Saturday 26 February 2011

Post inbetween posts 4 - I'm not a cheerful blogger

Since I've started this blogging business, I‘ve visited lots of other blogs. Most of the Tangueros write about music or famous Maestros, share their lovely experiences or review the Milongas, that they have visited. I‘ve read so many great stories, that make me feel like Ebenezer Scrooge, always nagging ... I‘m really sorry.

But: That‘s just me. I‘m not the cheerful, romantic person who gets all googly eyed, when seeing a new dancer enter the room and compliments him on his super technique. I‘m the gal who complains about that same guy showing off on the dance floor. 

Believe me, I‘ve had lots of wonderful experiences in Tango, at Milongas, during classes, in the exchange with friends. If not, I would not keep on doing it. But I will most likely not write about these moments of bliss. There are enough people who do that.

I want to go on writing about the stuff, that many do not care to express. Sometimes, this may be provocative, contradictory to other people's opinion and not "tango-politically correct". I know that there are quite a few, who share my opinions, but don't dare to make a statement, because they are scared of "loosing contracts" or making enemies. I‘m not and I believe that talking about all aspects of a phenomenon - also the negative ones - leads to development! 

I nevertheless do stay polite and try not to insult other people's feelings.

And this is what I ask from people who comment on my blog as well. I do accept critique and lively discussions with Tangueros, who do not share my opinion, as you can very well see in the commentaries. But now people start threatening or insulting me anonymously or by using pseudonyms. I can cope with them personally, but I do not have to give them a voice on my blog. This is why, from now on, commentaries will be moderated. This is not an open forum, but my private blog. Do not hesitate to comment though. Usually I read the blog once per day and if you do stick to the rules of polite conversation, I will of course post you commentary.

Everyone else, readers and commentators, I thank with all my heart for taking the time to read my blog.

Sunday 20 February 2011

A love story: Melina and the Vampires (Re-edited 2017)

It began at the dawn of time. I was seven years old and we had recently moved to Germany. It was night-time and I was cuddled up on the sofa next to my mother. This is when I met him for the first time: Dracula!
He appeared in the form of Christopher Lee in an old Hammer movie. One of the countless films about the infamous count from Transsilvania: "Dracula", "Dracula - Prince of darkness", "Dracula has risen from the grave", "Taste the blood of Dracula"... I‘ve seen and loved them all. These movies did not tell us much about the count himself, where he came from, his motives or feelings. He also did not talk a lot, but would just look at his victim, commanding it to come nearer, open his arms beneath the black cape and encompass them in his deadly embrace. He was a monster in the body of a man. Was I scared? Maybe a little. But I knew, that nothing bad would happen, when I pulled-up my blanket to cover my neck. And if he came... well... maybe this would not be so bad after all. He was good-looking, wasn‘t he?
This is when it began, my life-long love-story with Vampires. 
I emerged myself in it, watching the Hammer-movies on TV, discovering some of the cheesy South American interpretations of Dracula, the silent-movies with Bela Lugosi and of course the source of it all, the novel by Bram Stoker. 
Written in 1897, "Dracula" was a worldwide success. Earlier Vampire stories (Le Fanu‘s "Camilla“, Polidori‘s "The Vampyre“) had mostly appealed to the intellectual and romantic elite. They had created an interest in the drinkers of blood, but their Vampires remained ghostlike, diffuse creatures. Stoker made a man out of the spectre! The book contains everything that you expect from a good novel: sex, action and mystery. Dracula is the predator, the monster with hairy hands and a hawk-like nose, who is feared and killed in the end. Very much what the Hammer-movies tried to convey with their rather simple means. It was an adventure book and I adored it. I must have read it dozens of times.
This I why I was perfectly equipped to write my own book about Vampires. Not a novel of course. My analytic mind asked for a scientific challenge. So, in 1978 (being ten-and-two years old) I spend weeks researching the evil creatures with the aid of Bram Stoker‘s work, other stories, films, magazine articles, history books and much more. The result was a manual, listing all the important facts: how Vampires are created, how to repel them, how to kill them, the story of Dracula, the historic figure and much more. The section that I treasured most was called „The abuse of Vampires“, dealing with Vampires as subjects of jokes in magazines. You can imagine, that I had to speak out against such an atrocious discrimination. Yes, I was really serious about it.
And serious it remained, because in the following years, my attention shifted to the more ambitious manifestations of Vampire movies: Murnau‘s "Nosferatu“, Herzog‘s film with the glorious Klaus Kinski, Andy Warhol‘s Dracula... The monster had become a symbol for all kinds of repressed feelings, for fear of the unknown, the beast inside and passion. Art had discovered the Vampire and my teenage-self was feeling very intellectual. 
This came to a sudden end, when Francis Ford Coppola presented his new movie in 1992: Bram Stoker‘s Dracula. Ah! Here he was again, but he had evolved. Coppola‘s interpretation transformed the speechless monster and intellectual symbol into a romantic hero. A loving creature that turns to the dark side as a result of a great loss, of being forsaken by god. Yes, he kills, yes, he is a ghastly monster, but could I not understand why? How I suffered with him every minute up until his salvation and Christ-like ascension.
Anne Rice‘s Vampire novels had been written earlier, but I discovered them around the same time as the Coppola movie in the early 90‘s. They were expressing a similar picture of Vampires: tortured creatures with feelings and emotions, killing and hunting, but suffering because of it. Asking the eternal questions: Why am I that way? What is my destiny?
Well, the destiny of this new Vampire was obviously to be integrated into my most important pastime: A few years earlier I had started to do role-playing games, at first concentrating on fantasy and medieval settings. In 1991 the storyteller-based game "Vampire - The Masquerade" was published by White Wolf. 
My friends and I started playing the game in the original White Wolf setting: Chicago. Vampires were living in our modern world, connected to it, but forming a secret society. These Vampires were very much influenced by the Rice novels: They were suffering souls - their torment resulting from an ancient curse that god had called upon the first Vampire Cain. It was supposed to be a mythological game. But, let‘s face it, it was also about playing a super-hero. Vampires had all these exciting skills: they could change into wolves and bats, had night-vision, where super strong, could read minds or mind-control ordinary people. So it was no surprise, that it many cases the play regressed into an action-based game, the Vampires being just another way to live out juvenile power-fantasies. 
I found this rather boring - not being juvenile any more - so in January 1994 I started my own Vampire game: set in the early 19th century, the story was based in Venice. "La Serenissima" had survived the napoleonic conquest, but found herself reduced to an Austrian province. A sinking and degrading city, living in the memories of a great past. This is where my Vampires dwelled in an equally decomposing society, clinging to former fame and archaic ideals. Our game was about mythology and history. It was about Europe on the brink of modern times and about man- and vampire-kind adapting to this new era. The fact that the main characters were immortal, allowed us to encompass a longer period in history. They experienced adventures and torments, mental and physical challenges. They struggled with millennia-old intrigues in the Vampire-society and tried to influence the politics of men. They met figures of the past like Anches-En-Amun or Tiziano as well as personae of "the present" time like Daniele Manin or Karl Marx. Marie-Anne, Rodolfo, Victor and Marius made enemies and allies, had love affairs and formed families with their vampiric and human offspring. They lived! 

The characters of this game got to be played for almost 20 years and became real for us. I know how crazy this sounds, but I guess this is how Tolkiens figures must have meant to him. 

We nevertheless had to stop playing in 2013, because one of the main players of our small group had moved to the UK and making further appointments became quite impossible. But still, one day, we are going to take it up again - maybe via Skype or when we are living in a tango- and roleplaying-retirement home. Until then, the heroes and villains of our story will wait in an eternal 1914, the year in which the great war began, the year in which we abandoned them. I hope they can forgive us.
In 2006, Vampires invaded another part of my life: TV series. When I first heard about "Buffy, the Vampire slayer“ and its spin-off "Angel“, I was sceptical: what good could come from a series named after a 15-year-old girl called Buffy? But I was surprised by the wit, style and depth of the series and I became a real fan, watching it over and over again. It depicted every aspect of Vampires: the monster, the symbol, the suffering lover, the super-hero. The series is also about growing up and although I am not young anymore, I can still relate to it. Aren't we nerds eternal children anyway? Buffy also prepared me for my latest passion: "True Blood“ after the Sookie Stackhouse novels. Much darker, much more sex, much more grown-up than Buffy. Great music too!
And this is how finally Vampires crept into Tango as well: the True-Bood-theme "I wanna do bad things to you“ became one of my most-used Cortinas in the past years.

Years have passed.

In 2011, when I originally wrote this post, I was in my mid-forties and did neither look nor feel it. Now it is 2017 and I have turned 50, but I have not forgotten the Vampires. Just recently I lay in bed and pondered: what if a Vampire showed up and offered to turn me into one? Now that I am old and grey, would I still want eternal life? Was not the point of it all to stay young and beautiful forever? Well, I don't know. 

I guess, when Dracula finally knocks on my window, he's in for quite a scolding.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

The eternal question: Salon or Milonguero?

We‘ve just returned from Italy. Been in Modena, Spinea and La Serenissima Venezia. Great places. Nice Milongas with warm embraces, welcoming friends and marvellous food. Italy is definitely one of my all-time favourite countries. 

There was just one tiny little detail that bugged me. It‘s about labels. 

We arrived by plane and were picked up by the owner of a Tango club, that was going to host us for a few classes and a demo. He did not know us very well, as the deal was brokered by one of the local teachers. So, whilst driving, we were making some basic conversation. And there it was again. 

The inevitable remark: So, you are dancing Tango Milonguero? 
We: We are dancing Tango de Salon. 
He: But Tango de Salon is danced more open with big steps. You dance close with simple movements, yes? 
We: hum.... yes. Not necessarily. And we... 
He: So you dance Tango Milonguero. 
We: No... but... yes, ok... 

Given our poor Italian, his rather sketchy English and our level of fatigue, we complied. But this is, what I would have wanted to explain: 

When I re-started dancing Tango in 2000, I learned, that there are three forms of Tango: 
1. Tango Escenario, as it is danced on stage and sometimes - inappropriately - in Milongas. It is danced by bailarines, ideally people with a classical training. 
2. Tango de Salon, as it is danced in the Milongas of Buenos Aires and all around the globe at social events. It is danced by Milongueros and Milongueras - people who visit Milongas on a regular basis and who adhere to a certain set of codes that regulate the movement in the ronda and the interactions on and off the dance floor.
3. Tango Nuevo, that had been introduced before the the turn of the millennium and was used by social dancers and performers alike. In my opinion, it is actually a method to understand tango movements, not a different style. (Unluckily what often derived out of the use of this analytical approach was a form of dancing that was not really suited for the social dance floor. This is why lot of people nowadays identify the term Tango Nuevo with specific moves rather than the method.) 
So originally, these three terms did not describe specific styles. They were used as umbrella terms, referring to the different approaches to Tango and the different contexts in which Tango is danced.

Luckily, one of our first local teachers had a strong bond to the traditional Milongas in Buenos Aires and invited all kinds of Milongueros to cultivate social Tango. And all of them danced their personal interpretation of Tango de Salon, allowing for many kinds of embraces, from a very close parallel embrace to a half open V-form. Some of them danced complex movements with real pivots and even ganchos, some just walked to the music. Some analysed, some showed steps. Some even showed choreographed performances. Tete danced Tango de Salon as well as El Indio or Hernan Obispo. They told us about Tango orillero, Tango del centro, Tango liso, Tango apilado, Tango Villa Urquiza... all sub-styles of Tango de Salon with one common idea: to move on the dance floor in harmony with the other couples. 

So, when Detlef and I started teaching, our objective was not to promote a specific style, but social Tango as such - Tango de Salon. We chose this term as our label because of its neutrality and this worked very nicely. But when we started reaching out into other regions and countries, we noticed that this label seemed to pose a problem:

First of all, in France - one of our most important markets in the early years of our career - the term "Tango de Salon" described ballroom tango. Not so good. So we had to explain what we do.

And then there was the "Tango Milonguero issue". Until that moment, we did not even know that term. Yes, there were Milongueros. But there was no "Tango Milonguero" in our world. Was that supposed to be a style or just another synonym for "Tango de Salon"?  

This is what we learned:

Susanna Miller, who took up working in the USA and Europe in the 90‘s, found the pre-dominant style to be a hybrid of social Tango and Tango Escenario which was unfortunately called Tango de Salon. It was a result of many years of instruction by stage dancers and very different from the social Tango in Buenos Aires. And although she had been announcing to teach "Tango de Salon“ in "El Tangauta", she now had to distinguish her "authentic" style from the Salon-hybrid. So she called it "Tango Milonguero". She focussed on a limited set of simple movements with small steps, appropriate for a crowded Milonga and a close embrace. Mrs. Miller taught (as every teacher does) her personal technique and style, apparently requiring the followers to lean slightly onto the leaders, not allowing for top-to-down spirals. That made totally sense in a period, when real social tango was still rare. By giving it more specific label and concentrating on a repertoire apt for the social dance floor, this approach removed a lot of non-appropriate movements from the European and US-American Milongas.

But our personal problem with this new label was and still is: 
Mrs. Millers sub-style "Tango Milonguero" became a synonym for social Tango in a close embrace, notably in the USA, Italy, the Netherlands and other countries, where she (or her students) were teaching more frequently. Nowadays, every person, who dances Tango in a close embrace with relatively simple movements is described as dancing Tango Milonguero. So, according to a lot of people, what we do is Tango Milonguero. 

No, no, no! 

We have had one lesson with the Milonguero ambassador, but our approach to tango is very different. We want to stand in our own axis. We use real pivots when we feel up to it. Our step-size varies according to the music, the mood and the space. We break down the sacred Ocho-Cortado and whoever has taken a lesson with us will find, that we‘ve adopted a rather "nuevo" method of analysis, deconstruction and communication. The longer we teach, the more we focus on the basis of the Tango, the walking, the music, the embrace. We dance simple. But we do not dance "Tango Milonguero". 

Then, from 2001 on, a new annoying process of labelling took place. 

The Campeonatos Mundiales in Buenos Aires brought attention to another sub-style of Tango de Salon. Teachers like Jorge Dispari or Rosa & Carlos Perez and their numerous followers stand for a Tango that focusses on elegance, a well defined set of steps with a distinct musicality and turns in a half open embrace. After an an astonishing process of standardisation the "Estilo Villa Urquiza" now claims to be the one and only Tango de Salon. Another pars pro toto, that does not make sense for me.

So, let‘s summarise: Many Miller-Milongueros and the Villa-Urquiza-Salon-dancers label our dance "Estilo Milonguero", because of our minimalistic approach. Our students will find that our pedagogy and techniques are rather "nuevo". Fine, but that will not describe our style, because that is "Detlef + Melina style". But we still dance Tango de Salon. Tango for the social dance floor.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Great embraces: Festivalitos for Milongueros

As a short follow-up to my previous post, I would like to add a small list of Tango events for Milongueros who cherish dancing in a close embrace to traditional music.
There may be many more Festivals like these. But I just want to share those, that I have visited personally and that I can vouch for. I assure you, that the quality of embraces will be equal to those at the best traditional Milongas in Buenos Aires. These are the places, to where me and my friends from all over Europe go dancing just for fun - if we are not teaching there or organising the event. ;-)
Looking forward to meeting you at these occasions in 2011:

Montecatini Terme Tango Festivalito, Montecatini Terme, Italy, April 1-3 (read review)
Yo soy Milonguero, Crema, Italy, April 23-25  (read review)
Abrazos - Encuentro Milonguero UK, Devon, United Kingdom, Mai 6-8 (read review)
Les Cigales, Carpentras, France, June 2-5 (read review by Ms. Hedgehog)
Tango Guinguette, Caromb, France, July 16-24
Raduno Rural, Slovenia, July 14-17 (read review by Ms. Hedhehog)
Tango del Mar - Encuentro de Abrazos, Constanta, Rumania, August 26-26 (read review)
Encuentro Milonguero, Kehl, Germany, September 8-11
Festivalito Rural, Celje, Slovenia, September 16-18 (read review)
FCA (Tangokombinat, private party)
Raduno Milonguero, Impruneta, Italy, around November 1
Ferrara Tango Festival, Ferrrara, Italy, November 11-13
Abrazame, Barcelona, Spain, December, 2-4

More infos on the concept of Festivalitos and Encuentros: here.

You will find the dates for 2012 on the websites of the organizers. Just follow the links!