Sunday, 30 November 2008

Lion with Hyperbolic Mane

FlyingHere at last is the Proper Present. He's a rather piebald lion, in three colours because I ran out of the intended colour and couldn't get any more.

I learned Judy's Magic Cast-on for Toe-Up Socks, and it worked brilliantly. Making the legs upwards is quicker and much less annoying, and the cast on didn't have sticky-out ears, like my grafted toes usually do.

Materials: two balls of any brand of superwash double-knitting, and one of eyelash yarn. 3.5mm needles for knitting circularly, either magic loop, or double-pointed if you prefer. Optionally, 2.5mm needles for making properly flat ends.

Step 1: cast on 60 and work circularly. Knit 4 rows, purl 2 rows, then keep on knitting to make a tube, embellished with a cable for his spine. I did two six-by-six cables twisting in towards each other.Rear view

Step 2: close the end like making the top of a hat. Using the last bit of Techknitter's truly flat hat top, with the very neat change-of-gauge trick, is not a bad idea, although I didn't execute it properly in this one. I've also had superior results with her method of grafting.

Step 3: Make four legs as follows: Cast on 6 on each needle using Judy's Magic Cast-On. Increase as for a sock toe till you have 12 stitches each side then continue for 24 rows. Either cast off, or leave the stitches on a holder with a long enough tail for sewing them on to the body later.

Step 4: Make the hyperbolic mane as follows, in a different colour if you like.

Hyperbolic ManeHyperbolic Mane
With the body towards you, crochet a round of dc (American - sc) into the purl bumps from step 2. I put the hook through both rows at once to make it stronger - it has to take quite a bit of strain. Join the last to the first with a slip stitch. Then continue spirally, but increase by one in every third stitch. That is, work 1 dc into first dc, 1 dc into 2nd dc, 2dc into third dc. Continue until the mane is big enough. This creates a hyperbolic plane where N=3, as explained here, and takes longer than you think. Finish with a row of horrifying eyelash yarn, but don't increase on that row, it's not worth it.

Step 5: Pick up the stitches at the original cast on in step 1 - in a different colour if you want it to look like mine. Stuff the body, not too tightly. Decrease as for a hat top, adding extra stuffing for the face as you go, till you have 12 stitches, then graft them together, again as for a hat top.

FaceStep 6: Stuff and sew on the legs. I use fake grafting - just get a tapestry needle and follow the path of the wool so that they seem to grow out of the body.

Step 7: Make a tail by crocheting a small tube then increasing near the end in the same manner as for the mane, and finish off with a row of eyelash yarn in the same way. Sew it on.

Step 8: Embroider a face.

The eyelash yarn I got from a friend. We each had something ghastly we'd bought by mistake and couldn't make anything out of at all. We swapped, in case the other's Muse could do better. I think it found its fate.

Saturday, 29 November 2008


Tangocommuter, who posts in the comments here sometimes though not under that name, has gone to Buenos Aires. He's taking some classes with Oscar Casas, among others, and he says they're great. You can read about his adventures here.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Hoisted from Comments 2

Gamecat said:

“Personally I love giros as I think they are a perfect microcosm of tango. It's like holding a miniature globe in your hand and knowing that it's real.”

That's just so gorgeous and poetic that I had to put it up.

It's worth reading all the comments on that post. As often happens, they're far more interesting than the post itself, which is a routine whinge about common problems with classes. First there's some stuff which clarifies what I was talking about, then Gamecat and Ghost work up a beautiful model of tango speciation, starting with the natural selection process described by Christine Denniston in her talk, but under quite different conditions. Then there's some thoughtful and practical stuff about leading and following turns, and how people do it, and why.

Miniature Pocket Hat - in Action

Remarks about the pattern, which is an adaptation of Techknitting's brilliant Pocket Hat, are here.

I think I made it too long and not wide enough. He's too big for it already now, but it lasted a few weeks, and his Proper Present is now ready for delivery (post in the works).

I should make a collage of all these babies.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Hoisted from Comments

In response to my post about the classes next month with Ezequiel and Geraldin Paludi, Sophie (on behalf of Tango in Action), said:

Henceforth couples rotation will be enforced in the workshops, although those who have come to work specifically with their partner will be invited to mention it at the beginning so they can be left alone.

So if you were thinking about booking, now you know. Many thanks to Sophie for taking the trouble.

[Edit 1st Jan 09: it didn't happen, though, or at least not always. I took one of the all-levels couple classes, and there was no rotation, and no attempt to rotate. No one piped up and asked to rotate, either. Luckily for me, I'd booked with a suitable partner.]

Monday, 24 November 2008

Strictly Pro Milonga

Ok, I was going to start writing something completely different, but this takes precedence because the vid will probably get pulled after about five minutes.

It's pure, pure flash, but it's huge fun, they both look delighted to be there, and notice the crowd just can't help clapping along. That's how you can tell this kind of thing is working.

I haven't actually watched it much recently, because I'm out on Saturday nights, but I am Strictly Pro this show. Actual social dancers will of course feel embarrassed by a lot of it, but it is top-class entertainment and it makes people want to dance. If we feel embarrassed we can always hide behind the sofa.

I also like that they used real milonga music, specifically a milonga that makes it almost impossible to sit still, and didn't just do milonga to some inane pop song. And didn't the band do a good job? Another thing I like about this show is that they use real live musicians, all the time.

I hear they take lessons with Leandro and Romina. ;)

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Another dance of love

Here's a completely beautiful "dance of love" Tango.

The man is Julian Elizari, who teaches at the Dome. The woman I only know as Audrey, she's a regular on the London social scene. She has a stupendous grace and elegance of movement, but the thing I'm really studying in this video is her beautiful, gentle, soft, fluid, connected, lively embrace. I want to be able to do it like that one day.

Hat tip Psyche.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Financial and Economics Blogs

Finance and economics are notable as subjects on which people who really know what they are talking about write some really good blogs. Because all that information just wants to get out of their heads and into yours.

For the friend who requested them, here are some links:

Tanta on Alt-A and why it never made any sense.
Tanta's UberNerd series on mortgage lending for people who really want the details.
Also, Tanta is really witty.
FT Alphaville has absolutely everything down the right hand side and is funnier than the newspaper.
What shall it profit a man to have money in his wallet, but not in the core of his being?
Brad Delong mostly teaches Economics at the University of California at Berkeley. He sometimes does videos, and podcasts of his lectures. And sometimes he just loses his mind.

The same thing seems to happen with knitting.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Geraldine in London, and the single booking

If you were searching for "Geraldine Rojas in London December", like quite a few people are right now, the site you need is tango in action, and you'll see the link to the booking page on the right. Booking is cheaper, and the requirements are more flexible, than last time.

I'm interested in the women's technique class, and I'd expect it to sell out quickly. It also occurs to me that this might possibly be a last-chance-to-see, before the new immigration rules really kick in and make it much more difficult to book visiting teachers who don't have European passports, no matter how eminent. I imagine that Mr and Mrs Paludi don't. So anyway, if you want to take that one, it probably makes sense to get a move on.

I'm also interested in "Variations on Walking Patterns - Different patterns based on walk (inside, outside, parallel walk, crossed walk) (ALL LEVELS)", and in "Fundamental Concepts for Turns (Giros) - various combinations of giros on the left and on the right (INTERMEDIATE)". I want to know what Ezequiel and Geraldine think it's important to say about these subjects, and perhaps you, dear reader, would like to know too. And I'm interested in the Milonga class, for the same reason. The "Fantasia" and advanced classes, not so much.

But for any of those, I would need to arrange the right partner. I would book alone if I could assume that the class would rotate. If it rotates, a follower can at least find out if she has any problems with the material that she needs to fix, and look for advice on how to fix them. If it doesn't rotate, it's very difficult to distinguish her problems from the leader's. If it rotates, the leaders' problems will vary, which is fine; if it doesn't, she might get stuck with someone whose particular quirks or difficulties totally prevent her working on the content of the class at all, or put her on the wrong track. The same problems apply from the leader's point of view, if not so acutely.

But these kinds of classes don't always rotate, and they're even less likely to if most people book in pairs. People get risk-averse, and avoid rotation. To be on the safe side, then, it'd be wise to take someone I can dance a whole class with, without creating new problems for either of us. Ideally, not the same person each time, because then I'm just learning to dance with him, and he is just learning to dance with me, which is no better.

It's a puzzle. Even for the single lady who's lucky enough to have options, it's a puzzle to deal with it.

Or, I suppose, two or three couples taking the same classes might arrange to rotate between themselves even if it's not enforced. I wonder how that would work?

[Update 20th Dec 08: see here for my report on the women's technique class. I also took one of the couple classes, in which there was no rotation and no attempt to rotate.]

Friday, 14 November 2008

A Coincidence

I've just made a beautifully bizarre accidental discovery.

I happened upon this site. I was actually looking for a different site, the Worst Covers of 2004, which I eventually found, and it's still hilarious. Read it if you've ever read a cheap romantic novel, and you would like to laugh quite hard for several minutes.

But anyway. Here is a small screenshot of "Romance Book Covers", after the Flash animations stop whirling.

Romance Book Covers

Here, on the other hand, is a small screenshot of "Tango in Action", after the identical Flash animations stop whirling.

Tango in Action

Poetic, no?

This is in no way odd or inexplicable; it's certainly a template, pre-designed and supplied with options to anyone who needs a website but doesn't have the relevant skills in-house. Lots of small businesses use them. They do the job they do, moderately well, and they're very reasonably priced. I wouldn't use one; but I have the skills myself.

Although now I consider the matter, I think if I were a tango small business, or any other small business, what I might do in practice is just use Blogger, together with Google's mildly-useful Calendar tool, a YouTube account, a domain name, maybe some hacking around with the stylesheet, and a little extra ingenuity in the sidebar. I could build myself something clever in PHP, but it wouldn't be a good use of time. What would be a good use of time, and money, would be getting some good photos done (as Stefano and Alexandra have in this example) and dreaming up some interesting content.

One advantage of Blogger is that it manages everything chronologically, solving the problem of cobwebs in a way that's transparent to the visitor, so you don't have to go back and update things all the time, and you don't have to lose anything either. Another would be that it's very straightforward to share the job of adding content between several people, none of them needing more than minimal skills.

Feeling much better

Aspirin, a very hot bath, pints of tea, a whisky-mac that a spoon would stand up in (mixed by my Dad - thank you), the run of my parents' library, and spending three days more or less horizontal, either sleeping or distracting my mind from all difficult subjects, have pretty much perked me up again. I'm not sure I'll actually go for a dance tomorrow, that might be a bad idea, but we'll see.

My holiday was indeed completely wasted, but that happens in winter. I should have taken the days last Spring.

Thank you all of my commenters for your good wishes, it is sweet of you and I appreciate it.

Reading bits and bobs of books I've read before is just the best thing for keeping the mind quiet. Desolation Island - my word, that man was good. Georgette Heyer was also great at what she did, and nobody else would have bothered to construct something like These Old Shades, or The Grand Sophy, or the brilliantly ridiculous Beauvallet. I wonder if either of those last two is even in print now. My mother's paperbacks have pre-decimal prices, and I think one has her maiden name written inside. Even Ellis Peters, who wasn't nearly as good, though inventive, makes a real contribution to healing. Her familiar paperbacks were new when I first read them, about twenty years ago. I've brought one back to my flat, to doze off with; my library is a fluid, amoebic daughter of the family one.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Feeling sorry for myself

I don't know what this is - it doesn't really feel like a cold - but I wish it would go away. My head hurts. Yesterday I felt pretty sick but I went into work anyway for an important technical meeting. It was cancelled, so I answered a few emails, gave people things they needed, came back and went to bed. Today I just stayed at home and tried not to cry. Tomorrow I am officially on holiday, but that'll probably be completely wasted.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Zigzag beret

zigzag beret
Originally uploaded by mshedgehog

I still had some aran-weight angora left over, so I've made a beret to go with the Pair of Sleeves.

I was working on 5mm needles. The hat starts at the bottom edge, and I repeated the pattern six times around. You could work with any yarn and needles, and cast on any multiple of six that gives you a good fit around the intended wearer's head. Divide your number by six, and the answer is the number of stitches between the yarn-overs on the first pattern row. The rest of the yarn-overs just arrange themselves on top, and you would continue till you were down to 18 stitches; you might get an extra zigzag and the middle would look different. Or, I suppose you could add or subtract a pattern repeat, and you would get a heptagonal or pentagonal beret.

It's a little bit big for the Intended Wearer - no-one could accuse her of bigheadedness.


Cast on 72 using Techknitting's 'provisional tail' 1x1 tubular cast-on.

Join into a round. The cast-on leaves a little gap, which you can sew up at the end. Do 1x1 ribbing for three rows.

Place a marker at the beginning of the round. Otherwise it's very easy to find yourself mixing even and odd rows. You will have to move the marker eventually, because it will get into the middle of a decrease. Just make sure it's always between the same two YO-decrease sets - after the last and before the first. Move it just enough to get it out of the way, no more.

Row 1 and all odd rows: k.
Row 2: k12, (YO, k12) 5 times, k6, repeat to end of round (first row of chart).
Continue from chart, because it's the best way I have of explaining it. Keep the YOs in the right places in relation to each other and decrease before or after them as shown. I tried counting all the stitches in between but it just makes a simple procedure seem complicated, and I'd certainly make mistakes.

When you are down to 24 stitches, change down a needle size to make the top of the hat nice and flat (this tip is also from Techknitting). After 2 more rounds there are 18 stitches. When you get down to 18, knit one more row, then arrange them as 9 on each needle and graft them together. Sew up the little gap in the cast-on, and block to shape.

Essentially, we increase to 102 stitches by adding yarn-overs. Then we keep adding the YOs, but for each YO we do a double decrease immediately before or after it, so the net effect is to decrease by one. We arrange the YOs and their decreases in zigzags so that we make a flat hexagon, then close the top.

Chart for zigzag beret

Monday, 10 November 2008

Cover Art

I've discovered the joy of no-label cover art.

CDBaby distributes CDs one at a time, to order, from the artist to the listener. They seem to be muddling along well enough to provide some evidence that it might be possible to scrape a living in the 'long tail'. The automatic emails are disturbingly wierd, but they delivered the CD, and that's what matters.

I've bought a CD of Joe Powers (harmonica), who played at a festival this summer.

On the front, Joe - who I remember looking like a perfectly normal, perhaps mid-twenties Germanic American in a suit - is represented posing in enough soft focus for a boudoir portrait of a seventy-five-year-old tart, and holding his instrument erect as firearms are held by James Bond. In the background is a woman, wearing not-a-right-lot of red dress, and looking the other way.

Inside, a folded leaflet shows Joe sitting alone in some dark-wood café with a nice cup of tea. In a photo-story lacking only captions, which I suppose the buyer is invited to provide, Red Dress Woman wanders truculently in. She siezes the politely-rising Joe, and wraps herself around him in various poses. Unable to rip his shirt off with her fingers, she tries a stiletto, the sharpest thing to hand, in a process of lateral thinking familiar to all who've tried to get the packaging off a memory card. I might have started that line of attack by removing the stiletto from my foot, first, or at least not approached the buttons from behind; but there you are. She fails, and they're both still more-or-less dressed on the back.

It reminds me of the dream sequence in The Two Towers when Aragorn falls of a cliff, receives a psychic message from his sexpot fairy princess in a blue nightie, wakes up being snogged by his horse, and spends the next scene riding through the hills to the sound of Howard Shore doing Ennio Morricone. Maybe that was what they had in mind.

As for the music, I like the milongas best, but don't listen to me. You can hear samples here and here.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Carablanca @ Conway Hall

My review for this new milonga was from its first night, so I thought I'd better update it. Actually it's an old milonga reincarnated, with a new venue and a new name, but under the same management of Danny, Diana and friends. My previous review, with recent reader comments, is here. It's on most Friday nights from 20:30 till midnight, but until January they still won't have the venue for all the Fridays, so check the website, and tango-uk for announcements. [UPDATE 13-Jan-09: they now have a continuous booking, so it's every Friday and you probably only need to check around the holiday season.]

The Class: I skipped the class. Danny and Diana teach a beginners' class in another room, while the intermediate class is always given by guests. This week it was Kicca Tommasi and Julio Mendez, who usually teach at the Dome. I've taken a class with them once before, and it included some valuable technique stuff for both leaders and followers, especially on close embrace.

Layout and Atmosphere:Conway Hall from the front The building is the large, handsome meeting hall of the South Place Ethical Society, and has its own website. Assuming you come in before 10pm, so by the front door, you come into roomy tiled foyer with benches along the walls. You can sit out here to cool off and have little breakout chats. The main room for dancing is large and square, with a proper stage, not used by the milonga, at the far end, a square glass skylight, and a suspended gallery with a square clock above the entrance. It has a geometric, dark-wood feel which makes me think of British neoclassicism and Arts-and-Crafts both at the same time. It's just what you'd imagine for an Ethical Society. I think that the floor being more or less square instead of rectangular makes it slightly harder to develop a clear line of dance, especially given that this is London and a lot of people don't know they're supposed to, or don't care. But that might be just my imagination. It's roomy, and I had hardly any bumps. The air conditioning was on, it was cold outside, and one of my partners still had a freezing cold nose at 11pm. "I'm a mediterranean person!" he said.

The floor has been cleaned since this milonga started, and is much better. The brass circles are less slippery, and the lighter colour lifts the room.

The lighting seems to be built with lighting the stage in mind, rather than the room as a whole, and they're still working on how to adjust it. At the moment the average quantity is about right, but there's a dark patch and a light patch. They'll get it sorted out, but it will probably take a while.

Hospitality: Very good. There are rails to hang your coat on, on the far side of the room - not quite enough, but some. I tucked my handbag underneath a bench. The tables, with their bright red tablecloths, have expanded a little on each side and you can sit down whenever you need to, or go into the foyer to cool off. Plentiful free water is in jugs on a table; pens are provided to write your name on your plastic cup so you don't have to keep getting new ones. Drinks are available from a makeshift bar; my G&T with ice and slice of citrus was £3. The loos are well-lit, properly supplied, and quite roomy, they stayed clean and dry all evening, and it is quite feasible to change your clothes and shoes in there.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: Kicca and Julio gave a performance. They have great chemistry, and I liked their choreography with the music. They dolled themselves up, delivered two tangos and a milonga which were all significantly different from each other, gracefully accepted their applause, then cleared off to put proper clothes back on and gave the floor back to the social dancers.

What I thought of the DJing: DJs here vary, but almost always play traditional music in tandas, with cortinas. This week it was Nikki Preddy, who did a decent job. The sound system here is better than most, and so far I think I've always heard the music properly from all parts of the room, often not the case elsewhere. [Update Summer 2011 - I think that was probably true when I wrote it, but it's deteriorated markedly and now it usually often sounds muffled to me. I can't be absolutely sure how much of this is due to DJs, and how much is due to wear and tear on connectors, speakers, etc, but it's become a fairly consistent intermittent problem. Nowadays the large speakers above the stage are not normally used, for some technical or logistical reason. Instead there are smaller ones on stage. Muffled sound at high volume tends to make people talk louder, and it spirals down. On the other hand, they now quite often hire professional guest DJs, and are going in that direction. Further update after a bit more research: The sound quality was good when they had La Rubia, and when they had Bernhard Gehberger, and also it was good when Beto did it a couple of weeks ago, so I'm assuming it's mainly the DJs. Danny, who runs it tells me they're working on some future guidelines for DJs]

Getting in: normally £8.50, £10 if there is a performance. Cheaper if you just want to take the class.

Conway Hall as you approach itGetting there and getting home: From Holborn tube, take the right hand exit. Don't cross at the crossing in front of you, but instead walk right, to the next one, and cross over to the corner where the yellow sign says "Gym Box" and the office block makes a bridge across the road. Walk under the bridge and you will soon pass the Square Pig (which has a milonga on Mondays). The trees now in front of you are in Red Lion Square. The front door of Conway Hall is in the furthest corner, so walk round two sides of the square to reach it. If you arrive after 10pm, you will have to use the back door. In that case, [instead of turning into the square] continue past [the trees] it to the next street, which is Theobalds Road, turn right, and you're there when you get to the Humanist window displays. It closes at midnight and the last Tubes are at about twenty past; if you dawdle enough to miss the train, you can get buses in many directions from nearby. Or you could walk down the road for ten minutes and continue your evening at Negracha.

The website: dead simple, gives you what you need. Scroll down for information on beginners' classes, and download the PDF flyer (now fixed, and works properly) for the schedule.

How it went: This is not the fashionable Friday night milonga; that would be Negracha, down the road. The crowd here is usually less demanding as to personal beauty, but a lot more demanding as to comfort, quality of DJ, and value for money, and that means it tends to consist of older dancers, plus a few younger people like me who want to have a nice dance but really can't be bothered to wait for it till after midnight. But this varies a lot depending on who the guest teachers are. It's still quite new, and hasn't settled down. I got good dances, had a comfortable, stress-free evening, and got to sit down and chat to friends during tandas that didn't appeal. It suits me fine.

Update: Added this video from July 2009: Mingo and Esther Pugliese dance tango, and you get a sense of what the space is like when fully lit.

Fire and Ice

You are invited...
Originally uploaded by webwandering
At "Fire and Ice", Carole Edrich's warm and lively pictures of the social and performance tango scene in London are mixed with Jeremy Hoare's studies of glaciers in Argentina. It's a nice spin and a pleasing visual contrast. Jeremy's pictures are painterly, full of blues lit from within, textures and a different kind of light. Carole won the UK heat, and then the 23-country final, of a Sony-Ericsson competition called "Life Captured", and that's certainly a good description. There are shots of Miguel Angel Zotto and (I think) Daiana Guspero, of David Benitez and Kim Schwartz, and a great one of Monica and Omar Ocampo, but my favourites are probably the ones of social dancers, especially the ones from tango al fresco of people dancing with umbrellas in the pouring rain and looking delighted. They're displayed around the walls above the diners' heads, and prints are available at various sizes and prices.

At the private view we had a nice little dance on the tiled floor of the bar, but since dancers eat and drink little while dancing, I don't think it would make sense for the restaurant to do this regularly. A pity - it's in the middle of nowhere, unless you work at Canary Wharf, but it's a very nice place and the dance floor is about the same size as Vino Latino's, with much more comfortable seating and minus the giant pillar. The private view was sponsored by those nice people at Wines of Argentina and I was served a very cosy and palatable red.

Anyway, if you want to have a look, it's at a place called Zero Sette (07) Restaurant, and you'll probably need some directions, since "right next to the Western entrance of ExCeL" got people lost.

Beware the platform signage if you change at Canning Town. It's wrong. You could wait half an hour while your trains depart behind you. Turn around and read the electronic displays. From the platform at Custom House, go up the stairs and turn right, following the signs for the western entrance of ExCeL. You'll go past the upper floor of a restaurant called "neo", and a coffee place. The western entrance itself is a row of glass doors. You can't see Zero Sette anywhere from here. Turn round and go down the stairs to the U-shaped taxi rank outside. Cross the taxi rank towards the lower floor of "neo" and Zero Sette is the much less consipicuous entrance to the left. It's a restaurant, so you might want to eat something, or at least have a drink at the bar.

Carole always asks permission to use pictures of the people whose faces are visible in her shots (neither law nor custom requires this, Carole just does it as a matter of personal preference). There's one person in the exhibition, photographed at River Tango, who Carole was unable to find to ask permission; so if you recognise yourself or a friend in the middle-aged lady with red lipstick, a black bead choker, and a mischievous expression, you are politely asked to contact Carole, or grab her at a milonga. You know - Carole with the camera and the stripey hair.

Zero Sette Restaurant, directions above, till 19th January.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Adventures of the Moomin

Little Pearl can walk around now under her own power. She doesn't talk much yet but she definitely has ideas. Here she is in their cosy house in Helsinki; it's midafternoon, and the window looks like sunset.

A general description of how I made the Moomin (or Muumi as they call him in Finnish) is here. He was the first cuddly animal I made, and the most complicated. I'm glad I wrote notes because otherwise I'd have no idea how I did it. It just had to happen because it seemed right.

I'm so proud. I feel as though it was me getting the hug.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008


I love this picture, and I loved this performance. There's plenty going on for the audience, but there's so much going on between them. Their connection is electric, whether they're actually touching or not.

This is how good you have to be to turn your backs on each other during a tango performance and never break the connection.

Photo by permission of Carole Edrich (website, photostream). Carole has an exhibition opening on Friday at Zero Sette Restaurant, next to the western entrance of ExCeL .

Sunday, 2 November 2008

The meaning of tango - a talk

Anyone who has done both to order knows that writing is denser than speech. It takes a lot less time to read and understand difficult ideas in written form than it does to explain them face to face, and if you write a speech or presentation as though you were writing an essay, you will grossly overrun your time.

Conversely, if you pace a book as though you were giving a lecture, it reads as though you think the reader is a halfwit. This, for me, is the stylistic flaw of The Meaning of Tango, the content of which is interesting but which I have still not managed to read right through. And I think the content deserves better printing and a less timewasting font. But I had a literary, academic education, and not everyone's expectations of books are the same as mine.

However, last week I went to a lecture by the author, and it struck me that it would be very nice if the book were revised for TV. The lecture was more or less a mixture of two chapters, and was mainly about the historical evolution of the music and the dance and their relationship to each other.

A crucial point was that the shortage of women at a certan time, and consequent intense competition among the men, created vigorous selection pressure towards a specific basic technique. This technique is difficult for the leader to learn, requiring a lot of effort and time, but is very hard to improve upon in how it feels for the woman. Ms Denniston distinguished between this universal "Golden Age" technique, and local variations of style, which she showed us with a partner. These, she argued, made no difference to getting dances, except perhaps as matters of local custom or personal preference. A thousand flowers might bloom. But if you did not master the technique, you would be toast.

Most of the rest of the lecture was a chronological survey of music, with some discussion of the Spanish and Italian influences, tango as art song, and the influence of music and dance on each other. This of course is far more interesting and useful with recordings and demonstrations than it is, or can be, written down. And I needn't assume that it's all correct to benefit and want to know more.

I don't know if it's possible to say how far any of the historical information about how people used to dance is actually true. But Ms Denniston has probably done the best that can be done in that direction, by talking to the oldest tango dancers she could find, asking them how it used to be done, and trying to make some sort of sense of what they said. What those people's motivations were in talking to her, how accurate their perceptions and memories, how strict their regard for truth, how wild their flights of fancy, and what they imagined she wanted to hear, are anybody's guess.

But these are things it's worthwhile to research and record, and I'm glad that she's done it. The book includes quite a few assertions I found surprising, some of them contradicting interesting people in interesting ways. For example, she emphatically contradicts what Jorge Dispari has to say about the man's right hand. It also has the usual amount of "Tango does X more than any other dance" which seem like platitudes unless you ask "how do you know?" But those are mere signals of friendship to the reader, and not meant to be literally or critically examined.

The book is still available at milongas around London, and at for, currently, £6.99. But I'd really recommend the lecture more.

The talk was followed by a really nice milonga. Some people had come further than usual for the event, so I met and danced with people I wouldn't normally. If I have inadvertently transmitted the office cold, which I suspect may be about to declare itself, to a new home on the Tyne, I apologise.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Connection enhancers

Big, fat men are easy to follow. I can just settle like a butterfly, and go.

Getting the same connection with thin, shallow-chested men requires more skill from me. I have to be particularly careful with my posture. I'm dancing closer to the boundary of my skill level, and I'm much more likely to lose it now and then. (Different, or the same, for you? In the Comments, please). It's a common thing with East Asian men, and it is true even if they're really lovely dancers.

My outfit for a Halloween milonga (Gothic look) included a pair of Marks and Spencer's Plastic Tits.

I go up a cup size, and the problem disappears.

I had no idea that this could be solved by shopping. A quality product, £25.