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July 28, 2009


Originally uploaded by micmac71

Very tender....

Posted by joegrohens at 01:21 PM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2009

Merce Cunningham 1909-2009

John Cage & Merce Cunningham

Kuru sent me what he said was his favorite Merce quotation:

"You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive. It is not for unsteady souls."
- Merce Cunningham

Thinking back, for myself, the strongest influence of Merce Cunningham on me was actually something that one of my teachers said about him. In those days (70s) my girl friends in modern dance though Merce was "the man", some hunky combination of native talent and rebellious imagination. And I believed that his collaborator John Cage's "Silence" was the trump card of 20th c. music -- if you were clever enough you got out of playing any music at all.

Then my teacher, who had his studio around the corner from Cunningham and Cage in NYC, pulled me up short. "Everybody thinks it's just raw talent or a new idea that makes people like that famous. It's not that. It's their work. Those guys have their noses to the grindstone from early morning to late at night seven days a week. They are workers. That is what they are about."

That was when I came to understand that artistic productivity is work. Steady, disciplined labor. And that you can be proud to call it your job.

  • Merce Cunningham - Telegraph

  • Merce Cunningham News - The New York Times

    Posted by joegrohens at 06:47 PM | Comments (0)

    July 21, 2009

    Leaning how to learn

    Sometimes the most difficult part of learning tango is learning HOW to learn tango.

    How many of us know how to learn something new in our bodies? It's hard. Infants do it constantly. The effort is enormous. We don't put in that kind of effort. We have habit. We think learning should be adding some information to the schema we already know.

    Epictetus said:

    "If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid."

    Posted by joegrohens at 12:53 AM | Comments (0)

    July 16, 2009

    What do Americans Look for in Tango? (from Nito & Elba interview)

    .: El Tangauta :. July 2009 No. 177 has a wonderful interview with Nito and Elba.

    I became transfixed when I read the interviewer's question "What do Americans look for in tango?", and then Nito's reply.

    CARLOS BEVILACQUA (Interviewer): Later you worked a lot in the United States, what do the Americans look for in tango?

    NITO:The embrace, the relationship and the friendship. I think that the American has a very solitary life, product of that extreme respect with which they treat each other. They barely greet their neighbors, they would never say to you "You are really fat!" or "how skinny you are!” At best they ask you what you do for a living. With tango the community appears, friends, relationships, conversations.

    ELBA:I am completely in agreement.

    N:The curious thing is that in spite of the fact that they first fall in love with stage tango, once they begin to practice social tango they forget completely about ganchos and kicks. Now, when they come to Buenos Aires, they go to a dinner-show but afterwards they go straight to a milonga.

    It is interesting to see how Nito perceives the Norte Americano personality and how it relates to tango dancing. I can't argue with him about the initial fascination with stage dancing transforming to social tango. Except, sometimes that transition to social tango takes a long time.... like I sometimes wonder when it will ever happen. Ha ha. :-)

    But I think he is definitely on the money when he talks about the real value (for Americans and for anyone) of the tango as "embrace, relationship, friendship."

    Nito Garcia is a gifted dancer, a kind and sympathetic person, and I think, a very observant and serious teacher. (Elba too, of course.) I think anything he says should be listened to thoughtfully.

    That is why, as I read the current interview, I was thinking about Nito's comments in another interview back in 1998 at Stanford Tango Week, which was published in El Firulete Unabashed Tango talk

    Listen to this, American tango dancers:

    To wrap it up, why don't each of you give the American men some advice to become better dancers?

    Listen to a lot of Tango. Lots of Tango. I don't even like to practice without music. These are habits, of course. You have to listen and listen. Us, we travel a lot; it happens that I arrive at an airport. They come to pick me up. We get in the car and the man who immediately plays Tangos always dances well. The times when somebody picked me up and played salsa or some other kind of music, by coincidence they never danced well. I don't know why, but in my case I would like them to listen to a lot of Tango.

    Posted by joegrohens at 03:54 PM | Comments (0)

    Adventures of Sorin & Debbie in Bs As

    For regular readers of tango blogs this is probably not news. But if you haven't been following Sorin's and his girlfriend Debbi's blogs lately, check them out.

    They are both in Bs As this summer and are doing some excellent reporting of the milonga scene, tango class scene, and the shoe scene (see Debbie).

    One strange and very interesting thing is that they have each gravitated towards different tango subcultures. Debbie has decided to go to the traditional milongas where she loves dancing with the old milongueros. Sorin has decided to go to the youth practicas (e.g., Practica X, Villa Malcolm).

    "You say open, I say close; you say alternative, I say trad; tomato, tomato, etc." But they aren't calling the whole thing off. They are taking classes together at DNI, which they find useful for whatever style of dancing they are doing.

    Debbi writes about why she prefers dancing with the old men:

    The old men are great. Not because of what they do or don't do, per se, but more because of who they are. They are tango. Not only do they know every note of every layer of every song, and seamlessly move from layer to layer when dancing, but most of them (perhaps all) saw the maestros when they were young.
    This is why their tango is so amazing. You are not just dancing with a man. You are dancing with history, with culture and with decades of understanding. These men know that tango is more than learning how to wrap your partner's leg around you every which way until Tuesday, they know that it is about connections.

    Sorin writes about trying to break into the non-traditional milongas and practicas:

    The hardest part in some of the BsAs milongas where the people I’d like to dance with go, (the non-traditional milongas) is the “private party” feeling of the event, when one feels it’s not part of the party. [ ... ] People here in BsAs tend come with a group and sit together, all closed up. What I mean is they face each other, chat when they don’t dance and you can’t make eye contact with them to save your life.
    [ ... ]
    I’m sure someone will ask, or at least wonder, why don’t go to the traditional ones? Maybe the traditional milongas are great in season, but at the ones I have gone to, there were very few people I was interested in dancing with. So, my advice to anyone coming here in the winter is, learn Spanish and make friends. Get thick skinned. As fast as you can.

    These blogs are excellent reading to get a feeling for how two people can look at the same milonga, and the same dance, quite differently. Plus Sorin has talked about the impact of the Swine Flu concerns on milonga attendance.

    Great tango writing, both of you!! Keep it up!

    :: UPDATE ::

    Oh, I forgot to mention this extremely interesting observation from Sorin.

    Sorin says "If I would have state the biggest difference I felt between women who are trained to dance in BsAs vs some other places, is the way they move their hips when dancing. Portenas and foreigners living here they all roll their hips as they walk, which makes for a much more flavorful dance and removes a lot of the stiffness people trained other places have."

    My friend Beatriz calls this hip movement "the swing." I agree that somehow the hip movement is more mobile in the women dancers of Buenos Aires. I think it comes from teachers stressing axis, and cautioning women not to break their hips as in salsa, and hypercorrection brings about a lack of hip movement. But, who knows where the swing and the non-swing come from. Many body movements are learned unconsciously just from being around people, like a regional accent in a language.

    Posted by joegrohens at 01:05 PM | Comments (0)

    Gancho Torsion

    tango d'epoca
    Originally uploaded by micmac71

    Once again I am captivated by a photograph of the talented Italian photographer MicMac71. This photo captures a very fast moment in the dance, and the figure of the couple is beautiful.

    I am intrigued by the technique of the dancers. In particular, I notice that the woman's shoulders are more-or-less level, while her pelvis appears to have a contrapposto slope (the right hip, from which her leg does the hook, is released down; her right shoulder is angled slightly up). Her torso is upright, and she appears to be in perfect balance on her forward leg. Despite the vigorous action of the movement she is doing, her body is poised and her face is calm, almost indifferent.

    I see that her weight-bearing leg is bent, and although she is the dominant figure, her head is lower than her partner's.

    Her spiralic posture is completed by her eyes looking towards her own foot.

    The man appears to have ample flexion in both knees, particularly the forward one on which he is lunging. His next move will be to shift his weight back, as she unwinds to face him, undoubtedly the reverse of how they got into this gancho in the first place.

    This photograph is as absorbing as a sculpture. Amazing.

    Wonderful photograph. Wonderful dance technique.

    Posted by joegrohens at 12:28 PM | Comments (0)

    July 12, 2009

    Tango: Let's dance to the music

    Joaquin Amenabar website

    This book is A method of tango music for dancers without musical education.

    Posted by joegrohens at 01:55 PM

    July 09, 2009

    Horacio Godoy

    foto horacio ceci garcia 1.JPG

    Horacio Godoy and Cecilia Garcia


    (Please feel free to leave comments below.)

    I'm just back from Chicago Tango Week July 2009, where I was rather impressed by the DJing of Horacio Godoy during the Saturday night milonga.

    I have a few observations about him, although I am not 100% sure how reliable my impressions are, since I was dancing, and not really watching what he was doing, or sitting and taking notes. In retrospect I wish I had studied him more attentively.

    • During quite a few songs I felt that he was playing with the volume -- for example, bringing it down very low during the quiet parts and really swelling it near the climax. I remember specifically when he did this during a (later period) Pugliese song where he multiplied the effect of the dynamic changes (diminuendo/crescendo) already in the music.

    • He appears not to have too many qualms about mixing orchestras in a tanda. I would swear he did this mixed tanda thing several times, not only in milongas and vals tandas, but also, I am pretty sure, in tango tandas. Here I suppose I might have lost track of time and tandas and could be imagining things.

    • He sat at his station steadily from the beginning to the end, tweaking the sound on each and every song (and as I already mentioned, manipulating the sound during the course of a song), and constantly watching the dancers. If a dancer liked something he or she could always catch his eye and he would respond. He was involved, and he paid attention. I contrast this with other DJs who let their laptops play their pre-made playlists and go outside to take long cigarette breaks, or who are on the floor dancing most of the time. As far as I could tell this guy never left his post from 9pm - 5 am.

    • His selection was pretty traditional, yet it was constantly spiced with unexpected wrinkles -- a straight-ahead D'Arienzo tanda, e.g., but with one song added that I had never heard before. Or throwing a Firpo song into someone else's tanda. That made things interesting. The music supported traditional dancing, but it also had surprises.

    The previous night (Friday), Horacio Godoy was part of a floor-show. He danced two exhibition numbers with his partner. During his first dance he kept trying to get the sound people to increase the volume (gesturing with his arms from the floor). Before his second dance he apparently made them reset the sound system before he would continue. There was a long delay in the performance, lots of talking, and people moving back and forth. Then I saw people moving speakers and stands around to different places on the floor. I don't really know what happened or what was said, but I inferred that he had an expectation for what the music should sound like, and he wouldn't continue until it was right.

    I believe that this same fussiness about sound quality was evident in his DJing.

    I contrast this with DJs who seem content to play an entire milonga with the music sounding like it is underwater and fuzzy and congratulating themselves on what great music selections they make even if the sound quality isn't that great. Or DJs who take long cigarette breaks outside, where they can't even hear the dance, while their laptop does the DJing for them on autopilot, or DJs who spend most of their time on the dance floor.

    It has made me realize that I could do better than I often do.


    I also posted this report on a DJ forum, and got some comments from people who also attended the Chicago Tango week.

    • Several people wrote to say that Horacio plays the music way too loud, in their view.
    • Paul from Minnesota (and others who weren't there) said that Horacio probably SHOULD have left the controls and got on the dance floor to see what it sounded like to the dancers. The two PA speakers were in the same line with the DJ controls on one side of a long room, and so he was only hearing reflected sound. Which might be one reason it was too loud. (I myself didn't mind the loudness level, but it was definitely loud.)
    • Horacio sometimes added extra songs to a tanda (apparently if the dancers were getting into it, he would extend the set). This was a problem in that the milonga had significantly more women than men, and longer tandas reduced the change of partners.
    • I found out that the attendance at this Chicago Tango Week (July 2009) was more than 500 dancers, by the way. A new record for Chicago Tango Week festival.
    • Someone who took a workshop with Horacio Godoy told me that Horacio discussed in class the making of tandas from different orchestras but selecting songs from the same year of recording. My friend said that Horacio felt that the year of recording produced more compatibility sometimes than choosing songs by the same orchestra from different years, because of trends in the musical style. For example, the D'Arienzo influenced speed and rhythmic drive of the late 30s and early 40s was imitated by other orchestras, and after '42 they all slowed down, including D'Arienzo.
    • Others wrote to say that they would not call Horacio's sound selection "traditional," because he plays a lot of post-golden era tango.

    • Update. My friend Beatriz emailed me this comment:

      Joe, I read your piece with great interest. The last time I watched Horacio Godoy DJ was at the outdoor milonga on Avenida de Mayo in late December 2008. Until I read your comments, I had taken for granted how DJs work in Buenos Aires. On the occasion of the end of the year celebration, Godoy stood on a platform two feet higher than the street level, I remember climbing and walking towards him to ask him something. He was as attentive to the dance floor (the "street floor") as you describe him. He had a raised platform for the visual advantage, he could not have seen the dancers had he been standing at street level. His sound system was, if my memory is correct, about six feet long.
      Your piece made me think about other milongas. The DJ is typically somewhere above ground level to sense what happens on the floor and regulate his selections. Typically their sound systems are impressive. I have not yet seen computer music playing in Buenos Aires; even regular outdoor milongas (La Glorieta, Plaza Dorrego) use sound systems of some type.

      You describe a man (Godoy) who is a connector. DJs, like dancers, can be connected or disconnected from their partners. A DJ's "partner" is the group.

      - Beatriz

    Posted by joegrohens at 01:57 PM | Comments (0)

    July 01, 2009

    D'Arienzo Orchestra Resources

    This Juan D'Arienzo Discography by Johan in Belgium is one of my favorite reading pastimes.

    I like to see how the personnel changes, to follow the singers, and to find out who wrote the songs I love so much. Thinking of tonight's milonga, I wanted to build a tanda around "Nada Mas" sung by Echagüe. The discography helped me to rationalize the following set. Admittedly, Pensalo Bien is a little bit different than the others, but I think it will work if put in first place.

    • Pensalo Bien
    • Nada Mas
    • La Bruja
    • Mandria

    D'Arienzo himself wrote some pretty killer tunes, usually with L. Rubenstein. The following, for example, were all written by JD himself.

    • Callejas Solo
    • Chirusa
    • Paciencia
    • Nada Más
    • Dos Guitas
    • El Vino Triste

    Another fantastic document for orchestra history (not just D'Arienzo) is this Tango Orchestra Genealogy (Excel file), showing a view of orchestra personnel on a timeline. You can track band personnel in this very easily. Did you know that Ciriaco Ortiz was in D'Arienzo's first group 1928-1929, and that D'Arienzo himself played violin in it?

    Check out the history of pianists in Oquesta D'Arienzo:

    • Luis Visca 1928-1929
    • Lido Faso 1935
    • Rodolfo Biagi 1936-1938 (and we sometimes think the D'Arienzo sound owed so much to Biagi's piano - Biagi struck out on his own after 1.5 years; I guess his successors forever imitated Biagi to some degree)
    • Juan Polito 1938-1940
    • Fulvio Salamanca 1940 -1957
    • Juan Polito 1957 - 1975

    More discographies are available here: TangoDJ : Files

    And Tobias Conradi's tango.info project also provides great illumination on the recording history of D'Arienzo (and other tango artists, of course).

    Posted by joegrohens at 11:32 AM | Comments (0)