Thursday 23 June 2011

Rules of thumb: dancing milonga

Heuristics: In psychology, heuristics are simple, efficient rules, hard-coded by evolutionary processes or learned, which have been proposed to explain how people make decisions, come to judgments, and solve problems, typically when facing complex problems or incomplete information. These rules work well under most circumstances, but in certain cases lead to systematic errors or biases.

Here are my ‘heuristics’ regarding dancing milonga:

*Never let your first dance with a stranger be a milonga.

*It is better to not dance a milonga which you love than to dance one with someone whose style you can’t connect with.

*Never make your first tanda on a night out, a milonga tanda (but see below).

*If the dance floor is already at 70% capacity before a milonga tanda, skip the milonga tanda.

*Avoid dancing milonga when you know the DJ has a tendency to ‘up the pitch’ on a milonga in an attempt to make the night a bit more fun (!) (appalling story I heard from someone who had been dancing in Athens).

*When dancing milonga, it’s great to add adornos etc that accent the beat but not EVERY single beat (and half beat) and especially not with a ‘golpe’. [This is not Stomp].

These tend to be my ‘rule of thumb’ thoughts but might occasionally cause me to miss out (since writing these I have in fact danced my first tanda as a milonga when at a social dance. It was fun because we’ve danced a lot together and dance milonga in the same way. I would however say that was an exception).

Sunday 30 January 2011

(New Year's) Resolution

New Year’s resolutions always seem more self-defeating than helpful to me. In a fit of enthusiasm, people make over wild resolutions that inevitably lead them to self-disappointment three weeks later. The first weekend of January, I was amused to see the huge amounts of fruit and vegetables that people were filling their supermarket trolleys with. The number of ‘intelligent’ newspaper sales apparently also go up in January with people promising themselves that they will read more intellectually stimulating material.

In the tango world, the attendance at classes peaks with dancers swearing that they will master their enrosques, perfect their ochos, have elegant posture etc. They promise to finish that book of tango history that they have on the shelf, lovingly polish/clean their tango shoes every week and learn the back catalogue of Rodolfo Biagi from 1938 to 1950.

In an ideal world, I would love to promise to do all of the above (I’d also add not to covet anyone else’s Comme Il Fauts) but I’ve decided to be pragmatic and instead make a realistic if small resolution for February 2011 onwards.

Resolution for 2011: I will no longer listen to tango compilations but instead stick to tango collections/albums by one orchestra at a time.

Someone once told me about a musicality class where the teacher had said that this is the best way of listening to tango and I was reminded of this when I read an article about a new event in London, where you go to a bar and simply listen to a whole album from start to finish. The organisers were explaining that too many people only downloaded their favourites and ignored the less popular songs on an album and they wanted to introduce what they felt should be a complete work (instead of just highlights) to their punters.

It’s quite easy to do the same thing in tango. You love a particular tango and just download it from iTunes. You buy a compilation of the ‘Best 100 Tangos’ and suddenly that is all you listen to. It’s ‘easy’ listening but are you missing out on how the composer developed or evolved their style? By listening to less common tangos by the same composer, hopefully you’ll be able to see the threads and the loops that link all of their work together? You’ll have greater clarity of what makes a D’Arienzo tango so different from a Calo tango. How Triollo broke new ground? And why Piazolla created Tango Nuevo?

Well, that’s my hope anyway! At present I’m listening to Angel D’Agostino and I’m loving it.

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!