So, an update on my very expensive new shoes. I took my CiFs out for the first time this week, on a day when I was terribly tired before I started dancing, but had really good dances and felt less tired afterwards. One of those evenings - a good one.
The soles feel extremely thin. They really need the gel ball-of-foot pads, I'm sure I would get a burning pain without them, but that's OK because I routinely put them in all my shoes anyway. With the pads they feel fine. I wouldn't want to walk on concrete, but no problems on a wooden floor. I also noticed that the label on the sole has prominent edges and digs into the skin; that was easily solved with heel cushions, which I also use, but less routinely. So equipped, they're very comfortable. The floor on their first evening out happened to be slightly sticky, so the slipperiness of new soles wasn't a problem.
Street shoes with a strap across always have it fixed with elastic. This is never the case with dancing shoes, and it isn't here. That would have alarmed me as a beginner, but I know now that the thing to do is do up the buckle loosely; dancing shoes don't rub and don't need elastic, or to be tightly fastened.
They do feel incredibly light. I'm not quite sure yet how much I like this, but it's definitely good to have the option. At first it felt like flimsiness, but then a few things bounced off them and I started to suspect they were (as I am) physically tougher than their delicate build suggests.
I'm still puzzled by the fact that they're exactly the same height as my favourite pair of shoes, but they look higher. At first they felt higher, too, but I think it's something to do with the balance. Once I got used to this, and to the lightness, it was sort of floaty, and I may well grow to like this a lot.
I feel they are balanced quite strongly towards the middle, increasing the tendency to dance on the inner side of the ball of the foot. This is probably good rather than bad, but I must take care to stop if it hurts.
The heels are pretty lethal. Luckily I was more careful with them than some of my leaders; I pulled back a few times before a touch turned into a stab.
Overall, the functional performance was very good and there's no reason not to wear them whenever they go with my clothes - and maybe sometimes when they don't.
The way they look has really grown on me. I like the colour and the peep-toe, which is my favourite toe style. But the thing that struck me most about the experience of wearing them was how much more than ever before the women sitting beside the dance floor stared openly at my feet. I suppose this is expected, and is rather the point, but the degree of it downright startled me. I was having a good night, with some good leads, but there was no real difference in my dancing. Just the shoes!
Thursday, 29 May 2008
So, an update on my very expensive new shoes. I took my CiFs out for the first time this week, on a day when I was terribly tired before I started dancing, but had really good dances and felt less tired afterwards. One of those evenings - a good one.
Wednesday, 28 May 2008
M.B., this one is for you. With thanks to Psyche who pointed them out to me. It's Martin Maldonado and Maurizio Ghella at a festival. Watching some of the other videos available on YouTube, I deduce that Martin is the shorter one.
I like performances where the couple, while not necessarily smiling, look as though they want to be dancing in general, and to be dancing with each other in particular. Which is the case here. I suppose that's how I perceive a good connection. Here the connection is extremely interesting because of the way they exchange the lead. It's as fluid and dynamic as the way some people switch from a close embrace to an open one and back again. Notice at 02:16 how the embrace passes through symmetry and lingers there for a while. More variations in this (lower quality) video.
Because they dance together exchanging lead and follow, and are near-equal in size, mass, and shape, you can see how the dance changes depending on who leads and who follows, and how leading or following changes the way someone's personality comes out through the dance.
I went to 33PP for the second time this Sunday, (see review from my first visit here) and it was packed. Word must have got round. The floor was pretty crowded, but I don't think I had any bumps. Last Sunday, I think I did see Stefano Fava there, not dancing but having a good old look, so maybe he liked it and told all his students. I certainly saw some. Anyway, they used the bigger room upstairs, which is very beautiful, and also opened the other room that leads off it. Be aware that the floor upstairs has a very slippery bit at the right hand edge, and some uneven spots; I'd be cautious about wearing true stilettos, or shoes with very thin soles. My Taras were fine. They weren't expecting nearly so many people, and they'd run out of drinks by the time I'd had my first dance. I'd arrived late, and it was cheaper to get in.
It was really lovely to see this long room, with its giant mirrors and balconies, full of dancing people. Properly dancing, not just getting drunk and bopping around.
Anyway, if the same thing happens next week, the owner has asked them to use the two rooms on the two seperate floors. I think that will be awkward, separating the dancers, and I wonder how they'll manage with the music. It was a bank holiday weekend, though, so it might calm down next week.
Monday, 26 May 2008
My Dad, who is not religious but has just retired and likes walking, is currently on the Cammino de Santiago. He is walking from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, in France, across the Pyrenees and the whole north of Spain to Santiago de Compostela near the Atlantic coast.
This is an ancient pilgrims' route, and is the subject of the twelfth-century Liber Peregrinationis, considered to be the first known tourist guide. There's a Flash map here of the entire route. Once you're past the intro you can use the little arrows or click on the map to see some information about each stage of the route. Among other things it shows you a graph of the altitude, and lists the local delicacies of each town.
He arrived in St. Jean on the 20th and is sending me a text message from every stop. He split the first leg, crossing the mountains, in two, and reported "scenery amazing buzzards and kites" on the 21st. On the 22nd he was in Roncesvalles, Spain, and the scenery was still amazing. On the 23rd he covered 23 kilometres and requested my postcode for postcard-writing purposes. On the 24th he was in Pamplona. Yesterday the continued rain made steep paths into waterfalls or mudslides, difficult terrain.
Today he is in Puente La Reina, which is asleep, and reports that there are storks nesting on the church.
There is a Sunday afternoon milonga at The Adelaide, 143 Adelaide Road, Primrose Hill, NW3. It's organised by Richard Schramm and Tony Walker, you get tea and cakes and a staffed bar, and Comme Il Faut shoes for men and women are on sale.
Layout and atmosphere: The Adelaide is an airy pub, in a suburb so full of leaves I couldn't see the bus stop. The white-bearded pub DJ directed me upstairs. There are two large rooms, one with the bar, the seating, and the shoe shop, and a long narrow rectangular room with faded murals in a sort of naive-Chinoiserie, which is the dance floor. Beause one room is for dancing and the other for seating, with just a largish open doorway in between, it's not possible to sit and watch, and I think that contributes to the floor see-sawing between crowded and half-empty. Around the other room are hung paintings and cartoons on the subject of social tango - these are for sale, and they do add to the atmosphere, which is very pleasant on a soft Spring day. The crowd was older-on-average, but, as usual, not at all exclusively. Your tea is served in a miscelleaneous, quickly circulating collection of patterned cups and saucers, which add their small voices of colour and charm. You get a proper plate and a metal spoon for your cake. The dance floor is pretty good, narrow but even. The large Star of David incised in the middle of it is strange; perhaps some fashionable NW3 cult has the room on Tuesdays.
What I thought of the DJing: Tony played quite a few tracks that had long intros and outtros, were very difficult to hear at the far end of the room, or were messed-about and 'modernised' versions of things that I probably would have liked more the first time round. There were also bursts of straightforward traditional stuff which suddenly emptied the seating, and the dancefloor went from challenging to half-empty and back again several times. I gathered that they are trying to find a way to get the sound down to the far end better, and doing that would make more of the music work and even things out a bit.
Hospitality: Good. Your entry price includes tea and cakes, for which you are handed a ticket, which the bar staff won't ask for. The tea is nice, and the cakes are good standard commercial fare. Beer and other liquid refreshment is available at the bar. The seating is plentiful, with lots of little wickerwork stools, and quite a few battered sofas and squishy chairs. The loos are pub loos, broom-cupboard size and shape, just-about clean, just-about working. Nowhere to hang your coat; take a kitbag.
The website: There isn't one. Monitor Tango-UK for announcements.
Getting in: £8, includes tea and cake.
Getting there and getting home: from Chalk Farm underground, cross the road and take a 31 bus. Alight at the sign of the large beige A on a dark red square, which is the second stop after the bus crosses Primrose Hill road, and you are there. Or you could very well walk - it's not far. Go in, go through the small door in the right-hand near corner, and up the stairs. It is about the same distance from Swiss Cottage underground in the other direction. Ignore the TFL journey planner's walking directions to the postcode, which are misleading. It ends at 18:30, so you can reverse the procedure to get home. It is perfectly feasible to go here and then go to 33 Portland Place and get two milongas on the same Sunday; I went home for dinner in between, and had a shorter session at 33PP.
How it went: Although not all the music made me want to dance, the seating was so comfortable and the company so pleasant that I didn't mind at all. It was nice to have the opportunity to try on some Comme Il Faut shoes, which I'll post about seperately. I had a dance or two with people I knew and a dance or two with people I didn't, and a very pleasant time just trying on and discussing shoes, chatting, and drinking tea.
Monday, 19 May 2008
Ok, this is a little technical thing for my fellow tango dancers to discuss.
I can't work out if this problem is a problem with some men I dance with, or a problem with me. It only happens with certain people, so it's not something I do all the time, and it happens with some who are taller than me as well as with some who are shorter. I have a long neck. That might be important, but I'm not sure. Anyway:
What causes some men to incline their heads sharply to the right when they're dancing, pushing mine forcibly out of the way?
Whatever I do, it's going to hurt at the end of the dance because my neck has been bent over to my left the whole time. Occasionally I try to fight it, but they just push back harder, I lose, and my neck hurts even more. Sometimes I try to escape by opening the embrace into a V-shape, but that doesn't really work because, although my head is now straight instead of on one side, the push is now being directed right in my face.
And not being able to hold my head up straight is not just uncomfortable, but gives me other problems. It gives me problems with the embrace, because it's not possible to relax my shoulders if I can't relax my neck, and problems with balance, because having my brain-case above my left shoulder rather than above my spine is quite a serious distortion of weight and momentum.
I would have thought that it gave the men those last two problems as well, which I why I don't really get where it comes from.
Why does this happen, and is there anything non-verbal I can do to stop it?
[30th June 2009: Updated review with changes here!]
There's a new milonga every Sunday evening, from 8 to 11, at 33 Portland Place. [Edit: not every single Sunday, may be closed in August and around holidays, check Tango-UK]. The house belongs to Lord Edward Davenport, who courteously hires it out to 'οι πολλοι, and it's billed as a "celebrity hotspot". My interest in hotspottery is quite a long way below zero, so I didn't go for several weeks, then I overcame such weak-minded prejudice and went to have a look.
Layout and atmosphere: This venue is remarkable. Finding the little A4 notice on the giant door, you peep inside and are greeted by a very small organiser, from behind a very large and good-but-battered desk, in a hall that reminds me of a thousand fine old London houses butchered into awkward flats, only seven times the size and twelve times finer. You pass the foot of a Wedgewood stair, follow the music through a dark, narrow corridor with miscellaneous flooring and an achingly ugly lift, and enter a noble but dimly-seen room where you can leave your stuff. There's nowhere to hang it up, so take a bag big enough for your coat, preferably in a colour you'll be able to find in darkness. Flickering lights from a doorway invite you into a cosy, shabby-splendid, L-shaped room, with a dark wood floor, and a lowish ceiling that's nearly all skylight. The walls are deep red-brown, flaking, with little stencils in a corner, a fireplace for the barons, and wonderfully comfortable gilded chairs. If you want to sit on a properly battered, gilt, velvet chaise longue while you're waiting for your dance, you can. The room is lit by diffuse evening light, and by strings of LEDs and many, many candles. The floor has the right amount of grip, but some uneven boards - choose your shoes accordingly.
I really felt I should have been more inventive with my clothes; my usual mishmash of Jane Norman, Dorothy Perkins, and Topshop, while simple and effective, just doesn't quite do the job in this room. I should be wearing something remade from Oxfam, with my great-great-grandmother's emeralds. Or maybe just black. Not having had the kind of great-great-grandmother who had emeralds, I shall have to think it over and be a bit more creative next time.
The place could probably do with a fair few million in restoration, but it was built to last; the paint may be peeling, the plaster may be flaking, and electric light would surely reveal a sadness like the fall of Rome, but it's magnificent, truly interesting, and utterly perfect for tango.
They sometimes have the dancing in a bigger room upstairs, with balconies onto the street; I looked at that room as well, and it is very fine, but I agree with the organisers that the downstairs one is better, at least for anything up to 30 people.
What I thought of the DJing: The laptop in the corner started out very traditional, then at half past nine started attracting attention to itself by playing the occasional surprise cortina and some rather more challenging music. There was quite a bit near the borderline between slow milongas and fast tangos (which I like), and a little, but not much, vals. I didn't want to dance to everything, but I was very happy to watch the people who did, and some of them were well worth watching. A few people, at various times, used the stuff-room to go and puzzle out or discuss a move together, which I thought was rather nice.
Hospitality: Very good. Wine of two colours, bottled beer, crisps, water biscuits, orange juice, and adequate if not plentiful water are included in the price. The hosts are charming. I have to mention the ladies' loos, which are downstairs, are larger than my living room, and contain two giant gilt-framed mirrors, over six feet tall, standing against the wall. Only as I turned to leave did I notice that one of these had come out of its frame, and was merely leaning on it as an old, old friend. Clean, dry, working, well supplied with paper.
The website: there isn't one, but there is one for the building. It looks nothing like the pictures in real life - it's far shabbier, and much more interesting. [Edit: there's a facebook group.] [Edit 20th Sept: now it has a website, which requires flash - or doesn't display at all - and makes a noise. It does tell you what you need to know, though.]
Getting in: £6 dancing, £10 with class (beginners, 6:30), non-dancers £2. [Edit 20th Sept: increased by 33%, now £8 dancing.]
Getting there and getting home: short walk from Oxford Circus. It's Sunday, so check your train times home. Take Exit 1, walk up Regent Street towards All Souls' church (circular portico, pillars, stiletto spire), bear left around it and around BBC Broadcasting House. The numbers are large and clearly marked on the buildings. Number 33 is on the other side. When you get to where it seems 33 should be, cross over at the lights and look at the numbers again.
How it went: I had some dances with people I knew, and some dances with people I didn't. The crowd was mostly but by no means exclusively young. There was a good mix of levels and I saw some lovely dancing, and some inexperienced dancers having a good time.
Highly recommended, especially if you are a visitor to London. You will not see the inside of many houses like this, least of all being put to such good use.
Saturday, 17 May 2008
I've finally finished the Pair of Sleeves. They went into hibernation for several months, first because I had miscalculated the length and couldn't think how to get out of it without unravelling the whole thing, and then because when I did work out how to get out of it, I didn't have a long enough circular needle. Here it is, modelled by the Intended Wearer.
It's knitted from one end to the other, circularly, flat in the middle.
The basic idea was this:
- Knit a cuff in 1x1 rib
- Knit a sleeve in st st enlivened by a pattern of diamonds front and back
- Divide for opening at the point of the front diamond, and continue the back diamond into an expanded pattern
- Rejoin and knit the other sleeve
- Knit the other cuff.
It gives a really interesting shape, which I like much more than my original design.
Thursday, 15 May 2008
There I was posting away about the beauty of Nature, and no camera. Tangobaby was justifiably displeased. By the time I managed to find and remember my very old, very cheap digital camera, the bluebells had mostly finished. But here are daisies:
a nearly-over dog rose:
a spring-leaved oak:
and the very end of these:
Monday, 12 May 2008
This is an outstanding radio programme, and very, very funny.
Chicago Public Radio - The Giant Pool of Money.
It's also very sad.
It makes a good follow-on from the Paul Krugman lecture I posted in March. Here we get down to the actual people, all along the chain, and what on earth they were thinking.
Via Calculated Risk. Where, in the Comments, someone mentioned "the guys in the tranches".
Sunday, 11 May 2008
This is a followup to arm-steering, five months ago. To summarise, a problem that some leaders can develop is pushing or pulling you with their arms to take steps that they're simultaneously blocking or contradicting with their bodies, throwing you violently off balance and in bad cases convincing you that you're about to be hurled to the floor. It's particularly scary in turns.
Anyway, having discussed it, asked a few questions, and experimented for a while, I found an answer that works for me. Then I forgot all about it because, for various reasons, I don't encounter this problem as often as I used to. But I'll still almost always dance with someone I haven't seen, if he asks me. It's part of the adventure. So I got one fairly recently where there was a lot of the lawnmower thing going on, rather surprisingly combined with back sacadas, and after a minute or so I remembered my technique.
It's a two-step process.
Step one: just let the arm go. Ruthlessly preserving my own balance comes first and that means just relaxing my right arm and letting it go wherever he wants, to wave whatever flag it is he wants to wave out there. I know it shouldn't be waggling about, but I just haven't got the body mass inertia to impose that on an adult male who doesn't agree with me and wants my arm to be way over there somewhere. So I just let it go. This buys me time.
Step two: slam the power down. I step, calmly, to wherever my best guess is that he actually wants me to go, but I exaggerate; I abandon moderation and go further and more vigorously, mentally on the attack. If he's clearly asking me to go somewhere that he's simultaneously blocking, or somewhere that's going to take him off balance, I just do it anyway, shoving him out of the way or catching him if I have to. The idea is to make him think that he's merely touched the accelerator, and the car's gone roAAAAAWRRRR!!! and he doesn't know if he can handle it.
I should point out that this is the exact opposite of what happens instinctively. Because the pulling and pushing feels violent, the follower's natural reaction at finding herself in a physical battle she knows she can't win is to scamper around making small, gentle movements, keeping herself upright as best she can, and desperately trying to de-escalate. But because the leader isn't being violent on purpose, he's just clueless, that doesn't work, and actually makes it worse.
Slamming the power down makes this happen:
A look of alarm
A look of respect
A moderation of the arm-steering
A much, much smoother, fairly painless ride.
A curious side-effect is that it quite often makes them think I'm a really good dancer, and say so. It's certainly true that putting a bit more power down can solve quite a lot of dancing problems, and maybe I should use a bit more in general, but I don't think I should feel I'm exaggerating.
Jump in the comments if you have the same, or a different or better technique.
A thought-bubble while I was dancing last night:
Oops - I am wearing the Wrong Dress to dance with you.
These high-street wraparounds are comfortable, washable, practical, and flattering, but they're wraparounds. Perhaps I should have put on the underskirt. Or possibly worn the invisible skin-toned knickers.
For a beginner, this dress was fine, but now my legs are whirling around in a bit more of the fancy stuff sometimes. At least I wasn't wearing holdups, they just make it too obvious.
A couple more pairs of dancing trousers might be in order.
Wednesday, 7 May 2008
Apropos of a post on Tango-L, it would be so beautiful if I could record the movements of my feet as little comet-trails of light on a video screen representing the floor.
Of course there would have to be a way of recording the music at the same time. It would be nice if the intensity of the trails could represent the degree of pressure, and their length could correspond in some way to the beat or the character of the music. But if these things were configurable by a human that would be fine, it needn't be entirely automatic.
As far as I could tell, the author of the Tango-L message had something much simpler in mind. [Edit: here's what he is working with.] But what would we need to achieve what I'm thinking of?
- Some kind of wireless motion detector that can go in the toes of my shoes without interfering with the dancing. It has to detect and transmit position as well as pressure. That might mean that there has to be something special about the floor - if so, it has to be danceable as well.
- The receiver.
- A computer to connect the receiver to, and some software to do the following:
- Record and plot the transmissions on a representation of the floor. It might work better if the computer were also playing the music and could process that stream at the same time. At least I think that's a possible solution.
- Output the results as a video file, with some configurable settings as how exactly the movement is represented. It might look a bit like 'visualisations' in music player software.
My guess is that the sensor part is probably the most difficult, but I'm not sure where the technology is right now. An important milestone, let's call it Phase I, would be to record the entire dance as a single static squiggle; from there, you add the dimensions of pressure and time. I can imagine that getting everything properly synchronised with the music might be tricky, too, but that would be less of a problem in, say, a university computing department than it is in my world.
Another thought: it would be best if the entire sole of the foot could be represented, with the heel seperate from the toe. They do different things. So maybe at least four sensors are required for each person. But not necessarily in Phase 1.
A project for someone's computing and interface course, I think (and Doug).
Phase 3 is commercialisation. Lots of DJs play their music from a computer. Wouldn't it be amusing, and perhaps lucrative for the DJ, if you could slip some little widget into your shoes, and buy and take home a file of your dance? Not like a video of yourself, but a video of your dance without you in it?
I can just see myself drawing little zigzags and heart shapes on the floor instead of those boring old circles. Wouldn't that video file make a nice present for your favourite partner?
Monday, 5 May 2008
I thought about going to Ricardo Maceiras' workshop at Negracha, I would have liked to, I'm sorry to miss him, I felt I ought to go, but it was such a lovely day.
There are thousands and thousands of daisies in the grass. At the foot of an oak just off the main road were three different kinds of bluebells; the exquisite, drooping, purplish English kind, endemic to this island, and not yet quite extinct; the paler, bouncing jazz-trumpet Spaniards, gradually taking over; and the frilly-looking hybrids pointing everywhere. In Epping forest I saw more of the first kind, in a cloud under a beech tree. The oaks are in full leaf, but with young leaves of a brilliant green. The giant horse-chestnuts are blooming, the hawthorns are covered in an avalanche of flowers, and I stopped to look at a dog-rose ten feet tall.
I measured a large oak tree, growing in open ground, with my arms. It was three spans, less my right hand and two joints of my left little finger, which makes it 466cm around. According to this chart, that makes it 240, from an acorn that fell about half way between 1715 and 1815.
It's a truly beautiful day here. I was just outside sunning myself on the grass. A brilliant bronze beetle climbed up a grass stalk to take off. But the grass was too short, the breeze was too gentle, and his body too heavy. After the third tumble, I looked for him to see if I could help him with a finger, but he had decided to walk.
Leaders - when you're watching the floor, when you're deciding whose attention to attract, what do you look for specifically?
Leave aside height and physique, things that are particular to you and that don't change. What facts help you determine, by watching, whether you want to dance with someone? And supposing you later dance with that person, do you ever get a surprise?
I was thinking about this question last week. This is a rather extreme example, but I was chatting to a lady sitting next to me and we remarked that a particular leader, who neither of us knew, who neither of us had yet seen anywhere else, and who neither of us had ever danced with, was pretty much on another planet compared to anyone else on the floor. And it was a small room full of good dancers.
We weren't in any doubt, but if you ask me 'how did you know' I find it quite difficult to answer. But I'll do my best.
He wasn't doing anything spectacular. Posture is part of it. There's also proportion; his feet moved firmly and positively, but the steps were modest in size. They were right for the room, the music, his partner, and him. But I think that it was mainly musicality; the rhythm and flow of what he was doing expressed the music in a natural and interesting way. One thing did not necessarily follow another. A cross was not necessarily completed, a turn did not necessarily go all the way round - they might reverse themselves and turn into something else at any moment. It was not a mere harmonious arrangement of bits - it was dancing around to the music, and it was done beautifully. We agreed between ourselves that he was a total pleasure to watch.
If I get a dance with him, I'll let you know.