Sunday, July 09, 2006

tango camp

I went to tango camp a few weeks ago. It started on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 21 and ended early that Sunday morning. There were two classes per day: one in the late morning and one in the late afternoon, with about three hours between them. Each class has two teacher, who are dance partners. In the evening, starting around 10:30 or 11pm (just before sunset) was a milonga. That's one name for a tango event. There other is a "salon." I don't know when one should be used over the other.

There are three major styles of Argentinian tango music: salon, milonga, and vals (waltz, to 3 beats instead of 4). Salon is the most traditional. Each style has an associated step and feel to it. There are three major ways to dance tango. "Off-body" (or "open embrace") is most like ballroom, with space between the couple. The major connection is through the arms. "On-body" (or "close embrace" - or perhaps "closed embrace") is when the two are chest to chest. It is possible to dance like that without arms, though hard and there is less of a connection. With a few people the connection is so good that I can dance with only that connection. My right arm is around her back and my left hand free and behind my back.

I don't know the name for the third. In that one there is a V-shape between the two couples, with my right side/her left side connected, but with the other side open.

Milonga is typically danced on-body, which is also called milonguero style. Salon is typically danced off-body or with the V-shape, hence sometimes that's called "salon style." This is not a hard and fast rule and I've danced both either way. I'm not good with vals and fake it as a salon, but with a slightly different feel to match the 3/4 beat. Then again I add dips to my tango and that's tango nuevo, if anything.

Milongas are more tightly packed, and milonguero style tango focus on things the couple can do in a small space. When I started with tango I learned from Liz Haight in Santa Fe, who taught that style.

Salons are less packed and the moves tends to need more space. The first time I did salon style was in South Africa last September, which was the first time I danced tango outside of Santa Fe. (That's a lie. The first was in the San Francisco Bay Area about three weeks after I started tango. All I did was walk and make a few side step/stops so it wasn't really tango. As it turns out, that tango event was held in Emoryville and I had been there once before in the late '90s for a Fricative Society mystery tour. We took a short tap dance lesson there.)

The camp milonga started at 10:30ish and nominally ended at 5am, and 6am on the last Sunday. I never managed to stay the entire time. A big problem was that I didn't stay at the camp hotel. I signed up too late and instead stayed at Ulrika's place a bit over 2km away. I know her from salsa dancing and was at her place for last New Year's Eve. It was a 15-20 minute bike ride away. I would do it twice per day (to change for the evening) so over an hour spent bike riding.

The first night's milonga was full of strangers. I knew a couple of the people from Göteborg and Laura, an American living in Reykjavik whom I met when I was there for the Need for Speed spring.

The second night had a "Zorro meets the Arabian Nights" theme. I dressed as Zorro along with most of the other men and a few of the women. Had I know before leaving the US I might have figured a way to bring one of my foils with me. As it was I wore my fancy black slacks with the baggy legs; meant for swing dancing, my black silk shirt and black belt. I went to a fabric store and bought black cloth for a head cloth (didn't have a hat; didn't know where to get one; didn't have a place to store it) and a red band for a belt. Bought them in Swedish because the couple running the store only spoke Swedish and
Persian, being from Iran.

Note for the future. The resulting costume looked like a pirate. It's the red band. I took it off. Laura pointed out that I was missing a mask. I had brought scissors and the extra black cloth with me. I tried a couple times and finally got a decent looking mask which could fit over my glasses.

Most of the women dressed up as Arabian princesses.

During that night I got stepped on. Badly. By a princess. Imagine the full weight of an adult woman concentrated on the tip of a heel going into the 4th of your left foot. It was like that, only in my right foot instead. Ouch! I've stepped on enough people myself to know how bad it feels as the stepper, and as the woman walking backwards she needs to trust that the man leading her is doing the right thing. It's both her fault and not her fault. I've been stepped on before, but this was by far the worse.

I kept on dancing, knowing that the pain wouldn't really set in until the next day. When I finally saw the toe it was a nice blue color and hurt to touch. For the rest of my time there I had to wear my practice shoes (a soft jazz shoe) instead of my Latin heels, but I was able to dance.

It's been over two weeks and that toe still hurts. I figure it must have been broken. For the first week I had to treat it gingerly and even now if I curl my toes I get a bit of pain, though lessening over time. I haven't tried running since then. I remember from Jen Hilley in college, who broke her toes several times growing up, that there isn't much to do with the small toes.

Friday night was by far my favorite night, and one of my favorite tango nights ever. The band Bajafondo, out of Buenas Aires, played. They do alternative tango which adds electronic music, diverse percussion, etc. to a traditional tango beat. I enjoy it much more than more traditional music. There was one night in New Mexico where the arrangement was only old tango music and I found the night to be quite boring. On the other hand, a man in Reykjavik said he prefers the older music. Different strokes and all.

I like alternative tango music because it's more dramatic and has more complicated rhythms. I can go at half or double time, or sometimes syncopated. (Usually when I need to get back on the beat.) The music can vary from quiet and timid to boisterous and wild in the same song. I enjoy interpreting those changes. This includes going against it, like
being 1/2 or 1/4 time to wild, angry passionate passages, or fast when the music is quiet and still. I have thanked my Mom for all those piano lessons when growing up. They've helped me understand the beat and interpreting music. There may be some talent too, but there's a lot of practice.

I've only danced to a live tango band once before, in Cape Town. That was traditional, with three or four players and a singer. This one included keyboards and a woman on computer for the background tracks. They also had a lighting setup, with strobes and everything. It was even more fun to have darkness flash white, see where people are, and dance to the music as everything disappeared. Even after the band finished I was on a high. After the teachers did a demonstration we danced again. I didn't head home until after 4am.

I walked part of the way back with Åsa, from Norway. I figure about 1/3rd of the camp was from there. Oslo is only about 6 hours away from there by train. ("There" is Tylösand, on the outskirts of Halmstad, less than 2 hours south of Göteborg, on the sea. The hotel was just off the beach.) I biked back to Ulrika's place and woke up her son, perhaps, or he had just gotten back himself. This was midsummer weekend and everyone was out partying until the not-so-wee hours.

The last night was not so good. By then I was emotionally rather burned out. It's draining to interpert the music after 4 hours per day of lessons, 3-5 hours of milonga, the biking, and the overall lack of sleep. The music on the last night was all traditional so there was little to inspire me that way. The first two nights the DJ mixed styles but perhaps because of Friday night's alt tango concert there was none. I felt like I was getting bumped by people, or bumping into people, and was stepped on (lightly - like normal) and I decided it was just time to stop. I left early.

For the next few days I didn't even want to listen to tango music, I was that burned out. I'm better now, but then again I haven't done much dancing since then. Neither tango nor salsa. I did some for AstraZeneca all the week after, then went to Geneva for the Europython conference the next week. I write this in the train at 1am early Sunday on the way back to Sweden. I'm taking the night train, in a couchette.