Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Post in between posts 3 - get to the point!

Ok... I already mentioned, that I like to lecture and my posts tend to get a little longer, did I not? The last one got much longer, than I intendet it to be. I vow to shorten my posts in future! At least, when writing about Tango.... which I do most of the time. ;-)
My next post will nevertheless NOT be about Tango. It's gonna deal with the long 19th century and you're gonna see, that this one was longer than others... no kidding.

Monday, 27 December 2010

The Tango Free Zone

As you know, my partner Detlef and I are travelling all over Europe, the USA and to Buenos Aires to teach and dance Tango. And wherever we go, from the Big Apple to the smallest French village, people ask us: „So, you‘re from Berlin, right? How‘s Tango in your town?“ And those, who like us: „That must be so nice for your students at home, to have you as resident teachers.“

And as these questions are asked so frequently, I will answer them on my blog. 

This will be a very personal post, in which I cannot avoid to critizise circumstances and people whom I have known personally. But the bizarre fact of being an internationally active Tango teacher whilst living in a Tango free zone, amazes quite a lot of people. So, I‘m gonna take the risk, to alienate a few individuals. If you‘re not interested, better stop reading here!

Since the end of the 80‘s, I‘m living in Saarbrücken, a German town with about 200.000 inhabitants, the capital of the Saar region. There‘s quite some culture going on, but the city really awakens in the warm season, when everybody‘s outside, sitting in the street cafes or at the riverside. There‘s lots of students and an alternative ambiance. It‘s the place where I moved to study Psychology and somehow I got stuck here. Most of my non-Tango friends live here and I try to meet them as much as my crazy schedule allows.

And: this is the place, where I discovered Tango in 1995. A dancer from Berlin had moved here and started hosting a Practica, that I and Andreas Wichter attended. I am sure, she had the best intentions, but it was exactly what you would have expected in the provinces in this era: Every two weeks, she would show us a new step, that we‘d practice without any idea of technique or communication. There was no Ronda, no connection to the music and of course no place, where you would have danced Tango. From what I know now, we might have found a Milonga in Frankfurt or Karlsruhe, about two hours drive away. But by then, we had no clue. We did not even know that Milongas existed. It was kinda pointless. So, after a year, we abandoned this pastime for more interesting things like our role-playing games. Nevertheless it left us with the feeling, that there might have been more to it.

A couple of years later Andreas and I discovered, that one of the former participants of the Practica had started teaching Tango and we decided to give it another try. And although we still remembered most of our steps, we went to the beginner‘s class in January 2000.

In the meanwhile, a small Tango community had developed. There were regular classes and a weekly Milonga. People met in a little Tango studio to dance and apply the argentine customs like greeting everyone with a kiss, which we found very weird. ;-)

This is where we met Detlef, who had started to dance 3 years earlier. And when dancing with me, he tried out all the complex steps, that he had learned in workshops. Although he already danced real Tango de Salon in other places, he was also still into the big moves - at least in our home town. So, in my years of absence, the general Tango-philosophy had not changed so much in Saarbrücken: it was about steps in a mostly open embrace, inspired by the classic Tango shows. 

Again, I was underwhelmed, especially after discovering close embrace by accident, after a couple of glasses Likor 43! But the people where nice, and sometimes dancers from other places would visit, so we started looking around. And although our Tango teacher would not tell us the directions, Andreas and I found a Milonga in Kaiserslautern (K-town for the large American population), less than an hours drive away.

Now this was something different: Here we discovered Tango de Salon, as it was danced in the traditional Milongas of Buenos Aires. The local teachers focused on the embrace, basic technique and “sentimiento“. This was quite avant-garde in an era, when most of Europe was still doing Fantasia on the dancefloor. In this environment, also Detlef danced more close-embrace. The Milonga at the „Cotton Club“ became our Tango home and we owe a lot to it‘s organisers, who invited quality teachers, some of them still relatively unknown by then. Not all of them were Milongueros, but they taught social Tango with an approach to quality and musicality. The rest was up to us. We began travelling to Milongas in other towns and Tango evens. In late 2000, when I started partnering Detlef, him and I drove as far as Hamburg or Basel, to visit the famous Festivals of this era. Many of you have experienced that part of widening the horizon.

But this is where the problems started and our home town developed into a Tango free zone for us. Already in early 2001, I had stopped taking classes in Saarbrücken, as I was looking for a deeper understanding, than the local teacher would offer. In the same year, Detlef and I were asked to run a Practica in Karlsruhe. This seemed to threaten our former teacher, and all kinds of bad stuff ensued. Hey, I was doing a monthly Practica in a town 140 km away! Why did she even bother? Nowadays I understand, that this kind of reactions are not uncommon in the Tango context, but by then I was deeply hurt and stopped going to the local events altogether.

So there we were: all revved up, and no place to go. We visited the weekly Milonga in K-Town an hour away, but when we wanted to go to another Milonga, we had to drive at least two hours. And we still had our regular jobs, so dancing more than two times a week was usually out of question.

But still we managed to develop our Tango: We danced and travelled as much as we could. Over the next two years, we were asked to teach in several other cities and to organise a monthly Milonga in a small town in our region. And then Andreas took up teaching as well, very soon in co-operation with us. So we met to prepare classes, to develop a common technique and pedagogy. We did learn a lot by thinking, discussing and exchanging ideas in this period.

In the meanwhile, two local Argentines, who had discovered Tango with the same German teacher, had started organising Milongas and giving classes in Saarbrücken. In the beginning, I thought this would be a good idea: maybe there would be some Tango for me after all in Saarbrücken. But when I looked at the results of their work, I was frustrated and stopped attending their events. So still no Milonga for me in my hometown!

Should I not do something! But what? Although I had vowed, never to teach in my hometown, I was tempted by the idea to help develop the local and regional Tango community. So in 2005 we founded the Tangokombinat with our friends Andreas, Anne-Cecile and (by then) Damian Lobato and Ina. Our comrades commenced teaching, and together we rented a small studio and started organising a Practica libre. But unluckily, none of our friends managed to attract enough local dancers to hold up regular classes and soon gave it up. We never even tried.

But since then, we‘ve been organising events in our hometown: Our first ball in the „Johanneskirche“ was a great success and the ancestor of our „Festivalito con Amigos“. In the same year, we initiated a monthly Milonga, that ran for over 4 years and attracted people from a perimeter of 250 km, but almost no locals. 

And today? What‘s the situation in 2010?

The Tangokombinat spread out: Damian teaches in the USA and Andreas is successfully spreading the word in the UK. We gave up our regular jobs, the weekly classes in the greater region and our monthly Milonga in order to teach abroad. Our „Festivalito con Amigos“ grew into an international event, that attracts Tangueros from all around the world, but almost no locals. The small community of less than 50 dancers in Saarbrücken never got to know us, most of them would not even know we exist. No wonder, because we have not visited one of the local Milongas for over five years and they usually do not travel. They are living in their small Tango-bubble, where our former teacher and the two Argentines created some kind of a cult around their personae. 

So what about the local Tango community? I only know it by the descriptions of others: Just a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine visited one of the two local Milongas. She was shocked by the lack of connection to the music and by the dangerously big and uncoordinated movements. So now they have gone from a half-open, fantasia-inspired thing to a chaotic-nuevoesk style. This is not the Tango we know and love.

That‘s it: I am living in a Tango free zone!

Do I bother? Usually not, as we are basically never here. We discovered a world of Tango and made great friends. We would never have experienced this by staying in our hometown. So it is actually a good thing, that I had to travel.

But in a way it is bothering me. The Tango free zone also results in me almost never dancing casually at a Milonga, without having to perform or teach. We are teaching almost every weekend, and thus are only rarely free to choose the Milongas we visit. Although our former Tango-home in K-Town died a couple of years ago, there are some nice Milongas in the greater region, in Frankfurt, Wiesbaden or Koblenz. We‘d love to go there, but they happen on weekends. There are no acceptable Milongas during the week in a perimeter of less than 250 km. When we are at home for two or three days, there‘s lots of work to do and I am too tired to stay up late. So going to a Milonga in a distance of more than 2 hours drive is really out of question! If there was a nice Milonga during the week in my hometown...

And sometimes, I wonder if things could change, if the local dancers had access to another kind of Tango philosophy...

So, as we are going to have a free weekend come January, we decided to give an intensive workshop on basics and musicality in Saarbrücken. Apart from one class in 2005 during one of our Festivals, this will be our first and only workshop in our hometown. The rest of the year, we‘ll be travelling again. So far, one local couple registered, the rest are dancers from other cities. 

I presume, my hometown will remain a Tango free zone for me. At least until our next Festivalito con Amigos! :-)


Appendix on January, 17 2011:

I've received some private messages asking for more info on the Tango community in my hometown. Obviously, my readers want to judge for themselves, if my comments are appropriate. I can very well understand and this is why I'm attaching the following links to my colleagues in Saarbrücken:

Eva Perez (formerly Eva Magyar)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Making choices - women‘s active participation in the dance

Men lead, women follow. The roles in Tango seem to be defined very clearly and for many years, this concept worked nicely. Buenos Aires men used to learn with the Maestros or invent steps with their pals. Women just came to the Milongas and started dancing right away. They did not need classes, just a little practice on the dance floor. And even the most famous female dancers told us, that women do not dance a particular style, they just adapt to the men. 

But then came the 70s with women‘s liberation and the 80s with the „new man“. And the Tangoshows, with often classically trained dancers, who definitely needed more, than just a little practice on the dance floor. The Millennium brought Tango Nuevo, role-changing and women, who „just take the boleo, if the man does not lead it“. So now, women are supposed to participate actively in the dance. 

But what if you don‘t create a choreography with your partner and thus bring in your own personality? What if you don‘t want to exchange roles during the dance or make movements, that are not suggested to you? What about active participation in a fairly traditional, close-embrace Tango? 

There are still a lot of Milonguero or Salon teachers, who promote a quite passive woman‘s role: waiting for the man to invite her, waiting for the man to lead a step, to bring her back to her place. When I „grew up“ in Tango, I was told, that it‘s always the men‘s fault, if something goes wrong. Even then, I asked myself: why do we need classes, especially women‘s technique, if the quality and course of the dance is uniquely the men‘s responsibility? 
And then I had a look my early teachers or colleagues. And I saw lots of female teachers, who (although they were doing all of the organisation) left most of the talking to their male partners or let them choose the music for a demo. „HE has to interpret the music, I do not need to know about it.“ But hey! Don‘t you dance to the music as well, I ask them? What about your preferences, taste, needs? Do you just want to tag along? 

For me, it‘s all about making choices! 

Choose your style.
I know, that there are less Tangueros than Tangueras, and women tend to go to classes or Milongas of a certain style, because their partner (or a partner) wants to participate. But you will know best, what kind of Tango you want to dance. You want to dance high boleos and soltadas? Fine, go look for a partner, who shares your idea of sportive movements. You want to concentrate on the walk and a nice embrace? Go and look out for Milongas and teachers, who focus on that kind of Tango. Not mentioning names here... 
But seriously: it‘s up to you, even in a Milonga, to show, how you want to dance. Show it by your posture, by your embrace, by your way to move. You may even convince an otherwise acrobatic dancer to dance a nice close-embrace Tango, if you demonstrate him, how wonderful your embrace can be. 

Be an active practice-partner. 
A lot of women never complain in classes for the sake of avoiding arguments. They just stand there and let the men figure out, what‘s going on. Very often they pout and are bored. Or they „help“ by anticipating every movement, he is supposed to lead. No, that does not help at all! Be constructive. Tell your partner, how you feel about a certain movement and it‘s communication, so that he can figure out the proper way to lead it. In case you‘ve got an idea of the proper lead, why not show him? Tell him, what an exercise is about, when he get‘s it wrong and do not wait until the teacher does. You loose valuable time! 
I do not want to encourage nagging and knowing-it-all, but an active positive participation in the process of learning is the pre-requisite for understanding and developing the dance. And of course: pre-requisite for giving constructive feedback is the ability to receiving it as well, as a friend just reminded me. Both partners bear responsibility for the outcome and can make mistakes!

Know and choose your music. 
An active dancer needs to know the music and the possibilities it gives. Musicality workshops are not men‘s only classes! So, explore these possibilities, get to know the music, develop a personal taste and - for god‘s sake - dance only, when you really like the music. How can you interpret it, if you don‘t like it? In this case, you can just passively tag along. Knowing and loving the music enables those exquisite moments, where both partners move in unison, without being able to say, who is leading or following. They are both dancing to the music! 

Choose your partners at a Milonga.
With the method of the Cabeceo/Mirada, both men and woman choose their partners for the next Tanda. Do not hesitate to use this method. You do not have to dance with everybody and accept every invitation out of fear or politeness. An active dancer chooses a particular partner for a particular music. If I want to dance to Di Sarli, I will choose a special man. If I want to dance to Rodriguez, I will choose another. And if the Di Sarli partner invites me to a Rodriguez Tanda, I may even refuse the invitation (politely), as I know, that he will not interpret this kind of music the way I like it. And if a man will dance a style I don‘t like, or does not communicate properly, or does not have the technique to make me feel comfortable, I will not dance with him at all - no matter to which music. I rather sit during a Tanda of Di Sarli, than dance it with a partner who will push and pull me around. 

Learn the basic principles of leading. 
Apart from enabling you to lead other women or men, this will open a whole new world of communication. With the proper technique of making a suggestion, waiting for the acceptance and then following the woman, a modern Tanguero will be open to your input. I do not speak about taking over the lead or doing stuff on your own, because he does not suggest it. I am talking about liberating spaces or blocking them and about subtly communicating your ideas. This may sound dubious, but with some time and maybe a couple of hints from appropriate teachers, you will figure it out. 
I do not have to mention here, that an mastery of the basic techniques is the requirement to a more active role in the dance. Do not even think about making suggestions to your partner, if you cannot stand, walk or pivot on your own! 

Choose to do decorations carefully. 
Unfortunately, active participation in the dance is very often mistaken as doing lots of decorations. But WOW, is this wrong! How often do I see women, who can barely stand, and have to lean on their partners for support, moving their feet frenetically, because they want to express their personality. That‘s bad on so many levels. Not only that it is totally annoying and prevents your partner from improvising, mostly it just looks nasty. But the most severe outcome from doing too many Adornos is that you have to shift the attention from the embrace to your feet. This will not only result in a loss of quality in the embrace, but you will definitely miss those moments, where you might communicate more actively as discussed in the former paragraph. So, concentrating on decorations might even prevent developing an active role in the dance. 
Don‘t get me wrong: a decoration here and then, to interpret the music is a nice thing to do. But just don‘t overdo it! 

Choose to be passive. 
And now that we‘ve talked so much about being active and participating in a modern and conscious way, I want to tell you: you don‘t have to do it! If just want to give over the responsibility to your partner, that‘s totally ok. Women do carry their lot in society, they don‘t have to in Tango. Social dance is about having fun, feeling good and should not become another field of competition or create stress.
Even I sometimes choose to be passive: when the music is right and the partner dances nicely and I am tired of teaching and being aware and active, I just follow and enjoy the embrace. And this can be exactly the perfect choice.

Once in a while. ;-)

Thursday, 25 November 2010

What impact can a travelling Tango teacher have?

Just recently, I was interviewed by the Tangoblogger Cassiel and the (translated) interview was later also published on Tangocommuters blog. We talked about Tango didactics, especially from the point of view of a travelling teacher - as I am. 
During the interview I stressed the necessity to focus on basics, to structure the classes, to keep group sizes manageable... lots of important points that guarantee, that our visits all over the world help developing Tango. And yes, I can be proud of our work: I can see real progress during classes, I help people to understand things better and to evolve their personal style. Very often, we receive enthusiastic mails after classes, telling us, how tango-changing our classes are. That‘s very encouraging. 

But are they really? What if we come back? Have the dancers really changed or improved their Tango? What is the impact we have on people‘s Tango and what are the factors that further progress? To illustrate these questions, I am gonna tell you a story of two Tango communities, one in England and one in France. 

The Tango community A is situated in a tiny English village near a bigger industrial town. We have been invited for the third time by the local organisers, a very nice couple teaching Tango since 5 years. It‘s always a great pleasure to be there, not only because we have been received very warmly, made friends and had some great food there. Although it‘s been only 1,5 years, we can see, that our classes influenced people‘s dance a lot. Many of them really apply what we are trying to convey in our classes and I can see, that they are enjoying their dance and progress. It is great. 

The other community B is situated in a lovely French town with lots of culture and historic sites, near our hometown. We‘ve been teaching there since 7 years. The members of the Tango club are lovely and we know them quite well, as we used to give regular classes in another town nearby. Many of them have visited our Milongas and Festivals in the past. But unfortunately, very few of them take up our ideas of technique or musicality. They do well during the classes, really trying to grasp the concepts, but when we return in the following year or see them at a local event, only very little has changed. Most of them just keep on doing what they did before and we can start all over again with our basic principles. That‘s actually frustrating. 

So why the difference? Why is one group responding to our teaching and the other not so much? What are we doing differently? May it be the teaching in different languages, English and French? I took that into consideration, but have to say, that our French speaking abilities are almost as good as the the English ones - at least in the teaching context. I may not be able to write a blog in French, but I can very well explain the counter-body-rotation, believe me. 

A friend pointed out, that it might be a matter of respect: when we first came to town A, we were already quite known and thus more respected. Whereas in town B, we were basically locals, some of them even knew us as beginners. So maybe, they aren‘t so much impressed by what we teach and don‘t feel compelled to apply it... I can understand that point, but I don‘t think, it get‘s to the heart of the problem. 

I rather want to look at the totally different circumstances in these two communities: 

Former instruction: 
Tango community A (TCA) is pretty young - referring to the number of years, that people are dancing. I guess, only very few people are dancing more than 5 years there. They started learning Tango in a period, where there was already a decent know-how and good teachers where available. So all of them already had a good idea of social Tango before we started spilling our ideas. 
Tango community B (TCB) is much older and quite a lot people there are dancing the same number of years as we do. They‘ve seen a lot of bad teaching, especially in the first years, where most Tango teachers were doing unspeakable things on the dancefloor. Some of that stuff sticks to you until the end! 

Ongoing instruction: 
TCA has got very dedicated professional teachers, who participate in our classes and take consciously up our ideas in their teaching. This permits people to understand the concepts on a deeper basis. 
TCB does have a couple of very different teachers, who focus on steps in an open embrace, although they take part in our classes since years. This confuses people. 

TCA hosts regular Milongas, where you can find traditional music suitable for dancing and practising ours and the resident teachers musical concepts. 
TCB does have no regular Milongas and the DJs unfortunately focus on rather undanceable music, no matter of which époque and on Electrotango. 

Other visiting teachers: 
TCA hosts different visiting teachers over the course of the year, but most of them seem to focus on basic work. They may be dancing more in an open embrace, but they teach a modern way of communication, that goes well with our concept of organic movements. 
TCB hosts visiting teachers of a more classical or showy style, that promote such a different technical approach, that they basically contradict most of the things we are teaching. 

Personal dedication: 
In TCA you‘ll find a lot of people, who are really dedicated to Tango. They visit regular Milongas, travel for Tango and form strong opinions about how they want to dance. They choose teachers and classes consciously. 
In TCB most people won‘t travel a lot (or at all) for Tango and many of them practice other dances as well. Most of them don‘t seem to care much about the style of teaching and dancing, they just wanna have fun and take whatever class is offered. 

I could go on and find even more differences, but I think, I covered the most important ones. And now comes the part, where I ruin my business because I have to conclude, that travelling teachers can only achieve very little. Even if their teaching is fabulous, the impact will be limited by the local circumstances. 

So this is what I want to tell organisers and dancers: 

- Don‘t invite visiting teachers, if you cannot support their work locally. It does not make sense, to expose people to good ideas and concepts, if there is no-one who can practice the stuff with them after the „stars“ have left. (If you don't have teachers, who can cover that, set up a monitored practica to encourage discussion and practice of the workshops contents.)
- Don‘t bother with the great „ball with demo“, if you don‘t organise regular Milongas, where people can dance to decent music and practise whatever they have learned in the workshops. 
- Forget about a „ very special couple“ if you plan to invite another „very special couple“ who contradict all their ideas next month. People need a little consistency in concepts. 
- All of you, be sensible consumers! It is up to you to decide, how much time and energy you want to invest in Tango and what kind of classes you book. You don‘t have to book every class and you don‘t have to appreciate every teacher. An intelligent buying behaviour and a lot of dedication are the most dominant pre-requisites for developing a personal style. 
- The fancy travelling teacher may give you some good ideas and concept, but it takes much more, to build up a Tango community with a decent level of social dancing. 

So... if now some of you organisers decide to cancel our invitation, because I convinced you, that we will not have much of an impact, I cannot help it. But I rather hope to encourage a more conscious teaching & event management: Please, think about what you want to achieve for your Tango community and plan your events, workshops and regular classes according to that goals. It will help you save a lot of money and it will be much more satisfactory for everyone, including the travelling teachers! ;-) 

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Melina's favourite novels

Based on the BBC recent list of "100 Best Books", I've made my own catalogue of 60 favourites. Some of them match, but I've especially added various important works, that weren't on the english-biased compilation. I furthermore concentrate on novels and erased all plays (Shakespeare), poems (Dante) and religious writings (Bible) off the list.

So, these are the novels, that I enjoyed most or find recommendable as being important in the history of literature:

Aldous Huxley - Brave New World
Alexandre Dumas - La reine Margot
Alice Walker - The Color Purple
Anne Rice - Interview with a Vampire
Bram Stoker - Dracula
Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens - Oliver Twist
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre
Edward Rutherfurd - Sarum
Elisabeth Gaskell - North and South
Emile Zola - Germinal
Emile Zola - Nana
Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights
F Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
Fyodor Dostoyevsky - Crime and Punishment (Преступление и наказание)
Fyodor Dostoyevski - The Idiot (Идиот)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Cien años de soledad
George Eliot - Middlemarch
George Orwell - Nineteen Eighty Four
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa - Il Gattopardo
Gustave Flaubert - Madame Bovary
Heinrich Mann - Der Untertan
Henry James - Washington Square
Hermann Hesse - Demian
Isabel Allende - La casa de los espiritus
Jacqueline Susan - Valley of the dolls
Jane Austen - Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen - Sense and Sensibility
John Steinbeck - Grapes of Wrath
Joyce Carol Oates - A garden of earthly delights
Joyce Carol Oates - Them
JRR Tolkien - The Lord of the Rings
Ken Follett - The pillars of the earth
Klaus Mann - Mephisto
Leo Tolstoy - War and Peace (Война и мир)
Leon Uris - Exodus
Lewis Carroll - Alice in Wonderland
Lion Feuchtwanger - Josephus Trilogie
Margaret Atwood - The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Mitchell - Gone With The Wind
Marilyn French - The women‘s room
Nathaniel Hawthorne - The scarlet letter
Neil Gaiman - American Gods
Oscar Wilde - The picture of Dorian Grey
Patrick Süsskind - Das Parfüm
Philip Pullman - His Dark Materials
Rebecca Skloot - The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks
Sandor Marai - Wandlungen einer Ehe (Az igazi / Judit ...é az utóhang)
Simone de Beauvoir - Memoirs d‘une jeune fille rangée
Stephen King - It
Steven King - The stand
Theordor Fontane - Effie Briest
Thomas Hardy - Far From The Madding Crowd
Thomas Hardy - Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Thomas Mann - Die Buddenbrooks
Thornton Wilder - Theophilus North
Umberto Eco - Il nome della rosa
Umberto Eco - Il pendolo di Foucault
William Golding - Lord of the Flies
William Makepeace Thackeray - Vanity Fair 

Yes, and I know, that there are some easy-reading-novels on the list, like Anne Rices, Steven Kings or Ken Folletts... but I liked them so much and as so many people around the world loved them as well, they are worth mentioning. Plus, not to forget: some of these were highly influential on certain genres of literature or even changed them totally. "The interview with the Vampire" changed the whole perception of Vampires. And, as you know, I'm a fan of Vampires... ;-)

Looking forward to other lists and comments.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Post in between posts 2 - cocooning issues

Today is not a good day for me. My private sphere is being invaded by two nice young men, who are ripping apart some of our windows in order to put new ones in. Generally, this might be a good idea. But it is freezing cold outside, I have to sit in the kitchen (instead of my usual workplace), there‘s lots of noise and - worst of all - social behaviour is expected from me. At home! 

And this is really becoming an issue: By travelling all around the globe and teaching social Tango, I have transformed into a very unsocial being. BT (Before Tango) I used to spend time in cafés and cinemas or at my friends, meeting people, partying, always being a group-person. Now, I exhaust all my interactive energy by travelling, teaching, constantly being with people, so that I drop into heavy cocooning mode, when I‘ve got a few days at home. I usually don‘t leave the house, order whatever is possible on the internet and even have to force myself to meet my friends. Don‘t misunderstand me - I love them and am always happy, when I‘m there. But it just costs me so much to leave my computer, dress properly and maybe even get out of the house. Watching a DVD, reading a book or writing on blogs are my preferred pastimes... I don‘t even remember when I last visited a real party... Sad...

But it‘s not only me and my wish to counterbalance the strenuous life of a travelling person!
Actually all of my friends describe the same problem, even those with regular jobs. Even the non-tangueros. So is it age? Are we mutating into old bores? And then I look at the younger generation and discover the same mechanisms: Teenagers preferring the TV or computer to the disco, young people spending the time at home with their elders playing cards instead of chatting up girls!

What‘s wrong? Is it a trend in society? Scientists tell us, that cocooning derives from the wish of fleeing the unstable and perilous world, especially after 9/11. But I'm not so sure. My personal life is not so frightening. My hometown Saarbrücken is a relatively nice and calm smaller city and I've never experienced war or terrorism. Almost none of my personal acquaintances have... So what is it?

I‘m gonna keep an eye on this.... most likely by reading articles online and not by talking to people. ;-)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Don't mention the war!

But Ken Follett does. Repeatedly.

The british novelist is renowned for his spy-stories, often set in the time of World War II, like „The Needle“ or „The key to Rebecca“. But I read none of those, as recent history (20th century) has never interested me a lot.
My focus has always been on medieval, renaissance and 19th century history and thus of course I read and loved „The pillars of the earth“. I was thrilled, when Follett published a follow-up in 2007  and started to read it, as soon it was available on the german market. (By then, I still bought real paper books...) But I was to be disappointed: the novel did not live up to my expectations, being somewhat lengthy and boring. I did not even finish it. And I can tell you, that happens only rarely!

So it was kind of risky to buy Folletts newest novel „Fall of Giants“ for my Kindle, but it turns out to be a captivating read. I have not finished it yet, but I have nevertheless decided to present it to my dear readers.

The story of is set in London and St. Petersburg in the year 1914, right after the heir to the Austrian throne, Franz-Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. Very typically for Follett, he describes the world on the brink of war out of different perspectives: an English earl, his housekeeper, a young coal miner, a German diplomat, a Russian worker... all these fates being intertwined by personal relationships, that are about to change dramatically due to the upcoming apocalypse. There is lots of politics and diplomacy, there is oppression and rebellion and of course there is also love. All the ingredients for a good story.

Follett uses the fictional plot artfully to depict history in a easily digestible way, without making it too obvious. The reader witnesses the chain of events that lead to the British entering the war and the change in mood, that makes warmongers out of pacifists after Germany decides to invade Belgium. Not surprisingly, the author - being an active supporter of the Labour Party - does not fail to mention that this group was amongst the few, who tried to prevent a British participation in the conflict until the end. But we can forgive him that bias.
Surprisingly though, that the good guy in this story is the German diplomat, whereas the English lord... But I won‘t tell too much.

Some critics complain about the language being to simplistic and dialogues that read like "children's writing". Of course, Follett is no poet, but to me, the language is good enough to make it an agreeable read. But then of course, I'm not an English native speaker...

However, if a book succeeds in making me interested in World War I, it cannot be so bad. So, if you like historic novels, it's worth checking it out!

Friday, 12 November 2010

What makes music danceable?

Recently... I was already about to go to sleep, when I started thinking about his question: What makes a Tango danceable?
As a Tango-DJ, this is the most relevant issue, when choosing music for a Milonga. Of course, the matter of danceability depends on the general proficiency level of the dancers at this specific event. A beginner will need a „simpler“ music, than a fully trained, professional stage dancer and artist. 
But let‘s evoke a normal local Milonga in a bigger town. It‘s a social event, so you‘ll find none or only very few stage dancers, a few (mostly semi-professional) teachers, some fairly advanced dancers, a majority of intermediate people and a bunch of beginners. That‘s what you have to deal with.
Your choice of music thus has to be „simple“ enough to be danced by the beginners and intermediates, but needs to appeal to the more advanced dancers as well. So changing the level of „simplicity“ within the course of the Milonga or alternating between different levels is the sensible thing to do.
But lets look at the defining factors. In my opinion, a danceable Tango (Vals, Milonga) is characterised by:
A perceivable beat:
An instrument (often the bass or piano) plays the beats within the measure (1234 or 123 or 12) and you would be able to count them to go along. Some Tangos by Biagi (e.g. Belgica) may be quite hard to dance to, as he makes pauses and lets drop notes and beats completely within the measure. In some very lyrical dances the legato passages of the violins and bandoneons may be so dominant, that you will not hear the beat for a longer time. An experienced dancer will have no problem with these cases, as he's going to feel the beat virtually through the strong notes of the melodic parts. But for a beginner, these Tangos might pose a problem. 
A constant speed:
The speed does not change dramatically during the course of the Tango (Milonga or Vals). A typically slower „introduction“ or finale to e.g. a romantic Vals is no problem, but most of the time, the speed should be constant. Lots of Tangos by Pugliese change speed quite often, and are thus not easy to dance to.
An acceptable speed:
The speed should be in a danceable range. If a song is too slow (e.g. modern music by Los Cosos de a Lao) or too fast (some d‘Arienzo Valses or Milongas) it might get too challenging, depending on the quality of the dancer's technique. People are either lacking the balance or the the stamina to keep up with such a speed.
An acceptable sound quality:
Let‘s face it, some of the very old Tangos might be very sweet and even easy to dance to, but the sound quality is just not acceptable. If all you hear are scratches or noise a Tango is not danceable any more.

Manageable rhythmic variation:
Tangos do not have a constant basic rhythm like Milongas (Habanera rhythm) do. The melody may form new rhythmic patterns in every measure and additional rhythms will be played in overlaid melodies or as an accompaniment. That makes a Tango in general much harder to dance to, like a - let's say - Rumba or Milonga. In order to not simply step on the beat (the minimum requirement), the dancer actually has to know (or be able to guess well) the melody. 
As long as the rhythmic patterns are very common ones (a simple quick-quick-slows like 123 or a slow-quick-quick like 134), this is not a big deal. These rhythms only use notes that are already represented by the basic beat, so even if you dance the other variation, you will not be really wrong. Syncopations make it already harder, as you have to know when they will be played. You should not dance a syncopation, if the orchestra does not play it. Uncommon rhythms like 3-3-2 or Triplets make it more challenging - even for very advanced dancers. As a DJ, I often sit and watch the dancers move to the music and check, if the get the rhythmic variations. Even at events with a very high dance level, only few people use them. That's of course no catastrophe, but it's still sad.
By the way: lots of rhythmic variations in Tango music are based on the Habanera (1+34) pattern by adding or leaving out notes. Once you discover this fact, you'll find it much easier to dance to them.
An acceptable complexity:
There are simple Tangos and complex ones. One way to measure this factor depends on the number of layers within the music. A Tango is like a cake: A simple one will consist of a layer of basic beat (the bottom) and one „hummable“ melody (the cream filling). This melody will most likely alternate with a second melody. If there is a third melody or two of them are overlaid, it can get already quite complex. Think of a lovely piece of "Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte". Tastes super, but try to bake it! ;-)
Check out "Nueve Puntos" by Di Sarli: It is played in hundreds of beginners classes, but if you examine it closely, you'll discover that it is a quite complex piece of music. I don't say that it is not danceable, but it is certainly no "simple" Tango.
A singer as a part of the orchestra can take over the melody during a shorter period of the Tango. This will not necessarily interfere with the danceability, as long as he does not add a variational phrasing.
A predictable course:
The predictability depends on the overall composition of the Tango. If there are distinguishable parts within the music, and not more than 3 different melodies are repeated after a Rondo-structure or variations thereof (e.g. ABABA or ABABC), a dancer can guess easily, which part of the melody will be played when and can adapt his movements to the flow of the music. A more surprising order of parts (ABABBBB in "Adios para siempre" by D'Agostino) makes it already more challenging to dance to, when you hear it for the first time. But if the melody is almost totally free (no repetition of larger melodic parts like in "El Yaguaron" by Biagi), forget about it. 
Also check out the Tango's phrasing. A rather "predictable" Tango will have regular phrases within one part: typically 4 measures form one phrase and 4 phrases one part (4/4/4/4). An "unpredictable" Tango may be using irregular phrasing patterns - e.g. 3/3/4/3/3 in part B of Humillacion by Biagi.
An emotional appeal:
Music speaks to you. It will evoke emotions, inspire you. This makes the difference  in between just moving to the beat and dancing, especially if you are a more advanced dancer. This factor is of course very subjective, because here we touch the question of how much we „like“ a Tango or not. But nevertheless, it is crucial. I will not dance to a Tango, if I don‘t like it and - here it gets even more subjective - in my opinion this depends on the „humanity“ of the music. A perfectly composed Tango by De Caro may be „complex, challenging and interesting“, but it may not be as emotional as a Tango by Rodriguez with the singer Armando Moreno. So very often, it is the human voice and even the content of the lyrics, that creates the „humane appeal“. Sometimes, it may be also an humane attribution of a specific instrument - the wailing violin of Elvino Vardaro for example. In Buenos Aires Milongas, you‘ll hear the old Milongueros sing along to their favourite Tangos and many DJ's will cater to that taste.
So a good DJ will have a feeling for which Tangos make the dancers sad, happy or emotional and will even know favourites of special dancers. This last factor is it what distinguishes a danceable Milonga from a great one.

A note:
The more varied the rhythmic variation of a Tango is, the more layers you'll discover in it, the more "unpredictable" it gets… the more interesting a Tango may become to musical or advanced dancers. That's for sure! But in this article, I am focussing on the "danceability" for average dancers. 
So, dear DJs: please add the more complex Tangos to your repertoire, but keep in mind, that you have to adapt the level of complexity to the dance-level of your dancers. Challenges are fine, but you don't want the audience to fight with the music. 

(I revised this article on October, 22, 2016)

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Melina's multiple personalities


I just found this video on the internet. It's not only perfectly fitting to my former post on visual orientation in Tango it also displays my two antagonistic personae: the psychologist/scientist and the tangodancer.

And to all, who ask themselves... I own 19 pair of Tango shoes, 4 of them flat shoes for teaching, 15 fancy stilettos, approx. half of them Comme-il-fauts. That's not so bad, isn't it? ;-)

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Post in between posts 1

I'm currently reviewing my first post and preparing some new ones. But in between posts, I just wanted to point out some banal and in the same time crucial facts about me and my writing:

1. Whatever I write is subjective, because I can only observe things from my point of view. But I try nevertheless to approach objectivity as much as possible.
2. Not everything, that I write will be new. You may have heard similar thoughts from other people or even from me. If you know me personally, we may have already talked about certain topics. I do not aspire originality, I just write about stuff, that matters to me.
3. I am not insulted by critical comments, if you keep them polite. I do not own the truth and there are differing opinions to almost every topic. Being a tangoteacher and dancing awhile does not make me omniscient. I am well aware of that.
4. I have got nevertheless a tendency to "lecturing". That comes from my scientific background and a general disposition to know-it-all. I just like writing - as Detlef likes to call them - "small manuals". When I was ten, I wrote a manual about Vampires (how to become a vampire, how to reject one, how to destroy them etc.). It's somehow in the genes. Please forgive me.

So, that's it for the moment.
Wish you all a pleasant day.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Good news. Really.

Men are visual beings. That‘s no news. You‘ve only got to sit with one of them in a cafe: each time a good looking woman will pass by, their focus will shift from you, the meal or their friends to this female. That‘s OK and women exploit it by wearing make-up, high heels and sexy dresses to attract attention. The Tango setting is no exception and there, it is even more obvious, as this kind of make-over is very compatible to Tango traditions and imagery. So, if you come to a Milonga, you will see a huge number of women, nicely made-up, in the most stunning outfits, wearing the highest and latest Comme-Il-Fauts. I‘ve never seen so many gorgeous women as in Tango and lots of them are quite decent dancers as well!

Unfortunately, I‘ve never seen so few gorgeous men as in Tango. Men are in a minority, often dress very carelessly and the average level of attractivity isn‘t breathtaking. Also the dance level is much lower amongst men, than amongst women. And this is why every semi-decent male dancer can feel like a kid in a candy-shop and choose freely amongst the female population according to the check-list:
- Age
- Level of attractivity
- Make-over and shoes
- Dance qualities 

And yes, dance qualities come last, because A, they don‘t matter so much and B, many men just assume, that good looking women, who wear high heels will be good dancers as well. (That‘s totally in accordance to scientific findings, as I recall from early psychology classes: attractive people are given higher ratings in skills and positive personality traits, than unattractive people.) And let‘s not forget, that a high dance level in a female, quite often is perceived as being threatening for male dancers. So dance quality will be the least important factor for the majority of men, when choosing a partner.

The funny outcomes of that kind of selection procedure: Even good male dancers (some of them quite near to me) repeatedly end up dancing with way below average dancers, who can hardly walk, because of a comically bad decision based on looks, heel-size and age. I won‘t mention names now... OK, once, it even happened to me. There was this good looking guy in Niño Bien Milonga in Buenos Aires... but that‘s another story. ;-)

The not-so-funny results: The majority of women over 40 or those not being of ideal proportions are sitting most of the time, no matter how they dress or dance. In Buenos Aires, this is even more crass: Lots of the eldest Milongueros dance as a principle only with the youngest Tangueras, often even choosing them as lovers. And don‘t tell me about age being honoured in argentine Milongas! The elder Tangueras may be put on a pedestal, but it‘s the young girls, who are invited to dance. It‘s kinda sad, all of it, and it creates a lot of frustration amongst women and a high pressure on men.

I started out as a beginner, being fairly attractive and still young enough, so that I was chosen as one of the favourite partners by the better local dancers. And being a little talented as well, they could do all kinds of fancy stuff with me and show me the world, as men like to do.

As I grew older and gained some kilos and became - at last - a professional Tango teacher, I was much more rarely invited. So I sat, watched my partner dance and - as I valued quantity higher than quality - was frustrated most of the time.

But over the years, my priorities shifted. Having developed musical preferences and a high quality approach to Tango, nowadays, I don‘t care to dance, when the music does not inspire me, when I‘m tired or when there are no interesting partners for me. Very often, I even refuse invitations. I choose not to dance. (I will write about „making choices“ in one of my next posts.) 

So most of the time, I'm still sitting, but contentedly listening to the music and having the leisure to observe people and notice an interesting development over the last two years.

The young men are coming! And they are different.

I watch these guys in their 30‘s emerging from the crowd as real nice dancers with a pleasant embrace. They are dancing a social Tango without fancy stuff and focus on quality and musicality. All the young attractive Tangueras love to dance with them. But I notice, that these young men are dancing with all kinds of women: those being double their age, double their size and those wearing homely dresses. And I see both partners smiling and enjoying the dance, because it‘s not about what you see from the outside, it‘s about what you feel on the inside.

Some of these young men are amongst my favourite partners and we had lots of fun at some recent events, that attract close-embrace social dancers: the Festivalito Rural in Celje (Slovenia), the Festivalito con Amigos in Saarbruecken (Germany), Autumn Tango in Eton (UK) and the Raduno Milonguero in Impruneta (Italy). And I‘m gonna meet some of them in Bramshaw (UK) soon!

I don‘t know much about the Nuevo community, but I presume, that with the focus on athletic movement and flexibility, age and weight will remain constant selective criteria for this style of dance.

But it seems, that with an increasing higher emphasis on quality of movement and embrace, the selective criteria in social Tango could change over the years. Women might be perceived as attractive dance partners because of their experience in the dance and because of their ability to really commit to the embrace and not because of their looks or age.

And, as society is getting older and all the young women in Tango as well, this is actually a very positive outlook. Isn‘t it?

I want to thank all these nice young men, for being who they are and helping to create a much more agreeable Tango community.

Note in reaction to a comment on November 9:
What I am talking about, is a general situation, not individual personalities.
If you are a nice guy with a nice embrace (no matter what age), who respects women and will choose your partner because of her dancing skillls, then I‘m not talking about you in the first half of my post. And of course, there are more guys like you. I know, because I dance with them. But unfortunately, you are not in the majority, because if you were, there would not not be so many nice, talented women at the Milongas, who have to leave frustrated.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

I'm a blogger

As of now, I'm a blogger.
Or better: I'm trying it out.

I definetely like writing and I've got opinions. Lots. And I'm travelling all over the world, meeting people, experiencing good and bad situations. So some of the stuff might be interesting for other people as well.

The problems are:
1. I'm not a english native speaker, my mother language is german. So I may not be able to express myself well enough, to make the reading agreeable. But I'll try my best.
2. I'm kind of known in the Tango community, but don't want to stay anoymous. So I will try to write about my experiences without hurting or insulting the feelings and opinions of the people I work with: organizers, Tango clubs, collegues and students. But I want to be honest as well. I might therefore write things, that critique what I encounter. I will have to live with the results.
3. I don't want to limit myself to writing about Tango, as I'm interested in other things as well: literature, history, TV shows, people, everyday life... And I don't know, if this mix is interesting enough for the Tango community who knows me and who is mainly interested in Tango. But hey - you don't have to read it. ;-)

Why blog now?
I recently gave an interview with the german Tangoblogger Cassiel, that was also translated and posted by Tangocommuter. Up until then, I had very rarely read blogs and did not feel comfortable with the format. But I kinda got hooked up, when I noticed, how interested readers are and how they respond to blogs. You can really reach a lot of people....

So, here you go...