Monday, 15 November 2010

A good leader: one definition

One definition of a good leader, from a follower’s viewpoint:

Someone who makes you dance beautifully and who, if you make a mistake, covers it up so well, the follower herself even doubts if it was a mistake.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Lyrics and translations

I have an adapted, borrowed theory. To dance well, you need to have some kind of understanding about the lyrics. Go to any workshop (good or bad) and the Spanish speakers will always extol about the importance of the lyrics in tango. When I attended a workshop with Los Disparis (a good workshop by the way) they spoke of how the tango lyrics were the ordinary man’s poetry and show us his dreams and fears [See my entry on their class here].

My Spanish is pretty basic but I’m trying to make it a habit to get a translation of at least the title of some of my favourite tangos. Obviously, the whole song is ideal but the title is a good starting point. I also think it’s quite important to learn a few words/phrases that come up in a lot of tango songs. I’m starting simple, ‘corazon’ (heart), ‘mi vida’ (my life) ‘penas’ (pain, sorrows) and then sometimes when I’m dancing I’ll hear one of these words sung out over the melody and I’ll suddenly feel something shift inside me as I understand just a little bit more about what I am dancing to and why.

Well that is my theory. I’ve now told it to two leaders on separate occasions and both have argued against it and said that understanding the English version wouldn’t help their dancing in any way (and one even speaks intermediate Spanish). Perhaps you need to have a certain mindset to go with this idea.

NB: If you are interested in finding translations, lyrics and music, then go to Planet Tango (for translations) and Todo Tango for music and lyrics plus articles.

Sunday, 7 November 2010


There is a tanguero who I meet quite regularly in class but rarely see at a milonga. In class, he generally gets the basics of the move first time. If I’m fortunate enough to be with him at the start, I know I’m in good hands and we can work on ironing out the difficulties straightaway.

The other night I saw him at a milonga and he asked me to dance. I was pleased and expected a pleasant tanda. Unfortunately, I’ve now realised that although this tanguero is good at steps and can easily navigate a studio with 8 couples – take him to a full size dance floor, add a lot of dancers (some of which will inevitably be erratic) and suddenly he goes to pieces. As we ‘bounced’ (ouch!) around the dance floor, I thought ‘Is this the same guy?’ He led steps that we had done in class admirably well, until ‘Bang’ – there goes another couple, that ‘I’ have now hit with my back.

I finally gave up when he stopped quite abruptly in the line of dance and started leading me into Americano with the free leg going forwards and back. One of those erratic couples careered into us and I felt my heel scrape down her ankle! Now it wasn’t entirely our fault (they were heading towards us at speed) but instantly my partner announced that they were in the wrong. As the girl ‘limped’ off the dancefloor, he said, ‘The floorcraft is not great tonight is it?’ and kept on dancing. Maybe not, but what about the limping girl?, I thought. As the last beats ended, I left him to go and apologise to the girl who thankfully did not bite off my head .

So now I know. Keep him in a classroom, avoid him on the dance floor.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The search for 'entrega'

There is a theory that a follower can give herself up entirely to the dance and find a complete connection with her partner. This state is sometimes called ‘entrega’ and means to surrender. Some followers dislike this term as they feel it is describing a situation where you lose all self control and allow the leader to take over. I was interested to read however, that this term comes from the verb ‘entregarse’ a reflexive verb which means not to surrender but to 'choose' to surrender yourself, a subtle but key difference.

For a follower to do this though, she must have trust in her partner. She must believe he will lead her through the dance safely and that she will allow herself to feel the music through him. Trust however, can’t just be expected.

I was dancing with someone not so long ago and he kept leading me into backwards linear boleos. They kept jarring with me. Just as I was relaxing, he’d throw in another. Eventually, I told him that I didn’t like boleos (and especially linear ones) as I was always afraid that I’d kick someone. ‘Relax’, he told me. ‘Trust me’.

I thought this was quite presumptuous. This guy dances well but I’ve not danced with him that much. To assume that I would give him my utter trust after one tango was incorrect. Perhaps I’m too uptight and serious or could this be what distinguishes a good tanguero from a dancer.

There is an interesting piece on 'entrega' on the Tango and Chaos site. It mentions there the trinity that makes up entrega: Man, Woman, Music. All parts have to be equal and this makes perfect sense to me.

Therefore asking me for my trust like a stick of gum is never going to work.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

A lady's shoes - an essential tool

I was looking forwards to my class all week. I’d managed to get all my connections perfect and for once I was arriving with a good 10 minutes to walk to the venue from my stop (normally I tend to either arrive ridiculously early or incredibly late!) I’d got out of work on time, had time to go home and get ready etc and then with 30 seconds to go until I was at my stop, I reached into my bag and froze. A panicked thought shot into my brain ‘WHERE WERE MY SHOES???? Please, please tell me I have not just left them at home!!!!’

Well, my options were as follows:

a) Turn up and attempt the class in either socks or boots (great –I’m going to look like the poor orphan girl)

b) Go home and forget about this disaster

c) Dash back home (30 minutes each way) and return with my rogue shoes

d) Console myself by getting a large drink in the nearest pub/bar.

I was sorely tempted by the fourth option but in the end, got off at my stop and turned around to head home. Once home, I sprinted up the stairs and grabbed my shoes, lying languidly by my front door and dashed back into central London. I arrived 1 hour late but thankfully they let me in (incredibly bad manners I know but I’d REALLY been looking forwards to the class).

So I now know that the absolute quickest journey home is 28 minutes and 37 seconds, the quickest time I can sprint up the stairs is 37 seconds and the quickest time to run back to the bus stop is 3 minutes 14 seconds.

In future, i will NOT forget my shoes!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

She's back!

No – not me!

This weekend Geraldin Rojas de Paludi and Ezequiel Paludi will be teaching in London at Negracha Tango School/Club. I saw Geraldin last year when she had a flying visit over to London but this time, I’ll actually be attending a few of her classes! I’ll be excited to see what they are like and of course, it will be good to see her and her partner dancing in the flesh again.

See you there!

Negracha details here:

Saturday, 21 August 2010


I’ve been semi-retired from the tango scene for a few months now but am slowly coming back into the fold. Here, however, were the reasons for my (mainly) self-inflicted absence:

1) Too many teachers and workshops – I was confusing myself.

2) An altercation with a tanguera whilst doing tango

3) Getting into a rut and going to the same milongas.

4) Having a private lesson and becoming disillusioned with group classes.

5) Needing to spend quality time in my no-tango life and not just popping in for a flying visit

6) Another new job

7) A holiday!

And now some more details:

1. Too many teachers and workshops

Now I love doing workshops with visiting teachers, especially teachers who I’ve watched avidly on youtube but I ended up doing too many, or perhaps I just did them in too short a time-span? Most were useful in some way and I was given lots of tips on both style and technique but it was too much to take in.

I was dancing and suddenly, I heard this voice in my head saying ‘X says, “Keep your weight forwards slightly but make sure you are not leaning on your partner”; ‘Y says, “Don’t use your right hand as a crux to get you around”; ‘Z says, “Step backwards with long legs, leading from beneath your rib cage”; ‘A says, “Your feet are turned out too far”; ‘B says, “Walk lightly but strongly, don’t clunk”; ‘C says'; etc etc.

I froze mid dance-floor (thank god it was a practica) and just said to my partner, ‘I’m sorry, I just can’t dance at present’. I sat down at the side, paralysed by all of the faults that I could detect in my dance. It was too much. I couldn’t absorb it all and it was messing with my head. I didn’t dance for 2 weeks while I calmed down.

2. An altercation with a fellow tanguera

I hate arguing with people. It’s in my DNA. If there is a collision, I’m always likely to apologise even if it’s not my fault. Ha, well, I was practicing and this tanguera and I clashed heels, literally. I will admit upfront, that I should have thought more about my surroundings but I was too caught up in trying to figure out a step (not a worthy excuse I hold my hand up).

Anyway, we clashed.

I apologised profusely (I felt horrific) and she ‘refused my apology’. She said, ‘That was a ridiculous thing to do and I’m not prepared to accept your apology’. I was distraught and apologised again (and again) but she just kept saying she was not prepared to accept it. Eventually, there was nothing else to do but leave her stewing (people had begun to gather round at this stage – embarrassment all around, the teacher was looking distinctly uncomfortable).

I was really upset, especially as this was the first time I had met/seen this woman. It’s not as if we have a history or I regularly bash into her. I went home and cried. I didn’t dance for 3 weeks.

3. The same milongas, the same people

Sure, you want to dance with your friends but the truth is the London tango scene while active is not gargantuous. You’ll always know someone if you go out but I got stuck into my comfort zone. I was going to the same milongas and dancing with the same people – on a loop. I’d forgotten what it was like when I first started, when I used to alternate between about 6 milongas. Now I was going to 2. I was having more nice, comfortable tandas and less unexpected and interesting tandas. There were less highs.

4. Having a private lesson

I actually had two, with different people. I learnt two important things...

a) First class (with a visiting couple): A private class on the basics, shows you that you haven’t been dancing the basics all this time. You’ve been ‘marking them out’. You understand the subtle nuances and realise that so far, it’s all been imitation.

b) Second class (with a teacher whose lessons I’ve been attending for over a year):You realise exactly how ‘little’ attention teachers merit you with in a group class. Unless, you are having serious trouble, you can easily slip under the radar. I was shocked when the teacher asked me to walk as they said they had never seen me walk before! What?! Do we not spend 10 minutess every week, walking up and down as a warm up? Have I never even merited enough attention in that whole year? All this time, I thought I was not having any comments because I had ‘got it’. Now I was given a list of 100 things that needed to be changed!

I don’t mean this to sound bitter and petulant. I was actually pleased to finally, be getting some constructive criticism but it made me wonder how value-wise the last year has been in terms of time and money. Once you reach a certain level, are you actually getting anything from group classes or should I be saving my cash for private classes?

5. My non tango life

This had been neglected for a while and people were beginning to forget my name. My boyfriend was also starting to suffer from my prolonged absences and so I made a concerted effort to spend more time with him, doing stuff he fancied doing – cinema, pub trips, nights in just relaxing (as opposed to bombarding him with tango videos and music – god I was obsessed!)

6. A new job

Yes, another one. I was the newbie yet again and had to put in some extra hours at the start, learning the ropes and making sure I had intelligent conversation for the project meetings (somehow my Top 10 Tango youtube video list was not going to elevate me to the heights of essential team player).

7. Holiday

Yes, I was away for a few weeks on a holiday which linked in with a huge family reunion. Tango was on the back burner.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Los Dispari - The Walk

Jorge and Marita Dispari were in London recently and teaching a week long series of classes. I attended some and hoped to jot down notes from each class but unfortunately, got distracted/overwhelmed and so therefore only ended up with a few jottings.

These notes came about from their first class which in some ways was probably the most important, focusing on the Walk.

I’m quite reluctant to paraphrase tangueros (especially when they are speaking through translators) but coming back to these notes, I thought that although they don’t explain technique or steps, they might provide an interesting insight into their class.

If anyone can help fill in my gaps, then that would be most helpful.

Lesson 1: The Walk
· To dance tango well, you need both technique and emotion. But technique can never replace emotion.
· Adrian and Amanda Costa [a French tango couple who have been taught by Los Dispari and who many of the TangoSouthLondon students are familiar with] are going to become one of the best tango couples in the world. A major part of this though, will be down to their musicality (most of which they learnt from Jorge). Yet they are not Argentine but French. You do not need to be Argentine to dance tango the best, but you need to find the passion in a small corner of your heart.
· Marita – you should not adapt when dancing with someone tall or short
· Jorge disagrees – he thinks you have to adapt. This means that aesthetically and if you want to be the most elegant, you need to dance with someone similar in height and build.
· But socially and emotionally he adds, your best partner can be of any build.
· Story of El CXXXXXX (????) who was mad for tango and a great friend of theirs. He used to dream of a step and then turn up at J&M’s house and demand to dance with Geraldine their daughter. If she was in school, they had to get her from school so they could try out a new step.
· Now Jorge does that to Marita when they are sleeping in bed. He will wake her up and tell her about a new step and insist they try it.
· A woman will learn in 2 months what it takes a leader 2 years to learn. This is not because it is harder but a woman’s body was made to dance unlike a man’s [from Jorge].
· The weight should not be on a woman’s heel but it should give the illusion that it is. The weight must be on the front of the feet (balls).
· Roberto Rufino was a singer with Carlos Di Sarli’s orchestra and was only 14 when he started singing for him. He was told to turn up at the theatre ready to perform but on his first night, he was very late because the doormen didn’t believe a boy would be singing with Di Sarli and they refused to let him in.
· To dance tango, you should learn to speak a bit of Spanish as otherwise you are missing out on 50% of tango. The other 50% are the instruments.
· You should try to understand the lyrics as they are poetry.
· It is poetry of the everyday though, not high brow.
· The woman should not dance while watching over the shoulder of the man. If she is then the man is not leading her. He should captivate her and draw her into their dance.
· The embrace should be an embrace and not just finger tips. The women should have a little upwards pressure. The man should enclose her.
· Your dancing must have pauses. Actual pauses and not pauses where you shift weight. Actually WAIT.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Strictly Salon

I was out at a (new to me) milonga the other night and I encountered a lot more nuevo tango than the normal places I frequent. I always find it quite a challenge. The whole feel and look of the dance is different and its persona seems to sit uncomfortably on me. I can’t get lost in the dance, because I’m too busy trying to figure out the next move. Nuevo is a hard dance to lead well and for the nervous follower (which is what I become when I realise I’m about to dance it) it can feel like a cryptic word puzzle – elusive and just out of reach.

Its interesting when I start dancing with someone who dances nuevo and I tell them its not really my tango. Some of them are gracious and stop doing the moves, others look upon it as an opportunity to teach/convert me. I guess I must be doing the same when I say ‘I love salon style, its so elegant and smooth. Do you fancy just walking for a bit?’

Friday, 28 May 2010

Milonga and what I'm hearing

Another workshop with guest teachers (I do get around a bit at the moment). This was a workshop into milonga and I really enjoyed several of the anecdotes that one of the teachers told us. One of them was about milonga style and I meant to write a small piece on it last week and attribute it to the teacher. I’m not so sure now (see below).

The anecdote according to Golondrina

The advice she gave was that milonga was less pure than tango and therefore, you could be less precise about the moves. You needed to combine the elegance of tango with a bit of ‘dirt’ (or impurities) and so for example, use a bit more hip as an accent perhaps. She was quick to explain that milonga is not salsa or merengue and that you mustn’t go overboard and start furiously adding hip shakes. She then said how someone once answered her by saying that that was how they danced/felt the music. ‘Fine’, she had replied, ‘feel the music inside you but don’t feel it outside of your body as well!’

I really liked this piece of advice but the following week, I spoke to a tanguero who had also attended this workshop. We agreed the workshop had been very helpful and then he said. ‘Wasn’t it great what she [the teacher] said about feeling the music in milonga and how you can just really let it wash all around you and just get really dirty with the moves?’

What????!!!! Were we in the same workshop?

I’ve since seen this tanguero dance milonga and its chaotic and all over the place (in my opinion). It reminded me of a chapter in Jonah Lehrer’s book ‘The Decisive Moment’ which talks about an experiment where a news story was shown to fervent Democratic and Republican supporters. Afterward, they were asked to sum up the story and all of the supporters said the report was favourable about their own party. I think we just hear what we want to hear.

Presumably, my hips are relatively sedate during milonga!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Not giving an inch

I go to a regular class that is billed as ‘Advanced’. To be honest, the class attendees probably cover a broader term than that but that’s the way it has panned out. This week the usual teachers were away and so a visiting teacher came in to cover. Now understandably, it’s always hard for visiting teachers to pitch a class level right and if you get asked to cover an Advanced class you need to make sure you have some advanced steps available in case the class expect a lot. Anyway, he watched us all dance a tanda and then began his class which was quite hard, with lots of extra intricacies worked into the steps and lots of pointers about technique.

Now when a class is pitched a bit too high, the followers can get by if their leader is good. If they don’t follow it all, the leader can ‘help’ them with a stronger than usual lead. Unfortunately, it’s a one way track and if the class is too advanced, it is often the leaders who struggle and generally even their basic leading starts to go downhill. When the leaders are struggling, followers have to make a decision. Do they:

a) Dance the step from memory?

b) Guess/anticipate what move the leader is trying to lead?

c) Follow what is being led only?

I’m quite a good follower now. I shut my eyes, retreat to my happy place (LOL) and go with the flow (ie: the marks from my leader) and so I fell firmly into Camp C (Follow what is being led only). As the class progressed however, I noticed that each dance was a bit of an effort and partners who I usually dance happily with were looking relieved when the teacher told us to change partners.

About 3/4s of the way into the class, I was partnered with one of the better leaders. Usually when I’ve danced with him in class, he practices the step a few times and then dances it amongst other steps. He began this method as usual, or so I thought. He led me into what felt like the start of a cross and then he suddenly pivoted me. I went straight into the pivot and did a small boleo in front. ‘Grrrrr’, he growled, ‘now is not the time to mess around!’ I looked at him in confusion, aghast at his frustrated tone. Understanding then seemed to hit him and he asked me if he had led a cross? I mutely shook my head ‘No’. ‘Let’s do it again’ he said and this time led me into a perfect cross and the rest of the step. The rest of the dance was fine and at the end he thanked me but laughingly said, ‘You don’t give an inch, do you?’

Friday, 14 May 2010

The American Invasion

The May Day bank holiday (2 weeks ago already!) created a bit of an exodus for us London tangueros as two prominent American couples were visiting our shores. In Cambridge, we had Homer and Cristina Ladas who taught briefly in London before hot footing it over to Cambridge for the tango festival (including the all nighter milonga which went on until 5am); and down south, we had Ney Melo and Jennifer Bratt in Brighton doing a long weekend of workshops.

What a choice for us Londoners? Where to go and what to do with whom?!

Those dedicated few attempted both, rushing from one location to another; doing a class here and then attending a milonga somewhere else. I was pleased to be able to do classes with both sets although I did it in more manageable chunks, attending Homer and Cristina’s class in London and then going to Brighton at the weekend.

It’s quite fun to have American teachers over here. They tend to teach in a different style from Argentinian or European teachers, which is what we predominantly have in London, often using games and humour as a selling point. I don’t mean this in a disparaging way just that for many American teachers, part of their teaching style is their lively personalities which they use to relax people and make tango fun.

Some people I know don’t like that. They feel it should be about the teaching and the end result. They want tango to have mystique and a certain aloofness. They feel that personality can get in the way too much. ‘It’s tango,’ they say, ‘not stand up’.

All I can say is that for me, I found both couples approachable and lively but I also got a sense of their respect for tango and how it should be danced. I also think that its hard to make judgements over single taster classes/days. Learning tango is an evolving process and what works for you one day might not work for you in six months. Your feelings about tango are likely to change throughout your tango life and so who knows what advice/opinions will reverberate back to you in the future.

Here to inspire you (and remind me) is a video of each. By far, Ney and Jennifer are the more traditional pair and I love their style of dancing and general old world elegance:

Homer and Cristina are great fun and I always enjoy their classes although their style is certainly more alternative and Nuevo than I dance generally. I couldn't find anything suitable from their Cambridge jaunt so here is a video from January of this year when they were dancing at the Houston Tango Festival.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

An aspiring leader

If you are a follower then learning to lead brings up some interesting issues. When I first started following, I would anticipate moves too quickly, I didn’t wait for ‘la marca’, I just guessed – incredibly frustrating for the leaders I was with! When I was trying to solve this problem, I decided that it might be good to learn to lead, my logic being that if I understood how frustrating it was to have a happy-go-lucky kind of follower, I might improve myself.

I mentioned this to my teacher and quite rightly (I now believe) she said she thought it was too early for me to try and learn the other part; that it would confuse me and make me less coherent. By this stage, I had only been dancing about 8 months (!) and now looking back on it, I think what a ridiculous idea! My teacher was very kind and told me that originally in BA, men used to learn to follow for about 2-3 years before being allowed to start to lead and that perhaps I should think in terms of that time period. My outlook has changed a bit now (I’m a much better follower) but I still think it is important to learn to lead but I understand now realistically that still might be some way off.

The other night however, I was asked to lead in a class where there were too many women. It didn’t go well and afterwards, I tried to think about why I led so badly and what makes a good leader. I realised that my problem was that I couldn’t convey my meaning across to the other person and that makes me feel very one sided. I can understand the language (ie: following) but I can’t speak it myself (ie: leading). However, when I say ‘understand’ I don’t mean that I can explain why I know what a particular signal means, I mean that somehow I just ‘know’ what to do. This means it is very hard when I’m dancing with a leader and they ask me why a move went wrong. ‘What would make you do X or Y?’ they ask and I can’t give them a sensible answer.

When I explained this to a friend (a leader), he said that he experienced it the same way but as a leader. He obviously could say ‘I do X and Y and she moves Z’ but this was only how it worked for him in a class situation. Once he was out on the dance floor and caught up in the tango, he just responded to the music. Moves came out of his lead without him consciously planning them and sometimes something magical would happen. Everything would flow from one to the other and then suddenly he’d realise the music was drawing to an end, and he had been dancing seamlessly and unconsciously for the last 2/3 minutes.

Something to aim for!

Friday, 23 April 2010

Just like on the Discovery Channel ...

There are some leaders that I truly love to chat to. They think the same tango way that I do and always have interesting conversation. Most of these leaders that I chat to, I enjoy dancing with (it must be that because we think and talk about tango in the same way, then we both often dance tango the same way); but if we are sitting and having a conversation, I don’t assume that they are going to ask me to dance. What I mean is I’m not making conversation so they will ask me to dance and I am pretty confident that they feel the same way. At that moment, we are two people talking about what we love.

Which means I become quite bemused when a particular leader turns all macho and suddenly blocks out another leader. This has happened a few times recently. I’ve been sitting, having a nice conversation with someone when I will realise that a tanguero has approached our vicinity and is hovering just on the edge of our periphery. Now I might be fully enjoying the conversation, so deliberately don’t make eye contact with this new leader but suddenly I’ll notice that it’s as if the hairs are up on my friend. Suddenly, he seems to lose the plot in our conversation and the next moment, he is on his feet, back firmly to the new tanguero and crying out ‘lets dance’.

It amuses and bemuses me, because I am sure that if we were at an empty-ish milonga and just chatting, the leader would not have asked me to dance at that particular moment but suddenly, it’s as if there is a subconscious mini showdown going around me.

It also brings to mind, those Discovery Channel programmes which show you a pack of lions with one male and how they react when a new male enters the area. Their pose changes and even if they are far away from each other, you can still see them squaring off. Its amusing how tango brings out these animal instincts in even the most mild mannered of tangueros.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

If only it was always like this

I was in a special workshop run by a visiting teacher. My partner and I stumbling through the step, the teacher demonstrated again for us all, we changed partners and again we were stumbling. I kept getting the signal to ocho back and pivot but always fell off balance. The teacher came over to us, watched and then said to my partner ‘Watch again’. We embraced, he led the step and it was perfect.

I thought ‘Wow – with a leader like that, how could you ever go wrong?’

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Silent tango

The other day, I was watching a tango video from a blog. I can’t remember which one it was or who was dancing but one of the comments said something about watching the dance without the music as it was easier to see the connection between the dancers. This had never occurred to me before but I’ve tried it a few times and found it quite interesting, especially as it sometimes shows you when the follower is back leading or responding to the music without her leader. I’m sure all followers have been guilty of it at one time or another, in fact, I’ve realised that some of my better dances have been not to my favourite music but tangos I don’t know too well. It stops me waiting for a particular ‘twiddly bit’ that I know is coming and doing a particularly appropriate embellishment. It may fit well but I’m not hearing the music anew - I’m hearing it in my memory and responding to that.

Which leads nicely onto musicality which is suddenly a big hot tango topic. Earlier this week, I did a class where we focused on one song for an hour. We dissected it and then tried to separate out all the different parts and instruments. Then we took it in turns dancing to certain aspects – a really awkward exercise and quite chaotic. At one stage I looked around and all I could see were ‘unconnected’ couples everywhere – people listening so hard for particular bits that they had completely lost any connection with their partner. It was a really challenging class but useful.

Afterwards, I thought about how you could try that exercise but in reverse – maybe get couples to dance without any music at all; or to dance completely at odds with the melody/rhythm. It would certainly make each partner connect to the other and would highlight where the lead is going wrong and stop women anticipating the ‘twiddly bit’ and going straight into a giro because ‘8.5/10 leaders are going to do a giro to that part’. I’m not starting a silent revolution or anything but I think an exercise like that might help to shake people up a bit. I wonder who would want to try it with me?

[Aside: I told a friend about my idea later and she scoffed. ‘That sounds like dancing with a bad leader’, she said, ‘I get enough of those at a milonga!’ Maybe its not such a good idea.]

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


I have definitely made some friends since my initial foray into tango but coming from the wrong side of town for most milongas, means that I pretty much always travel there and back alone. The other day however, one generous soul agreed to do a wide detour and drop two of us off rather than letting us miss the final half hour.

As we drove through the streets, one of us said how much she had enjoyed the night and how she knew she would never be able to sleep once she got home. I agreed and said that I was the same and was always buzzing when I got in. My routine therefore, was to make a cup of tea, have some hot buttered toast and, snuggled under a thick blanket on the sofa, watch a few youtube tango videos.

The third amongst us said that he always drank some milk, ate a biscuit and then in socks, would quietly practice his moves to the silent tango playing in his head. The first admitted that she too practiced and replayed the moves that had gone particularly well that night in her head and on her lounge floor.

We laughed as we realised that all over London (and even the world) there will be other tangueros - tired from a night out but still thrilling with the night’s emotions, unable to sleep but happily reliving their milonga experiences. It makes me smile to share that.

Friday, 12 March 2010

How good do you have to be before you can ignore the rules (and should you)?

Early on as a follower, I learnt that the cardinal sin was to expect/anticipate a step from the leader. As someone who has danced her whole life (but never in partner dances) I found this aspect of tango very challenging. I was used to being in control of MY body and dancing how I felt steps fitted to the music. In tango, I couldn’t do this – I had to give up that aspect of my dancing and instead learn to respond to the leader’s marks.

So for about 18 months, I have worked on this and now I follow (if I do say so myself) reasonably well. I’ve learnt to shut off the part of my brain that says is this right? I keep a tight lid on the part of my brain that delights in the music and says a giro would fit in with this phrase (unless a giro is led there in which case I rip off the lid with exuberance!) and instead I just try to read like Braille the script of the dance that is being created.

This is a good place to be in and will most likely suffice for most of my ‘tango career’ but can you get to a level where you become so good as a follower that you can ignore these rules? And perhaps more importantly, should you?

Last night, my friend said to me,

- X is here. She is wonderful and teaches in BA. She’s over here to visit her husband’s family and she always drops in to XX milonga. She is amazing, whatever you lead, she follows! Its breath-taking dancing with her.

I looked over at this ‘goddess’ in interest, keen to know who to watch for in the future. But then a thought crossed my mind.

- But what does she do if you lead something wrong? Does she follow you anyway?

- Oh no. If she senses you are doing something strange/not right with the music, she will extract you both from it straightaway. I’ve been dancing with her before and suddenly, she has ground me down and held me in place while she dances us out of the mess I’ve made!

- So it was ok for her not to follow you then?

- Oh course. She’s so good, she knows when to bend the rules.

‘Is this true?’, I wondered later. Can you get to a level where you know and do deliberately move away from the traditional follower mould? My friend is certainly an adequate dancer although like the rest of us, open to making errors sometimes. He was obviously accepting of the fact that X had ‘led’ them into something better but isn’t that a dangerous path to be starting on? Or it is ok for followers of a certain level to do this? Unfortunately, I never got a chance to see the divine Ms X dance as I left too early but still I’m uncomfortable with this idea? It seems to change the whole structure of tango as I know it.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Tango and alcohol

Tango is a little bit like alcohol.

Most people can enjoy it in moderation. You get that little high but no repercussions the next day (Tango Equivalent = lessons/classes/practicas).

Sometimes you go out to a party or have a big dinner out and you get a bit beyond moderation. Maybe you order a few too many glasses of wine, you have that extra G&T when you know you probably shouldn’t. You feel happy, smiley and bubbly at the time. It’s a bit 50:50 here as to whether you’re going to suffer the next day from tiredness; achiness; mild despondency and a let down feeling after the high. You might be lucky and suffer nothing.(Tango equivalent = going to a milonga ranging from the ok to the brilliant).

Occasionally though, you meet people who have had that little bit too much. They’ve gone beyond the happy feeling and are now sliding into sadness and melancholy. They need to confide in you about their extreme emotions and they want to theorise and philosophise about them as well. This is that guy at the party, the one who starts to bewail about his life and the girl who left him. (Tango Equivalent = it’s the same, there’s no difference)

Well I got my first experience of this the other night.


[The friend approaches Golondrina and looks doleful]

Friend: Dance with me. I’m feeling so low.

[They dance but it is evident the Friend is not happy]

Golondrina: What’s the matter?

F: Its K. She won’t dance with me. I’ve been ‘cabesceo-ing’ her all night but she keeps looking away. What’s happening? She was happy to dance with me last night.

G: Maybe she just wants to dance with some other people

F: Yes, but I’m so jealous. We dance so well together. I put my whole soul into every dance with her.

G: I’m sure its not you.

F: I’m just not sure where my place is in the milonga anymore. Should I be here? Who am I when I’m on the dance floor?

[G looks at her friend with narrowed eyes]

G: How long have you been tango-ing tonight?

F: Well, I started this afternoon over at TC and then I came straight here.

G: So, that’s about 8 hours straight.

F: Yes, plus I was out last night.

G: I think you need to leave and go home. You’ve had a few too many tandas.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Milonga Review: Tango @ 33

Location: Tango @ 33, (Feb 2010) Pushkin House, 5a Bloomsbury Square, Holborn, WC1A 2TA
Dates and times: Sundays Milonga (generally 8.30-12.30am), Classes (TBC but seems to be 5.30-7 beginners and improver classes, 7-8.30pm intermediates – see website for more details)
Cost: £12(class and milonga), £10 (milonga only)
Average drinks price: Ample jugs/bottles of tap water, a few bottles of wine (you need to be quick) soft drinks, juice (all free)
Food: A few free nibbles (biscuits, crisps) and on special occasions cake (!)

Website: Tango @ 33

Following the unexpected closure of 33 Portland Place, Tango @ 33 has been trying to find a new location. After a brief flirtation with Porchester Hall, it has now moved (semi-permanently) to Pushkin House in Bloomsbury (Feb 2010). The milonga covers 4 floors although there are only 2 suitable for dancing (the others contain the reception/cloakroom and a room for drinks/nibbles). The dance floors are a little bit small for the Tango @ 33 crowd but this may just have been because of the numbers on what was Opening Night. The organisers have deliberately tried to find a location with a similar atmosphere to Portland Place so expect chandeliers, a curving staircase and slightly shabby furniture. They have also kept the Tango de Salon room.

Classes: Regular beginners class (with Naomi), occasional Improvers class (with Alex and Silvia), regular Intermediate class (generally with guest teachers, or if not with Alex and Silvia, 2 of the 3 organisers, in which case there normally isn’t an Improvers class). Note: times are currently being finalised so see website.

How easy is it to get dances?: There are no chairs around the dance floor (and its too small to put some in) so non-dancers tend to hang around the doorways or along the inner walls. The close proximity means you can catch someone eye quite easily even though the lights are dimmed. If you need a seat however, you are rather limited to the kitchenette or top floor so you rather cut yourself out of the chance of a spontaneous dance. The distance between the dance floors also means that it can be a bit of a trek from one to another if you are hunting for friends or potential partners. You can also get a bit trapped on the staircase by dancers you wanted to avoid.

The Powder Room: Two unisex toilets with separate sinks are located on the ground floor. Clean-ish but you’d prefer to put your shoes on upstairs (either on the stairs or in the kitchenette). Space to change in there although you probably wouldn’t, plus you shouldn’t as it hogs the limited toilets.

Who goes there?: A young-middling crowd, students of the current guest teacher, quite a few Italians, tangueros from the Light Milonga (Tuesdays @ Liverpool Street). Generally the core is more salon style dancers and in fact, extrovert nuevo dancers are likely to get the evil eye and even get reprimanded if they are in the Tango de Salon room.

Timings: The intermediate class was very busy and too big for the room but once the basement and top floors opened, the crowd eased out and it was busy but flowing. It picked up again about 9.30 but then started to ease about 11.30 as people raced to get home before the Cinderella hour.

Quirks: Tango de salon room – Tango @ 33 have made a big thing of this room where salon-style dance rules are enforced. The rules are displayed on a cardboard sign and an announcement is made at the beginning of the milonga explaining its principles. The organisers have even been known to temporarily stop the dancing here and explain the rules, so generally this tends to be a bump-free area.
Entry – you need to ring the bell to get access and I was greeted by (presumably) one of the Pushkin House attendants which rather added to the grandeur of the evening. This silent gentleman remained in the lobby for most of the evening and looked increasingly bemused by the amount of people traipsing in. I wonder if he will be a regular fixture?

Rivals: Tangology @ the Langley.

Finding your way outside: Just 5 mins from Holborn tube station (Central line). There are also lots of buses on Kingsway (1 min) which go (south) towards Waterloo, Trafalgar Square or (north) Euston.
From Holborn tube station: Take the exit directly in front of the escalators, cross over the road at the traffic lights and pass Sainsburys. Take the first right Southampton Place, pass Nandos and at the top of the road, use the traffic lights to your left to cross over the road. Pushkin House is directly in front of you. You need to ring the bell to get access.

Finding your way inside: Once admitted, there is a front desk and cloakroom (unmanned) directly in front of you. Go up the stairs for the first dance floor (the Intermediate class was held here). There is a small kitchenette off this with sofas and sinks for water. One floor above are another 2 carpetted rooms with tango music where you can chat and find the drinks and nibbles. The second dance floor, the Tango de Salon room is in the basement so go down the stairs pass reception. The 2 toilets are also here.

[New update: This venue was replaced in April 2010. The new venue is No5 Cavendish Square. See here for a delightful review by Ms H]

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Experiences with Comme Il Fauts

Experience 1:

I have only one pair of CIFs which I love! They are quite battered now as I wear them for every practica and milongas but every scuff I accept as a sign that I have worn them well and danced in them fully.

Last week however, I received a newsletter saying a new shipment had arrived. I glanced at them more out of curiosity and then my eye was caught by the MOST MARVELLOUS pair. I ummed, I ahhed and then went to bed. All of the next day, I was in a dilemma with the 2 voices in my head battling:

- ‘Look at the price, ridiculous!’

- ‘But they are lovely!’

- ‘And the cost for shipping them’

- ‘But they are so Me!’

On and on it went until finally, at 10pm in the evening I decided to have another look at them. But where are they now? Only in the huge SOLD section! I was gutted and felt bereft. Oh course, now I’m convinced they were the most perfect pair ever and they are now on someone else’s feet! I’d post a picture of them but I daren’t in case, a London tanguera has bought them and will have to know that I salivate every time she passes by with her shoes!

Experience 2:

CIFs inspire high emotions. I wrote the piece above when I was in a flippant mood, piqued to the post by another buyer somewhere but at other times, I feel quite differently about CIFs. When I first started tango, I was reluctant to buy a proper pair of tango shoes, as I felt that I needed to prove my worth, to show that I was here dancing tango because I loved it and not just because I could buy some pretty shoes. When I got a bit better, I realised that the shoes I liked most (and which others held in high esteem) were Commies and so I decided that is what I had to have – but the expense! Could I really justify paying that much for a pair of shoes, especially when I could use that money to purchase myself a good month of classes and milongas? I waited and saved and then when I was finally 1 (tango) year old, I made my big purchase. I felt so grown up and have been delighted with them ever since.

Here comes the ‘But’ though. Sure, CIFs feel good and make my feet look pretty but really do they make me a better tanguera?*

I was a bit peeved (to put it politely) when a few weeks ago, I met a woman at a milonga who was wearing a gorgeous pair of Commies. We chatted a little and then she asked how many pairs of tango shoes, more specifically CIFS, did I own? When I told her just the one pair, she laughed and said that I obviously wasn’t a tango obsessive and that she owned 15 pairs! After she sashayed away, I thought that for all her CIFs, it hadn’t made her a star on the dance floor. She danced well but no better than half a dozen other tangueras (who I know don’t own nearly as many pairs as her). CIFs are beautiful but unfortunately, they can’t necessarily make you a beautiful dancer. For that, you need hard work, commitment and something undefinable. All of which you are more likely to find in a good teacher than in your shoe closet!

*I should state here though, that undeniably they have made me dance a little bit better but that’s mainly because the shoes I had before were not proper dance shoes – just street shoes that looked the part.

Monday, 1 February 2010

A long night

A milonga on the opposite side of town. Some lovely dances, I lost track of time and missed the last tube on my line.

Estimated journey time if I had not missed the tube: 45 mins.

Actual time to get home: 2 hours, 10 minutes (2 separate tube journeys. 3 night buses, 1 ten-minute walk).

The things we do for tango!

Sunday, 31 January 2010

The boundaries are in place and remaining so

I read Mari’s recent entry with interest as this question has plagued me for a few months as there is a good leader I know who I often make small talk with, has complimented me several times on my dancing, dances with lots of my friends but still hasn’t asked me to dance. I always made excuses, saying that the music wasn’t right or that we were just passing at the wrong place in the milonga (him going one way, me going another) but last month, there was finally a perfect opportunity where the music was good, the floor had space and we were standing chatting alone.

I remember thinking if there is ever a chance to ask me to dance it will be now. Nothing. After a few minutes of chat, he said he was going off to dance and went over to a friend of his and started dancing (mid song, so it wasn't even a pre-arranged song). It stung but in some way, it has finally brought closure. He is obviously never going to ask me to dance, so now I’ve just accepted it and know not to waste any more time hoping that he will. We still make small chat but that’s apparently where the boundaries are.

I’m being Miss Pragmatic (although it’s taken a while).

On no account however, would I ever ask him WHY he doesn’t want to dance with me? He obviously has his reasons and I have my pride! I'm just making sure now, that I always have plenty of partners when he's around.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Tango @ 33

‘Lord D_____ is in jail’ was the cryptic message I received, explaining the unexpected and last minute cancellation of the Tango @ 33P milonga. Subsequently, various bloggers have suggested that this was mere coincidence and the real reason the milonga was cancelled was due to a notice from Westminster Council for noise (presumably more for some of Lord D’s other, rather salacious events rather than the milongas!)

I don’t like to think pessimistically but it would be an awful shame if this wonderful milonga had to close down permanently. It’s my favourite of all of the London ones, not only for its venue and atmosphere but its delightful organisers and quality guest teachers. I’ve not been able to go for the last few weeks but was lucky enough to go to the Christmas Milonga so if this is the end, then at least I have fond memories…

For those of you not familiar with Tango @ 33 Portland Place (also known as 33P) then this was a marvellous, weekly Sunday milonga held in an atmospheric house near Oxford Circus. Someone once described it to me as being invited to a milonga, held in your eccentric great aunt’s mansion! It certainly had a wonderful atmosphere.

I wanted to show a youtube video here which showed the Milonga @ 33P but I can't find it now. I remember it was mis-labelled so if anyone finds it, please can you let me know. It showed Oscar Acebras playing his guitar and singing while couples tangoed around him by candlelight. It was a lovely night!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Musical musings: Part II

This is just to say THANK YOU to all the musical leaders I have ever danced with! How have you ever done it?

I’m at home struggling to hear accents, new phrases, new sections and I feel paralysed. How can I even walk musically to this piece, let alone dance it, lead another person, avoid the traffic and dance with feeling??!! You (those musical leaders I’ve been lucky enough to encounter) astound me!

And for those dancers (leaders and followers) who are trying to learn to become more musical, keep persisting – even if you are an tone deaf and unmusical as me! It’s a struggle but I really think its going to pay off in the long run. :-)

Friday, 15 January 2010

Musical musings

Situation: I’m on a bus, listening to my ipod and going through a cycle of Di Sarli, Canaro, Calo, De Angelis.

I notice that this morning people seem to be moving more than usual, from seat to seat.

Then I realise it is mostly from the seat next to me.

Then I realise, I am enthusiastically tapping my foot to the beat while my hand is swaying from side to side trying to follow the melody.

Add a few head movements, a muttered curse when I get it wrong and suddenly I can see why no one wants to sit next to me!

At least it made for a peaceful second half of the journey!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


I think we all have particular buzzwords. Words that cause a light bulb to light up in our heads or suddenly make us stop mid-step when out on the street. In class, I always try to listen to what my teachers say (maybe too hard sometimes) and I always try to put it into practice but occasionally (ok, most times) ten minutes after they have told me, I’m back with the music, dancing how I ‘feel’ and those nagging errors are back in place again.

For example, I know that when I do voleos, I often do them with my legs a bit too wide, almost with a turn out. When we are drilling them, I’ll make a real effort to brush my moving leg over my standing leg’s knee (for a front voleo) and vice-versa (for the back voleo). I might even get into the swing of it and start to do it naturally but as soon as the music begins and I find myself dancing ‘with’ the music (as opposed to dancing the steps ‘to’ the music) then my technique skills fly out the window. It’s the constant balance between musicality and technique.

But I’ve now had a breakthrough and it’s all to do with buzzwords, which are specific to each of us. For me the word is ‘elegant’ – it’s what I most consistently aspire to be/how I want to dance/ how I want to act, so use this word and suddenly you have the trigger I need to make me dance better. So back to my class story, we were again drilling the voleos, with my teacher making comments to each of us. She came up to me, watched me a few seconds and then said, ‘Golondrina, you have a tendency to let your legs turn out too much, it leaves a gap between your thighs. It’s not very elegant’. She had found my buzzword and suddenly there was not just an awareness on my part but a horrible clarity too: I could see it in my mind and I desperately did not like that image! I was horrified but it also made a lot of sense.

After class, we continued with our usual practica and obviously my voleos were not perfect but now I could let myself dance with the music like usual but whenever a voleo came along and I did it wrong – something lit up in my subconscious and I knew it was wrong. I didn’t have to consciously look out for them, something inside of me (the Quality Standards Officer perhaps) went ‘yuk’ whenever I did them wrong and I started to slowly do them better.

Have you got a buzzword?

Friday, 8 January 2010

Pedro 'Tete' Rusconi 1936-2010

So sad to hear the news of the death of Tete, one of the great milongueros of our time. Alex. Tango.Fuego has a good entry about him with links and videos.

I would also once again advocate listening to – a podcast about Argentine tango which includes two pieces about Tete and his partner Silvia.

God bless