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Summer Party 29-07-2017

Thank you to everyone who came to our Summer Party last Saturday and helped make it a really special night!

The Light is one of our favourite London tango venues. Tucked away in the back streets of Shoreditch, no one would expect to find this little enclave of tango, beautifully lit up with fairy lights and filled with beautiful tango music.

It's always fantastic to see students of all levels enjoying the night. Sometimes there is no better way to learn than to throw yourself in the deep-end and learn on the dance-floor!

Milongas are not just about dancing tango non-stop (although a lot of people do), they are about enjoying the music, the company and lapping up the atmosphere. Sitting on the side-lines with a drink and watching the world dance by is the ideal way to give your feet a little rest from all the dancing!

When we get back from our summer holiday, we will immediately start planning our Autumn Tango Night!

These days, it’s the word that’s on everyone’s lips. The core.

Whenever something goes well in your dance. Whenever something goes not so well. It’s all down to your core.

And there’s no doubt that using the core is key to good tango technique.

But is it your free ticket to tango heaven? Let’s have a look at some home truths about the core.

Home Truth #1

Whilst there is no doubt that using your core is of great importance, it is only one piece of the puzzle.

If you are over-thinking your core, you could lose focus on other important areas of your body. And consequently you may still lose your balance!

It is not the magic cure. I wish I could tell you there is a one-step solution to equilibrium, but I can’t!

Whilst it is important to “zoom in” on important areas of the body - it is also vital to “zoom out”!

It takes practice but when you dance it is a good idea to have a picture of your whole body in your mind - not just one detail.

In time, this will also help you feel more expressive, fluid and present.

Home Truth #2

Teachers will give you varying advice on how to use the core.

Who’d have thought there would be so many ways to talk about your abdominal muscles!

Pull them in, contract them, lift them, tighten them …

You may well have heard different imagery too. I certainly use a fair few in my classes, in search of that “light bulb” moment for my students.

My advice? Different concepts work for different people.

Try them all on and work out what makes best sense for you and for your body.

Home Truth #3

When you activate your core, some unwanted side effects may creep into your technique.

You may find that you create tension in your chest. Your shoulders may lift inadvertently.

And you may find yourself holding your breath. (No need for me to explain why that isn’t a good idea!)

I appreciate its not easy to juggle everything. But breathing, relaxing your shoulders and using your core are all so important.

Be patient. Be perseverant. And it will happen!

Home Truth #4

When you lift your core, it doesn’t necessarily stay lifted!

I know, it doesn’t seem fair.

You lift your core, you breathe, you relax, you just start enjoying the music, the movements, you lose yourself and ….

“What happened to my core?!!”

It is a little bit like zipping up jeans that are too tight for you. Unless you hold the zip up, unfortunately it will keep sliding down.

I hate to be the one to break bad news, but in order to get your core to work for you, you have to keep holding it up.

No, it’s not exactly what I like to think about when I’m dancing either. But here’s the thing. It’s all about repetition. Repetition until lifting your core becomes so entrenched in your technique you don’t really have to think about it anymore.

And then you can go ahead and lose yourself in the moment to your heart’s content!

Home Truth #5

I just gave you some bad news, so here is some good news. You do no need 'abs of steel' to be able to use your core.

You can do 200 sit-ups a day. There are undoubtable health benefits (and you will look fantastic!) but it will do you absolutely no good if you don’t remember to activate your core when you dance!

Obviously I’m talking about tango salon here. In other more physically strenuous activities I have no doubt the stronger your core is, the easier certain movements will be.

In tango salon, however, using the core is about activating, and not necessarily about super-strength.

But please don’t let me be the one to hold you back from those 200 sit-ups a day!

And Finally …

It’s time to “zoom” out again.

It’s easy to get bogged down in thoughts about your core.

Don’t let it overwhelm you. Instead, let’s try to remember why we actually dance tango. For PLEASURE.

But if you can find a balance and thread your core and other techniques into your dance, you will gradually open the door to even greater tango bliss!

CAVEAT: We usually save in-depth technique advice to the classroom! This is an overview and only a sketch of the details we cover face-to-face in our tango lessons.

I was asked by Top Santé magazine if I would like to tell the story of how I came to be a tango dancer.

The feature appears in this month's edition - with a full two pages chronicling my own personal tango journey.

Everyone has a tango story. How they came to discover tango. The reasons they started dancing. And yours might only just have begun ... or about to happen!

I always ask people how they came to dance tango. For many, it is so much more than a hobby. And if it started as a hobby - it soon turns into something more important to them.

The story in Top Santé tells how I inadvertently changed the course of my life when I walked into a tango class in the late 1990’s. When I saw how beautiful the dance and the music was, I had an epiphany.

It tells how I gave up my job in the City to immerse myself in tango for just a few months … and then didn’t come home for four years!

Luckily it all worked out well for me as not only did I find what I feel is my calling in life but I also met my partner - in tango and in life - David.

And the person most excited about being in the magazine - my five-year old daughter. She's telling all her friends that she is famous!

So that's my story. And now someone just needs to approach David for the story of how he became first a ballet, then a tango dancer. A story very different to my own, but, in my view, even more interesting!

Top Santé magazine is available for purchase nationwide in most larger newsagents.

Mugre. Something you often hear professional or experienced tango dancers talking about.

You may hear them comment “they have great technique but their tango lacks a bit of mugre”.

And if you look up the dictionary definition of “mugre” (pronounced /mu:grei/) - you might be surprised to find that literally it translates as: “dirt”!

Yes, that’s right. Dirt!

But perhaps a better way to translate mugre in this particular context, would be “grime” or “grit”.

We’re all striving towards perfection, but sometimes what we really want to see is something that falls short of perfection.

Yes, tango technique is important, musicality, creativity and expression too. But to cap it all it’s great to see a tango dancer with just a touch of mugre.

It’s difficult to explain what “mugre” looks like to someone who is not deeply involved with tango. But rest assured it is nothing to do with the way someone dresses or their personal hygiene!

On the contrary, it is part of the traditional culture of tango that one should go to the milonga washed and well-dressed. It is a mark of respect for the partners you intend to dance with that night. And I would go so far as saying that that should apply to classes too.

It is your dance that should have mugre.

Because who cares about perfect technique when you can see soul, expression, connection? When what you can see makes you feel something.

It is partly because tango is an improvised that mugre is something to aspire to. Because a slick, polished choreography can be wonderful to watch but it doesn’t have that beautiful live quality that an improvisation has - despite its flaws. It’s kind of nice to see dancers smile wryly when something doesn’t quite go to plan. The odd misstep seems to be part and parcel of an improvisation.

So is it time to put a halt to our technique exercises? And our continued learning path in tango?

Unfortunately, mugre without technique just doesn’t cut it. It’s no excuse for poor dancing. You have to be a damn good dancer, with a bucket load of experience, to look good with mugre.

Maybe this seems likes an impossible goal then but for me the morale is this: continue to explore, strive always to better than yesterday. But relax if it isn’t perfect. It’s mugre! And you’ll enjoy tango all the more.

If there is one concern raised by the gentlemen in our classes time and time again, it is this:

“When I get on the dance floor, my mind goes blank. I can’t remember a single step I’ve learnt.”

They have come to us as their tango teachers for some words of advice. For a solution. And they do not expect our response:

“You know, forgetting all the steps you have ever learnt could in fact be a good thing!”

And they sometimes look at us exactly the way you might have just looked at your screen: like we've lost our minds! But hear me out on this. It actually does make sense.

Ask any experienced leader what it is they think about when they dance and most of them will answer this:

"Nothing".

Because tango is not about thinking. Tango is about feeling. They are sensing where their partner is, they are listening to the music, they are allowing their movements - and inspiration - to flow.

On the whole, they do not have a mental checklist of the steps they will be executing next.

I always remember the story of one our Beginners many years back. It was his first trip to the milonga and he was a little nervous. So he made a plan. He was simply going to churn out the two or three figures he had learnt in class.

When he stepped out onto the dance floor for the first time, he attempted to execute the basic step, which is pretty much taught in every Beginners tango class around the world.

But at every step he was thwarted. In every moment there was someone in his way.

Your movements in the milonga will to a great extent be dictated by the ever-changing, unpredictable nature of the dance floor with couples all around you improvising their way through the music. You may step onto the dance floor with some kind of plan but it is inevitable that you are going to have to adapt it to the dance floor.

So why do we learn steps at all?

It is a typical feature of the majority of tango classes to learn a “figure” - a series of steps that fit together in a beautiful, fluid and interesting way. Why re-invent the wheel when "milongueros" of the past and professional dancers have already come up with such wonderful series of movements?

However it is never the intention of the teacher that these figures be reproduced by the student in exactly the same way each time. The intention is simply to give the student ideas and inspiration. The teacher should always guide the student as to how to improvise with any combination - cut it down, add to it, merge it with another movement and play with it.

Most teachers do not intend for you to you memorise every step sequence they cover. Rather the figure is a teaching tool through which important underlying skills are taught: how to lead your partner gently but with clarity, and so on. The figures will fall away but the skills underpinning will remain.

So if - like me - remembering long sequences is not your thing, take heart. Tango could well be the perfect dance for you!

On Saturday 10th June, BBC Radio 3 broadcast an hour-long programme on Argentine tango.

The programme was part of a longer series "the Sound of Dance" by Katie Derham, presenter of the BBC Proms and Strictly Come Dancing finalist, exploring the relationship between music and different dance genres.

Bandoneon player Julian Rowlands was interviewed to give a tango musician's perspective and David and I were interviewed to speak about the music from a dancer's point of view.

It was really interesting to talk about how we feel when we dance tango, how we interpret the music and how we improvise. There are not many programmes in the mainstream media that delve into the world and workings of traditional "tango salon" (or social tango dancing). It made a refreshing change!

We tried as much as possible to talk about the dance form as an improvised dance form, explaining that this is tango's most authentic form. For us this is one of the features that make the music so exciting to interpret. And it is one of the features of tango that many people are unaware of.

It is always a challenge to talk about dance without being able to demonstrate the movements. But the interview was expertly edited, overlaying the music so as to illustrate to the audience what we were trying to describe.

Here you can listen to us talking to Katie. We hope you find it interesting too!

At the end of June, the Queens Tango Festival is coming to London!

The Queens Tango Festival will celebrate the role of the follower in tango, with Ladies Technique workshops over the course of four days, as well as workshops for leaders focusing on the follower’s needs.

The Festival is co-organised by London tango teacher, Raquel Greenberg and the Queen of Tango Queens, Alejandra Mantiñan, who will be visiting London that weekend.

I feel honoured to have been invited to take part as the third female contributor.

So since everyone knows that it takes two to tango, why the need for a Festival that focuses mainly on the woman?

In my first few years of studying tango, I often felt that the role of the follower was overlooked in many of the group classes I took. The emphasis of the class was very much what the leader should do, with perhaps the occasional nod towards the follower.

Old school tango teaching was very much of the philosophy that the woman simply needed to follow. Any difficulty she had was always the fault of the leader. This of course can be quite a convenient get-out clause for us followers, yet we know in our hearts that there is plenty we can be doing to improve our tango. Plus we’d actually appreciate some guidance on how to achieve this!

But times have changed and Ladies Technique has developed enormously in the last 15 years.

And in the forefront of this movement is Alejandra Mantiñan. Alejandra’s tango career spans more than three decades. She stands out in the male-dominated world of tango and has inspired a whole generation of tango dancers. She has proved that the woman in tango can make a huge contribution to the creative partnership, that her role is to follow her partner, yes, but not purely so.

I will be giving a Ladies Technique workshop on Saturday 24th June as part of the Festival. I believe that with a clear understanding of technique, and practice, beautiful dancers soon emerge. The class will focus on foundation technique as well as styling and decorations. Click here for more information on this Workshop.

On Sunday 25th June, David and I will be performing at the Closing Milonga of the Festival. David will also perform with Alejandra on the same night. This is our next official Tango Movement Night Out and we hope you’ll join us. The venue is La Divina Milonga in Marylebone. More details to follow closer to the time!

Last Saturday 3rd June, our two-week workshop series on the "Caminata" and tango embrace got off to a flying start.

Students first thinking of taking tango classes are often lured in by an enticing promise: if you can walk, you can tango!

This would convince even the most nervous of students to try a class. And every word of it is true! Tango - in its essence - is simply a walk. A beautiful, elegant, refined walk, yes, but just a walk.

But then they drop the bombshell: it takes a lifetime to learn the tango walk!

In fact, they don't even need to tell you that. You worked that out in your first class! You know that feeling when you're giving someone your telephone number and suddenly you can't for the life of you remember it? That's how it feels when you suddenly realise that you can't work out how to walk!

So yes, the tango walk is not the easiest skill to accomplish in tango but it is an important one and a rewarding one. And it requires a little bit of dedication.

So last week, we cast other movements in tango aside to focus on our "caminata" and of course the wonderful tango embrace, an intrinsic part of the tango walk. Like the walk, giving someone a hug in every day life is a natural thing, but in tango it becomes something of an art.

It was amazing to see how in 2 hours so many different concepts and angles were explored. And yet we felt we had barely scratched the surface.

The response we had to the workshop was enthusiastic with many requests for the workshop to become a regular feature in our timetable. We are looking forward to developing the themes in Part II of the workshop this Saturday.

Don't worry if you missed Part I and don't worry if you don't have a partner - we'll be rotating partners throughout the class.

For more information on this Saturday's class, please click here.

Last month might have had some of the hottest days on record, but the day of our outdoor photo shoot must have been the coldest May day EVER!

And if that wasn't enough the rain also came down. This is London not Buenos Aires after all!

Still we survived and came out the other end with some lovely new tango shots.

We chose on of my favourite London haunts, the backstreets of Hampstead. After a fun day, we enjoyed a coffee and piece of cake in a nearby cafe. Tired but happy with the results we achieved.

The photos will be appearing around the website and in our gallery very soon! Until then, here is a taster of what is to come!

Thank you Hernan Brusa, tango photographer, for your gifted work!

It was one of those rare but unforgettable London treats: a warm summer's evening combined with an exciting outdoor event.

Borough Market was buzzing last Saturday night. Pretty much the whole of London's tango community descended on this quirky little market on the South Bank, plus tonnes of passers-by craning their necks to see what on earth was going on.

The event was organised by the Argentine Embassy, who laid down a dance-floor, set up a music system and then waited for the crowds to descend.

As we jumped out of our car, in our performance cloths it was wonderful to hear the notes of our tango filling the London air. And as we rounded the corner, we saw an open-air milonga in full swing, dancers filling every spare inch of the make-shift dance-floor.

It was amazing to perform at such an exciting event with so many tango aficionados present. And we felt their passion for tango in the applause they gave us during our performance.

And after the show? A glass of wine with our students and some delicious empanadas around the corner at the Argentine food stall. Bliss.

We may have many more performances this year but we're sure this performance will stand out in our memory. Thank you everyone who came to see us and for your "buena onda"!

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