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.