Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Entrega total

I went dancing last night. Had a few nice dances, a couple of less nice ones, and then it happened.

I danced with this guy who is a great dancer, and he dances milonguero. I know he does, so there was no trying and adjusting the embrace during the first few seconds of the song, I just leaned into the embrace and – we danced. Or I assume we did, since when the song ended and I opened my eyes and emerged from the embrace, we were standing elsewhere. Yet I have no idea what exactly happened in between; it was just me, him, and the music. When I went to sit down later on, I had a blissful smile on my face and felt like I had awoken from a dream; I couldn´t recollect what he had lead, or what I had done... nothing. Just the music and the embrace. It was a small, crowded place, and it was quite hard to avoid other dancing couples. As I closed my eyes and surrendered myself to him, however, I became totally oblivious of the people around, absolutely sure nothing could happen to me while the embrace lasted. And I don´t remeber so much as brushing against anyone else during the songs we danced together.

I know that in some dances, with some dancers, there is feeling, and with some there isn´t any. I had heard about the entrega in tango, and I thought I understood what it meant. I have had great dances/tandas before. But this was a different dimension. We didn´t have a wonderful dance together; we were entirely lost to the dance and each other, that´s the closest I can get to describing it.

Something else also happened which would have, in itself, made my evening, though its importance wanes in comparison with that sublime tanda: I got two most unusual compliments. I mean, every now and then a man you dance with will say how well you dance, or how they enjoy dancing with you – which is always very nice and pleasing (not to mention those who call you a goddess;) But what happened to me yesterday was that two women, quite independently of each other, came up to me just to tell me how they loved my dancing and how wonderful I looked on the dancefloor (and how long I had been dancing, where had I learned, etc.). The precise words were ´Usually it is a beautiful dance with a great leader that makes my evening, but what really made my evening today was watching you dance.´ Wow! I was quite overwhelmed. Like I told the lady, that was some compliment – and doubly so, coming from another woman! :)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Elle est belle.

This is just something that made me laugh:) It´s got nothing to do with tango, but with men and women - like tango. Take a look!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Classes or No Classes? or, It Is All About the Teacher...

This post was partly triggered off by this comment left by Tangobaby:

´One of my favorite teachers said that after a while you must stop taking classes because it will kill your dance. I think he meant that you can study too much and then the dance becomes more of a clinical experiment than an expression of yourself

I don´t know. I think it depends on what you consider a class, on what your are after learning, and, last but not least, on the teacher; a good teacher should also help you understand that study – in the technical sense – isn´t everything; expression and feeling can´t be taught in class, but they can be shown, transmitted – and that should be a part of teaching.

After a couple of months, when you´ve mastered the basic principles of tango, going to group classes is, honestly, a waste of time – unless you´re one of those people who go to class once a week but never to milongas – in which case you´re not likely to be reading this blog because it would interfere with the time assigned to tango in your life and make you feel like one of those tango-obsessed nutters – or unless you are a leader and want more figures (in which case I would suggest workshops).

Some time ago Tanguillo published a very thorough and insightful (and, incidentally, quite funny) article on how to choose your tango teacher, if you´re going to take group classes. I have rarely taken group classes (and, to be frank, learned little from the ones I took), but would like to expound a bit on the subject of private classes from my point of view.

Private classes are rather expensive, but if you can afford a group class once a week, you can also afford a private every five or six weeks, and that should suffice, provided that you dance a lot in between and that the classes are really useful. I actually find that I need that pause of several weeks for the new knowledge to sink in – especially as most of the things you need to learn after you´ve acquired the basics are in the head, so to speak, rather than in the body. It is a curious thing about physical activities that one can´t learn a move by just practising it physically; one must grasp the nature of a move mentally to be able to perform it – and once you understand the move, and only then, your body can execute it quite effortlessly – and this doesn´t go only for dancing.

Now what is it that makes a good teacher? In my opinion, a good teacher

- knows how to explain the meaning, the nature of a move (c.f. above), not by describing it, but by making you understand it. You know the difference between good and bad math teachers? Very much like that. The best teacher I´ve ever met would never say: ´Not like that, do it like THAT!´ ??? He would roll his eyes in thought every time, then smile and say: ´Don´t think about that move. Imagine that...(something seemingly irrelevant)´ – which would make me do precisely what he meant me to. That is teaching.

- knows how to encourage the student. I´ve had teachers who would yell at me ´What ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING with your feet?! Are you a dancer, or what?´ while they would later mention to someone else that I was very talented indeed. I know this is a way of teaching. It doesn´t shock me. From a very early age and until adolescence I did artistic gymnastics. We were a bunch of skinny 8-year-old girls, hopping gracefully around a ballet studio, while our coach would exclaim in disgust ´You look like a herd of elephants´ and ´Of course you can´t rise properly, your ass is too heavy after all the sweets you have eaten during the Christmas holiday´ (I weighed about 20 kg back then). I know this method, while somewhat harsh, may actually bring good results, and greatly improve one´s technique; yet I have always danced so much better after a class with someone who would treat me as their equal and encourage me to enjoy my dancing (with maybe that foot pointing a bit more to the side – yes, isn´t that beautiful now?) After all, that´s what it´s all about, isn´t it?

- I find that another desirable (and hardly ever mentioned) aspect of a good tango teacher is his/her ability to establish physical closeness with the student (esp. if they teach milonguero). In general this is an innate quality which some have and others lack. It´s about being a physical kind of person in contact with others, I think. I have observed that people who are more reserved in this respect often have difficulties dancing in close embrace (though why they should want to do so in the first place, given their nature, is a mystery to me). Anyway, for teachers this is a most helpful quality.

And, of course, a good teacher doesn´t teach steps, but posture, balance, axis, embrace and body movement technique.. I know, it has been said a million times by others before me, but should be repeated until there are no teachers teaching only steps left out there...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Seriously, it is! No matter what some Argentines, jealous of their cultural heritage, might say;)

How else would it be possible to walk into a milonga in a town where you don´t know a single person, and feel immediately at home?

I speak from experience. I travel a lot. Sometimes too much for my brain to keep up with. I am often surprised to find myself in a different place than I had expected when I open my eyes in the morning. I mix up my plane tickets (I have tried to board flights with a ticket dating a week earlier or two weeks later – one from the pile of tickets I had picked up in a hurry when leaving home), my friends never know where I might be (and so just wait for a call rather than call me themselves – thank God for email!) and my closest family members often have an only hazy idea of my current whereabouts (it changes all the time, anyway). Certain airport lounges and other most un-homely places have a distinct air of homeliness to me – some kind of a mental defensive mechanism, I assume; although I have always applied the word home‘ very loosely to places where I can sleep, eat, have people I like (at least sometimes) and where I feel well. A childhood remnant, I suppose – I spent a lots of time in hotels in that critical age when children learn to speak, and it appears that I had a difficulty attaching a precise definition to this word – its meaning kept eluding me and upon arriving to new hotel rooms I would excitedly inquire of my parents whether THIS was home, only to be told ´No, no, this is a HOTEL´. The nuance, of course, is irrelevant to a child travelling with her family and all her favourite toys...

However – for an adult, travelling is both mentally and physically exhausting, and travelling by plane is also boring and unpleasant (especially since the ban on gels and liquids in hand luggage – how can a woman entrust the air carriers with her nécessaire, I ask you? my suitcase got lost – well, that´s a euphemism – twice in the past two months). I like to think I can endure the strain better than others, seeing as I have grown up this way and would probably go crazy if confined to one place; still, travelling all the time is bad, both for your private and for your social life, it is bad tout court – except for TANGO.

Travelling is good for my tango: it has enabled me to dance with many many many different partners, thus extending my following ability; it has enabled me to observe and learn different styles of tango; it has enabled me to meet and make friends with tango dancers from other countries and tango communities, which is always interesting (well, that doesn´t go for tango only, but in general; I am, however, trying to stick to the subject, for once!).

And tango is good for my travelling! You can dance tango in practically any big city (apart from the capital of a certain grand duchy which I have always suspected to be an overgrown village rather than a small city:) and I have discovered interesting places in pursuit of milongas, places it would have never crossed my mind to look for, otherwise.

And the best thing is that you walk into a foreign milonga and all of a sudden you find yourself in a familiar environment, where you can move with ease, and where all that matters is that (and, maybe, how..) you dance tango! This overwhelming feeling of affinity with completely unknown tango dancers and the unexpected impression of being at home which I experienced ten days ago as I arrived, melancholy and in denial about Dutch reality, to a milonga in a small Dutch town - what could it mean but that tango is truly international? :)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Heel first, or toe first?

Yesterday, I gave in to this obsession I have about improving my dancing and took two private classes with local teachers I had never seen before.

Which was somewhat risky, but I like learning from different people; every teacher has a different approach to tango and his/her own way of teaching it, which I find is good. I have never really had a single regular teacher – I believe that it is good to have one in the beginning, but once you have some basics it is better to change, learn from others as well, consider everything and try it out – and then choose what to accept and integrate into your tango and what to reject as unhelpful or nonsense (mind you, it did take me some time to learn THAT; in the beginning one tends to take the teacher´s words as God´s truth:) – and that´s precisely why one should experiment with different teachers).

That´s just to say I am fairly open to other perceptions of tango and have often reassessed my tango in the light of new discoveries. But I try to think for myself.

The first class I took turned out to be a bit of a drag – the teachers were very nice people, and pretty good dancers, but they just kept on stating the obvious, reciting the basic theories I already know by heart; I walked out of there feeling I hadn´t learned a thing. However, one controversial point came up during the lesson that I´ll still need to reflect upon – the ´toe first vs. heel first´ issue. Oh yes. From what I´ve been seeing on the net, it is something that suscitates many debates, and the question whether, when dancing tango, one ought to walk toe first or heel first remains unsettled. I walk toe first. The female teacher´s reaction to that was that this was not at all good, that I should walk naturally – heel first, that is –, that all the great dancers in Bs As walk heel first (do they, now?) and that walking heel first would give me a greater freedom of movement, thus improving my dancing... Then she added, for clarity´s sake, I imagine, that when walking backwards, you should walk toe first. Now, that´s reassuring, isn´t it? :)))

It just didn´t sound very convincing to me. Especially the ´greater freedom of movement´ thing – in my opinion, walking heel first totally blocks your step; by stepping on the heel you nail you foot to the spot and there is no way you can later adjust that step.

But to be fair, I have been trying it out, just to see what effect it would have. I find I can do it in some steps (like in the media luna for example) but not in others; in certain steps it even appears to be counterproductive (like in front ochos). I do find it quite hard, seeing as I´ve been walking toe first throughout my tango existence, but I would like to experiment with it a bit. Nevertheless, walking ONLY heel first doesn´t make sense to me. A combination of the two, pourquoi pas, but on the whole I think there is more to be said for the ´toe first´ theory than for the ´heel first´ one.

Anyway, the second lesson was a blast – body movement and walking technique (yes!), adornos (yes! yes! yes!), not only very illuminating, but great fun into the bargain! The bloke was, or else looked, incredibly young, maybe my age, and has danced tango for 15 years – when did he start, I wonder – in primary school? I wish I had had to good sense to start dancing tango as an adolescent... But then he had learned from Gavito and from Javier.. and it so shows...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

La photo du jour

I just love these two. They´ve got style, they´ve got feeling...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Tango - Relaxed or Snobbish?

As a rule, different people will describe different milongas – ehm, differently; it depends on their point of view, their preferences, and also on the image they project and how they are perceived by their surroundings. That is clear. Therefore, the following speculations about the nature of the francophone vs. Dutch/Flemish tango communities are no more than that – subjective speculations. But even so:

I have been hearing, from several independent sources, sighs, complaints and assertions relating to the snobbery inherent to the Paris tango scene; I have also been hearing tangueros/as describe the (mostly) francophone Brussels tango community as ´pretentious and haughty´, especially in comparison to the Flemish tango community in Antwerp, and to the atmosphere of the Netherlands´ milongas, which are in general said to be very relaxed, easy-going and friendly.

Now, you can see the typical clichés: the easy-going Dutchman and the haughty Parisian (can be extended to all francophones, according to where you stand). But it so happens that I started dancing tango in Paris. Not taking lessons, I had done that for several months before that, but Paris is where I got really hooked, where I started attending milongas every night, or almost, where I became addicted to tango. I was a total beginner back then, so I didn´t get to dance with many hot shots of course, but I danced with intermediate to fairly good leaders, and danced enough to be able to improve quickly (and often more than my feet could take). Ok, I didn´t go to the Latina. But I went to other very nice places and I thouroughly enjoyed my tango début in Paris; I liked Paris, and I felt that the liking was mutual.

With Brussels it is similar; maybe I don´t notice anymore, I´ve been dancing there for so long, the milongas feel like home. There sure are some really good dancers who will hardly ever invite anyone who is not a great dancer and their friend to boot, but you have such people everywhere. But on the whole, I think the local tango scene is no more snobbish or pretentious than any other tango community in the world (let's face it, there will always be a tiny bit of pretentiousness about tango dancers – those people have put in a lot of hard work to become who they are, they won´t have that passed over lightly).

I have never danced in Antwerp, although I know some tango dancers from there; they say that the atmosphere there is very pleasant and relaxed, but they always hasten to add that the level of dancing is much lower than in Brussels. C. f. above.

And now I am dancing in the Netherlands. It is my second time after the Doble Ocho (I don´t count El Corte, because the chained salons are international really), and it basically confirms my earlier impressions. The Dutch are, indeed, very friendly and easy going, and the atmosphere at the milongas is very relaxed. It is so relaxed you could probably stand on your head in a corner and no one would be scandalized – they probably wouldn´t notice, and if they did, would dismiss it as insignificant. That´s something you learn quickly in a city like Amsterdam, and I own it is a quality I like very much. But when it gets to being invited by really good dancers – I don´t know. Maybe it just can´t be expected within a couple of days – all tango communities are have a fairly complex social structure, even those that appear to be quite open and unstructured at first sight, and it always takes some time to find your own place.

All this just to say that these generalizations shouldn´t be taken too seriously. The milonga environment is very complex and besides, one night may be completely different from another night...

However (now seriously) – some distinctions must be made.

THIS is elegant.

THIS, on the other hand, is sloppy!

Monday, August 06, 2007

The weekend milongas

This weekend the weather was lovely, even by other-than-Dutch standards:) and so, apart from going to the seaside, I danced a lot – outside!

I began on Friday at the Academia del Tango in Amsterdam. I was advised against this practica by a chance acquaintance (but an experienced dancer), still, I went there, because a friend I hadn´t seen for a while insisted it was really nice and practically like a salon. What can I say, perhaps I ought to have taken the advice; but I really wanted to check out this place. It is perhaps the oldest tango school in Amsterdam and very conveniently situated in the centre. And it wasn´t bad, but, well, it was a practica and it showed on the level of dancing – though it is true that some good dancers started coming in later in the evening. There is, however, one significant drawback to the Academia: it has a linoleum floor! And slippery like hell – it was like dancing on ice! It was not so bad for the slow tangos (though I did put in a lots of circle adornos to enhance my stability..) but the milongas! Some of my dancers found it amusing, you know, there are some fancy moves which are easier to execute on a slippery floor but, frankly, something resembling an ice revue is not my idea of what a milonga should be like. I really found that rather disappointing, because I think that if you decide to open a tango school, with all kinds of tango events, than surely a decent wooden floor ought to be your primary concern..?

On Saturday I went to an open-air milonga in a park in Leiden, and that was really wonderful. The setting was great, the people very nice, lovely dancing and I also managed to take some lovely pictures – to see here.

But the most impressive milonga was definitely the one on Sunday, in the Muziekgebouw, a modern glass building opening on the Amsterdam harbour, with a wooden terrace outside. As there were all-glass walls you could dance and watch the sun set over the harbour – beautiful. Besides it was really warm, so the doors were left wide open and people circulated freely between the dancefloor, the café next to it, and the terrace outside.

I got invited about five times, but somehow I didn´t get to dance with any really good leaders:(

The thing is, I expected it to be outside, and not knowing what floor there would be, I brought my oldest, plain black shoes with rather low heels which I only wear to classes and outside milongas with rough floor... And I forgot that, in a place where people don´t know you and don´t have a clue whether you are a good dancer or not, the only chance of getting invited by good leaders is to wear your flashiest shoes...and watching all these girls with extravagant Neo-tango and Comme Il Faut shoes I was cursing myself for leaving my lovely favourite pale-pink-satin-and-black-lace Comme Il Fauts at home... oh well.

Friday, August 03, 2007

El abrazo

BTW – what is it with the abrazo? I mean, I can´t make it out, it seems that you simply either have it, or you don´t. But surely something can be done about that?! Imagine milongas full of leaders with that wonderful, warm, firm yet tender, comfortable embrace... Paradise, isn´it? In reality, I know, such an embrace is rather rare. And you have its opposite, an embrace which either just isn´t there (you know what I mean?) or, worse, the forceful, stiff version, extremely uncomfortable to the point of impeding your dancing. I hate that. Which is why I got into this rant...

I went to a local practica two days ago; like I said, it´s a small town, one teacher of tango only, so the community isn´t numerous. They are, however, very nice and open, and I had a very pleasant evening, where in turn I got to dance with practically all the local leaders present. Two of them were fairly good, one horrible and one wonderful.

Now, the horrible one, apart from a muddy lead and scarce musicality, had that particular unpleasant embrace; it was so unpleasant I had to ditch him after the third dance (didn´t want to seem rude and haughty since it was my first tango evening here and like I said, the community is very small... also, I thought he might improve... but he didn´t, seemed actually rather pleased with himself, and when he invited me again later that evening I turned him down with a polite but decided ´no´. I had even asked him how long he danced, ready to make allowances for his inexperience, but when he said four years, I gave up all hope).

The wonderful leader, on the other hand, was an elderly man who was clearly a born dancer. He had obviously danced tango for a very long time, and was very subtly musical into the bargain. But what made the dances so great (I couldn´t stop dancing with him, it was so nice I had that wide smile of total bliss on my face) was not so much what we did with our legs and feet (which wasn´t bad either), but the embrace. It was The Embrace. And it´s funny how you can tell from the very start that a man who holds you like that simply cannot be a bad dancer. I mean, maybe it´s just a coincidence, but have you ever danced with a leader with a great embrace who was a bad, non-musical dancer?

And so I wonder – shouldn´t the tango teachers devote more time to the technique of the abrazo? Shouldn´t they make sure their students understand how important, even essential, it is for good tango? Some people have this gift and don´t need to learn it – some men just know how to hold women better than others – but I am sure that those who do not have this gift could greatly improve their embrace, if they only tried hard enough. Because to me, the biggest problem seems to be that those people are entirely ignorant of their faults... Will somebody tell them, please....!

I don´t know, this seems like a really nice embrace, doesn´it?

The Low Countries and tango

Have neglected posting again:( had a very memorable month of July, tangowise, though:))) and in the last days I have been too busy finding out all about tango in the Netherlands. Tango is my salvation; the local landscape had plunged me into a profound depression, which lifted after the first milonga:) seriously. I mean, the people here are extremely nice, and I like the water canals (though Venice is a better setting for them I should say) but I have this theory that the style, taste and the overall aesthetics of a country (and its architecture!) stem from its natural landscape. From which you may draw your own conclusions... If there is one thing that reconciles me to this country though, it is Amsterdam. A great city. Maybe it´s just that I am used to big cities, I like them, I feel good in them, and I have been spending the last couple of days in a lovely small idyllic town... Amsterdam, however, is a colourful city bustling with life, full of all kinds of people, and, yes, it´s got style. And then, all those funny little bridges over the canals, all those bicycles (love the Dutch bicycle culture!). If it weren´t so far north it would be one of the places I would like to live in. Luckily one can go anywhere with the train here, and tonight I am dancing in Amsterdam!