Wednesday 29 August 2012

The watcher

Last week I wrote about DJing in the heat of the Midi. I would like to write about another incident that happened on the same evening, but had started a few days earlier...

Saturday, Nimes, Milonga del Angel: 
It was the first evening of our intensive seminar at the Mas de Mestre and we visited this well-known Milonga. It‘s been running for ages and although it is a little less frequented in summer, it is still a nice place to be. Traditional music, some good dancers, lots of friends. We know most Tangueros in the region as we‘ve been visiting for more than 7 years.
Unfortunately, you‘ll always find a couple of rowdies on the dance floors and this evening, one guy was standing out: He was doing huge, uncontrolled movements, pulling the women onto the dancefloor, out of axis and into absurd poses. He was a threat to everyone else. You think I‘m exaggerating? Oh no!
One of our students made the mistake of accepting his invitation. She had not noticed him earlier. I wonder why... She suffered for two Tangos, trying to slow him down a little, but then gave it up and finished the Tanda prematurely. Well done!
The guy tried to invite some other ladies of our group (including me) but had no success and continued pulling locals onto the dance floor.
Then an accident happened: the host decided to announce our Milonga, the bully got interested and asked Detlef to give him the address. Which Detlef did out of reflex. I think, he had not seen the guy dancing either. Am I the only one who watches the dancefloor?

Sunday, Aubais, Milonga à la cave Aubai Mema:
I learned about the rowdie‘s invitation on the next evening, when he was abusing new victims on another dancefloor. Why would none of these women stand up and refuse his invites? This is when I decided to prevent such misdemeanour at our Milonga.

Tuesday, Sommières/Villevieille, Milonga au Mas de Mestre:
Our Milonga was already on it‘s sweaty course, when Mr. Bully entered the room. Although I was feeling very uncomfortable with it, I decided to nip any bad behaviour in the bud and approached him. In quite neutral words, I told him that I had watched his dancing during two Milongas and that I would ask him to behave in a more social way at our Milonga, to keep the line of dance, not make such big moves and not invite women by direct invitation but by Cabeceo. He exploded: Who was I to talk to him in such a way? He claimed to be a good dancer who had danced all over the world, knowing how to dance properly in contrast to these other losers. I pointed out that I was - as he well knew - the host and DJ at this Milonga and that it was my responsibility to keep the dancefloor safe for everyone. Especially for the women, whom I had seen suffer a lot with him. He started insulting me, telling me that any child could DJ, that he did not accept my authority and that he would do what he pleased. Never had anyone talked to him in such a way, cried he!
So what was I to do now? He was a huge guy and very pissed-off. I could not throw him out of the room on my own and I did not want to disturb our Milonga. So I decided to wait and watch what happened.
Well... the guy sat and stared at me with a very angry expression. I tried to keep my calm and greeted all incoming guests and friends, behaving all „normal“. After a while he got up to dance and - behold - he moved only half as dangerously as earlier. Then he sat down again.
A little later, Detlef arrived and I told him what had happened. He got really angry about the guys insulting behaviour and asked if he should throw him out. I was undecided because he seemed to be calmer now. Detlef spoke to him nevertheless - repeating basically what I had said, but not throwing him out. Some time later the guy left.

So, have we acted out of line in asking this guy to conduct himself more carefully at our Milonga? Should I at least have waited until he actually started dancing and misbehaving? Or was it o.k. to go there in advance as I had watched him dance at other occasions? I had the impression that - however aggressively he reacted - his behaviour changed after our intervention. When Detlef saw him at the next Milonga, he was obviously not dancing. Is this a good thing or not? Have we scared off a poor guy or have we stimulated a process of self-reflection?

From what he sad - and I believe his reaction - none of the regional organisers or dance partners had ever given him a negative feedback. I knew that they are complaining about him amongst themselves but never to him. This is very sad.

But whose responsibility is it to give feedback when someone misbehaves so badly? The teachers and only in class? Milonga organisers? DJ‘s? Dance partners? Everyone at a Milonga? Who is to judge if someone is just slightly annoying or really disturbing other guests? Do we need more watchers? Do we need a Tango police?

Or is Tango about laissez-faire? Just do what you like as long as you don‘t bump into MY personal space?

I don‘t know... Apart from stressing floor-craft and appropriate social behaviour in class, I always felt it was my responsibility as a host to keep the dancefloor agreeable for everyone. Similar incidents occurred approximately once a year, but the reprimanded‘s reactions were usually positive: people excused themselves and danced more carefully for the next hours. The French guy‘s aggressive reaction might have been a reaction to my ill-concealed anger as he was such an extreme case. But even he seemed to change after it. Maybe I should be more careful in HOW I approach someone, but I won‘t stop doing it. 

I cannot. Must be my watcher mentality!

Wednesday 22 August 2012

The heat is on!

Finally it is summer and I‘m in the midst of it, teaching an intensive class in the south of France in an old Mas.

For those who don‘t know the term: A Mas is kind of a former hamlet, nowadays usually in the hand of one proprietor who rents out rooms or small apartments. We organize one or two intensive seminars per year in such a Mas, visiting the region near Nîmes and Montpellier.

The Mas de Mestre is situated in the vicinity of a medieval town called Sommières. It is quite stylish. The rooms have been decorated with the help of local artists, there is a big garden with a swimming pool and a super nice dance floor in the former barn. Our lovely host and her cook take good care of us. It is ideal for an intensive seminar with ten couples. We stay one week, teach 4 hours per day and in the evenings we visit the local Milongas or dance at the Mas. Heaven on earth and very hard work as well! Especially when it is 35 degrees...

Tonight is the day of our Milonga „avec auberge espagnole“: We invite friends from all over the region, they bring food, I dj and everyone dances happily ever after.

In theory.

In reality it is too hot. It feels like the hottest day of the summer and I have to fight against the strong urge of the dancers to just stay put on the veranda and have a beer. Mr. Di Sarli, D‘Arienzo, Biagi and Canaro help a lot and play their nicest Tangos. But during the first Tango of every Tanda, the dancefloor is almost empty. Everyone runs out to have a cool drink. Then they drag themselves back, chose a partner and dance. And literally stick together. I see them smiling, so they seem to have a good time ... but some of them look quite messy.

I don't dance. Apart from having to keep the energy high on the dance floor, I find myself glued to the chair. I don‘t know if it is fatigue or sweat. Both, I guess...

I‘d really love to dance. Mr. Donato is playing Sin Sabor and my feet tingle.

But I cannot move.

It is too hot.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Festivalitos & Encuentros for Milongueros 2013

Here is a short overview of events for those who cherish social Tango in a close embrace to traditional Tango music. There are many more in 2013 , but I will only list those, that I have visited personally or that are organized or visited by people, whom I know personally and who can vouch for the genuine "milongueroness" of an event. 
I will update this list regularly:

Festivalito Milonguero du nouvel an, Chateau La Robéyère, France, January 3-6 
Pasionara Milonguera, Côte D'Azur, France, January 25-27
RDV Milonguero, Bologna, Italy, February 15-17
Mirame - Encuentro Milonguero, Montpellier, France, February 28 - March 3
Viento Norte - Festivalito Milonguero (Tangokombinat Sección Norte), Eckernförde, Germany, March, 8-10 
Yo soy Milonguero, Crema, Italy, March 29 - April 1  (read review)
Montecatini Terme Tango Festivalito, Montecatini, Italy, April 5-7 (read review)
Abrazos - Encuentro Milonguero (Tangokombinat UK), Devon, United Kingdom, May 3-5 (read review)
Les Cigales, Carpentras, France, May 9-12 (read review by Ms. Hedgehog)
Tango del Mar - Encuentro de Abrazos, Constanta, Rumania, June 14-16 (read review)
Festiv'à La Milonguita, Gap, France, June 27-30
Raduno Rural, Slovenia, Juni 28-30 (read review by Ms. Hedhehog)
Festivalito Rural, Celje, Slovenia, September 6-8 (read review)
Encuentro Milonguero, Kehl, Germany, September 12-15
Ensueños, Porto, Portugal, October, 3-7
FCA (Tangokombinat, private party)
Raduno Milonguero, Impruneta, Italy, October 31 - November 1
Te Quiero Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal, November 15-17
Abrazame, Barcelona, Spain, December 5-8

As we (Detlef and I) decided to do less weekends of workshops next year, we hope to visit all - or at least many - of them. See you!

Monday 6 August 2012

Revision: the Salon/Milonguero argument

Shoot me, but I have to open Pandora‘s box again.
Remember the discussion that evolved around the definition of Tango (de) Salón: For me, it is a generic term describing social Tango in contrast to Tango Escenario. For others, it is one particular style compared to Tango Milonguero, Apilado, del Centro, Orillero and many more. This style defines itself by its elegant walk, intricate decorations, complex turns in open embrace and a very distinct musical interpretation. It is mostly danced in the Milongas outside the city centre and nowadays all over Europe. The name „Villa Urquiza“ keeps popping up, but that‘s not the only barrio where they dance like this.
As I was lying in bed and remembering another reference to this topic, a couple of questions formed in my mind. Why have I not asked them earlier?
If Tango Salón is a particular style and not a generic term...
... why does the city of Buenos Aires organise a championship in which couples from all over the world compete in two categories: Tango Salón and Tango Escenario?  Is it not a tad discriminating to chose one style as the antagonist of Tango Escenario and exclude all other styles in this worldwide celebration of Tango? Why was there no uproar in the Tango community of Buenos Aires, especially from the „Milongueros“ of the centre?
... does the Campeonato explicitly exclude dancers who do not open the embrace for elegant turns from the competition because they do not dance Salón? (They forbid high boleos and ganchos, so why not forbid dancing in a close embrace?)
... how come they hold the Campeonato Metropolitano in different Milongas all over the city, also in the city centre, where many people dance in an unbroken close embrace? Why don‘t they exclude Milongas like, say, Club Gricel? 
... how come Cherie Magnus, my dear blogger-colleague and her partner Ruben made it to the finals of the IV Campeonato Metropolitano? They do not dance „Villa Urquiza“ style. 
... how come a couple like Osvaldo and Coca won the Campeonato Mundial in the Salón category in 2004? They certainly do not dance in the way described above. 
... what is - according to the representatives of this style - the Argentine generic term for social Tango in contrast to Tango Escenario and why did the organisers of the Campeonato Mundial not chose this expression?
Ok. These are my questions. If anyone can answer all of them in a satisfactory and logical manner, I will never again contradict your opinion.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Quo Vadis Encuentro Milonguero?

In 2011, I‘ve spent quite some time writing about and promoting the Encuentros Milongueros and Festivalitos. These events focus on social dancing in a close embrace, traditional music, invitations by Mirada/Cabeceo, an equal number of men and women and an amicable ambiance amongst people who share the same Tango philosophy.
And I can tell you: Encuentros and Festivalitos have become super hip, everyone wants to be there! Most sell out very fast and people travel from all over Europe and the USA to meet other dancers. I guess this is quite similar to the development of the Marathon-scene that started a little earlier. As far as I can judge, the amount of Milonguero/Salon-dancers is increasing every year - also amongst young people. I am happy and proud to have contributed my share. 
But popularity always comes with a price. The amount of people wanting to participate in the Encuentros surpasses by far the momentary capacity. 
So this is the issue: You‘ve got a small number of Encuentros and Festivalitos and a whole bunch of people wanting to participate. Many applicants are close friends, people who have been part of the crowd for a long time, others are newly-found Milongueros*, others just wanna go someplace „sexy and cool“ although they might be into another kind of Tango. You don‘t want to exclude your friends, you want to give newcomers a chance to participate and maybe even create an environment where the so-far-not-so-close-embrace-dancers might be „converted“. Every organizer tries to solve this problem in a different manner and every coping strategy creates its unique problems.
In order to cater to the increasing demand, some of the Encuentros have expanded their capacity. In 2010, the average Encuentro accepted 100-250 dancers tops. In 2012 there have already been two events with 340-450 participants. I have visited one of them and felt quite lost at the beginning. During the course of the event, I somehow adapted and danced a lot, but the ambiance had lost it‘s intimacy: There was no time and space to connect to all friends, to dance with everyone you like and I surely made less new acquaintances. Also, there were many people who did not really dance in a social way and who disturbed the Ronda a lot and invitation by Cabeceo/Mirada was quite difficult because of the huge number of people moving and standing around at all times. The whole thing felt more like a Festival!
After this experience, I did not visit the second Encuentro that was supposed to host 450 participants. Friends have told me that it was very nice nevertheless. Maybe I will grow accustomed to these Mega-Encuentros in the future, but I don‘t know if I want to. It‘s just not the same...
(By the way: The organizers of the two above mentioned Encuentros are friends and I have informed them personally about my critical view to increasing the capacity. This article is not about complaining. It originates in my wish to discuss a problem that I have helped create.)
New Encuentros and Festivalitos are being created or existing events multiplied. That sounds like a good idea, but as there are more events, it gets harder to co-ordinate dates amongst organizers. Most of them know each other and so far managed to avoid double-booked weekends or even setting dates that are too close to one another. In 2013, this will not be so easy anymore and dancers who have so far participated in all major events will have to make choices. No-one can be everywhere anymore! That‘s maybe not a bad thing because you‘ll make more new friends, but from now on you can be less certain that your favourite dancers will visit the same events as you do. 
I can also not forgo to mention the sad fact, that knockoffs start to pop up, events that are only by name Encuentros. There will always be people who want to make money without actually sharing the same philosophy or even having a clue. How can someone who has rarely visited an Encuentro or Festivalito understand how to create it‘s characteristic ambiance? So now you have to start examining very carefully, if your chosen product really contains what it promises.
(You can be sure though, that my blog will only recommend the „real deal“: events that I have visited personally or that are suggested to me by people whose opinion I can trust.)
Almost all hosts ask the participants of their Encuentros to register in advance. This allows to balance the number of men and women as well as monitor the general turnout. With more and more people wanting to come, this process does not anymore guarantee that your friends, favourite partners or acquaintances will get a place. Your friends might just register a little too late and could be turned away. So your favourite Encuentro might be filled with lots of folk whom you have never met and with bad luck many of those might not even be dancers sharing your style of dance and philosophy. This is why, in order to assure a high quality event amongst like-minded dancers, some organizers now changed to „invitations only“ or select amongst the applicants. This is considered - rightfully - as a very exclusive practice. Not ideal if you promote a social Tango.
So, what is the right thing to do? Whatever option you chose, there seem to be significant downsides. 
You might know that the TANGOKOMBINAT (me and some close friends) organizes two events over the year: the „Festivalito con Amigos“ in Germany and „Abrazos - Encuentro Milonguero“ in the UK. How do we cope with the rising demand?
First of all: The Tangokombinat sticks to a „small-event“ policy. We will not grow our Encuentros but keep them intimate and friendly. So, BIGGER is not our deal.
Let‘s have a look at our Festivalito con Amigos: It was one of the first Festivalitos, has grown a very international community and keeps on growing in popularity.  With Detlef and me travelling and making new friends every week the list of possible participants grows per day. The rest of the crew does not travel quite as much, but each of us contributes a whole bunch of „amigos“ to our common event. Once a year we want to gather all people to whom we have bonded and who enrich our dance. This event is the highlight in our schedule. 
Last year, we had pre-invited a number of personal friends or former Festivalito-participants before opening the official registrations. We had not anticipated all of them accepting the invitation, leaving almost no places when the official booking opened. This created quite some rumpus.
As a consequence, we have turned the FCA into a private party on invitation only and stopped all publicity. But even the EXCLUSIVE strategy does not solve our problem as we know far more nice social dancers than we can host. In order to avoid refusals, we sent out only as many invitations as we‘ve got places, 180. So this year, we already had to chose amongst our friends, students and colleagues. That‘s per se unpleasant. And it keeps on bugging me: The event is sold out for weeks and - as I am writing - more Milongueros keep applying or asking to register another dear friend and great dancer. We have to refuse and disappoint them all.
There is one thing we can do: try to invite different dancers with every new year. This should give more Milongueros the chance to participate. But even this measure cannot avoid people being mad with us because we had to refuse them at a given moment. That‘s super frustrating.
(You don‘t believe me and think that this is an act in order to brag with the popularity of our event? Go on, tell a good friend or faithful customer that he cannot come to your party and we will talk again. It‘s no fun!)
Because of this high demand (especially amongst German and Scandinavian dancers), the TANGOKOMBINAT decided to host one event for Milongueros MORE. Two of our friends (Sylvia & Jürgen) have moved to the north of Germany, a seaside town named Eckernförde and will be organizing a regular traditional Milonga. In order to initiate their lovely venue, we proudly present the „Festivalito Viento Norte“ on March, 8-10, 2013 . We hope this will please all northern friends of the embrace who could not attend the FCA this year. Naturally, the rest of crowd is welcome as well! 
So, we‘ve got our strategies in coping with the high demand, other organizers have chosen theirs. The next years will definitely change and develop the Encuentro and Festivalito scene. Some of the events will grow bigger, some will perish, other will become even more exclusive. But which of the strategies (BIGGER, MORE, EXCLUSIVE) are for the better and which are for the worse? Maybe it‘s the combination... and maybe there are more options and I am just too blind to see them.
I am sure there will be enough nice embraces in an intimate setting for every dancer who loves this culture. Everything will be good, yes? Most likely I was just worrying without a cause...

I hope so.
* For my definition of „Tango de Salon“ and of „Milongueros“, please read these articles: