Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Guerilla milonga

Since yesterday I had an itch to dance, but there was nothing going on in Boston, I decided to do something about it. Late afternoon I sent an email to all the people from Boston I have an email for, inviting them to a "Guerilla Milonga". That is a milonga that takes place in a public space (in this case the Porter Sq subway station) without permission. Subway stations are perfect for this as if you're getting kicked out, you just take the train to the next station and start again ... ;-)

I was there at 8:30 as I promised I would. Debbi was working late so I was alone. Good thing I had a book, as it was at least 9pm until one other person showed up. Unfortunately it was another leader. Then around 9:30 another leader showed up. Huh ... Part of the reason I wanted to do this in a public space was to expose people to real argentine tango and see if we can grow the community. Well, it seems like a catch 22 here, to expose people to tango you need some people to dance tango with ... All together, by 10:30 there were 7 of us, 3 followers and 4 leaders.

It was actually fun, we danced until midnight. No one bothered us, but I did notice something funny. People in Boston are socially awkward. They would pass by pretending they didn't see us, until they would be at a "safe" distance and that's when they would stop, turn around and look for a while. It's like they were ashamed they were looking. Next time I will bring a big sign that says "We're not selling anything. Please feel free to stop and look".

I'll try this again at some point. I'll try next time to give people more notice. If you are from Boston and you didn't get my invite yesterday, send me an email, I'll add you to my list. Which I will never make public.

One other thing about US and the east coast in particular is that people are workaholics. Quite a few replies to my invitation said things along the lines "I'm swamped at work". Huh? At 9PM? I miss home sometimes (that would be Romania). People can't wait to leave work. People go to work because they have no other option. Here people buy more stuff then they can afford then they have work 12 hours a day to pay for it. This is in my opinion the devastating effect of easy credit. Romania was a cash society. If you don't have the money, you can't buy it. Unfortunately that is changing. Along with McDonalds, the easy credit, financial trouble and obesity is finding it's way to that part of the world as well. Bummer.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Seasoned vs. "young & pretty"

There were a few (rather bitter) remarks from some (presumably older) tangueras some time ago, about leaders who'd rather dance with the "young & pretty" women, even though they are less skilled then themselves. They of course attributed that to the male hormones.

That may be the reason in some cases, but from my experience, observations and discussions I've had with other men, it's not the reason in most cases. First, some of my favorite followers are women in their 40s and 50s and I would dance with them any time, no matter how pretty are the alternatives, but I just realized last night, when I go dancing, I will usually either dance with the really good dancers, or with the promising "beginners". In most cases, they are young (hence, pretty I guess). Why would I dance with a beginner over the more seasoned veteran dancer, who, while not great, is certainly better then the beginner?

Because in most cases, they are not good enough and they plateaued many years ago. Which means their dancing is unlikely to get any better, they are certainly not looking to improve, most never ask for feedback, most don't come to practicas. The "young & pretty" have a chance to become dancers I really enjoy dancing with, and by dancing with them I can help them progress in the "right" direction. They ask for feedback, they try to get better, they show up at practicas and they do get better.

A few cases in point.

There is a woman in the community, she is absolutely gorgeous. Young, beautiful, amazing figure, pleasant personality, yet if one pays close attention, very few of the good leaders are dancing with her and even the ones that do, they only do it rarely. Why? Because she has an awkward embrace, she almost never shows up for practicas, and even when she does, she never asks for feedback. As a result, I have not see her improve a bit in the six months or so I've known her.

There is another woman in the community, she just started 3 or 4 months ago. She shows up at nearly every practica, she asks for feedback, she tries to apply what is suggested and she is getting better every week. I have a feeling she will be a hit with the better dancers in Boston and everywhere else.

There is a woman in Montreal, she must be in her 50s, she is a great dancer and I can guarantee you she will dance as much as she wants to, with the best leaders, even if all the contenders in the Miss America pageant would flood the room.

So, if you see that you're being passed for the "young & pretty", chances are you are not as good as you think. You may be more skilled then them, but not skilled enough for the leaders you want to dance with, but since you're not getting any better, there is no incentive for them to dance with you. If you want to change that, go to practicas, go early, ask the better leaders for feedback, pick an area they point out and work at it. Most better leaders will go out of their way to help out someone that shows an interest in getting better.

There was another argument I heard "Some people who love to dance with me at some times, they just ignore me at other times". A good (and smart) dancer will do his or her best to create the appearance that he loves dancing with his/her partner, as that usually makes the partner dance at his/her best. That doesn't necessarily mean they love dancing with you, they just made sure they were trying to get the best experience they could. So once again, the solution for that is to get better.

Now, it's true, when everything else is equal, most people, men included, will go for the "pretty". I imagine most women would rather dance with the handsome dancer rather then the old, fat and bald one, if they are just as good dancers. You just have to become good enough that people love dancing with you or show that you are heading in that direction.

I am sorry if this will hurt some sensitivities, but I'm kind of getting tired of all the men bashing that's becoming so fashionable lately, so I figured it would be useful to hear another perspective.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Djing the Odd Tuesday Milonga

My first milonga as a DJ was supposed to be tonight. So last night, when I went to the "Odd Tuesday Milonga" I took the laptop with me to work on some play lists. When I got there, Steve, the host, was fumbling with his laptop, looking kind of frustrated. It seems he was missing some music so I said, you know, I have my laptop with me if there is a problem with the music. He looked at me, said, "you want to do the music?", I said, "Uhh, sure". So there I was, 10 minutes away from the milonga start, with no play lists, no cortinas, on my first night as a DJ at a milonga. Sweet!

It's tough to say how did I do. Most people were dancing at all times, so I'll take that as a good sign, but aside from a couple of them, no one came to say if they were liking or disliking the music. I did ask K, who is Russian, and if you want a blunt response to a question, the best people to ask are Russians or East Europeans. He said it was OK, he didn't particularly like it or dislike it, but he liked the music I play at practicas better. Huh... I thought I did play sort of the same music. I did save my ad hoc build play list, so I'll look to see how it compares with the lists I made for practicas.

Tonight I'm DJing again and tomorrow I'm DJing the practica at MIT. That's a lot of DJing this week.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

DJ debut ...

Wednesday it will be my first time DJing a milonga. I've been Djing practicas for a while now, but this is the first milonga. I will DJ from the laptop, but I'm planning on loading a backup playlist on my mp3 player and burn it on three regular CDs, just in case things go terribly wrong with the technology ...

So, if you live in Boston, come check it out! If you like traditional music that is, there will be no alternative music at this milonga.

No comments:

Monday, October 15, 2007

New milonga-practica in Boston? Poll.

I am considering organizing a new weekly event in Boston, a ... practilonga, a combination of a milonga and practica. That means a relaxed atmosphere, people feeling free to dance or practice, depending on their mood.

I created a poll to get some input from the Boston tango community. Please refrain from voting if you are not active in the Boston scene.

Here is the link for the poll :

If you have any other suggestions/comments, please feel free to use the
Message Area

No comments:

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Musicians vs. dancers

In the last few days I've been exchanging some emails with a prominent musician, about contemporary tango music, dancing and live music. It all started when I expressed my desire to hear more "Golden Era" arrangements when live music is played, as opposed to hearing the late Pugliese/Piazzola which most musicians seem so fond of.

During this email conversation I realized how huge the disconnect is from the musician to the dancer. While well intended, as he took time of what I have no doubt busy schedule to explain and educate me on his values, preferences and music in general, he was extremely condescending, his tone is his emails amounting to what an adult would use to talk to a 4 year old who challenges his infinite wisdom.

Now, he is being playing tango music for decades, so I am a 4 year old when it comes to my ability to intellectually understand tango music (or any music for that matter), but he is convinced that since I don't know any music theory, I can't possibly comprehend the concept of harmony, I don't know what rhythm is not am I able to hear the phrases which create the melody. And he is probably right, I can't do that, no like himself or other trained musicians can. But while I can't listen to the music intellectually, I listen to it instinctively. If the harmony is not "right", I won't like the song, if the rhythm is not "right" I won't feel the desire to dance to it, if the melody is not "right" I won't be emotionally touched by it.

His attitude is "you are all musical illiterates, shut up and listen to what I am playing, as I understand music, and you don't". Interestingly enough, I do understand his point of view. Many people when they look at some of my pictures, they are in awe of the pretty, colorful sunsets and kind of confused about the black & white abstracts I love. They hold dear a badly focused, badly exposed, badly composed picture, because the content touches them for some reason. I lost that ability, when I look at a badly exposed, focused and composed picture I can't enjoy the content, no matter what it is, the "presentation" completely ruins it for me. Even my limited photography "education" had that effect on me, I can only guess what happens after playing tango music for over two decades. I don't think they are able to see the beauty in the simplicity of the music I like.

What is my point? In my opinion, today's professionals tango musicians lost their "innocence". Or they likely never had it. They never listened the tango music with a non-professional ear, so how they can possibly comprehend how I hear it? They know everything there is to know about tango music, they hear things most of us can't, and they don't understand how most of us, the dancers without a music education, listen to music. They all keep playing the same music, Piazzola, Pugliese or arrangements like that. They rarely, if ever, play the "Golden Era" arrangements. They are too simple for their skills. They (and the musician in question) justify their selection by saying that they can't all play the 40s music, or tango would die and they played for the greatest dancers in the world, who love their music. That Piazzola/Pugliese revolutionized tango music. While I actually like to dance to some of the Pugliese's interpretations, I really like the pre-revolutionary music. I would say that most people do too, otherwise the DJs would all play Pugliese & Piazzola the entire night.

So, as far as I am concerned, tango music, the music that most of us, the music illiterates like to dance to, actually did die. Luckily, we have the recordings. I'll have to learn to put up with the live music performances. And no, I will not do it quietly.

If you have any thoughts about live music at milongas, feel free to add a comment.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

New York tango festival, Oct 2007

I had a great time. There were a few things that rubbed me the wrong way, but I think this was one of the better festivals out there. I'll write more about the festival itself in a review I'm planning of writing. Until then, I'll just write about some random experiences.

Taking chances

One of the ... "catch 22's" at festivals is that I have to choose between "safe bets" or taking chances. By "safe bets" I mean dancing with people I know I love to dance with, or take a chance and ask someone new. It's a tough choice, especially at a festival where the milongas where annoyingly short, so the time was limited. By now I know most of the great dancers in NYC, and a lot of the tango festivals regulars, I certainly know enough of them to dance non-stop without ever dancing with anyone new. And it's tempting. It's not like I get to dance with them all the time, and I'm talking about really, REALLY good dancers. So why take a chance? Well, at the last milonga on Sunday, a girl who seemed somewhat familiar came and asked me for a dance. I was looking for Deb at that time, so I had to decline and I suggested that maybe we can dance later. Fortunately, I ran into her again a bit later and asked for a dance. It was so much fun, despite the fact that we danced on live music, which I generally dislike to dance to. So, thank you A (from Princeton?), it was a lot of fun. Taking chances pays off sometimes.

A new "tango crush"

As I was writing before, I know by now a lot of truly gifted dancers, and I am lucky enough to be able to dance with them on somewhat regular basis. But once in a while you meet a dancer with whom everything just works... Our host A, one of the (better) instructors in NYC suggested I dance with this woman, M from Chicago, whom I never met nor seen before. Now, since she came highly recommended by A, I was of course expecting her to be good, but ... wow. The first time we danced together was at one of the practicas, I think we danced for 3 tandas in a row. I never used this expression, and I'm glad, because I can use it now appropriately, it was tango bliss. Sometimes when the first dance with someone is amazing, the next ones are disappointing. It wasn't the case with M, we danced a few more times during the festival, each time for a few tandas (I can't really remember, being in a cloud and everything) and they were all just as good, if not better. I just hope she enjoyed it at least half as much as I did. After we danced at the practica we asked each other for feedback. "What do I need to work on?" she asked. Uhh... Mmm... and for the first time in my (tango) life I had ... nothing. I mean, I'm sure there is something she could work on, everyone needs to work on something, I was however unable to come up with anything. And that's a first!

Robin's practica

We made to NYC Thursday afternoon, but instead of going to the festival opening milonga, we went to Robin's class & practica at Empire. Why? Well, from all the teachers in NYC I took classes with since I started tango, I like Robin the best, he also seems he was involved in the tango education of a lot of followers I love dancing with. I am glad we went there. Not only I got a chance to dance with some of my favorite NYC dancers but I also learned a rather cool move, a wrap the follower does around my waist. Open embrace stuff, but cool anyway. If I ever find myself in NYC on a Thursday evening, I know where I'll be.

Group classes

My frustration with group classes was renewed. Unless one goes with a partner, it's a complete waste of time. There were people in the advanced class that could not lead or follow the cross. So, for whoever reads this, taking a group class significantly above your level is not only a waste of your money and time, it's also a waste of money and time for whoever is unlucky enough to be partnered with you. I wish teachers would have enough balls to kick people out of the class if they are not at the level required.

Active followers

There are women who's style of dancing is very calm, very reactive, kind of dancing with a cloud. Others, are the exact opposite. They are energetic, they play with the dynamic of the step, they take any opening given to them to express themselves. They are both a pleasure to dance with (when done right of course). The latter kind of follower though, is rather intimidating for an emerging leader. The first truly active follower I danced with was Shorey Myers, I wrote about that experience and it was one of the best danced I had to date. A few months ago I had a chance to dance with S, a woman from NY I've seen around, dancing with all the "stars". She is another of those active followers. It was a lot of fun, but it was nothing like it was this time. We danced three tandas in a row and by the end of the third one, I was feeling like I just had an espresso shot. One of the best dances to date. To top it off, she said "You have improved a lot since the last time we danced together". That was reassuring, as at times I was feeling that my progress was slowing down. And that would be bad.


At one of the practicas I followed a leader from Princeton for a bit, and I did better then I was expecting, considering I haven't followed much lately. It's funny how illuminating is to follow and feel how one thing or another actually feels from the other side. It's also quite fun not to worry about navigation ...

Beginner dancers at festivals

I recently read some posts from a less experienced dancer about her experience at the festival. Not surprisingly, she didn't have as much fun as she was hoping for. If you are a (relative) beginner, keep this in mind about festivals (and other one time, well attended events) :

- The better dancers, who normally will dance with you at regular milongas will likely not have the time at such events. In most cases there are too many great dancers from afar with whom they don't have the chance otherwise to dance with.
- If you decide to go anyway, go at the beginning of the milonga and stay until the end. At both ends the options are usually more limited and your chances of being asked (or your invite to be accepted) are higher. Attend practicas before you attend milongas. Most better dancers will gladly spend some time working with a promising dancer at a practica, where at a milonga they might just dance with their favorite dancers.
- Work the room. Walk to a dancer you'd like to dance with and say something to the effect of "I enjoyed watching you dance and I would like to dance with you at some point if you have the time", smile, and then walk away. Don't grovel. At many large festivals, it's unlikely a good dancer will take the chance to accept a dance from someone they didn't see dance. Once you talked to them, they will be more likely to notice you dance and come ask you later. Some may even say, "what about now?". It's also almost risk free, since you are not putting them into a corner, it's very unlikely they would flat out say no.
- Don't look like you swallowed a rancid egg, be friendly, smile at people. Don't look over eager or desperate (which means, don't look like you're trying to catch the eye of anyone passing by)
- Choose a spot to sit and stay in that area, so people will know where to find you.
- If you are chatting with friends, don't face each other. Make sure you face the room, otherwise it will send the message that you are not interested in dancing.
- Don't stay in the dark
- If you are a beginner leader, the things that good followers are impressed with are the quality of the embrace and musicality. Not figures. Do not, under any circumstances, try the new cool moves taught at the festival. Don't try any move you can't execute perfectly 20 times in a row. A comfortable walk on the music will feel better then any badly executed figure. Obviously that is true anywhere, not just at festivals.
* If you are a beginner follower, don't think. Don't try to do things. Close your eyes and listen to the music and your leader. Try to have a relaxed embrace (I follow a bit, I know it's not easy), and don't pull. As a leader, there is NOTHING that bugs me more then a follower who anticipates my lead.

Generally, I would not encourage beginner dancers to go to festivals. It's usually a tough crowd.

To be continued ... (at some point)