Monday 29 December 2014

Are We Killing Tango?

EDIT September 2015: 
This post was read more often than any other of my other posts. I think that comes from the fact, that it was discussed in a french tango magazine. I did not read the article due to my lack of time and energy to struggle with a long french text, but I fear that the article might have misrepresented my statements - at least many readers have gotten it completely wrong, judging from the reactions that I got in numerous personal conversations. So, I want to rectify: Although I ask some provocative questions, I still think that Encuentros, Festivalitos and (from what I can tell) also Marathons make important contributions to our tango world and have encouraged social dancing all over Europe. Most accusations of elitism are widely exaggerated and the result of individuals, feeling rejected or left behind. So, that's it. For more clarifications, please read my comments on this post.

And of course, read the original text intelligently, trying to understand what I want to say and not what you want to hear:


„Again with the drama, Melina?“, says my imaginary reader.

Yes, I have to admit: I am a drama queen. But it‘s for a greater good. ;-)
In this case, I want to ask the question, if we - meaning I and all the people who share a certain philosophy of social tango - have unintentionally hindered the development of tango as an art or creative process. At least in Europe.


Yup. After all these years of promoting purely social tango, let me for once be the advocatus diaboli.
I‘ve been around for a while. Not for a super long while, but let‘s look back to the turn of the millennium. In 2000, if you were an organiser, a tango club or a local tango teacher, once or twice a year, you planned a festival. You invited one or two teacher couples and an orchestra, you organised classes and a demo... Depending on the scope of your activities, this could be a small regional event - a festivalito - or a huge international tango festival. From 2003 on, Detlef, I and the Tangokombinat organised quite a few festivalitos. It was a hell of a work and you always risked to be totally broke after it... but it was also fun and we created some lasting memories.
And today? Everyone who‘s someone will organise a marathon or an encuentro: no demos, no classes, no orchestra. I myself have contributed to this development by promoting these events on my blog, in my classes, through my mailing list or just by talking to people. And I do think sincerely and proudly, that the European tangueros have created a unique form of tango culture, focussed on the social encounter and the embrace.

„So all‘s well in tangoland?“

No, because that‘s only one side of the coin.
The encuentros and marathons have not only been added to the variety of tango events, they have replaced festivalitos and festivals, even regular workshop weekends: many big traditional tango festivals are getting smaller (in numbers of participants) or are dying, festivalitos milongueros are transformed into encuentros and instead of a workshop weekend, you organise a marathon. There is even the notion that the „good“ dancers will not go to festivals anymore. Those are only for the „show-offs“ and „beginners“. A result being, that these events (festivals and workshop weekends) get less frequent.

And so there are...

... Less classes
In these last 10-15 years, I have seen so many people develop into fine dancers with a nice embrace and an interesting musicality. One of my chief reasons to teach, was to help form more dancers with whom I would want to dance. I can be very happy with the results and I enjoy the tandas with my favourite partners from all over the world, many of them having taken our classes.
But in the last two years, I have also also noticed stagnation and in cases fall-backs. Many dancers „of a certain level“ have stopped taking local classes. Organisers do tell me, that people stop even booking workshops with travelling teachers, which is why they are reluctant to organise them. No problem, comments the experienced dancer, we don‘t need to learn more, we do just fine with what we know.
Sure, but we all agree, that Milongas are not the place to practise. There are many skills, that you will only improve at a Milonga, e.g. navigation on the dancefloor, but there will be others that might even deteriorate, if you "only" dance and never practise. At a Milonga, you will only rarely go out of your comfort zone. You might be inspired by other dancers at an encuentro, but you only rarely develop new forms of movement or work on your skills of communication. As a teacher and social dancer who prefers to dance with her students and can therefore compare, I have to say, that most of my partners lead better in the learning context. That makes sense, as the environment of the milonga will distract even the most experienced dancer. There are other couples to take care of, there are people watching, there is the wish to „entertain“ the partner... Very often this leads to rather „sloppy“ leading and to constant repetition of „safe“ and preferred patterns. The level of true improvisation is very low at a social dance event.
In class or at a practice you will hopefully have the space to move without the fear of walking into another couple. You will to be able to stop and think, to explore things slowly or to just listen to the music. You have the freedom to make mistakes. You can concentrate on special aspects of your dance and focus your attention on one thing only. And you get the feedback of a partner or a teacher. At an encuentro or milonga, you‘ll only get the praises of your preferred milongueros. That‘s a nice self-affirmation, but we‘re not that vain, aren‘t we?
Let‘s not forget: You also learn by teaching. Out of the need to develop new workshops, I had to explore all kinds of musical and movement-related questions. This widened my horizon as a dancer and as a teacher. Everyone who teaches seriously, will experience the same I guess. 
The innovators of the dance (and I am not just speaking of tango nuevo, but of all who developed the dance over the past 100 years) did not just go to Milongas, they learned from other dancers, they practiced, they explored, they passed on their experience... 
Tango classes and practicas help us improve our dance and to refine tango as a dance itself. I always say, that tango is lifelong learning. And we all still want to learn, don‘t we? 

... Less demos
Experienced dancers don‘t like demos, they prefer dancing themselves. This is why there are less and less demos at events. Even workshop weekends nowadays refrain from having them. One of my favourite partners told me that he hated demos - right after we had done one. So that was not very polite, but I had to agree, as I am mostly bored by them as well, especially if they are choreographed. Plus: We all know the disastrous effects that a show can have for the social dance floor at a festival.
But demos also inspire people, they inspire them to dance, to develop their dance or to try out new things. My capacities as a performer are quite limited, but even we got so much warm and heartfelt feedback after demos or concerning our videos on the net. I believe them, when they tell me, that they were touched or inspired, because I can feel the same sometimes.
Additionally: the performers learn by performing. First of all by watching their own video later! You cannot imagine this constant reminder of your own weaknesses and the effect it may have on your development. And the fact that others are watching, will force you to concentrate, to really give your best. Ok, sometimes this can go terribly wrong, but you know what I am getting at.
And even choreographies can make sense. I remember a discussion with Eduardo Capussi, who was offended by our (rather insensitive) remark, that we prefer improvised demos at our events. He told us, that choreographies not only can be a work of art, but they force the artist to connect with the music on a higher lever, to invent new forms of movement, to become a better dancer... Tango, also social tango, has been pushed on by performers, not only by social dancers. Let us not forget that.
Actually, as an encuentro-organiser, this is the only festivalito-feature that I have held onto in the last years: at our „Festivalito con amigos“ (that is nowadays a private encuentro without classes or orchestra) we always empty the dance floor for a couple of minutes to watch two couples perform. These are friends whom we want to introduce to our community, whose dance we like to present. It is always an inspiration. I honestly think, that every dancer can give something, if you take the time to watch him or her with respect for the effort. And you may even learn something of a performance that you don‘t like - and if it is only how you don‘t want to dance. ;-)

... Less live music
Back in the day - if you wanted to attract good dancers - a band was a must. I still remember Alfredo Marcucci playing at our soiree in St. Wendel and the orchestra „Sabor a Tango“ as well as a gifted soloist playing a Milonga for us on the organ in St. John‘s church in Saarbruecken. Those where memorable moments. I have to admit, that even then, I preferred dancing to the „old orchestras“ presented by a good DJ, but I still enjoyed sitting, listening and watching the musicians, those artists who put all their emotion and experience into one tango. Who kept up a tradition, who played and travelled for very little money and even less recognition - at least by the modern milongueros or maratonistas. Because those don‘t go to events with live music any more. Neither do I.
Something to be proud of? I guess not. I have lost contact to musician friends, I never hear new compositions... Are there even new compositions? Will there be less new tango music because we only want to listen to the orchestras of the epoca d‘oro? Yeah, I know (and have used) all arguments why those orchestras played better and more danceable than today‘s formations. But let us not forget, that the golden age was not only about the dance. It was a time of great musical development. How can there be growth in that field, if no-one will pay the musicians to play, study and perform? Is it ok, that tango music is more of a nostalgic remembrance and less of a living art? Does this affect us dancers?

... Less art
Tango festivals were always the place to present tango-related art. Not only musicians, but also painters, media artists, photographers and other creatives were given an opportunity to show their work. We used to co-operate with a local photographer and media-artist for our FCA and created some very interesting projects in years past. Not today. Don‘t we want to encourage the fine arts to deal with tango?

... More separation
I‘m not talking about the separation between milongueros and maratonistas. In my penultimate post, I pointed out that these borders are starting to vanish. I am writing about a division into „the normal dancers“ and the „elites“. Those who go to local milongas or festivals, those who „still take classes“, who enjoy the distractions of demos, orchestras and art and the others who don‘t need that kind of stuff any more because they „just want to dance amongst other good dancers“. The elite complains, if there are too many „beginners“ or „non-encuentro-experienced dancers“ at one of „their“ (OUR) events. Even those few still existing „festivalitos“ have turned into international events, where only dancers with a reputation as advanced social dancers will be admitted. No beginners please, they might disturb the ronda!
We all surely agree, that albeit being convenient for the experienced milongueros and maratonistas, such a kind of separation will have negative side effects, especially when it comes to the development of tango communities or beginners. That makes me think of a local milonga in our vicinity. The organisers and teachers discouraged their beginning students to participate at the milonga, because this was supposed to be an event for experienced milongueros. So the beginners did not dare to show up, quite a few of them stopped dancing again... Also many experienced Milongueros stopped dancing or rather went to new Milongas in the region... there were less and less people.. and the Milonga had to close. It used to be one of the best Milonga in Germany, one of the first with tandas and cortinas, with close embrace and cabeceo... and it died. Because there was no „next generation“, that was allowed to be inspired by the experienced dancers at the milonga. You might say, that this will never be the case with the marathons or encuentros, because there are still so many new people wanting to be there and so many new events of this sort. Yes, for the moment, there are. But if you look closely, all those events are often populated by the same few people who‘ve been touring the community for the past few years. What if they get tired of the tango circus? Will there be new blood?

„So, have we cut off our supply of new dancers, alienated ourselves from the rest of the the tango world and are we therefore doomed? Are we really killing tango“

No, of course not. 
I am convinced, that the recent development of social tango in Europe was and still is a remarkable one and I am proud to have contributed even a little. The general level of dancing and the quality of events have certainly reached a peak. But I think we cannot stand still and replicate old ideas over and over. We cannot just pat each others backs and keep on organising more and more encuentros or marathons. We have to reflect the present situation critically. I think, tango needs constant development in order to not become stale. Tango needs musical exploration, mingling of levels, room for practising and exploring the dance... Tango is not only a social phenomenon. I am also looking to the USA, where so many tango teachers are musicians or to Buenos Aires, where almost every Milonga presents a demo to inspire the other dancers... Maybe we need to think of other forms of events. Tango congresses, events with the opportunity to explore tango as a means of expression, a method of communication, a living art  

Please don't misunderstand me. I don't want to promote our classes or encourage more organisers to invite Detlef and me. As of now, we have cut down work deliberately and I don‘t even know, how much I am going to contribute to all this in the future. Also I am no artist and therefore my means and knowledge are limited to only a few aspects of tango. But there are others, who should and surely will be more active in the future. The next generation?

I am looking forward to it.

Disclaimer: I will of course continue promoting and going to encuentros because of the the high quality of social and respectful dancing that I can find only in this environment. Also our FCA will stay an event, to which we invite on a personal basis - although I have to state, that a good dance-level is only ONE of our reasons to invite someone and we always try to integrate "new" Milongueros. But still, it IS an encuentro and therefore per se prone to a certain elitism. I will also not start choreographing demos or invite stage-dancers to teach or perform at my events. I will always prefer dancing at a milonga over watching or doing a demo. And most likely, I will always prefer dancing to Di Sarli instead of any modern orchestra. But this post is not about my personal preferences. It is about Tango.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Festivalitos & Encuentros Milongueros 2015

Dear readers, as announced in my last post, I will from now on present the Encuentros & Festivalitos in two columns in order to assist those, who favour either separate seating of men/women or mixed groups and don't want to be surprised on site. (If you want to know my opinion on separate seating, check out this post.) In case that you don't care, you can visit all these events for Milongueros without hesitation. I have either already been to them and can vouch for their "milongueroness" or they are organised by friends, whose general philosophy of social Tango I share and whom I trust to organise a proper Encuentro. ;-)
Please note, that this is no complete list, just a personal recommendation. So… here goes….

(In some cases with an additional area for couples or mixed groups)
Pasionara Milonguera, Côte D'Azur, France, January 23-25 (not enforced strictly)
Encontro Milongueiro A Promotora, Lisbon, Portugal, February 5-8
RDV Milonguero, Bologna, Italy, February 12-15
Mirame, Montpellier, France, February 27 - March 1
Encuentro MiLYONguero, Lyon, France, March 13-15
Retiro Milonguero, Faro, Portugal, March 19-22
Juntos, France, April 10-12
Spoleto Milonguera, Spoleto, Italy, May 8-10
Les Cigales, France, May 14-17
1st Encuentro Porteño, Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 29-31 (separate seating only at evening milongas)
Festiv'à La Milonguita, Sisteron, France, June 25-28 (men/women seated at different tables, alternating around the dancefloor, but not on different sides of the room)
Dans tes bras, Paris, France, July 9-12 (special concept: front rows reserved for women)
Stockholm in a close embrace, Stockholm, Sweden, Juli 31 - August 2
La Franteña, France, August 13-16
Ensueños, Porto, Portugal, October 1-4
La Parada Milonguera, Padova, Italy, October 16-18
Yupie, France, October 23-25
Te Quiero Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal, November 13-15
Roma Milonguera, Rom. Italy, November 12-15

(In some cases, you might nevertheless be assigned to a seat/table)
Viento Norte (Tangokombinat Sección Norte), Eckernförde, Germany, March, 12-15
Yo soy Milonguero, Crema, Italy, April 3-6 
Montecatini Terme Tango Festivalito, Montecatini, Italy, April 10-12
La Colmena, Helsingborg, Sweden, April 17-19
Abrazos (Tangokombinat UK), Devon, United Kingdom, May 8-10
Atlântico, Porto, Portugal, May 15-17
Le Rendez-vous Milonguero de l'Essaim de Julie, France, May 23-25
Raduno Rural, Slovenia, June 26-28
Embrace Norway, Lillehammer, Norway, July 3-5
Noches de Verano, Reichenau an der Rax, Austria, August 14-16
Festivalito Rural, Verzej, Slovenia, August 21-23
Silueta Porteña, Hamburg, Germany, August 28-30
Festivalito Porteño, Constanta, Romania, September 3-6
Una Mirada, Bristol, UK, September, 11-13
Encuentro Milonguero, Kehl, Germany, September 10-13
Alpine Abrazo, Austria, September 17-20
FCA (Tangokombinat, private party)
Festivalito in Castelbrando, Cison di Val Marina, Italy, October 30 - November 1
Abrazame, Barcelona, Spain (not yet confirmed, encuentro & marathon mixer)
Encuentro de Navidad, Kehl, Germany, December 10-13
… you have surely noticed, that all TANGOKOMBINAT events are mixed-seating. That may give you a hint about my personal opinion. ;-)

Note: Do not expect a version of this list for 2016 by the end of this year. The events are getting too numerous and I can visit only a fraction of them. Also, some of the events on my list have proven to not meet the standards for Encuentros this year. I would have to take them off the list anyway. Sadly...

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Quo Vadis Encuentro Milonguero II

In the beginning there was just Tango. And everyone was happy dancing with everyone else. Then came the separation between „Tango de Salon“ and „Tango Escenario“. And much later the schism between „Marathonistas“ and „Milongueros“. Everyone complained, but actually the two groups were enjoying the fact, that there was someone to be different from. One could be „amongst oneself“, the ones living in total liberty, the others in the security of their set of codes. The ones were moving, the others embracing. The ones were holding on to their partners, the others enjoyed short-time relationships. The ones liked their modern beats, the others stuck to the golden oldies...

Nah... you all know, that these are just stereotypes. There was never black and white, but all shades of grey, all kinds of events. Over the years, more and more Marathonistas joined the ranks of the Milongueros and I have even heard of the odd Milonguero visiting a Marathon. Now there are even „Marathon and Milonguero mergers“ - obviously a big success and great idea, because both groups actually have the same preferences: dancing socially to traditional music.

Yet, despite all similarities, there was and still is a feeling of „we“ and „them“. You could always be sure to enjoy ourselves at an Encuentro, because you‘d meet with dancers who share your philosophy. But recently, a divide is opening in our midst. It is called „separate seating for men and women“. 

Yes, I am dramatising. Again. ;-)

Fact is, that two sub-categories of Milonguero-events are forming and I will surely contribute to this development by commenting on it repeatedly. However, as I feel strongly about this particular question and don‘t like being surprised on site, I will from now on offer my (soon to be published) recommendations for Milonguero events divided into two sections:

  • Events for Milongueros WITH separate seating: Men and women are seated in different areas, usually on the two longer sides of a room. Sometimes, there is an additional area for couples or mixed groups of friends, but the majority of places will be taken by the women‘s and men‘s sections. Quite often, seats are assigned to you, before you enter the Milonga. The average age at these events usually is a bit higher and most take place in southern European countries and France. A change of roles (women leading, men following) is less likely to happen at these events.
  • Events for Milongueros WITHOUT separate seating: Men and women are seated in mixed groups. Sometimes, seats are assigned in advance, but more often, you just choose whatever seat is available and are free to change places during the Milonga. The average age is a little lower and you‘ll find a growing number of (ex-) Marathonistas at these Milonguero events as they have discovered, that Milongueros indeed do it better. ;-) Changing roles is getting quite frequent in this context, which is why some organisers (including me) nowadays manage bookings by „followers & leaders“, not anymore by „men & women“.

You might prefer the one or the other type of event, yet you can still count on the fact, that the other pre-requisites for Milonguero events are met by all Encuentros or Festivalitos on my list. So if you don‘t mind whether you are seated gender-separated or in mixed groups, you can visit any of them and enjoy the party!

However, I am facing another problem: In the last two years, quite a number of new „Encuentros“ have appeared in the calendars. Far too many for me to visit them all or to be able to know if they are even „authentic“. Unfortunately, a lot of organisers also use the label „Encuentro Milonguero“ to sell their Festival to the Milonguero public, although they do not really share this philosophy. This is one more reason for me, to recommend only such events, that I have visited or that are organised by personal acquaintances. For a more complete overview, check out Gato Milongueiros site.

I want to finish my post by suggesting a little checklist to help with the question:

Is a particular event an Encuentro or Festivalito Milonguero?

Does the majority of dancers (95% for an established event. Maybe 70% if it is a first-time Encuentro, that wants to integrate „new“ people into the Milonguero scene):
- dance in close embrace
- respect the ronda
- avoid movements, that take up too much space or lift the feet from the dancefloor
- invite each other by mirada & cabeceo
- dance together one tanda only, then clear the dance floor during the cortina in order to be free to dance with someone else (very important feature of distinction to Marathons)
- comprehend themselves as Milongueros and behave in the same way at other Milongas or Festivals

If there are demos or classes:
- are these purely social Tango

Do the DJ‘s:
- play traditional Tango only
- use tandas & cortinas

Do the organisers:
- partake in other Milonguero events
- promote the above-mentioned social behaviour of the dancers
- admit an equal number of followers & leaders (or men & women) to the event
- organise the event as a series of single Milongas (and not as one ongoing Milonga)

If you can answer most (or better all) of these questions with a YES, than you‘ll have a genuine „Milonguero Experience“. Which is what I wish you all for 2015.

See you on the dancefloor!

By the way: check out the original post "Quo Vadis Encuentro Milonguero".

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Possibly cheesy post

This post is about love and happiness.

As you may know: I‘m not a naturally cheerful person. I might be too german after all. I think a lot and often, I am way too earnest. I will do my job as good as possible and if something annoys me, I might express it. I don‘t always want to chat or be jolly. In class, some people rather bond to Detlef, because he smiles more often and makes the jokes that I don‘t laugh about.

But I do smile. And laugh. And cry of joy.

... when I can help to improve one tiny detail of someones tango ... when I dance with one of my students ... when we hit that one off-beat or syncopation ... when we do that one perfect shift of weight ... when a stranger embraces me for the first time and in a breaths moment, he is no stranger anymore ... when I greet someone whom I have not seen for a while ... or someone whom I saw last week at another Encuentro ... when I sit at my dj-desk and watch the dancers embrace each other and the music.

In these moments, I am happy and proud that I have done my small share to create this bubble of love. And those moments have been plenty in the last years.

I am half German, half Spanish. I was born in England and I travelled or moved all my life. Someone, who's yet a stranger, asked me what I call home. My answer was: „I feel at home where I‘ve got people whom I love. Last week, this was in Lillehammer.“

As Elvis put it: Home is where the heart is. And my heart is anywhere you are, my tango family.

Ok. Enough with the sentimental stuff. Off to complaining again, because as we all know, a family is not all love and happiness. ;-)

Oh yes…. And I know, THIS IS cheesy. But his voice! And wasn't he the looker? 

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Dressed to kill?

Within the last year, I have been blogging less and living more. Mostly in a non-Tango context. I even got to spend time with intelligent, non-tangoing adults.

So there‘s a discussion I had some time ago:
A non-tanguero: "Why did you dance with that guy in jeans?" (Referring to a photo on Facebook)
Me (after having identified the tanguero with a few questions): Why should I not dance with him? Because he‘s wearing jeans? A lot of guys do that!
The non-tanguero: "In my opinion, this shows a severe lack of respect. ... I‘d dance with him in a club or at a party, but not at a ball. Milongas seem to be formal occasions as it can be deducted from the way women dress up? These occasions ask for a certain respect towards the partners and the setting - as does any other form of social environment. Therefore women should not dance with men, who do not show that form of respect towards them and the occasion. By this, women could actually provoke a change in men‘s attitudes."
My intuitive reaction (not having thought about that question in Tango context a lot): "Hey! I chose my partners according to their skills as dancers and out of sympathy. I am quite picky and dance with very few people. If I‘d start to sort out the ones who are not dressed to my liking, I‘d get to dance even less!"
From then on, the discussion took another turn, but some of the thoughts stuck and kept on working. 

So let us have a closer look at the argument.

First of all, I will have to check the initial assumption: A Milonga is a formal event.

Non-tangueros might consider tango as an environment, where dressing-up is pretty much the standard or at least should be. They could imagine gentlemen in three-pieced-suits and ladies in evening gowns, maybe with a touch of nostalgic accessories. I‘ve heard that actually a lot. But how do they build their image of tango? I guess by watching movies, TV, from books and other similar sources.  They might also evoke memories from dance-school when everyone was asked to dress up for the balls. These are valid associations that generate the images of formal events. And - let‘s face it - these images fit to what tango was a couple of years ago or still is in some places.

When I started out, tango was an exotic and very special pastime for middle-aged academics. Going to a Milonga felt a bit like tango-show-re-enactment. Everyone was dressed up, some men wore braces and two-coloured shoes, the ladies dressed in red and black. I was lucky to discover close-embrace Tango de Salon right in the beginning and did not get stuck in Tango Fantasia, but I still liked liked the idea of living the tango-fantasy. Back then, I even wore fishnets. Imagine! And yes, Milongas felt like formal events.

But over the years, our environment changed a lot. 

Sure, there are still the grand balls with shows and orchestras and people in evening wear, there are still more genteel Milongas in and out Argentina, where a certain standard of clothing is considered appropriate. There is still a formal Tango setting. But that‘s not the world I live in.

So what‘s my Tango-setting like and why did it change?

Over the last 10 years, more and more young people joined, importing their habits of communication and dressing. Tangueros got more and more interested in getting to know the music, in learning how to communicate and how to develop their dance and less interested in showing-off their attire. Tango became an important part of many people‘s lives and sometimes, it was hard work. In a way, tango became everyday life.  It might be an addiction, but it has in the same time been secularised for many and professionalised for some. It‘s been analysed, it‘s steps have been taken apart, it‘s history has been studied and old myths have been dissected by the minds of tango-scientists. Mind you, we‘re still big weepy romantics who cry over a Tango by Di Sarli or explode in hysteric laughter when we manage to do that one perfect shift of weight exactly on the syncopated note. But tango-life nowadays is much more profane than it used to be. 

And events have become quite casual occasions. There is still a difference between afternoon Milongas where people show up very casually and the evening events where everyone pays a little more attention. But in general the Milongas, Encuentros and Festivalitos I visit are more like parties:
You‘ll make new friends and meet people, with whom you have already spend many hours at similar events. They have seen you at the start of the Milonga when you‘re all new and shiny and at the end of it, when your make-up is smeared and your clothes sweaty, your feet swollen and your walk unsteady. They have shared your room at the youth hostel and hung out with you at the swimming-pool. They have seen you cheerful and sad and annoyed and enthusiastic. And you‘ve embraced them so many times... These are no formal acquaintances. They are friends or sometimes enemies. Pretty much like the crowd you used to hang out at university. I expect them to behave politely on and off the dancefloor as I would on any other occasion. If they want to dance with me, I will also expect them to keep up an agreeable level of personal hygiene, to have a comfortable embrace, to connect nicely to the music and to not annoy me by pushing me around or by rattling though memorised steps. But I will not expect them to dress up. When my eyes are closed, I will care about how you move and not what you wear. As you all know, I spend a lot of time at Milongas sitting and watching or talking to people. I can make a very educated guess in saying that the majority of dancers at these sort of event will agree to my last words. (If not, please speak up.)

So, let me state: the tango events that I visit are no formal events. Wearing clean jeans and an ironed t-shirt is considered to be appropriate on these occasions by the majority of those who participate. Different standards might apply to those who perform (work) at these occasions. But this would be another topic.

But still, my partner in the above cited conversation has made a another valid point, that might be of importance: there is a misbalance between the clothing habits of men and women. The days of formal evening wear might be over at Encuentros, but women in general still dress nicely, wear a little make-up, high heels - even when their feet hurt... They do it for themselves, to feel better, to boost their self-confidence and ... to please the eyes of the gentlemen. 

Yes. Although the Milonguero nowadays will not anymore be so easily tricked into dancing with a beginner because of her Comme-Il-Fauts, he‘s still a man. And men like pretty women. They will probably invite the lady in a nice skirt more often than the hag in clogs. Won‘t they?

And this is where it gets unfair, as a lot of men have taken the „come casually“ idea a little bit too far. They seem to think, they can show up in their pyjamas and still get the all women to dance with them. Mind you, they are not the majority, but it‘s not a rare phenomenon either. 

Where does this overly careless attitude come from? In the last decades, men have learned that there are many more women in tango and most will not be too picky about their partners. They‘ll accept every invite, no matter how lousy you dance, behave or dress. It took me several years of self-reflection and a lot of willpower before I was able to reject the ones I did not like or who would not please me as dancers. In my classes, I encourage women to say „no“ if they don‘t want dance with a guy. And they are slowly getting there, especially at Encuentros where the numbers of men and women are evenly balanced. This is why most guys nowadays notice, that it makes sense to improve their dancing skills, to mothball the old macho-attitude and in general to pay attention to what women like. But they forget about the visual aspects of partner choice.

So, this may come as a surprise, but guess what? Women have eyes too. They will most-likely not reject an invite because the guy is wearing jeans, but there are certain limits to what a woman is willing to accept.

And: I have to admit that a well-dressed and prettily-groomed gentleman will attract my special attention. There is always that one guy who stands out from the crowd, who has developed a modern tango, but who kept a little bit of an old-fashioned charm about him. Who shows that sweet respect to the occasion and the ladies by taking a little extra care of his appearance.  Sure, I‘ll choose him mainly because of his skills as a dancer, but: physical attractiveness plays a role. Dancing with him makes me feel special. Why lie?

So. It might be worth while getting a shave, having your hair nicely cut and once in a while wearing a tasteful suit. It‘s not outdated, it‘s not cheesy. It shows respect. 

Thursday 19 June 2014

Beziehungsunfähig (no Tango post)


Now that‘s a word, that I have heard many times since the early 90‘s. It translates as „not capable of maintaining a meaningful romantic relationship“.
When a german grown-up with a certain level of education goes through or prepares a break up, he (or she) will most likely ask him- (or her-) self: Am I „beziehungsunfähig“ and should I therefore give up trying to have a relationship in the first place? In some cases: What do I have to change to become „beziehungsfähig“. (Capable of...) 

I have heard these words from friends, I have heard them from partners... it seems to be such a common way of thinking. But fact is: I have never used them, whether by referring to others, nor to myself. I guess some ex-partners would point out, that this lack of questioning my general capability of bonding was one of the major problems, but I wonder... is it just a different cultural background?

Because yesterday, during my Yoga workout, I started to think about the word "beziehungsunfähig" and tried to find an english translation. I did not succeed and neither did my preferred translation tool on the internet. I tried English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Polish. No such word exists in either of these languages.

And this is where I ask myself: Does the concept even exist in other languages? Do people of other origins question their capabilities of maintaining a relationship after a breakup or do they „only“ suffer, move on or do whatever people do before they start looking for somebody new. Is it only Germans who over-psychoanalyse every move they make? (And is this the reason why I don‘t read german authors... by the way?)

I am not like that. After a breakup, I am sad, I suffer, I move on or I don‘t, I ask myself what has gone wrong or I am just mad or relieved that it‘s over. I sometimes wonder, if I will ever find love again, but I never ask myself, if I should stop trying because of a general incapability.

The language you use will influence the way you think, will define limits and possibilities. So, the question is: Am I too not „deep“ enough or just lacking the „German“ gene? Is it because I grew up with three languages instead of only one, that I don‘t even think in that direction? Am I doomed to make the mistake of bonding to someone new over and over again, although I might be „beziehungsunfähig“, just because I am not german enough to enough to admit it? 

So... What is it? Do non-germans even think that way? Can they, if they don‘t have a word for it? Or do they just don‘t give a damn?

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Manifesto For The Pause

A spectre is haunting the european Tango community - the spectre of speed. All the parties have entered into a secret alliance to promote this trend: Milongueros and Nuevoists, Salon dancers  and those imitating the brilliant young couples, who inspire dancers from all backgrounds.

Nah... really... I don‘t know, if it is everywhere, but it seems to be everywhere I go: the urge to run on the dancefloor. People are running to D‘Arienzo, they are running to Calo, they are running in the Milongas and they are running in the Encuentros. They run with small steps, when there is no space and they run with huge steps, when the dancefloor is empty. But they never pause. I dance with them or I watch them from the side of the dancefloor. And I want to shout out: Stop running!

Sure, you‘ll think: „This is Melina with her preference for Di Sarli. She is just lazy and overly sentimental.“

Yes, I love my slow lyrical Tangos and I do like moving with a certain calm fluidity. But, those who have met me in the last three years, might have noticed that I also like dancing very energetically. I also love rhythmic variation and discover more possibilities every day. Past weekend, there were a few Tandas, when I practically went berserk and could not move fast enough. Ask Andreas. ;-)

But there is always a moment to pause in every Tango: it might be at the end of a musical phrase or when the singer starts or when a violin takes over... Even the most rhythmical and speedy Tangos have their „slow and lyrical“ moments, when you might want to change to half speed or pause for a full measure... Or longer... This is when you breathe, when you reconnect to your partner, when you concentrate on the embrace rather than on the movement, or just listen. There are Tangos that inspire a constant calm pace and many pauses and there are Tangos in which these moments of peace a rare and precious. But no Tango requires us to run all the time!

And is not only me longing for a pause.

I talk to women, I watch them dancing ... and guess what: they are not always happy. Sure, there are many reasons to not feel good in the arms of the partner, but one of them is stress. „He does not let me breathe“, one lovely, very experienced Milonguera complained to me about her partner. And I have heard this so often... Sure, women also want to move (some more than others), they don‘t want to be bored by shuffling about. But they don‘t want to be stressed-out either. And high speed will even get even more stressful when it is combined with insufficient leading signals or too big movements. This is where the torture starts! 

For me, there is one particular case that I find most annoying: You dance with a man who‘s got a real nice embrace, who moves fluently and has the capacity to cuddle, but... he just won‘t stop. He will go on in a constant pace and miss-out every moment to slow down, to connect even better... You know that this would be a lovely, very special moment you wait for that moment... but it just won‘t come. This guy drives me crazy!

As well as the other „runners“. ;-)

But who are they and how can followers respond to them?

With a little bit of luck, they have heard about he basic beat and will connect to it by walking to all the strong notes. Usually these are the 1 and 3 in a measure. (Yes, you can also count 1212 instead of 1234, but let us not get into a that discussion please.) Sometimes, beginners might know how to dance a quick-quick slow (123- or 1-34), but most likely, they won‘t know ho to speed up constantly (1234) or dance half speed (1---). Although I think, that even Tango novices can be taught how to slow down or make pauses, I would want to cut them slack. I am happy with their basic knowledge of music and will do my best to not alienate them by complaining or back-leading. I will give them my best posture, my nicest embrace and encourage them in every possible non-patronising-way to develop their musicality and skills. 

Dancers with a insufficient technique:
A lot of dancers (leaders AND followers) just don‘t have the proper technique to move slowly. Because of a lack of dissociation, a constant misplacing of feet or other deficiencies, they do not find a proper balance. They cannot make a slow transition or even stand on one foot for more than a second without waggling. This is why they have to move constantly. Sometimes, these can be seemingly advanced dancers. They will do the most complex moves and you might not even notice their lack of balance. As long as they keep on moving, these moments of instability pass by very quickly. Slowness is an amplifier, a magnifying glass for every technical deficiency. 
As a teacher, I challenge every one to try it out in order to achieve a better technique and more musical variation.
As a follower in a social dance context, I cannot do so much. I can try deliver my best technique to better the balance of the couple, but I won‘t be able to compensate all their „flaws“. So, as long as it does not get really uncomfortable and the leading signals are clear enough, I will go along with their constant moves. But I will make an active musical choice: With these dancers, I will rather dance very rhythmical music, Tangos, Milongas and Valses in which the „calm“ moments are rare and I won‘t long for them so much. I will not dance a slow Di Sarli or romantic Fresedo with a dancer, who struggles with his balance in a slow move.

Musical researchers: 
Nowadays, many dancers, who work hard on their musicality. This is great and I encourage this in every way, as a teacher and dancer. (See related post.) So, lots of Milongueros have - maybe just recently - discovered rhythmic variety. They have learned how to spice up their dance with double speed, with syncopations, triplets, upbeats... they listen closely to every beat and don‘t want to miss one possibility to depict the melodic rhythm. Fine. But guess what: there are different layers of information in every given moment and when the bandoneons play a syncopation, another instrument might play only one legato note. Why not focus on that instrument for an instant? Or chose consciously to listen to the syncopation, to just be with it in your head and heart, but not step to it. Connecting to the melodic rhythm does not mean that we have to dance every possible note. We want to interpret the music, we don‘t want to imitate it with out feet. 
I do love dancing with someone who knows how to communicate rhythmical variety and knows his Tangos. But there is pleasure and there is overindulgence. So what can I do as a follower to not be „forced“ into his fever of rhythmical variation? Provided that a leader has got an acceptable technique and won‘t fall when he has to pause: I can do a lot!
I can slow him down actively: I can resist a little stronger whilst walking backwards, I can pause in a front or side step or I can delay a pivot with a restrained spiral movement. I can use all my technical abilities to communicate my musicality. Mind, I don‘t want to force my partner, I want to „make suggestions“. But beware: communicating on such a high level not only requires good technical skills, but also a deep knowledge of Tango music. I will surely not slow down when the music tells us to speed up. I will find the right moment. So ladies: please become musical researchers as well! If you don‘t know the music, you can only follow (him running around) - if you are able to listen to the music, you can dance.
I can seduce my partner: I may signal him in a more (or less) subtle way how I feel about his constant urge to move: In between two Tangos, I can tell him, how much I like those moments of stillness in the music and the deep connection that may come from them, how much I like moving slowly, when the music inspires me to do so. At the start of a romantic Tango, I can give him my cuddliest embrace and show how nice it can be to take a few moments to cherish nearness. Who would want to resist?
I use both strategies, depending on my mood, the particular dancer and the result I want to  achieve. Very often, I am quite happy with the results. When I want to achieve more, I mention it in class or I write a blog article.
But if all strategies fail and I‘ve got the impression, that a particular guy only uses me as a means to show off his brilliant musicality without listening to what I need... well... I will just not dance with him again. Or maybe only if I happen to be in a „running and trying to catch every rhythmical variation“ mood as well.
Dear leaders: If you dance with a highly musical, but over-active follower, you might use the same techniques to slow her down, do not „force“ her to stand still. But if you dance with a women giving you „hints“ to slow down, do not be offended, accept her wish to interpret the music in a slightly different way. A dance in which both partners are happy sure is reward enough. 

Leaders with a momentum-technique:
Some leaders rather use momentum, strong impulses coming from fast and big movements, rather than circular chest movements to give their leading signals. This is an acceptable technical approach - as long as the space on the dancefloor and the music allow for it. It works nicely in demos - but not so good on a social dancefloor. These dancers often have a very self-confident appeal and everything seems to be perfect as long as they move energetically. But the moment they have to diminish the size or speed of their steps, they seem to loose „presence“ and the leading signals get very unclear. Sometimes, they even come to an absolute stop, if surrounded by other dancers, because they just don‘t know how to move in a limited space.
These are very tricky situations. In a way, these guys might be good dancers and they might even have an interesting musicality, but their technical concept does not enable them to move more calmly. The good thing is: most of them are not beginners and have at least basic knowledge of alternative communication techniques. I will therefore use all my skill and persuasion to slow them down as described above. They will usually find ways to „lead“ in a more subtle way „on the fly“. If not and if they are a danger for the social dancefloor, I will not dance with them anymore - or only when there is enough space. ;-)

Those who are afraid of closeness:
When there is no or little movement, it is only you, the music and the partner. These are the moments when feelings come up, when closeness is experienced. So many dancers long for this nearness to another human being and may even dance Tango because of it. But there are also those who are afraid of being too close to someone else. Most of them will dance a more open or step-oriented style of Tango. But some may be socialised in a close-embrace environment, but cannot wholly give in to this idea. They will dance physically close, but they will not commit. They will move all the time, they will decorate, they will develop energy... but they will not stand still.
What can you do, to not put them off, to not frighten them? You don‘t want to overwhelm them with a too intimate embrace. I try to radiate calmness, I will be very rooted in the floor, a little lazy... but have a non-invasive, not too tight embrace. I will try to show that they can slow down without getting „involved“ too deeply. They might even „open up“ over the time and learn to connect more profoundly in the dance. 

As an experienced dancer, given a little time, you can do quite a lot to have an influence on how your partner moves. But all of this has to be done carefully and he may have a whole set of reasons why he does not want to pause or cannot do so. As "followers", we don‘t want to „teach“ on the dancefloor, we don‘t want to impose our musicality and we are certainly no psychologists. It is not our job to offer a therapy to our partners but to enjoy the music together.

And this is why, in the end, we just have to make a choice. Do we want to run and move all the time or do we want to allow ourselves to slow down once in a while? And breathe. And feel. And listen.

I choose to stop.


P.S. Just to make sure, that EVERYONE got me. Here are my definitions:
Slow down: moving constantly, but with a very slow speed (half speed 1--- or slower)
Pause: not transferring gravity centre at all for the duration of at least one measure.
So, if you don't use double speed, but still walk all the time with "normal speed" (el compas, 1 and 3), I might still count you amongst the "runners". There are also those who run slowly... ;-)

P.P.S. I know that lots of men will approve of my post too, but will reject my words with a relieved: "Thank god, I am not amongst these runners." Please consider carefully, if this is really the case. ;-)

P.P.P.S. I have written this post mostly from the perspective of a follower, who feels "rushed" by leaders. But it is obvious, that followers can be "runners" as well, especially all those ladies with the habit to decorate every possible or impossible moment of the dance. I comment on over-active women briefly in the section about "musical researchers" above, but I have mentioned the misusage of Adornos already much earlier. See here.