Monday, 26 January 2015

Happy Birthday, Ricardo Tanturi!

El caballero del tango was born 27 January 1905, and was in his prime as a pianist, composer and most prominently as a band leader during the Golden Age of Tango. Collaborating with the popular singer Alberto Castillo, and then the more romantic voice of Enrique Campos, his orquesta produced numerous classics which I find simply irresistible. No traditional milonga is complete without Tanturi!

Perhaps the best known of these classics outside Argentina is Una emoción which featured in the credits of the film Assassination tango.

Listen to DDP's Favourite Tanturi Tandas which feature links to DDP's lovingly crafted translations of the lyrics. Tanda of the Week also treats us to a number of Tanturi treasures.

And for the more visually-oriented, take a look at milonguero Rubén Harymbat & Enriqueta Kleinman dancing to Recuerdo malevo (Tanturi/Castillo), and Carlitos Espinoza & Noelia Hurtado performing to Calla bandoneón (Tanturi/Campos).

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Getting the music #2

One good way of improving your tango is to listen to Golden Age dance music - a lot!

You start hearing, feeling and responding to more and more elements of this rich, multi-layered music. Ah, what a delicious pleasure it is to dance with someone who really gets the music.

But what about all those fabulous, danceable tangazos which are sung? What might you be missing if you don't understand Spanish, or in many cases Lunfardo? Some people dismiss the lyrics as unimportant. I've even heard tango lyrics derided as merely variations on the "She done him wrong" theme. But there's so much more to these stories of the barrio. I've found that having even a small inkling of the story to which I'm dancing totally enriches my tango experience.

Fortunately, a number of dedicated and talented souls are opening these doors to non-Spanish speaking tango enthusiasts. Take a look and get lost on the blogs of Poesía de Gotán, Tango Decoder and Embrujamiento.

Look up some of your favourite tangos, and then see if things change for you next time you dance.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

What does it take to dance in Buenos Aires?

Thinking of visiting the Mecca of tango? 
Are you ready for the challenges which await you? 
Are your expectations realistic?

Here is one person’s opinion – not expert, not comprehensive, but coming from a lot of observation and personal experience.   Visitors to BsAs need as many assets as possible to break into the local milonga scene – and I’m talking about the traditional milongas here, such as La Nacional, El Beso, Plaza Bohemia, Lo de Celia, etc.  So here’s my list: 
  •  Make an effort with your personal hygiene  and  appearance  (for a man, that can include wearing a jacket). 
  •  A good embrace is a must, and the first step you take is a defining moment – make it count. 
  • You need to dance well if you are to be noticed, and then desired as a possible partner
  • And you need to appear interested and confident – look like you belong in the milonga
Now some basic codes that should be respected: 
  •  Using the cabeceo is essential …. and for ladies, that also means remaining in your seats until the man arrives
  • Good navigation skills must be used to avoid embarrassing collisions, or disturbing the dancers around you. This means following a tight line-of-dance and respecting neighbouring dancers’ space.
  • It is important to dance appropriately and conservatively. No big figures, gentlemen. Nor feet off the floor, ladies.  Everyone sees everything in the milonga  - dancing that doesn’t fit in, is quickly condemned in people’s minds  
  • When dancing, there needs to be maximum concentration on your partner – it’s not about you, it’s about them.  Add to this, musicality that reflects familiarity with the music, and how to respond to it.
So will breaking into the scene take a long time?  There are a number of factors to keep an eye on, quite apart from the above list (e.g. don’t sit as a couple if you expect to dance with other partners).  Here are some extra tips: 
  •  Stay for a reasonable period in BsAs (no, two weeks aren’t long enough), attend the same milonga regularly, and return to BsAs as often as you can to re-connect with partners you have met
  • If you get a couple of dances on your first night, and your partners liked what they felt, then they will probably look out for you next time  ..... when you may then find a couple more new partners
  • Have patience, and an understanding of social pressures – local people go to the milongas to see and dance with their friends, so there is an element of wanting to dance together first.  You may have to wait and persist.  And while you may not get many dances in your early visits to the milongas, there is lots to interest the true tango lover, such as listening to the music, and watching the dancers.
These thoughts are the product of 15 years of annual visits to BsAs, when in the early years, lack of competence, ignorance ... and  a reasonable dose of fear, meant that we only danced as a couple.  No-one had told us anything about how to fit in, about the codes, about dancing that was appropriate.  Then there was a period of ‘dipping our toes in the water’, until we had eventually developed our skill, understanding, and confidence enough to fully embrace the ‘singles’ scene at the traditional milongas mentioned at the start, and to look forward to making local tango connections.  Above all, we came to utterly respect and enjoy the codes and customs of the milongas that belong to the people of BsAs.

There’s probably more that could be added to my list. What do you think?

PS. If you’re thinking of visiting BsAs for the first time to dance tango, and your teachers haven’t prepared you for what awaits, then make sure you talk to people who know.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Partner poaching

Sometimes our eye-sight doesn’t serve us well, and our use of the cabeceo suffers accordingly.  There have been times when a lady has accepted my invitation from afar, but the man in the next seat has dashed across the floor before I’ve even risen.  The lady has a choice – insist on waiting for me to arrive and send the ‘sprinter’ away, or dance with him, and give me a nod to indicate “next tanda”.

I have also found myself as one of two men approaching a lady, only to find that I’ve got it wrong.  This situation has often been resolved by everyone laughing it off as part of the fun, followed by my retreat … although once, one of my regular partners at El Maipu, sitting nearby, fixed things by saying, “Come on Robert, let’s dance”!  No retreat necessary.

However, there is another, less pleasant scenario that is talked about in some of the milongas in Buenos Aires, and at my local ones; this is the one involving the ‘partner poacher’.   Certainly, the ‘sprinter’ above may be one of those, and if the lady doesn’t want to dance with him, she can choose not to. However, the talk is more about some women: they are close to the line of sight of the cabeceo from a man to a woman nearby; as the man approaches, she jumps up and enters the dance floor in front of the intended lady.  Again, there is a choice at hand – this time by the man.  He will normally not want to embarrass the lady on the floor, so will dance with her …. hopefully, with a nod to the lady still seated.

Sometimes the misunderstanding is unintended, and at other times, women talk about their partners being stolen.  The ‘partner poacher’ gets her dance, but at what cost?  Clearly, there is some ill-feeling from affected women.  And for the man?  He too will be disturbed, and may end up simply ‘going through the motions’ for the tanda, feeling resentful.  All in all, not a good result.

So, what is the protocol?  It’s quite simple really. Once the cabeceo has been successful, the man will approach the woman, making frequent eye contact solely with her; she will do the same, as confirmation that she is his intended partner.  The woman should stay seated until the man is at her table, gives her another clear nod, then she should join him on the floor.  In these circumstances the likelihood of mistakes, while never completely eliminated, is lessened and harmony in the milonga will prevail.

Monday, 13 October 2014

To the shrinking violets of the milonga

Do you fear that nobody will want to dance with you at the milonga, so you consider not attending?

Do you hide your shyness by checking your phone messages or by making polite conversation, when really you would prefer to be dancing?

Ladies, on the dance-floor, do you often worry that you won't understand your partner's lead?

Gentlemen, do you feel intimidated by the couples dancing around you?

What does your body language say about you at the milonga?

Here's some highly recommended viewing, for all shrinking violets, not just those at the milonga!


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