03 January 2010


I have had my hair done! As a result, at least one of my worries has been allayed. Remember my telling you that I thought my hair would be pretty gross after four days? Well, as it happens, my hair is pretty gross right now! I thought that the treatment would be sealed onto the hair in the sense of heated so that it became smooth, but in fact it was sealed onto the head in the sense that, although it's sealed on there, it's left a greasy residue. And because you can't wash your hair for four days (so the cuticle can seal and absorption can be completed), the residue has to remain for four days, too. I dread to imagine what my hair will look like three days from now: I'll have to hide in my room for the two days after I come back (well, I'll go the phone place, because I need a new phone and they've probably had even less kempt customers than I will be).

So, enough about my hair. It's a new year! And I saw it in by going to a milonga - a milonga which offered a fascinating contrast in dance to WhereIlive.

The best, but also most elusive, way to express this difference would be to say that it seemed clear that all the dancers at this milonga had been trained by a Hispanic. But even that's not quite right, because not all of them looked that way. So it might more accurate to say that this milonga both demonstrated clearly the difference between a tall milonguero and a smaller one, and demonstrated the difference between the style of dancing where I live and the style of dancing here. Both of these are in relation to men, because as a woman I was only interested in checking out potential partners.

The most immediate and profound attribute I noticed is that the best male dancers at this milonga flowed. By this I mean that they were in almost constant movement, and that that movement was smooth and propelled - not propulsive, but propelled. They looked as if they were being drawn forward by a magnet; the movement had both the sense of inevitability and the sense of constancy that that description suggests (you can get it slightly from this picture). After a very short period of observation, it became clear how they did this, and that "how" was totally unsurprising. They used the floor.

I've talked about using the floor before, I know, but this milonga really made it clear how important that is. The men who used the floor were noticeably better dancers than the men who did not. By pushing against the floor, and by pushing against the floor consistently, they were able to create the forward angle that gives the illusion of constant unforced motion, as well as the movement of actual constant unforced motion. But obviously they didn't just do this by using the floor. I think another immensely important ingredient was that they kept their knees loose. As I've said before about my VTTT, they used their legs but not their upper bodies - but whereas my VTTT used his legs in such a way that he freed his hips, these men used their legs but not their hips, nor their upper bodies. Those upper bodies they kept as the forward-most part of their angled line.

In WhereIlive, I have only seen one man dance this way: my FTT. He holds his body in precisely this same way, and watching him on video I see that he also keeps his knees loose. And these men, like him, also moved their feet at the last moment, and often with the least amount of floor removal, as he does. This is part of what made me say that they all looked as if they'd been taught to dance by a Hispanic. But the other part was that they were comfortable in their carapaces: they carried their bodies as if they were pleasurable containers, which, as I think I've also said before, most Anglo-Saxons do not do.

Watching these men dance and searching for a word of comparison, I finally decided that the best way to describe the difference between WhereIlive and here is that in WhereIlive the tango is "stately." The people move more slowly, and each move is made with, if not solemnity, a certain kind of slowness that makes it look elegant. Here, the tango is "catchy," that would almost be the right way to put it. In WhereIlive we look like we love it, but here they look like they're having fun doing it.

But I thought of something else, too, and that was that I don't think this kind of dancing could be done by someone tall, and particularly not someone tall and skinny. Such a person simply wouldn't have the grounding that being close to the floor gives: they wouldn't have the benefit that gravity gives them. And without the weight they wouldn't have enough ballast, really, to lean that way elegantly, or, I suspect, to walk in that curious way. The short and slightly tubby have weight on their side. But a tall, slender man would, I think, look so odd leaning forward in that way, and I can't help but be almost certain that purely because of his lack of weight and distance from the ground the strain on his leg and back muscles to control himself in the way these men did would be gruelling, to say the least. As I watched, I began to think that this is why my VTTT has evolved the style of dance he has. He's too tall to hold himself or to move in the way these shorter men can, so he's made use of his hips to give him his distinctive smoothness and sense of fun.

On the other hand, my FTT is not at all tubby, and he moves in a version (because he is less practised, this version is less practised, but it's there) of the way I've been describing. Now, this may be because his body is, although not tubby, built along compact lines - he's not attenuated. Or it may simply be, to reiterate two earlier points, because he's grown up in a culture that's fine about having fun with your body, and/or because he had a particular type of teacher. Or it may just be that he's comfortable with loosening and moving his body. Whatever the reason, as you can see from this video, he is the only person in WhereIlive who moves the way he does.

Now, it needs to be said that they way these men danced didn't leave much room for more than simple moves: I saw one gancho all night, and very few giros, never mind anything fancier (except the one tall man I danced with, who was flashy and did lifts, yay). But I think such dancing can involve those things, as this clip shows (incidentally, here at 3:10 you can see the man perform precisely the type of posture and movement I've been describing here, from a standing start). Also, instead they did a lot of small step work. Indeed, the man who was called "the teacher" by everyone, Juan Carlos, did tiny step work like my VTTT does (little staccatto steps to the side), which made me very glad that I'd experienced those with my VTTT.

So I had a lovely, interesting time. And the men who did dance with me seemed to love me. They all said I was great and, more importantly, didn't want to stop dancing with me. And the first dance I danced with Juan Carlos (who I didn't know at the point was Juan Carlos, or the teacher), he kept say, "¡Que linda! ¡Que linda! ¡Bailas linda!" (except at the beginning it sounded like he was saying "que lindo," and "bailA linda/o," so maybe he was complimenting himself! but he did stop dancing and say to me, "You dance beautifully." And when I told him my "Professor del Tango" was un Mexicano, he seemed surprised and pleased). And they all kept asking when I was coming back, and two of them hit on me (and one, who talked about himself and about himself, and only once, and at the end of a long disquisition about himself, and very briefly, asked about me, asked for my card at the end of the night. I gave it to him, since what difference does it make?).

So I take three things from this evening: 1. men in Philadelphia, or at least men who dance tango in Philadelphia, are bolder romantically than men in WhereIlive (but then, they'd almost have to be). 2. tango in Philadelphia is danced with more fun than tango in WhereIlive. 3. small people are designed to tango.

And tomorrow I go home. Home! Where I live, and where I am happy in the way you are happy in the place you feel is your home! All through this week my parents have been talking about how I'll come back, and how I'm lucky because I had two years there, and I feel a terrible sinking in my stomach. So I better get to work on that!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My dear, it was a great surprise to recognise your FTT in your post. Having never danced with him maybe I am missing the delights that you describe, but I believe that most of the Cambridge tango community is unaware of his talent. I am curious to know if you have ever asked your VTTT's opinion of your FTT's dancing/teaching qualities? It was amusing to read your description of the Flying Scotchman "school of teaching". May I tell you that many followers confess that they do like to be lead by him? Of course these are very few, and very beginners. BTW, isn't it great that Cambridge is served by such a high number of tango teachers? Maybe for five leaders there is one that teaches and two that force their amateur supervision on the dance floor itself. Curiously enough Cambridge is not known for its good dancing. But the best critics are usually not the best writers, and the best dancers not the best teachers, so anything can be possible (although I would refuse to be taught to drive a car by someone without a driving license).