Friday, 25 October 2013

Out of Office Message

My Out of Office is on. OoOo! I'm on holiday.

I might post (especially from the drafts file) and moderate comments, but the chances are not much. If you want to hear when I'm back without having to keep checking, try subscribing to the RSS feed or by email, various buttons on the right -->

Got to write a note for the house-sitter ...


Preferences for Teachers

A commenter on another post made an important remark which I think is worth promoting (I edit because I don't want to single out that particular teacher in what I'm about to say. I don't think I am misrepresenting the comment in any way):

"... as a result of ... harsh(ish) style and poor(ish) reviews the thin skinned stay away ... If you don’t want any meaningful feedback go to a handful of other classes where the teachers are kind and smile and say “so much better” all the time."

I agree with the need for meaningful feedback. This is important in a teacher. But personally, I prefer above all a teacher who knows what good dancing is, can dance well, has carefully thought through, worked on, and tested their approach to teaching, and treats the students like intelligent adults. Criticism and praise are useful tools in as far as they help achieve results. Good advice is much more important than either.

In my opinion, someone who cannot give useful feedback while being courteous to other people and making efforts to put them at ease is by that fact poorly qualified to teach anything to anyone, but least of all social tango, a broad skill-set of which good manners and behaviour are an indispensable part. And no qualification of any kind excuses poor results.

Bottom line: if you care about results, it is your responsibility to make them happen - by choosing your teacher, among other things. If you don't care about content or results, you can freely indulge any preference you have as to the box it comes in. Such things are widely available at very reasonable fees.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Here's a thing about performances

I wrote a really ranty post and left it in draft because I couldn't quite find the right tone; and then I discussed it with Carole the Photographer, who knows a lot more about two relevant subjects than I do - dance-as-performance, and Argentine culture. It turns out there might be a really nasty cross-cultural "gotcha" here. Which is more interesting than rants. [Edit: she was really talking about stage shows ,not shows in milongas, see comments, but I actually think it's relevant because the kind of performance I'm talking about acts like a stage show and forgets that it's in a milonga.]

So here to begin with is my very British rant - which probably a lot of Europe would agree with - and which represents how I actually feel about this. Please don't be too upset.


If the milonga is only three and a half hours long,
And you are giving a performance,
And most of the people are there to dance socially (or even if some of them aren't),
And even if your performance is quite exceptional (or especially if it is, to take a wholly imaginary example based on many experiences, totally phoned-in 'salon' stuffed full of silly-ass back-sacadas)
And no matter what your mates in the crowd do (buying your own hype is a bad bargain even for princes),

Here are some things you do:

You move briskly from dressing room to stage and back,
You refrain from excessive faffing between tracks,

And you sit down after a maximum of four.

Sitting down after three tracks or less might get you a reputation for modesty, professionalism and good manners.

Going on longer doesn't convince people you are stars. If you are, they'll be able to tell, by watching your dancing. Also, you sound ridiculous preaching about social dancing if you make it it abundantly clear that you don't give a monkey's about other people's.

I know it's a tough job, but sitting down is not the toughest part.


Here's the problem, as Carole explained it to me:  In Argentina they expect you to go on as long as you are allowed, and they signal you when to stop. They also basically assume that if you want to go on longer about something - anything - it means you are passionate and sincere about it. And if you are brief, then you aren't.


In Britain they won't tell you to stop; they expect you to know, accurately, when to stop, taking into account both your own popularity and other people's time for social dancing. They expect that as part of your professional skill. So, Carole tells me, travelling Flamenco shows and such-like always shorten their acts for the second performance in London, and some of the more intelligent ones work on imaginative curtain calls to replace planned encores and manage the process of getting off stage to everyone's satisfaction.

And - here is the really nasty bit - if you go on and on about something, the British think that you are insecure and don't really believe what you are saying.

"The lady protests too much, methinks" 
 - is one of Shakespeare's most famous and often-quoted lines, and it means precisely this. If you go on longer than is necessary to persuade the listener, you must be trying to persuade yourself.

Anyway. Three is safe and communicates modesty and a genuine interest in social dancing. Four may be demanded if you are genuinely popular, in which case it's polite not to waste time. Five? In a milonga three-and-a-half hours long with a class that overran by twenty minutes? May not have the intended effect.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Some reflections about software

Facebook has many, many annoying characteristics.

It also has one single feature, the "block" feature, that makes the entire thing usable - it's exactly equivalent to the Format Painter in Microsoft Word, without which Word would be almost impossible to use at all. Use 'block,' and you never have to see a single word uttered by the online equivalent of the Office Witterer. If only there were an offline version, a sort of selective noise-cancelling headphone.

But Facebook is also the fastest, most usable, most flexible and effective collaborative working system I've ever used in any business. It's genuinely useful in a way that no sharing system I've ever encountered commercially comes close to. It's got document-sharing and discussion that actually works, and I've used it for collaborative video editing and agreeing graphic designs, getting comments on drafts of things, as well as all sorts of on-the-fly organisation and coordination. It's even got search that works, quite well actually. Some sort of task-list feature might be handy, but it's not actually necessary when the basic 'post/comment/repost/comment' concept is so fast and easy.

It's also extremely useful for making a prat of yourself, or for making your life 100% interrupt-driven, if either of those is what your personal demons are up for. I think it takes some skill to get the best out of, and especially a little ruthlessness in deciding when not to use it. And I don't think I would have liked it to be around when I was 14. Now, though, it's just software that does something useful.

People talk about technology a lot, and very often they don't have any realistic concept of how other humans actually use it. It's worth asking the question sometimes.

Anyway I'm REALLY busy and this is the thing that floated to the top of my mind. Sorry.