Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Practising what you teach

I haven't been writing much on The Outpost.  It is summer.  We are outside more during this all-too-short season.  It is the school holidays and I am busy trying to keep the children off the screens and as active as possible.  There has been a lot of sport.    I have also been writing, finally, about things that preoccupy me rather more than seriously than tango on The Intertidal Zone, a littoral, a foreshore, a place where things get washed up.  

On Saturday though I went to a milonga with a show, or rather, the teachers apparently like to call it a demo, not a performance. The venue was unassuming from the outside - a church hall in Linlithgow but the floor was good enough, there was the low-key, pleasant decoration with fairy lights and tartan bunting that these hosts do well.  The dance space could be made bigger or smaller with the seating layout. I would have preferred it larger because despite the much higher than average number of good dancers the floorcraft was so-so because there was such a mix of experience and attitudes on the floor and many people had not danced together before.  

The DJ was Bogdan who has always struck me as a nice, fun guy and  a good dancer.  There were enough good, classic tracks (and tandas) of traditional music.  The tracks were not always the best quality and they had not been automatically normalised for the same volume but - perhaps for that reason - he stayed mostly at the DJ spot and was for the most part an attentive DJ.  

The good dancers came from the south of England, friends of the hosts, Chris and Monique Bean. It was a surprise to see the aristocrats of UK social dancing in this little Scottish hall with the local yokels. The English sat mostly in two groups in different parts of the hall and generally seemed to dance together, which is not surprising given the majority of the local dancing and the fact that they did not know people. There was some mixing but not much. Perhaps though it will start something off. These hosts are the right people for that. It could certainly do something special for the Scottish scene.  This public event seems to have replaced, this year at any rate, the private event they held last year. 

Was the dancing good? It was the first time I have danced - or at least gone to a milonga - since I went to London / Cambridge / Norwich for a weekend nearly two months ago. There was plenty of good dancing. Not for me but I have never felt in with the vibe of that rarified element of (mostly) southern crowd and don't look to those guys for dance though some are super dancers. One or two of them passed over me in the deep past when I used to dance in the south and though I wish it were otherwise a brutal combination of timidity and pride means I don't often do second chances.  I feel lucky to have danced with those I have and don't want to spoil the memory by looking and getting a refusal.  Perverse, I know.  Did anyone ever say tango wasn't screwed up?  I don't do second chances for girls that turn me down either when I invite them which, altogether, makes for a restricted dancing life in places where you see the same people.  What can you do? I don't find dancing in Scotland relaxing though on this evening some of the free  red wine - much appreciated - helped with that. I caught up with one or two local friends in chat and even danced a couple of tandas with people who invited me to lead them.   For a forty-five minute trip both ways it wasn't much.   I was glad though that I went out and perhaps it stopped the rusting up entirely. 

The most interesting thing about that evening was the demo. The teachers Alexis (Chile) and Celine (from Sète in France) danced the most unshowy demo I think I have ever seen mid-milonga. Someone I spoke to later said they used to dance even more simply and I wish I could have seen that. It was not unlike just watching good social dancing. I wondered though, why we were watching it as a 'demo'; 'performance', call it what you like. You can see similarly good dancing in the ronda in any good milonga. There was, mercifully no VIP table.

Another nice touch was that they didn't dress up. He didn't wear striped, baggy, look-at-me tango trousers that stood out.  In the milonga you would not have noticed him as the teachers.  He just hung about like an ordinary guy.  She chatted with some of the dancers, unostentatiously. Similarly, the hosts of this milonga make almost a point of not making dancing a fussy affair, dress-wise. They look casual, smart casual at most. For the show Alexis put on a jacket - that was about it in terms of dressing up. Celine danced in her skinny jeans and a thin knit ordinary yellow top. They both wore the same grey, flat, unfussy canvas shoes. I saw the soles and I am not even sure they were dance shoes.

It was nice.  I see that most of their videos are not so casual in tone and dress but it felt to me like a redefinition of what a mid-milonga show usually is  It showed dancing tango as simple, elegant and normal. It didn't look like a performance that was trying to show-off steps that people had been learning in the workshops.  It made dancing tango look like something to do with your friends, casually, any day of the week. Like all good dancing they made it look easier than it is but unlike tango on TV, the sheer unfussiness of it all made it look like something within the reach of everyone - which it is.  

I seem to remember the tango they danced was a low-key Orquesta Típica Victor track.  Celine seemed almost embarrassed by the applause. Alexis kept trying to 'give' it to her. It was all modest, downplayed. I warmed to them. I chatted to him later and said how different it had been to most performances. "We are social dancers", he said, quietly, in explanation. I mentioned then that I wasn't sure how even social dance teachers teach an embrace - that thing that comes from a unique feeling between two individuals with their own chemistry and compatibility but I think there was, conveniently, a language issue at this point.  He is, at any rate, a quiet, self-contained guy.   I did suggest then that he draw a small box in the centre and dance inside that next time. He laughed. Actually, if teachers are trying to promote themselves as teachers of true social dance - and these two come as close to it as any I've seen - the obvious thing would be to refuse to dance demos.  Students, everyone in fact, could just see them dancing in the real social conditions of the ronda - demonstrating truly, that they are social dancers, practising what they teach.