason, that more people will come if there is a performance. Sometimes it really is true that quite a lot of people would like to have an uninterrupted view of exactly what a given professional couple can do (or want to demonstrate). Occasionally I'm one of those people, just not very often.

Sometimes organisers believe that having a performance by a popular professional couple will increase the prestige of the milonga as well as attracting extra customers, and sometimes the professional couple presumably want to increase their own prestige by being asked to perform, and being able to share the video.

In some cases it's not really a performance at all, it's a demonstration that is part of the teaching service and has a purely illustrative function. In those cases it's often less than three, although three is the usual convention because it's tango, vals, and milonga, or it's two tangos of (usually) different characters and one of the others.

All of this only really applies to short-term visitors. There are very few cases of anyone local being asked to do a performance, even though in my opinion it would often be much more interesting and enjoyable. (Marek and Olivera's milonga in Guildford is an exception to that, and I think a rather brilliant one).

msHedgehog said...

@Cherie, don't start me on tedious performances, it can get messy ;)

With all the mixed-up expectations people are bound to end up going through the motions a lot of the time. My favourite performances are usually either amateur performances where they are just thrilled to be there, or pros who are just really into what they're doing. And the ones that are just showing you something or other are always tolerable because even if you don't like the thing, there's always some point.

Anonymous said...

The point I was making is that there are several reasons for longer performances in Latin America as opposed to London. I wasn't talking about performances or shows in milongas per se, but in the duration of a regular show that might go on in Colon for example and then in Sadler's Wells.

It's a fact that Latin audiences appear to prefer longer performances, and a fact that they normally get cut after one or two showings in the UK. I'm not talking just about tango here but about a consistent occurrence I've seen with most shows that come to the UK/Netherlands for a first time.

There are a number of reasons for this, the largest being that different cultures have different levels of tolerance/enthusiasm for different lengths of shows.

Another one that appears consistent throughout different dance forms is that of the display of status. It makes sense that, in a culture where foreigners are instructed to arrive late to meetings or risk appearing less important and busy, that a longer performance duration means more than just a long act.

C said...

@MsH - thanks :o)

Looking at NegrachaTango's YT channel and the vids of Geraldine and Ezequiel, I'm wondering if the more recent focus on "social dancing" has partly caused this problem?

Admittedly I don't often watch performances and I'm skewed by the way it's done at Negracha, but up to a few years ago, wasn't the formula
1st Salon
2nd Nuevo
Encore - Milonga

msHedgehog said...

I'm not sure how an emphasis (even contrived) on 'social' dancing would make that happen, but then I don't think I've ever seen more than about two 'nuevo' ones in total. Not that I remember, anyway. It would make sense to do a max of three in that case, though, because 'nuevo' tracks in the musical sense tend to be a so much longer.

C said...

@MsH My train of thought was they've swapped out the nuevo for a vals. But now if they're demonstarting their mastery of social dancing, it stands out if the milonga is missing. So instead we get

1st tango
2nd vals
3rd milonga

ie the focus of the vals and milonga now become "we can do social dancing (probably in an approximation of close embrace)" rather than the previous nuevo and milonga encore which I assume had a rather different message.

msHedgehog said...

I guess, but I don't think that's what's going on. None of the performers I'm thinking about would even acknowledge 'nuevo' as a thing, let alone oppose it to social dancing. They're actually usually doing a semi-standardised competition style (which can be more stagey or more social depending on how you do it) and I think they're pretty oblivious of anything else.

Random Tango Bloke said...

Good post.I am glad someone else thinks the same. It seems that the performances are getting longer and longer. It's like "Pablo did 5 numbers last week and therefore I have to do 6!"