Saturday 23 December 2017

Octopus for a Preemie

These two amusing little creatures are my first attempts at the Octopus for a Preemie pattern. They are made by volunteers to go to hospitals. The hospitals give them to premature babies in incubators, so they can wrap their minute hands around the slender tentacles, as they would with the umbilical cord; it keeps them calm, and stops them pulling out the tubes that are keeping them alive. When they leave the hospital, I think they take them home, but the parents are advised to put them aside because they're not advisable as a toy for a fully developed baby.

The octopuses have to pass a rigorous quality inspection, and since these are my first try, it's likely they won't pass. Most people's don't. I've done my best, but I'm not sure if all the stitches are tight enough or not. But if they don't pass, they won't be wasted - they will be given to babies that didn't live. It could be that I've made them to be grave goods, which is a thing to think about next time you watch a pop archaeology programme on telly.

The world-wide list of group websites is here. I gave the Facebook link above because the UK one is down for maintenance. The Argentinian group Abrazos de Pulpitos has good tutorials on YouTube.

Some things I have learned from leading socially

A few things I have learned about dancing, by regularly dancing both roles socially for two or three years. My experiences may or may not be in common with anyone else.

  • There is a tremendous range between OK, good, and great followers, of which they are almost all totally unaware.
  • Leading poor followers is very difficult; it requires a range of skills, resilience, and physical training.
  • Leading OK followers is fun, especially if they are interested or enthusiastic and easy to be with.
  • Leading good followers is more fun, especially if, etc.
  • Leading great followers is amazing, and you don't feel like you have to do anything, and whatever you do do is totally effortless.
  • There are a lot more than those categories.
  • Don't bother raiding the cool guys' “harems”, they're disappointing, dance-wise.
  • In a good ronda, under good physical conditions, with good followers, leading is cognitively much less demanding than following. The difference is dramatic. Getting the basics to a good standard is quite a lot of work, but if you can do that and then stay within what you've mastered, good and great followers will dance with you, and it is effortless.
  • It is possible to flirt with the table of glamorous Dutch lesbians through the medium of another woman's body.
  • There exist men who are both hot and good followers. Hang on a minute –

Wednesday 20 December 2017

The Biagi Pandas

I said Biagi seemed never to have recorded a bad or boring track.

I take it back. The ones with Carlos Acuña sound like Biagi trying to sound like Troilo, and the result is the auditory equivalent of one of those videos of 20 baby pandas falling over in different ways. I'm glad he didn't continue in that artistic direction.

Sunday 10 December 2017

On social maleness

mikeintonbridge, in a comment on the previous post, says an interesting thing:

As a man who likes to dance with both women and men, and to lead and follow I confess I don't think much about what my choice of clothes says about that. It's fascinating to learn how much more this means to a woman - or perhaps just to this particular woman.
I can't make general claims about other women who do this. I may have thought about it more carefully than most, because the subject interests me.  However, there are a few ways of looking at that difference, if we assume it exists.

One is that women generally have a lot more choice of look within the range of what counts as usual female clothing, so automatically we have to make some choice. All clothing means something. While men have to go quite far out of the usual, or be unusually thoughtful and sophisticated, to do anything beyond dressing either well or badly.

A second is that in this context, a conflict exists for me that is, as far as I can see, much less marked for men. When I originally floated the idea of a talk, Ray reframed part of my thought as "can a woman lead [and remain socially female]?". 

As is so popularly observed, gender and sex are two different things; while sex is more-or-less  biological, gender is a social concept, more-or-less performative, and what that peformance consists of can be anything - it depends on the particular place and time and social context. You can perform the gender society assigns you, or another one, to a greater or lesser degree, and other people can accept that performance either more or less. And there is obviously no reason to expect that the kinds or levels of work to perform any given gender in any particular context will be equal; you can't even assume that there are only two genders. Humans can, and do, assign themselves and each other to as many different classifications as they happen to feel are required to understand their world.

In my specific context, it is easier for a woman to perform male gender than for a man to perform female gender. I can do it almost accidentally to a surprising extent by just skipping some tedious tasks that advertise peformance of female gender, like painting my toenails or the customary depilation and exposure of the legs; if in addition, I ably and publicly peform a male-gendered task, I am half way there, and need to think about counteracting it a bit (such as with earrings).

When I lead socially I become, in certain limited but noticeable respects, socially male. For example, as soon as I started leading socially, publicly, to a barely-acceptable standard, I had a strong sense that my social presence and social boundaries were treated with more respect. Of course, the effects are incomplete, and unreliable. But they seem quite noticeable to me.

So I can, and therefore I must, make a choice whether to counteract or to enhance that social maleness with my dress - and there are sacrifices involved either way. The deep, instinctive sense that I sacrifice a valuable social masculinity, and that what I get in return is less valuable, is one of the things that I struggle with in deciding what to wear.

The bottom line is that it takes quite a lot of good dancing, of feeling loved, of the meditative high and skilful challenge of following, quite a lot of pleasant male bodily presence, connection, and attention, quite a lot of male appreciation, even admiration, to counterbalance that sensation of people just mysteriously acting like you actually matter. Even though I love all that stuff. There's a trade-off, and the answer isn't always the same. It depends.

While a man who follows is, socially, just a man who follows. (Men who follow - is this false? Ray suggested that, at least for gay men, it's a bit more complicated than that. I'd be interested to read about how it's false - or not - in your experience).

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Where's my mermaid trousers? A wardrobe for both roles

This is a somewhat edited and expanded version of the 15-minute talk I presented to the "Queer Tango Salon", which was two days of presentations and discussion organised by Ray Batchelor, a retired academic who is deeply interested in Queer History and its relationship with dance, and artist Birthe Havmøller, in September. My talk came out of a conversation with Ray about how dress and gender presentation interact with the roles and the social aspects of a partner dance. I hoped to learn by reflecting on my own experiences, choices and motivations and comparing them with the obviously different experiences, choices, and motivations of that community.

I found it extremely interesting to think about this question, and to put together my experiences in some kind of order. This is a very long post, and inconclusive. It's not exactly what I said - that was, necessarily, shorter - but the headings and quotes follow my slides, and the text follows my speaking notes.



I don’t claim to be part of the Queer Tango community, or any Queer community – that’s up to you – I am just one of the very many women who regularly dance both roles socially in one of the strands of social practice that is not Queer.

I hope this talk will be of some interest, even if only for comparison with your own experiences and thoughts. What do I wear when I go dancing, what choices do I have or make, what experiments have I tried, how do I feel about them, and what, if anything, do they mean?

Tanguera Battle Dress

Couples waiting for the top 5 to be announced in the Mundial Final Pista 2015. Aires de Milonga.
Final Pista 2015 – Screenshot (video © Aires de Milonga). Click through for original video
“… when all men wear a white tie and a black tailcoat in the evening, the individual character of each man is made more important, not less; and a curious effect then occurs in mixed company. If each woman at the ball is carefully wearing something different ... the faces might as well be all the same, just as if the same doll were dressed in many different ways.” (Anne Hollander, Sex and Suits)
This is the look in relation to which everything else is gets its meaning. Anything I wear to dance tango does whatever it does in relation to, and by contrast with, this look. In as far as any look is prescribed to me by authority, this is it – although the rules of the Mundial specifically say that they don’t prescribe it.

In fact, this is a two-part look. The women have one part, and the men have one part, and there is such a gulf between the two that it seems they are trying to look like different species. It’s tempting to suggest that the men’s part would also be appropriate in a gathering of only men, while the women’s part would be out of place in a gathering of only women, but I expect that’s not true for everybody.

I’d like to introduce Anne Hollander, who wrote books about the history of fashion, considered as a genre of western art – I don’t claim her ideas are right, I don’t know, but I have found them helpful in understanding my own experience. I recommend Seeing Through Clothes, Sex and Suits, and Fabric of Vision, the catalogue of the wonderful exhibition curated by her at the National Gallery.

Hollander’s argument is that the overall look of men’s and women’s dress, considered as genres of European art, diverged from the seventeenth century, so that surface decoration, visible complexity, colour, exposure and detail became reserved for women, and as a result, became coded as un-serious. She then says that they started to re-converge in the early twentieth century, with women reclaiming seriousness, and then in the later twentieth century with men reclaiming visible complexity, decoration and detail.

My Tanguera Battle Dress

The author dressed for a milonga in a plum-coloured knee-length flared velvet skirt and plum-coloured chiffon top
© the author
The author leading, in black lace and heels (partner in trouers and flats)
© Emilia Patruno – Estoi, 2016
I have a complicated, on-off relationship with this look.

For me, most of the time, this look feels like an armour, a cloak, a symbol, a subterfuge, a surface, a distraction. I may feel good, I may feel pretty, I often get compliments and much more overt interest from men than I do otherwise, but I also feel that the purpose it serves is to say “I am other” – a different species from you – and no threat. There certainly are many men who will not even perceive my invitations if I don't “other” myself sufficiently by wearing a dress. They don't care at all that I lead – or even, often, notice – they only care or notice what I'm wearing.

But those men are not much of a loss compared to the women gained; the best dancers will almost always have the confidence to invite and respond to invitations; and in some situations this all works entirely to my advantage.
"Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." (Boswell, Life of Johnson)
I mention Johnson's famous line because this look mainly draws attention to the fact that I am a woman, and distracts the eye rather dramatically from how I dance. There is, perhaps, a partial exception when I dance milonga with an excellent follower and both of us are wearing heels. The whole point of heels is to look spectacular, and two pairs apparently being worn by a single animal dancing a fast-or-daft milonga will, by their designed function, get you a few vocalisations of applause. Or you could consider it as just more of the same thing.

The Mezzo-Soprano Trouser Role

The author leading in tailored black trousers and a white gathered blouse
© Charlotte Hammer - Lillehammer, 2015
This is a tactical look, a transitional experiment for me that was all about social signals.

This picture is from a three-night weekender before everyone knew that I danced both roles. I’d specifically promised the organisers that I’d lead about half the time, which really helps them at role balanced events, so I wanted to make sure I could achieve that. I wore wide, tailored trousers made of a substantial fabric, with a waistband at the natural waist, and a full blouse tucked in. The effect is slightly Romantic, and certainly influenced by theatre. I wore this for the first half of the milonga, focused my invitations on the women, and led exclusively. I then disappeared for a tanda, changed, and came back in battle dress. This only really works at a long milonga, because you lose a few tandas in the change.

It is a lot of logistical effort. I didn't change my hairstyle, since if there are more than about 150 people present, those who didn't know me might have thought I was two different people.

My problem with this look is that the tailored trousers go a little too far towards being read as socially male. If I go too far towards this look in general social dancing at home, I start to resent that. I feel like I’m pretending to dress in a masculine style for theatrical effect – just a bit inauthentic, as though the costume is doing too much of the talking, and I feel cut off from my own sexuality. Having tried it, I find that it’s not self-expressive for me.

As I got better at leading, and better known, this strategy became unnecessary, and I probably won't wear it again – I'll come back to what I do now in similar contexts. The trousers were rather expensive, but luckily I can wear them to work; and I've found a couple of tops that can take them in a different direction.

Alternatives - a road not taken

Peninsula Cho and Jinsuk Muchacha,video still, Lihui Tango. Peninsula wears a white suit, flat white shoes, orange tie.
Peninsula Cho and Jinsuk Muchacha,
video still, Lihui Tango - click through
to the original video
I thought briefly about going in the suit direction, but I quickly abandoned the idea. This look would feel even more theatrical and inauthentic to me; even if I entered the Mundial, I wouldn't wear it. (What I would wear is an interesting question, but hypothetical, as it's really not my style). This look would not get me a single dance that I wouldn't get anyway, and I wouldn't feel sexy, so there's no point.

For me, it also has, sort of, the same effect as leading in heels. It neutralises the threat. The message to the men of leading in heels is “I am a different species, and no threat”. The message of this is “I am one of you, and no threat”. But for me, of course, I am a threat, and that's not a million miles away from the point.

I do have a made-to-measure corduroy jacket that looks very classy with my jeans, and has the full set of pockets like a man's jacket (1), and I often wear it for dancing outdoors. I also own a couple of good suits for business, and they look great, but they're too long in the leg – they are made to be worn with  heels.

Dressing as a woman in exactly what the men wear

The author following in striped shirt and jeans: partner (male) in checked shirt and chinos. Friend (male, behind) also in striped shirt and jeans.
Paquita 2016-17 © Letizia Gianni
“… When two women wear the same dress, however, the first thing you see is how different the actual women really look.” (Anne Hollander, Sex and Suits)
At a certain point, it struck me that in some situations – especially afternoon milongas at festivals – I could look sort-of feminine and definitely-hot by wearing precisely what most of the men wear – well fitting jeans and a striped or checked shirt. Here I am dancing in this outfit with a partner who is wearing the version with chinos.

Notice in the background, my friend on the stage is wearing the same outfit as me - cheerful stripes and jeans - but quite a bit more cleavage.

By not doing 'femininity’, except perhaps with earrings and hairstyle, I almost accidentally visually emphasise my femaleness: how our individual bodies really look in comparison to one another.

It functions almost like the leading lady look (which is next), but it feels subtly different to me.

Leading Lady Style

Video still: Praesenjit Saha,
Esta Noche de Luna
Click through for original video
Demanding a man's status, but as a woman, not as a man: My body as “a visibly working, self-made and unified instrument” (Anne Hollander, Sex and Suits)
This is more like what I usually wear at practicas, and is more or less what I feel most comfortable leading in. For social dancing, I usually “feminise” this look with bare shoulders, or lace. I want a simple shape and a matte texture, colour by all means, but a smooth envelope over separate and articulated legs, so you can see what I am doing with legs and shoulders. It functions like a suit, without the bulk (and it’s much more revealing).

What I feel about this look is that it exposes the quality of my leading. In the video, which is from a couple of years ago now, I’m not leading particularly well, but I and everyone else can see exactly to what standard I am doing it, without distractions, and because I am ambitious to do it well, and willing to put the work in, that’s exactly what I want.

I get a beautiful cognitive dissonance from seeing pictures of myself leading: I look so small compared to the men. Inside my head, I'm the same size as they are.

Leading Lady - Léna

Léna Lamorelle and Marie Primat (Clermont Tango)
at Saarbruecken, 2014. Click through for original video.
To explain why I like it so much, I'd like to show you how this look functions at its best. This is Léna Lamorelle, leading. I admire her dance: and her look, in this, is what I’d most like to be wearing when I lead.

It says stability, dynamics, and power. For me what this look does is demand to be taken seriously and emphasize the physical power of the female body. To make it look good, you have to deliver, dance-wise. I’m not really delivering in the previous video from Provence, it's just barely ok, but I’m fine with that. I will one day. Lena does.

I encourage you to click through to the video and watch the whole thing, but with particular attention to the walk from 01:58, ending with the "Wonder Woman" turn from 02:17 to 02:27. Why would you watch any stage show when you could watch that?

She dances basically the same style and technique as Carlitos, but it looks totally different because her body is totally different, and this look reveals that difference instead of replacing and concealing it with another, artificial one.

The problem with this style is that although it's not remotely masculine, and it also looks great, it is still read as a leading look. It’s also just not what I’d most like to follow in. The problems can be overcome, up to a point, by changing shoes, but it puts too much on the shoes, practically speaking. If I really want to spend half my time following (or more), in most social situations, I need to do something more complicated.

The Mermaid

John William Waterhouse, The Mermaid (1901)
Nudity above and scales below: “It is really no wonder that women seeking a definitive costume in which to enact their definitive escape from such mythology should choose trousers … women have ordinary working legs, just like men (not … flashing under tinselly froth) … ” (Anne Hollander, Sex and Suits)

So I am often searching for a compromise:

If I wear a dress, I will get new dances as a follower. If not, I will mostly only get old ones. I will generally get new and old dances as a leader no matter what I wear, if conditions are otherwise good in the sense that there are plenty of people I want to dance with and they know enough to watch the floor and look for invitations, and provided I can get the first one.

I want an outfit that looks like a dress to the men, feels like a dress to me, in the sense of formal, glamorous and appealing (complex and questionable concepts I don’t have time to unpack in a 15 minute talk or in an overlong blog post), but at the same time gives me a unified outline, looks 'right' with both heels and flat shoes (2), and steps away from the Mundial look, because the Mundial look mostly does my head in.

Recovering 'femininity" in mermaid trousers

Milonga with Andreas Wichter
at Abrazos 2017. Click through
for video
(3) © Matthew Cooper

Ballet slippers. © the author
This outfit is a pretty good compromise, but not the final word. I have this in black, in purple and silver, and in peacock blue and green, with or without midriff exposure.

It's extremely comfortable and cool to wear, and the rather 1910s shape works well on my figure. It looks relatively serious, but can be very colourful. It looks equally complete and harmonious with heels and with ballet slippers - just not with my 'good' leading shoes.

It even has pockets. They're concealed between hip and knee,  and are more than adequate for a tissue and, if necessary, my glasses.

I feel totally comfortable following, and pretty good leading. It’s what I wear at festivals where following is a priority for me, but I will still want to lead.

Men understand that they can invite me, but they still think they need to look at the shoes – and indeed, sometimes this is exactly what I want.

I do change shoes, but not always. And here, we get beyond how I decide what to wear, into how I decide what to do. I wear this look when that decision is going to be made on the fly, and is going to be difficult. I decide who I want to dance with - both partner and role - based on availability, partner, and music. That's a lot to fit in to a few seconds, but it can be done. Each person has a different feeling depending on the role as well as the music.

For other occasions, I find that I now usually wear some sort of ‘leading lady’ look; unless I’ve made a decision to sacrifice dances as a lead to the waiting-around time required to get dances as a follower, for instance because it’s my first visit to a place and I’m going “undercover”. (4)

So, when I get dressed to dance, I am usually embodying some sort of compromise. How complicated the decision is depends on many things, including the time and the place, who else will be there, my self-expression, their possible interpretations, how I feel about the event, and how I feel about whatever I am doing. The process of creating my solutions over time is a constant and stimulating artistic endeavour. 

Dressing as a man, in (almost) exactly what (some of) the women wear

“ ... trousers and tailoring and short hair are now wholly female in themselves … it follows that current male clothes have less of a uniquely masculine meaning even when men wear them … during the second half of the twentieth century, women finally took over the total male scheme of dress, modified it to suit themselves, and have handed it back to men charged with immense new possibilities.” (Anne Hollander, Sex and Suits)

Signing off, I’d like to reflect and remark for a moment on what the men do. I’ll show you my two friends here (both of whom follow socially a lot) and point out that what they are wearing is very stylish, but nothing like the men’s “Mundial” look. They are both just very well-dressed; with lots of personality, but no eccentricity. And as far as my observation goes, that's true of almost all the men who actually get dances as followers at the kinds of events I go to. And I find, when I honestly reflect, that it is exactly what gets my attention if I want to lead them.

What we actually see on men in social dancing – not just those who follow – is a riot of colour, texture, and interesting detail. Floral prints, contrasting piping, bright linings, stripes, suede, snake-skin, colourful shoes – I’ve seen hologram glitter – night-time satin shirts, tailored “milonguero trousers” with complex construction and flattering unnecessary seams, bright bits of pocket lining, embroidery, and a special extra pocket for the fan. The women are much more likely to wear smooth and unified black.

(1) If you want one, ask me and I'll get you a referral code for modest discount. If you are a woman, it's best to ring them up and request the internal pockets, rather than just order online, but it doesn't cost any more. 
(2) The questions of how clothes look "right" or "wrong", and what that really means, is extensively discussed by Hollander in Seeing Through Clothes, in which she treats it as an aspect of the history of Western visual art. I am not sure that the conclusions are fully supported by the evidence, but I found it full of beautiful and inspiring ideas. 
(3) If you click through this video you may notice the leader in front of Andreas and me, whose solution to the same problem is different from mine.
(4) Reflecting as I edit for the blog, there's definitely something that I haven't unpacked about the connection between femininity and youthfulness, and how that creates a tension with what looks 'right' for leading. There are lots of trousers that are wholly feminine, but specifically not youthful. We might say that both split skirts and skinny jeans, when worn by a woman, are both youthful and feminine because they expose the knees; however, the aesthetics and physical requirements of the dance generally suggest that the motion of the leader's knees should be somewhat heavily glossed over. All types of harem trousers, and a lot of lamé, could be seen as sidestepping the conceptual youthfulness of female knees. I don't know what the answer is, for the present. Maybe it's a basque, or something.

Saturday 11 November 2017


I learned today that there are still people who think an invitation to dance in the normal way could somehow be confused with ordinary eye contact, and create a danger of people avoiding eye contact and being unfriendly.

It reminds me of when I played netball in the school playground with other eight-year-olds and we all stopped dead at the line when the ball escaped us, because we thought whoever went over the line to get the ball had to give it to the other side. 

At this stage, it would probably be silly to look for an explanation.

Monday 11 September 2017

Un Tango Más - Film Review

So, I was invited to a screening. I think tango people will be interested in this movie.

It is the story of Maria Nieves and Juan Carlos Copes, who met in 1949 (as far as I can work out) when they were 14 and 17 respectively, and danced together, on and off, for about fifty years.

Copes – as it is presented by both of them – invented tango escenario. In the early 50s, the social dance was already on the way out as a mainstream activity; he dreamed up the escenario idea and he made it happen, to worldwide acclaim. He calls Maria Nieves his Stradivarius. She, at least at the beginning, was in love with him, whatever that means; at any rate it seems that for her, the enterprise was about him. But apparently he missed her enough to restart the relationship after a world tour without her, when she was already with somebody else. To what extent was she the one the people came to see? She doesn’t seem to know. He must know, or at least think he does, but he isn’t saying.

The director has dancers in the same business play the protagonists at different points in their lives, using some unusually inventive, expressive, and short choreographies. The film-maker’s standards and sensibility mean the dancing is remarkably well-used, certainly much better than I’ve ever seen on stage. It serves the story, rather than hold it up, it’s expressive, comprehensible, and clever, with a soundtrack provided by Sexteto Mayor. But then, in the interview sections, it’s the cast themselves who ask the questions, in the context provided by the sets. This central device works beautifully; the effect is sympathetic and also entertaining.

Our Last Tango © Gabriela Malerba
As a whole, it’s beautifully shot, gorgeous to look at, rather touching, and interesting in the way it’s done. I think it offers some insight which a lot of tango people will be interested in – scroll down for spoilers – but a general audience will also enjoy it, so don’t hesitate to take your Mum. Nothing very dreadful happens, it’s just an interesting human story. It’s in Spanish with subtitles, which are mostly okay, with some errors (“no lo siento” does not mean “I don’t feel it” – it means “I’m not sorry”, which is rather different). The translation of the title - "Our last tango" instead of "One more tango" or, maybe, if you want, "One last tango" - is strange.

☆☆☆☆☆ - I really liked it. Un Tango Más, documentary by German Kral, 85 minutes, released in the UK on 22nd September. Already available from on-demand services in most of continental Europe. Cast includes Maria Nieves Rego, Juan Carlos Copes, Pablo Verón, who I had forgotten about, Alejandra Gutty, who gets to wear some amazing clothes, Ayelen Álvarez Miño, Juan Malizia, Pancho Martínez Pey and Johana Copes. Also contains umbrellas, for your tango cliché bingo card.

------ SPOILERS BELOW (and what I learned) -----

Eventually she manages to see him, too, as a means to an end, and she talks about having become a better artist; but, happy as she is to have provided for her family - having started cleaning houses at eleven years old - she never seems to claim that end as truly her own. She wanted to have children; that was sacrificed to their work, along with a happy relationship, while he made no such sacrifice. That injustice is the heart of the movie, and it’s very moving.

Nieves does most of the talking; Copes says very little, but I’m impressed they got him to say so much. He escapes self-destruction into what appears to have been a happy and lasting marriage with a sensible woman he still actually likes. For Nieves, it was already too late.

Towards the end we see Copes dancing with his grown up daughter. She says that, of course, she was a “clone” of Nieves at first. Not quite the same thing.

Our Last Tango © Personal Archive María Nieves
But here’s what I got from it on the subject of tango. If tango escenario was constructed in the Fifties on the basis and by the instrument of this personally toxic, cruelly sexist, unequal and inauthentic relationship – could that possibly explain why it has so very little to say, and has gone nowhere since? If this is still revered by the people who might, otherwise, be creating something newer, more interesting, and more beautiful, is that part of the reason they don’t?

As tango people always do, they talk from time to time about emotion in the dance, about passion and feeling; but with the implicit proviso that it doesn’t actually matter at all what the woman feels. Anger or terror, or nothing at all, will do just as well, in practice, as anything else.

It reminds me of the judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s famous observation on gay marriage. When marriage is a property transaction in which the woman is as much a chattel as her goods, the idea of gay marriage is pointless. When it is a voluntary, severable partnership of legal equals, any purpose in limiting it to a man and a woman just disappears.

When a relationship like the one drawn was what everyone saw as normal, the Copes-and-Nieves-style tango escenario had an emotional, social and erotic charge that powered it to worldwide fame. Now, it’s just sleeping with someone you fancy but don’t like, which is generally considered trivial, if a bit immature, plus working with them as well, which is generally considered unprofessional and tiresome. The charge is gone, leaving stage shows that think they are still based on it empty and extremely dull, but unwilling to look beyond the zombie idea to any living possibilities. Except on the very rare occasions when someone imagines sincere emotions that make sense to the audience, and puts them on stage. As happens, in fact, in this film. The heart of which – a human being feeling she’s missed out on a family life and children – is the woman’s own story, which has never got into the shows.

Wednesday 30 August 2017

In Praise of My Friend's Legs

These few seconds of video show the stupendous legs that belong to my friend and colleague Monique, who has just moved away.

On the London scene right now, there's a lot of extreme, wriggling, windmilling, anxious, theatrical, babyish exaggeration in the followers. This is not that.

This is a sincerely musical tanguera with a beautiful embrace, solid technique, and amazing legs. They are a joy to watch: composed, sensual, expressive. The extraordinary grace of Monique's movement is the first thing I remember noticing about her, long before we were colleagues. Her legs are not yelling "look at me!", nor are they waving a flag - but if you, yourself, have the mind to look, you will be well rewarded. She is one of the first people I visualise if I feel I am a bit out of myself and not dancing well. Bonus clip that should work (sorry about the cut-off at the end):

I'll miss Mon, and I'll also miss seeing her legs dance past me, looking like a good coffee in a street of Starbucks.

Anyway, if you're around Edinburgh, she does yoga, Franklin Method and body-awareness classes, and also PRINCE2 project management. If you either wanted to move better, or you were a small to medium company in the region taking on a bigger project than usual and you could use some help setting it up properly and keeping it under control, you could find her at

Well, that's annoying

The movie people asked me to take down the review and repost it on another date, because they have an "embargo" they forgot to tell me about. I have no idea why anyone would want to do that; however, I don't want to cause them a load of trouble for the mistake. I'll put it on a timer so if you are still interested you can come back and read it in about ten days.

Monday 29 May 2017

Developments in Live Tango

I've been wishing for a long time that there were actually-good, live tango bands. The ones I heard until recently were always either too classical in style and giving me no reason to dance, or too singer-led, and consequently boring.

But recently there have been developments. One is that there are now quite a lot of tango bands that are trying things and get booked for festivals and performances. This is important because - I think - you need this, before you can get noticeable differences of standard, and you need that before good ones can develop.

At some point in that process, we probably need things like a rather sugary stage version of Invierno from Solo Tango. I think the performance and the playing in that video work very well together artistically as a unit, but the interpretation of the piece itself - especially from 01:00 onwards, where the violin melody starts maundering around the general area of the beat - does not sit well beside the Canaro/Maida recording of 1937 with its perfect union between melody and rhythm.

In Alma de Bohemio, Podestá may hold the note for nine seconds and float down alone like autumn's first leaf, but when he does come down, he and the orchestra land together on the beat, with timing as perfect as this. The beat, even silent, is always the heart of it, and the singer doesn't fight it, because he's good and doesn't need to, and because, at that moment, it's not about him. I say this to explain what I mean by danceable tango.

So, the second development is that there are some live bands now who set out to play for dancers,  and understand what that means, and from time to time I can actually go and dance to their music. Dancing to live music is a special experience.

La Juan D'Arienzo, who visited Liverpool and London last week, are a substantial outfit who delivered what it says on the tin; their four bandoneons, four violins, piano and bass gave us a beat, and plenty of excitement. They felt perfectly danceable to me, even if I wasn't that motivated personally. I wondered if they could have got more emotional scope and heft by using more of their dynamic range, but it's hard to know.

I really bought my ticket to hear the opening act, Los Milonguitas. They are tiny - only a trio - but when I saw their performance of Silueta porteña on YouTube it seemed to me that they were playing it the way they felt it should be played. They weren't just trying to imitate a particular band of the Golden Age; they were experimenting with a variety of styles in imitation of different bands, and, in the milongas at least, sometimes daring to be themselves.

They were entertaining to dance to and would work for a real social dance event. They played tandas in different styles, they played valses and milongas in the usual proportion and place, and they rather charmingly played their own cortinas (Beatles, obvs) - none of which the larger band attempted. I really enjoyed dancing to their music, especially what they did with the bass, perhaps inspired by the lack of a violin.

There are other bands I'd be happy to try dancing to. Los Herederos del Compás also bill themselves "al estilo Juan D'Arienzo", which is a good place to start. At least they're not trying to be Pugliese. I love Pugliese, but I don't think it's such a good place to start.

Orquesta Romantica Milonguera, with three violins, three bandoneons, piano, bass and male and female voices, also seem to be pretty much being themselves, and danceable, although they do often sound a lot like Fulvio Salamanca (nothing wrong with that). I like the singing in this.

So, the next step, which seems to be maybe happening, would be for bands to have the ambition and confidence to be consistently and openly themselves, however humble.

The one after that (and I suppose tightly connected by the process of developing arrangements) would be, not only to play, tour, and record for dancers, but also to compose, arrange, and perform new tangos for dancing. That's when it gets real.

That would sound something like this:

That's Orquesta Típica Misteriosa Buenos Aires, with a new instrumental tango called "7 de enero", composed by their director, Javier Arias. And I think it's great. I love it. I totally want to dance to it right now; I think it's got something to say. I want to make a tanda with it. It starts well, it's got a delicious melody, it's got fun stuff without getting complicated, and it carries a slow, suspenseful energy right through to a satisfying conclusion.

Let's go!

Unfortunately, I find the rest of the album on YouTube disappointing. The singer is not a success; she doesn't stay with the beat, she's much too dominant, and the result is dull. There's another original composition; I would love someone to arrange and record the rather good milonga that's hiding inside it. The opening of 7 de enero also sounds much weaker than in the video, so the Youtube sound quality may have some problems; I'd be interested to hear the instrumentals on CD.

Their other two albums are not obviously better, but they're also earlier. On the other hand - this outfit have been around since 2008, and it's now 2017. If they haven't really delivered yet, will they ever?  I'd be so pleased if they did - if they delivered even one tanda of sharp, sensual, danceable tangos as good as the video above, where the violins are allowed to sing. What will it take to deliver that? Competition? Criticism? Ambition? Encouragement? A Patreon setup? They only posted that video two weeks ago. Could they continue in the same direction?

Will there ever be a Postmodern Jukebox for tango? (Other than the actual Postmodern Jukebox, who are all over cortinas everywhere).

Either way, I'd like to thank my DJ friends Karin Betz and Trud Antzee for drawing that video to my attention.

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Following and information

Having the opportunity to learn to follow before attempting to lead - which women do by social right, and men once did for practical reasons - is not only a matter of having better information than someone who comes to it 'cold'.

It also allows you to solve about 90% of the big physical problems of posture, axis, embrace, balance, coordination, control of momentum, cognition and proprioception, before you start worrying about any of the much smaller number of problems that are specific to leading. 

For me, leading is mostly just one quite challenging problem, which is training my brain to perceive and command a lot of quite complex and unexpected movements that my body can already easily do. And solving that one problem gets slowly but steadily easier with practice. 

Most of the other problems are relatively straightforward, when taken in isolation from the problems that are common to both leading and following. You can focus properly on the specific problems and solve them without confusion.

Another benefit is that you have already developed an accurate idea of what you might want to do, and why, which makes you unlikely to waste much time on classes that are not useful. I don't bother learning to lead anything I don't personally like to follow.

A third is that you have access to good followers and are in a state where you can avoid annoying them, if you have any trace of sense, and repay their investment in you quickly. 

And a fourth is that, with luck, you may also have found, or even become part of, one or more communities where the leaders behave nicely on the dancefloor rather than some combination of charging about like ants on coke, wrestling and pouting. This will reduce the stressful side, and also give you access to crucial information.

All these are blessings. But if you learn to follow well and then start leading and take it seriously, you damn well ought to be better than average in a couple of years, or you're doing it wrong.

Friday 3 February 2017

Scenes of Working Life


I have no idea what I'm doing. A minute ago I thought I knew what I was doing, and now I don't.


Oscillation between those two states is the sign of a healthy learning experience. 
Thanks for that.