I’ve been back in the UK for almost two months now, but the pull of BsAs hasn’t diminished in the slightest. While most of my body got on the plane to Heathrow, I seem to have forgotten to pack my heart. If only my bank account shared my sentiment, I’d get straight back on a plane again tomorrow.
Fortunately, there are places in the UK where the spirit of the city is alive, and I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy three of them since my return: the Argentine ambassador’s milonga, the Sheffield Tango Festival, and a return visit to Tango by the Sea …
What I mean by the spirit of BsAs hasn’t changed since my first visit in 2019: this person, this music, this moment.
By my second visit, I realised that I’d let that get rather blurred by the, um, different priorities of most London tango. This time, I was determined not to allow that to happen again.
That means being a lot more selective with where I dance, even if it means dancing less often. Because as much as I might want to have that BsAs experience in London milongas, it’s often rendered impossible. You can’t lose yourself in your partner and the music and the moment when at least 40% of your attention is taken up by body-guarding duties.
Fortunately, the uber-obsessive phase – when I needed to dance four or five times a week – is over. I’m about quality, not quantity. If I can have both, as is possible in BsAs, that’s wonderful, but when I can’t, I can survive a surprisingly long time between fixes. Whole numbers of weeks, sometimes!
Since my return, I’ve been dancing a lot more outside London, and I fully expect that trend to continue. While a variety of embraces can be found everywhere, one of the biggest differences for me between London tango and festivals is that the majority of people at the latter dance in close embrace. True close embrace, that is.
I’ve now developed a very strong preference for this. Not to the point of being unable to enjoy those who dance in a more open embrace – different styles of dance can be enjoyable in different ways – but certainly to the point of wanting that the majority of the time.
CE dancing also pretty much guarantees good floorcraft, because you can only dance small – and other courtesies like leader cabeceo when entering the floor are also assured in these environments. (Ok, exceptions may apply in the centre of the ronda …)
Tango by the Sea
Getting to Felixstowe can be challenging, as the rail service appears to operate on a seasonal basis: it runs during some seasons. But Tina supplied a car and I supplied the driving, while Lily demonstrated she’d thought this through better than either of us as she sat in the back fast asleep.
Madeline describes Tango by the Sea as a ‘tango house party’ rather than a festival, as her vision is a small, intimate, friendly event. More like a gathering of tango friends, and where strangers are also welcomed with the same warmth.
Even in role-balanced events like this one, it does often seem to be the case that more women than men are wanting to dance at any given point. And although I personally urge women to be as active as men with cabeceo, I know that many can find it intimidating. TbtS had a lovely solution to this.
Any leaders who want to make it clear that they are happy to dance with strangers could at any point sit at a special table, and don a hat (which were provided)! Followers could then confidently approach, knowing that their invitation would be welcome.
I loved this, though did suggest that the signal could simply be the hat rather than the special table, so that leaders could signal their openness to invitations without having to switch table.
I also discovered another benefit to it. There are tandas I absolutely want to dance, where I would choose my follower. There are tandas I definitely don’t want to dance. But there are some in-between ones, where I don’t feel driven to dance it, but could do so quite happily. By putting on a hat, I could simply announce my availability for the tanda and let followers choose.
If I’m ever foolish enough to organise my own tango event, I’m definitely stealing this!
Familiar embraces, not always familiar faces
Mild facial aphasia can be … interesting in everyday life, but all the more so in tango! If a follower isn’t aware of it, they can easily think I’m blanking them next time I see them, so I try to consistently let new followers know. Of course, this does sometimes lead me to brief the same person more than once.
I also had a moment when I cabeceod one woman, and both her and the woman next to her accepted. My usual approach to this is to apologise to the second one, and cabeceo her for the next tanda – no hardship at all in this case as they are both beautiful dancers. However, she was cabeceod by another leader for the same one, making it less urgent, and a few tandas later I realised I couldn’t be sure who was who …
I did eventually work it out, and cabeceod the second one – telling her that I was just going to get my fan from the table next to her. She didn’t hear that, so thought it was another mistake, and by the time I returned with my fan a few seconds later, she was being cabeceod by another leader. We got there in the end (and had a lovely dance), but it was one of my better comedy of errors!
Even where I don’t recognise a face, I do increasingly find that I recognise their embrace, or their dance. This was the case with a follower I’d danced with on Tuesday, in Cambridge. Even with a beautiful milonguera embrace, there are individual differences, and it’s always a great feeling when I get that ‘aah, you!’ moment.
Speaking of a beautiful milonguera embrace, there was a follower I’d apparently first met last year in Cambridge, and had failed to brief. We danced again in Sheffield, and this time I did recognise her (perhaps assisted by her coming to sit at my table …). We’d had the most wonderful BsAs-style tandas in Sheffield, and again had a gorgeous one here.
The mystical art of tango DJing
This is something I’ve never really understood: how can some DJs be consistently amazing*, others not*, and yet others inconsistent*? I now think I’ve figured out part of the formula, but that’s a topic for a separate blog post to follow.
*For my own tastes, obviously
I wasn’t able to come up the previous evening, as I had last year, so missed the afternoon milonga. That meant the Friday evening one was my welcome to the event, and that was DJ’d by Michael Cummings. I’ve literally never attended a milonga he’s DJ’d and not loved the music, and the opening night was no exception.
Michael also displays the current and next tanda on a projector, making it possible to start seeking out the right partner for the upcoming orchestra during the cortina. (I don’t cabeceo until the tanda begins, but do look around and identify my targets.)
Literally the only complaint I could make is that the last tanda was a rather jaunty Di Sarli, when the law clearly states that this will always be a big Pugliese or Troilo. Unfortunately the police took longer than 12 minutes to attend my 999 call, so there was no evidence of the crime by the time they arrived.
Deya Sanchez was a new DJ to me, and played a good balance of rhythmical and lyrical music. She also played a greater variety of orchestras than is typical, and some lesser-known songs.
This has an obvious downside for my ‘musical familiarity is all’ post-BsAs mindset, but it’s also lovely to have some surprises. This included the most sublime vals tanda of music I’d never even heard before, and I must remember to ask her what it was.
She didn’t have a full projector setup, but did use an iPad to display the upcoming orchestra during the cortina, and unlike the last time I saw this approach, the typeface was large enough to read from the far end of the room.
Graham Harrad is another of my favourites, though he was playing to his crowd this time, which is far keener on the older songs than I am, but there was still plenty of great music for my tastes too.
Private with Elizabeth & Luis
My own privates are geared to following at present, but Tina wanted to have a private with Elizabeth & Luis focusing on her walk, and needed a leader so they could both see her dance from the outside. Their approach had impressed me very early on, so I was happy to oblige.
They are truly excellent teachers! They have that all-important balance between encouragement and rigour, and are just delightful people to spend time with. (And I’m not just saying that because they were so complimentary about my walk …)
They gave very precise guidance to Tina on exactly what she needed to do, and she got it almost instantaneously! I was literally able to take any length stride with her, and she was able to follow.
Very early on, when I was worried about stepping on the toes of my follower, an experienced one challenged me to step on hers! I couldn’t, because she matched the length of my stride, and now it was the same with Tina. It was a complete transformation of her walk within a single lesson.
We also identified the connection issue Tina was concerned about. She was feeling she didn’t have enough space to complete pivots, and this turned out to be because she was over-turning – pivoting more than had been led, and thus requiring more space than had been provided by the leader.
Although I was almost specifically not seeking further input on my lead at this point, as I’m still processing a lot of things from BsAs, it did seem a good time to raise the challenge of sustained close-embrace dancing with a much shorter follower, and they made a small adjustment to the position of my left arm. This at first seemed like more of a generic correction rather than addressing the problem I presented, but no: amazingly, this seemingly minor and unrelated change did indeed solve the problem!
So all in all, a very successful lesson.
The joy of walking
Luis and I were enthusing about the joy of just walking, and I said that I loved nothing more when the floor was empty toward the end of the night. That opportunity came along at around midnight, with just a handful of couples on the floor.
I knew exactly who I wanted to dance with for the first of these tandas, and happily she was free. We had an absolutely wonderful tanda of doing almost nothing but walking, able to take huge strides. The enthusiastic “Esa!” from Luis as we passed their table was the icing on the cake!
Next tanda, the same with another delicious follower. I worried slightly after the first song when she said my strides were “the length of a tennis court,” and was about to tone them down, when she continued “which we followers love.” Phew!
The only disappointment was I wanted another similar tanda with another wonderful follower, but the right music didn’t come along in the last few tandas.
I’ve noted before that the number of dual-role dancers is ever-increasing, and the lightness and fun of two women dancing together is always very visible!
The vast majority of dual-role dancers I see are women, with far fewer men learning to follow. That’s in part driven by the imbalance between leaders and followers, of course, but while that may have been the initial motivation for some, it’s also clear from both watching and talking with them that it’s about way more than that.
I always smile when I see two women meet on the dance floor and have that moment when they decide who is leading – or who is leading first. To me, that’s taking collaborative dance to a whole new level, and it really inspires me to stick with the challenges of learning to follow.
Speaking of which …
Following without a licence or insurance
This time it was me being reported to the police. One of the dual-role dancers, Sharon, kindly offered to lead me in a tanda. I have neither a follower licence nor insurance, but her lead looked very simple so I gladly accepted.
I did promptly discover that what looks simple to follow is not the same as actually simple to follow! She did a lot of subtle steps and very small interrupted steps, and it was quite the challenge, but I still enjoyed it a lot – and we still had four legs between us by the end of the tanda. Tina kindly shot a short video clip, from which the above frame-grab is taken.
It couldn’t have been too disastrous as she offered again the next day. I didn’t get the (thankfully rare) attempted pivots, but there were definite sections of flow, so I had a great time! I’m so looking forward to being able to properly follow in a milonga.
We swapped roles, and her following was amazing.
More comedy moments
We were planning the full-on roast dinner for lunch in the hotel restaurant (top tip: don’t bother), so I only had a cup of tea and a slice of toast for breakfast at the cafe opposite. Close by was a table of men of a certain age having a very loud conversation.
You know things aren’t going to go well when the first thing you overhear is “I’ve got nothing against women, but” – but even I was a little surprised how quickly it escalated to “I don’t see the problem with gollywogs” (part of an unlikely story about how a local antique shop owner was threatened with arrest, and which I’m sure was taken wholesale from the Felixstowe version of the Daily Mail). They were still at it when I left, explaining why women shouldn’t be allowed to join the army. I felt a bit cheated that I had to leave before they started in on “the trouble with gays” (I’m sure it was coming).
I’d driven up with Tina and Lily, but they decided on the Sunday morning they wanted to leave earlier than me. The only public transport option was three trains, a bus replacement service, and a taxi.
But no problem – I arranged a lift with Gaby and Sharon. At which point it turned out Tina and Lily had changed their mind and were now leaving later than my new chauffeur.
I told Gaby I’d better keep my options open in case they changed their mind again about the departure time – or perhaps destination. They did indeed, so Sharon kindly accommodated me.
Being in the next-best-thing to BsAs didn’t stop me plotting my next trip! I’m hoping to go for two months next time, and I mentioned to Gaby that I was trying to find an apartment directly through a local, as that should be a lot more affordable than Airbnb. She immediately sent me a link to a Facebook group for just that!
Most of them are in Palermo, which is further out than I want to be, but there are some in Recoleta, and a few in microcentral, so that should prove an excellent hunting ground nearer the time.
Next on the agenda is a provisional plan to attend one evening at the Brighton festival; my first (and long-awaited!) visit to Tango Secrets; the London Tango Festival (setting my expectations low for that one, but it has to be tried), then the Feast!