Monday, 28 March 2016

Enquette: Gender and Role Balance at Tango Events

In the last 10 years, many events with balanced numbers of men/women or leaders/followers have been created: Marathons, Festivalitos and Encuentros Milongueros and private events.
This has positive results (everyone present gets to dance more) and negative consequences (long waiting lists for followers).

As a tango organiser who has been promoting this concept, I want to evaluate the current situation and initiate discussions about alternative concepts - if there are any. 

Please note that I am aiming to discuss the topic "gender/role balance at events" and not the pros and contras of pre-registration events as such. So if you just want to rant about supposedly elitist or inviation-only events, my questionnaire is not meant for you.

This questionnaire will be open until June, 5 2016. I am planning the publication of the results in September.

Thank you for 
taking you time and participating here.

Friday, 25 March 2016

ABC of Tango Events - No More Porridge!

Tango defies all kinds of standardisations. It is a highly individualised tradition based upon the personal views, styles and philosophies of thousands of people all over the world. This is what makes tango so complete and interesting. I certainly don‘t aim to downsize its diversity or the inventiveness of organisers in creating new forms of get-togethers. It can nevertheless make sense to define certain forms of events or more accurately: to describe some commonly agreed-upon categories of events.

Why is that?

When I started dancing tango, there were just a few local milongas. Once in a while the local teachers would invite an external (usually argentine) teacher couple and maybe even a tango-orchestra. And then you’d dress up and call the event a festival, because it was more than a normal milonga. Expectancies were not very well-defined and life was easy. Everyone ate porridge.

Nowadays, there are many different forms of events that have developed based on the philosophies of sub-groups and organisers in the tango community. Sure, there are still those who dance no matter where to no matter what music in no matter what style. When you start out, that might even be normal. But the majority of more experienced dancers will develop personal preferences. Some like dancing to the “old” tango orchestras, some prefer non-tango-music, some love live bands… Most dancers will choose evens quite consciously and spend a lot of time, money and energy to fulfil their quite accurately defined and  sometimes exaggerated expectations, like someone who visits a restaurant:
You know, when I order a Diet Coca Cola, I don’t want to be served a Pepsi Max, because I really don’t like the taste of it. When I order my steak medium, I don’t want it raw. When I order Paella, I don’t want to eat Risotto. And a Pizza is no Flammkuchen. These dishes might be related, but they are not the same. 

In order to prevent their customers from being disappointed and themselves from having to listen to complaints, I think that organisers better describe their events as honestly and detailed as possible in advance. This is where labels come in handy. If everyone agrees upon what a marathon is, an organiser can use this single term to describe his or her event very accurately. If an event will not fit into a commonly agreed-upon category it will of course need a more detailed description.

Unfortunately, a praxis of (intended or uninformed) mis-labelling has spread in the tango community and customers are confused. 

An example: Two years ago, local organisers promoted an international Festival-Marathon-Encuentro. From what I can tell, they have neither been to an encuentro, nor to a marathon. As for the internationality: all milongas in my home region will host dancers from France, Germany and Luxemburg because of our city’s situation in a triangle of three countries. Does this make an event with less that 200 mostly regional dancers an “international festival”?

Another case from last year: A couple of organisers who are specialised in big festivals and personally dance in a rather expansive manner visited their first encuentro milonguero. After that, they decided to organise one as well. Because of their lack of connections in the milonguero community, it was mostly visited by their regular festival- and milonga-customers, who are no milongueros. Do you think that this was a genuine encuentro? I just know, that the single participant who had traveled from afar because she had believed in the publicity was very disappointed. 

The same is happening in lots of places: organisers who want to make money or are just too lazy to describe their events properly, use popular and often quite wrong labels to attract customers.

Sure, there is no law against it and one can expect customers to inform themselves properly. And yes, experienced organisers can cater to different tastes, if they take their jobs seriously or ask for help from experts. But sorry, the above-described behaviour is just unsound business practise. 

I firmly believe that it is not enough to label an event in a certain manner and then stick to some general features in order to make it work. To deliver quality, you have to believe in what you are doing and share the philosophy of your desired customers. That is what makes tango events authentic, personal and good. I know the features of a marathon and I could surely organise one without making any major mistakes, but: I only have very few connections in the marathon scene and there are some aspects of marathons, that I don’t agree with. How could I deliver a great experience for everyone else? You have to know something intimately to create it and you should love what you sell.

In this I agree with many other organisers and business-people in general. Just recently, I visited an encuentro-marathon mixer in Barcelona and discussed the subject with friends. They are anchored in the marathon scene, but have started visiting encuentros. And they are observing the same phenomenon: organisers announcing events as “marathons” without being able or wanting to deliver what they promise. Because of this, Dany de Kay has recently published a brief “terminology of tango events”, to be found here.

At the time of publishing, I had already written the biggest part of this article. But when Dany published his list, I stopped working on it. I have now decided to post my “ABC of Tango Events” nevertheless, as it may offer insights from another perspective and because my blog is read by another clientele. The more we spread the idea of correct labelling, the more we can help organisers and customers to agree upon what the want from each other.

In order for you to understand the basis of my terminology, I will first define three general terms.

1. Los Codigos Milongueros
… are a set of behavioural guidelines recommended by organisers of what often is called “traditional” tango events. 
A short note: Let us not forget, that some of these codigos might the result of a very recent development. As far as I can tell, mirada & cabeceo e.g. might not have been used in the “época d’óro” - at least not everywhere. Men just walked up to their partners and asked them - or their mothers - for a dance. And how could the music be arranged in “tandas” when only one orchestra played live music at a milonga. Actually I believe the “codigos milongueros” to be a modern set of guidelines, that developed to cope with the inevitable chaos and misunderstandings that came with the tango-renaissance in the 80s and 90s.
However long they exist, this is what they boil down to:
- Preservation of the embrace throughout the dance.
- Respect for the ronda and other dancers: leaders cabeceo to enter the ronda, abstinence of movements that take up too much space or might disturb other dancers, constant movement counter-clockwise in one’s lane on the dance-floor.
- Respect for the personal space of everyone and equal activity of followers and leaders in the process of invitation: use of mirada and cabeceo.
- Promote of frequent exchange of partners, so that no-one is left out: clear dance-floor after one tanda, so that everyone can choose another partner.

2. Milonguero, Milonguera, Tango Milonguero
A milonguero or milonguera is a person who dances tango on a regular basis with a high level of commitment and will act upon the "codigos milongueros“. 
Some people relate the term “milonguero“ to a certain style of dancing, often limited to a small repertoire of typical steps and an "apilado“ (leaning) embrace. In my opinion, the term should not be narrowed in this way. General opinion agrees, that milongueros can have different and individual styles, varying from very traditional to highly modern. These styles are often influenced by the space available at their regular milongas. The milongueros of the packed milongas in the centre of Buenos Aires have obviously developed a style with small, rhythmic moves in contrast to their colleagues in the outer barrios, who’ve got huge dance-halls to move in. Even the embrace can range from a slightly open v-hold to a very closed chest-to-chest contact. In general one can say, that a milonguero dances tango de salón.
There are recent opinions who challenge the codigos-based definition by stating, that a milonguero does not necessarily agree with the "codigos milongueros“. In their opinion, the term “milonguero” would just describe a dedicated tango dancer. I don’t find this generalisation helpful. Most tango dancers are dedicated to the tango culture and there is a term to describe them: they are tangueros. To be a milonguero or milonguera implies a shared philosophy, a commitment to a set of values that helps define the community and its expectations.

3. Tango de Salón
For many years, this term has been signifying tango as it is danced in the milongas, the salons. It distinguishes social tango from the choreographed stage tango, the tango escenario. As social tango is always danced in a ronda with other couples, it makes sense to forgo movements, that would endanger the other dancers on the floor, such as high voleos, certain forms of ganchos or volcadas, sentadas, jumps, huge colgadas and the like. As the ronda requires the couple to adapt to the movement to the other dancers, it does not allow for pre-set figures or choreographies. Improvisation is of the utmost importance. 
Since the turn of the century, there has been the tendency to limit the term “tango de salon“ to a certain style: Tango Villa Urquiza. This was done in order to distinguish this more elaborate style from the supposedly very restricted “estilo milonguero“. But as I don’t believe that there is one “estilo milonguero”, I don’t see the necessity of constricting “tango de salon“ to such a narrow meaning either. I will go on using it as a generic term. When asked what he was dancing the late Tete Rusconi - a famous milonguero - would answer “tango de salón” I keep it as simple.

Let me now describe the different forms of tango events, as I know them. There are of course events, that have mixed features, but - as stated above - these traits will usually then be mentioned in the event’s description. For example: Our “Festivalito con Amigos” started out as a festivalito, a small festival. Later is was more clearly specified as a festivalito milonguero, but nowadays it is a pure encuentro milonguero, that preserved only one feature from its festivalito-days: short demo by a couple of our friends. 

So here finally goes my: 

ABC of Tango Events

Encuentro Milonguero
Definition: A meeting of milongueros. In Italy, these events might be called raduno", in France "rencontre“ or ”rendez-vous“. The term suggests a rather intimate setting in which people can socialise easily as opposed to the more anonymous festival atmosphere. (There can of course also be encuentros of non-milongueros, but in the last years, this terms was mostly used in the milonguero context.)
Duration: 3-5 days
Milongas/Dancing: Separate milongas, usually one in the afternoon and another one in the evening. The last Milonga is often called “despedida” (farewell party) and will usually take place on Sunday afternoon to allow the participants to return to their home towns on the same day.
Demos: Usually none
Music: traditional tango music in tandas and with cortinas presented by experienced DJs, often with international reputation, no live music
Classes: None
Booking: Several months in advance
Balance of gender or dance-roles: Yes
Separate seating of men, women and couples: Contrary to uninformed belief, only 50% of the encuentros use this set-up. Please enquire with the organisers or check here.
Participants: Aims to attract experienced dancers from all over Europe or the world, but might also have a smaller catchment area, depending on the connections of the organisers.
Number of participants: Approx. 80 - 300. (Recommendation: stay below 200 to preserve the spirit of an intimate encounter.)
Behavioural codes: The „codigos milongueros“ are promoted.
Typical examples: Abrazos (UK), Les Cigales (France), Yo Soy Milonguero (Italy)

Definition: Festivals are important events with a comprehensive programme, often hosted at spectacular or big venues. The term "international“ might be added to suggest its significance. 
Duration: 3 days or more, some festivals last up to a week
Milongas/Dancing: Separate Milongas, at least one per evening, usually a formal ball on Saturday
Demos: Shows by the teaching couples and guests of honour
Music: Tango music presented by experienced DJs, often of international reputation, often one or more orchestras.
Classes: Numerous classes by the teacher couples, additionally there might be private classes, lectures, discussions, art presentations. (Recommendation: please call your event a festival, if you plan on inviting more than 2 teachers couples of a certain recognition. Inviting the local teachers to do a beginners class alongside the Argentine guests does not turn your workshop weekend into a festival.) 
Booking: Classes and or festival passes are usually booked in advance, milongas/balls might sometimes be payed over the counter.
Balance of gender or dance-roles: No
Separate seating of men, women and couples: No
Participants: Dancers of all levels and styles, sometimes additional spectators, who come for the shows and concerts. 
Number of participants: A lot. (Please do not call your event a festival, if you expect much less than 200 dancers. Large festivals might host up to 2000 participants, in the past even more. If your events is much smaller in scale, why not call it Festivalito?)
Behavioural codes: Often none, which is why experienced dancers often shun festivals. But it does not have to be that way. Why not encourage the use of the „codigos milongueros“ to prevent the chaos, that often comes from an in-homogenous mixture of participants? At least those codigos that refer to the behaviour on the dance-floor would help a lot and might stop the decline of festivals in the customer’s favour.
Typical examples: Tangomanía (Netherlands), Ostertango (Switzerland), Tarbes en Tango (France)

Festivalito Milonguero
Definition: Basically the term describes a small festival - less participants, less teachers, a downsized programme. But when specified by the expression “milonguero“ it is usually an encuentro milonguero with some classes and a demo. This is what I am referring to in this description.
Duration: Usually 3 days
Milongas/Dancing: Separate milongas, at least one per day, sometimes additional afternoon Milongas
Demos: Usually a short improvised demo of close-embrace by the teaching couples or guests of honour
Music: Traditional tango music in tandas and with cortinas presented by experienced DJs, no live music.
Classes: A few classes by 1-2 teacher couples, additionally private classes or privatandas (privates of the duration of one tanda), sometimes practicas
Booking: Usually several months in advance, classes might be booked later
Balance of gender or dance-roles: Mostly. I strongly recommend to stick to this feature, as the general audience expects this feature to come with the label.
Separate seating of men, women and couples: Usually not.
Participants: Aims to attract experienced dancers, in particular those who want to develop their skills and knowledge, but might also be open to less experienced dancers in order to integrate them into the community. A festivalito can nevertheless can be composed of a very international, highly-skilled crowd, depending on the “pull“ of the organisers, DJs and teachers.
Number of participants: 80 - 200
Behavioural codes: The "codigos milongueros“ are promoted and expected.
Typical examples: Festivalito Rural (2010-15 in Slovenia), Embrace Norway (Norway), Pequeña (Germany)

Definition: Non-stop dancing over a longer period, typically in a more informal setting.
Duration: Usually 3 days. There seem to be other formats as well. A 12-hour Milonga might also be called a marathon, but I am not sure, if marathon folk would find that appropriate. Dany de Kay’s terminology speaks of 3 days.
Milongas/Dancing: The milongas blend into each other, usually interrupted by short breaks in the morning hours or during the shared meals.
Demos: None
Music: Usually traditional tango music presented in tandas and with cortinas by experienced DJs, but some Marathons may be also open to non-tango music or modern tango recordings. Please check with the organisers. No live music.
Classes: None
Booking: Usually several months in advance
Balance of gender or dance-roles: Yes
Separate seating of men, women and couples: No
Participants: Depends on the connections of the organisers, but aims to attract an international crowd of experienced dancers. 
Number of participants: Approx. 80 - 300. (From what I can tell.)
Behavioural codes: Depends on the organisers and participants. At some marathons mirada & cabeceo are encouraged as well as the clearance of the dance-floor during the cortinas, but at other events, people seem to dance several tandas with the same partner. Depending on the experience of the dancers, the ronda will certainly be civilised, but some more higher-risk movements are to be expected.
Typical examples: La Tosca (Italy), High Noon (Germany), Bergen Tango Marathon (Norway)

Definition: A single tango event during the afternoon or evening. Can be a recurring or a one-time-only event.
Duration: Approximately 3-5 hours
Milongas/Dancing: Single event
Demos: Usually none - except in many Buenos Aires Milongas, where demos can be seen on a regular basis.
Music: Depending on the taste of the organisers, please check with them.
Classes: Usually none. In the USA, pre-milonga classes are popular.
Booking: Usually not required
Balance of gender or dance-roles: Usually not
Separate seating of men, women and couples: Usually not. There are a few Milongas in Buenos Aires, Italy and France that use that special set-up, but they are definitely exceptions.
Participants: Depends on the connections of the organisers 
Number of participants: 2 - 200 or even more
Behavioural codes: Depends on the organisers and participants. More and more organisers encourage the “codigos milongueros”, at least those related to the behaviour on the dance-floor.
Typical examples: Any milonga in your home community

Milonga Weekend
Definition: A series of connected or un-connected milongas on one weekend. Either by one organiser or by several. A recent variation is for a bunch of friends to “band together” and visit several local milongas. Can be recurring or a one-time-only.
Duration: 2-3 days
Milongas/Dancing: Separate Milongas
Demos, Music, Classes, Booking, Separate Seating, Number of Participants: See “Milonga”
Participants: Depends on the connections of the organisers, but because of the higher concentration of milongas on one weekend, dancers from afar are more likely to visit.
Typical example: Tangosommer Wiesbaden

Workshop Weekend
Definition: A special event, created around the visit of a teacher couple or workshops by local teachers.
Duration: Usually 2-3 days
Milongas/Dancing: Separate evening milongas, at least one per weekend, usually no afternoon milongas, as the classes will take place at this time of the day.
Demos: Demo or show by the teaching couple
Music: Tango music presented by local or traveling DJs, sometimes an orchestra might be invited.
Classes: Single classes or intensive seminars, additionally there might be private classes or privatandas.
Booking: Classes are booked in advance, milongas are usually payed over the counter.
Balance of gender or dance-roles: Only in the classes
Separate seating of men, women and couples: Usually not
Participants: Mostly local and regional dancers of all levels
Number of participants: Depends on the local community and the "pull“ of the teachers
Behavioural codes: Depends on the local customs or the philosophy of the guest-teachers

So, that’s it for the moment. I hope this list will help organisers and consumers to communicate and plan better.  

I might add more info later upon noticing that I have forgotten important features or entire forms of events. Do not hesitate to contact me with reasonable suggestions.

For my Romanian followers: Check out the Romanian translation of this post.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Tango Communications: Branching Out!

Most of you will know this already: I am expanding.

In addition to my usual activities as a teacher and organiser in cooperation with Detlef Engel and the Tangokombinat, I am now offering a wide range of services for dancers, djs, teachers and organisers. My aim is to help them develop their dance and their communities, to organise great events, to develop work-related skills and to find students who share their philosophy.

For dancers: special workshops and private coaching
For teachers: agent services, coaching in the fields of all work-related skills
For organisers: event-management and help in developing your local activities
For DJs: agent services, special workshops and private coaching

Tango Communications is about bringing people together who share my philosophy of a social tango in close embrace.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Milongueros don't dance steps!

Most social close-embrace dancers will tell you that they don’t know any steps and that they improvise freely. But everyone who watches from an objective perspective knows that this is rarely true.

I agree: Milongueros (no matter if they come from Argentina, Europe or elsewhere) usually dance movements that are well adapted to a crowded dance-floor. Milonguero steps very often are less complex than the figures that are memorised by dancers of other styles. They don’t require an opening of the embrace, they are easy to memorise and to combine with other short sequences in order to create a nice flow and to navigate. Milongueros won’t block the space because they have to finish a huge giro with boleo and they don’t run into the other couples because they have memorised a back step at the beginning of each pattern. This is super! 

But - let’s face it - Milongueros still dance steps.

A Milonguero might not have learned the 8-count-basic, but he will dance the Ocho Cortado and not vary it beyond a certain point. Try to get him to execute it on the left side or - even worse - without the typical quick-quick-slow in the traspié-positions. Or ask him to change into the crossed system without doing a side-step to the left or a quick-quick without the follower on the outer lane. Or challenge him to accelerate the walk with the right font step. 

95% of the experienced leaders will have difficulties doing that kind of stuff, because they are as caught up in steps as anyone else. I encounter these patterns and habits of close-embrace leaders during each class I teach and many of the tandas at Encuentros or traditional Milongas.

And don’t think that “followers” are free of automatisms: Try inviting an experienced Milonguera to do a front step with her right leg into your space in the parallel system. Try inviting her to walk a 1231 in Vals instead of a 12_1. Two years ago, we’ve been visiting the one European capital that is famous for its beautiful women with great embraces. The one where you can find more close-embrace social dancers than in the other European capitals. I had visited this city and some of its Milongas earlier, so my expectations where realistic. But poor Detlef almost started crying, because many of those elegant, beautiful ladies weren’t even capable of standing on their left foot for more than one second without having to change to their right one automatically. They were obviously not used to standing on their left foot!

So, let’s please admit: Milongueros dance steps and their partners are used to these patterns.

It this so bad?

Of course not.

Apart from the fact, that certain steps are an important part of tango-tradition, behavioural and movement-related patterns are helpful in all circumstances of life. They will allow you to cope with stressful or new situations, like navigating in a crowded ronda - provided they are danceable on a small scale. But Milonguero steps usually fit this requirement. In general, patterns offer security because they are predictable. A lot of people need that kind of security. 

We, Detlef and I, aren’t free of safety blankets either. Despite our 15-year-long work with basic principles and improvisation, we have still been socialised with traditional tango-steps. And it is hard to de-programme all of them. But this is ok, because there are moments, when we need to access them. They e.g. help us to function whilst doing a demo. We have of course never danced a choreography and Detlef knows in advance, which tangos I choose for theses occasion. But still: we rarely improvise, when a hundred eyes are staring at us. Not what I call improvisation at least. On the social dance-floor, I don’t know what will happen next, when Detlef invites me to pivot to the left on my right foot in the crossed system. In a demo, the chances are quite high, that an ocho or turn will follow. Detlef’s improvisational and communicative capacities in these moments are as limited as are my perceptive capabilities. Sure, there are demos during which we are super relaxed, invent stuff and communicate on a high level, but mostly we rely on field-tested movements. This is when some steps come in handy. And lots of walking of course... ;-)

Learning figures can also help to work on general principles: The 8-count-basic e.g. might teach you how to combine a lateral with a front- or back-step in a precise manner. The Ocho Cortado is great for practising the counter-body-movement. Steps as examples of how to link or communicate the basic elements can be helpful.

And there is another special reason, why female dancers (maybe unconsciously) like fixed patterns: they allow followers to decorate their steps without communicating actively. Because she can rely on her partner to suggest a movement with a specific timing, many a follower feels free to add an adorno. I rarely see (even very experienced ladies) decorating their steps when dancing with Detlef, as they are much too busy guessing what he will do in the next second. Not every woman likes this, but I am not particularly interested in adornos. When I do them, it is usually a sign, that I can (too) easily predict the movements of my partner. 

By the way: predictability and dependance on patterns does not correlate with the level of dancing. Even a brilliant tango-professional can be predictable. Some of his steps might be challenging out of technical reasons or I might not know the particular movement he is suggesting, so the level of stress might be higher at the start of a tanda with him. But I will usually be able to recognise recurring patterns after the first tango and therefore adapt my reactions - even if his leading is not quite as perfect as his elegance. With at typical Milonguero, the process of adaptation to unknown patterns (if there are any) will require even less time. This can be very reassuring and relaxing. I will close my eyes, get into a flow and cherish the embrace - if it is a nice one. ;-)

But: what I find really interesting, is dancing with someone who has got a beautiful embrace, dances socially and cannot be easily predicted, even if I know him or her very well. This applies to quite some of our students, in particular our Tango-Treacher-Trainees. Last Friday, Ramona surprised me by leading a cross on the other side. An hour later, Saso suggested a shift of weight in a turn instead of the usual side-step - amongst lots of other things with which he makes me smile. These people are real smart, so they might have discovered all of that without our help. But the fact is that we’ve been encouraging them for years to break up all patterns, to constantly better their communicative skills and to - in the rare cases when we analysed a step - try it on the other side and dance it with all kinds of rhythmic and movement-related variations. This is why these Milongueros really improvise in a Milonga. Which makes me proud. And as I am used to this level of improvisation, it does not create any stress. On the contrary: It strengthens the connection to my partners - even more when they are open to the suggestions that I make. A real conversation without patterns requires so much more sensitivity and empathy from both partners. For me, this is more rewarding than dancing the fanciest step.

But there is more to improvisation. It is about dancing to the music.

Most dancers - no matter if they are Milongueros, Villa-Urquiza-adepts or Millennium-Style-Nuevoists - memorise each step with a specific timing. I earlier mentioned the typical quick-quick-slows in the traspié-positions of the Ocho Cortado. Most Milongueros will even continue doing these, when I ask them to dance the movement in normal speed without any accelerations. They just don’t notice and I have to point it out to them. 

But how can you dance musically if you’ve got such strong automatisms? In very simple tangos, these habits will not do a lot of harm. Ok, you might dance an automatic 123_ in a moment that the music suggests 1_34. But as you can hear all 4 beats in the bass section of the orchestra, this is not a grave mistake. But in some tangos this might be just plain wrong, because (certain of) the 4 beats are not played by any instrument: So, will you dance an quick-quick-slow (123_) when the melody requires a triplet, syncopation, a 332 or a plain deceleration at the end of the phrase? Are you free to adapt your movement in such a moment? Will you make your partner laugh out of joy, because you shift weight from one foot to the other together in perfect harmony to the music? Or are you stuck in a pattern?

So, these are my two cents:
Test, if you are really free from limiting patterns. Check, if some steps help you or if they inhibit the connection to your partner or to the music. And if you want to dance or teach steps - I recommend to memorise them bare of any fixed rhythms. Only then, you’re free to dance to the music. And is this not what we all aspire to?

Now … if you are offended, because I have hurt your Milonguero pride, please read all the positive things I wrote about close-embrace social dancers in this and many other posts. But also try to understand: For me, social tango poses such extraordinary capacities to interpret music, to express feelings and to experience connection. I constantly update myself in a process of learning and fixed patterns just limit my pleasure on the long run. Sure, you might say, that's because I do that professionally. But I don't perceive myself as an artist or even as an exceptionally talented dancer. I believe that by breaking up steps and analysing habits, everyone can deepen his or her pleasure in this beautiful dance. This is why I teach, write books, produce DVDs, write this article and have been sticking to Tango for 20 years - despite the sleepless nights, the lack of retirement provisions and the fact that I haven’t had a holiday in years. 

Because it is worth it. ;-)

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Beanpoles & Backbends

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a marathon-encuentro mixer. It was a well organised event in a beautiful city, I met a few (not many) old friends... but that‘s not what I want to write about.

This article is an instructional paper. I usually don‘t use this medium for teaching purposes. I teach in class or via my book+DVD. But the majority of people I want to reach with this information might not visit our (Detlef's and my) classes or buy our product and I don‘t want to criticise my partners during a Milonga. This is why I decided to broach the issue of „la postura“ in my blog, something that I've been wanting to do for a couple of years. Yesterday, a young lady encouraged me to do so. 
(Many, many more details about this topic can be found here.)


The above mentioned event was populated by lots of lovely, mostly young dancers, who come from a marathon background. They are inventive in their movements, have an interesting musicality and dance - as this is the custom nowadays - in a close(r) embrace. So you would think, that I must have enjoyed it a lot. I did, but there was also a problem: very often, my back started hurting. It did not hurt before dancing and it usually does not cause any problems at all. Yes, I am older than most of the young ladies at this event, but I am not yet that old and I do Yoga on a regular basis. I am not as bendy as a gymnast, but I manage well enough, thank you, sir!

So this post is about where I believe that the pain in my back came from.

Many marathony dancers used to dance in open embrace originally or have learned from teachers who still do or did so in the past. That is totally fine and we often also use open embrace in our classes out of pedagogical reasons. But, as we want to dance in a close embrace at a Milonga, we teach a posture, that will work out no matter which distance you choose. Please be aware, that many teachers who used to dance in open embrace don‘t. Although they might dance close embrace nowadays, they might not have updated their concept of a posture but stick to the original idea of the leader standing very upright, with the bodyweight distributed over the whole foot. Kind of an ideal everyday posture, like a perfectly upright beanpole. It might look like this:

Looks fine, doesn‘t it?
But if you use this posture in close embrace, you will "force" your partner to either lean on you or stick out her butt in order to create a chest contact and still have enough space for the feet. Because only few teachers nowadays encourage dancing „apilado“ (off axis, leaning) and most women feel uncomfortable weighing on their partners, many followers will instinctively choose option two. It allows them to keep their gravity centre above their feet. This posture might look like this:

Silly, eh?
When dancing with a partner in a close embrace, it might not look quite as crass and some even find it sexy. But I can tell you: it is not healthy. Dancing with a constant backbend compresses the vertebrae, uses a lot of muscular tension, inhibits natural dissociation and does actually interrupt the flow of the leading signals from top to down. If a communicative signal is supposed to „run through“ the axis, should it not remain unbroken?
Let us not speak about the long-terms downsides of such a posture. Many yoga teachers nowadays abstain from encouraging their students to aim for hyper-flexibility because they know about the risks of such a practise. So please keep in mind: You (or your lovely partner) will not be young forever, but you might still want to dance Tango without hurting.

Ok, everyone knows that the spine is naturally curved. Depending on your personal physique, you may see a more or less defined curve when standing upright and looking at yourself from the side. We don‘t want to work against that, e.g. by pulling the the hips downwards or even tilting them forwards. 

We just suggest that you stand straight, but shift the body weight a little more to your metatarsals. Not to the toes though, because we don‘t want to lose our balance and lean onto our partner. This little adaptation will allow you to dance in a close embrace and you will still have space for your feet. It might look like this:

The difference to the posture above is minimal, but it changes everything, because now both partners can stand upright: 
(Please don‘t tell me, that I stick out my butt as well. What you see are the natural curves of my spine and well... the rest of my body. The only way to get rid of those would be to go on a stricter diet.)

So, in my opinion, these are your options of dancing without forcing yourself or your partner into an unhealthy posture or dancing off-axis:

1. If you (as a leader) don‘t want to change your posture, because you are used to a certain form of stability by having part of your bodyweight above your heel: Fine. Keep your posture, but dance in a more open embrace. There is nothing wrong about it and it does not mean that you have to dance unsocially. You might take up a little more space in the ronda, but if you pay attention, everything will be ok. 
Look at the following video of Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne. Both of them stand very upright most of the time and open the embrace, when they need more space for their feet and legs. In any case, Giselle Anne does not have to stick out her behind. (Nevertheless: don‘t do all the stuff that they are dancing at a Milonga, please.)

2. Adapt your posture to allow for both partners to keep their spine upright. If you still don‘t know how, please work with specialised teachers.
Check out a dancing video that we made for our DVD. I have chosen it, because you can often see us from the side and the light allows for a good visibility. You can also watch an initially faulty posture changing to the better: Check out the first couple of seconds when we go into the embrace. In the beginning, Detlef is standing with his body weight a little bit too much towards his heels. His mistake! In order to create a connection, I then break my axis and lean my upper body towards him. I should not have done that, but maintained my posture and therefore show him how to position himself, as I tell our students. My mistake!
Fortunately (whilst already being in the embrace) Detlef also shifts his weight to the front of his feet and all of a sudden, my posture is good again. Both of our axes remain upright throughout most of the dance and we‘ve got enough space for our feet. (We don‘t claim to be perfect though.)

3. Grow a Milonguero belly! The belly will keep your partner further away, so that you have got enough space for the feet. If the follower is shorter than you (only then!), she will even find a nice soft spot to make contact to with her upper body without having to bend. 
Look at the following video by Tete - in particular the moment when he and Sylvia go into the embrace. By the way: Tete was a famous dancer and teacher who, like most Milongueros of that era answered „Tango de Salón“ when someone asked him, what style he danced. But that is yet another story...

So, cheers to the Milonguero belly!

Please note that I don't want to put all the blame on the leaders. There are many, many things that followers can do to put themselves into a disadvantageous position or to hurt the leaders. This post concentrates one one particular feature of the leader's posture and the consequences for the followers, because I have experienced this situation to a larger extent and I believe it to be a typical problem of recent developments.
If you want to work on the details of your posture and connection, I encourage you to buy our book+DVD. ;-)

Monday, 9 November 2015

Festivalitos & Encuentros Milongueros 2016

It is this time of the year again - dancers are waiting for me to post my recommendations for next year. But those who follow my blog know, that I find it harder and harder to compile this list.

This is why:
- There are many new events using the labels "Milonguero" and "Encuentro". I really cannot tell, which can hold what they promise.
- There are numerous new smaller events, that can surely be lovely, but seem to have a very local appeal. I hesitate to recommend them to international travellers.
- Most organisers don't keep me up-to-date. 
- Some established events events are disappearing and there are only very few Festivalitos left. Most events are now pure Encuentros.
- Some are changing their character by attracting another crowd. This can be good, but means that they actually should not be called Encuentros Milongueros anymore.
- I don't have the time and financial means to visit many events. So I cannot guarantee, that the "established" events are still up to a certain standard. I have to rely on third party informations.
- My personal taste has consolidated to a certain style of Encuentro: the ones without separate seating for men and women. I cannot really vouch for the other ones.
- In general, the meaning of the terms "Encuentro" and "Milonguero" are changing and being discussed a lot.
- The term "Festivalito" is often used more loosely to signify a small festival, without the features below. Nevertheless a "Festivalito Milonguero" should at least include features 3-7 in the list. 

You see that compiling a list of recommendations is becoming quite a challenge. 

I have nevertheless decided to post another listing of events that:
1. ask participants to pre-register for the whole event,
2. use role or gender-balance to ensure that everyone gets to dance,
3. will take at least 3 days and have separate Milongas,
4. present traditional music in tandas & cortinas,
5. encourage cabeceo & mirada,
6 encourage people to leave the dance-floor after one tanda to find a new partner,
7. are meant to attract people who want to dance in a close embrace in a civilised ronda.
Events, that have these features are in general called Encuentros or Festivalitos Milongueros. Festivalitos will usually also include a short demo of social tango as well as some classes that focus on social tango. There nevertheless will be no live-music or extended shows at these events. The Milongas are therefore reserved for dancing.

I am going to stick to events that are well-established, recommended to me by friends and and that attract an international crowd. For a more complete listing, please visit Gato Milongueiro's site.

This year, I am going to present my recommendations in three columns. 
- The Events that I will visit + the ones that I organise
- Established events without separate seating 
- Established events with separate seating 

Pasionara Milonguera, Côte D'Azur, France, January 22-24
Viento Norte (Tangokombinat Sección Norte), Eckernförde, Germany, March, 10-13
Abrazos (Tangokombinat UK), Devon, United Kingdom, May 6-8
Le Rendez-vous Milonguero de l'Essaim de Julie, France, May 14-16 (fully booked)
Pequeña (Tangokombinat), Saarbrücken, Germany, June 17-19 (fully booked)
Embrace Norway, Lillehammer, Norway, July 1-3 (fully booked)
Una Mirada, Bristol, UK, September 23-25
FCA (Tangokombinat), October (private event)

(In some cases, you might nevertheless be assigned to a seat/table)
Paquita, France, December 29/15 - January 3/16
Noches de invierno, Reichenau an der Rax, Austria, January 1-3
Ver-O-Mar, Porto, Portugal, January 15-17
Yo soy Milonguero, Crema, Italy, March 25-28 (very big, seating by country of origin)
Saarburg Festivalito, Saarburg, Germany, April 1-3 
La Colmena, Helsingborg, Sweden, April 22-2
Noches de Verano, Reichenau an der Rax, Austria, August 12-14
Encuentro Milonguero, Kehl, Germany, September 7-10
Encuentro Bavaria, Schliersee, Germany, 18-20 November
Abrazame, Barcelona, Spain, December (Encuentro-Marathon), 1st weekend December
Encuentro de Navidad, Kehl, Germany, December 7-10

(In some cases with an additional area for couples or mixed groups)
Encontro Milongueiro A Promotora, Lisbon, Portugal, February 5-8
Juntos, France, January 15-17
MiLYONguero, Lyon, France, March 18-20
Les Cigales, France, May 5-8
1st Encuentro Porteño, Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 19-22 
Mirame, Montpellier, France, June 10-12
Festiv'à La Milonguita, Sisteron, France, June 23-26 
Stockholm in a close embrace, Stockholm, Sweden, Juli 29-31
La Franteña, France, August 11-15
Ensueños, Porto, Portugal, September 29 - October 2)
Yupie, France, October 14-16
Te Quiero Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal, 18-20 November 
Roma Milonguera, Roma, 18-20 November
Raduno Milonguero, Noci, Italia (Date not yet confirmed)
Roma Milonguera, Rom. Italy, November (Date not yet confirmed)