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Mr Picky

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The Tango scene usually gets quieter over the summer holiday period; organisers take a break and halls get shut down for maintenance work. We’ve taken it easy too, especially in the past when the old venue was shut (often for no reason whatsoever, but that’s another story…). But this year we were kept active; a Sueños Milonga, ‘Junction 8’, two Wedneday practice evenings, private lessons, and the build-up to ‘Septonathon’. And all this during the school summer holidays.

Now we are in September things seem quieter; at least we are running fewer events this month. But the build up for ‘Etonathon’ has already started, plus preparations for our first ever New Years Eve milonga. And that all starts with the guest DJs.

Recruiting the DJ team is a painstaking process, mostly because we are so picky about the guest DJs. We’re out & about at milongas a lot checking out the music, amongst other things, and we also get plenty of suggestions for DJs we might use. It’s part control-freakery and part fussiness, but we find that there aren’t actually that many DJs who we think make the grade for our events.

If we’re approached by a DJ who we haven’t heard in action, then we’ll ask for a sample of a recent playlist, which we can check out at leisure. This is never the same as being in the room at a milonga, but it can give a good idea of how the DJ structures tandas, and the style of music that they prefer. Sometimes it’s a revelation. But often it’s not pretty, with poor choice of tracks and an excessive tendency towards a particular mood or artist.

Anyway, despite needing to meet our high criteria this years DJ team is just about recruited, and their travel arrangements and accomodation will need to be sorted out soon.  Then we’ll relax and look forward to another great event.

‘I love it when a plan comes  together!’

 

 

 

It’s been a while…

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It has been a while since the previous post.

 

Well, there have been posts in the meantime, but they fell victim to hundreds (yes, hundreds) of spam comments, so we’ve given it a rest and in the meantime disabled the comments facility. Sorry if that means that you can’t respond here to my dry witty observations, but I can still be reached by email or Facebook if there’s something you want to say.

 

What else has been happening in the past few weeks?

 

There’s been lots of dancing and teaching as ever. We have many students who have regular private lessons, and they are all doing very well and having good fun.

 

We had a special celebration night for the 10th anniversary of ‘Junction 8’.

 

Plus we took couple of weeks off for a family holiday.

 

Behind the scenes we’ve been developing new decoration for the Hall at Old Windsor; new lighting colours, table decorations, and screening for the side alcoves that’s much more attractive.

 

And I’ve been actively looking at getting the floor at Old Windsor re-coated to keep it super nice to dance on. With a bit of luck the work can be done in August ready for our next big event – the ‘Septonathon’ weekend.

 

 

 

Live or recorded?

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Lately we’ve been thinking about live music at Milongas, and why it doesn’t happen more often. The thinking has been prompted by a very courteous email recently received from a skilled musician. He was enquiring whether we would like to have him play at one of our milongas, and that got us reflecting on the whole issue again.

The short answer is no, we won’t have live music at our events. But there’s a lot of careful consideration behind that simple choice.

It’s nothing personal; we just prefer dancing to recordings of the great Tango orchestras in their heyday. If you listen to them, it’s not just the songs that inspirational; it’s the way that they are being played, with the dancers in mind. Their music has a ‘compás’ or beat that creates energy on the dance floor. The energy and vitality that filled the dance floors night after night. Wouldn’t it be great to have the immediacy and excitement of  those orchestras playing, just like in the Golden Age in Buenos Ares? It’s certainly a very romantic notion, and I guess many dancers have fantasised about being on the dance floor when D’Arienzo or Tanturi were playing live.

It’s not really fair to compare modern musicians with the masters of Tango, playing at their prime at the peak of Tango’s popularity. It’s a tall order, and who could realistically expect anyone to match up to such virtuosity? And yet inevitably, that’s what the dancers will do whenever live music is being played.  The dancers have heard the same tracks throughout their Tango dancing, in lessons and at Milongas, and the music is a constant companion and friend as their dancing evolves. A modern rendition will be an interloper in that relationship, struggling to match up to the energy and foibles of the familiar recordings. And let’s face it, the live performance is most likely going to sound a bit second rate when you’re used to recordings by brilliant orchestras who honed their art night after night in the most competitive era.

And yet, perhaps there’s something special about dancing to the spontaneity and immediacy of live performances? In our experience the novelty is often outweighed by the poor quality of the performance. And if the performance is top class? Ironically, a dancer recently reported the a live orchestra at a milonga was so good that ‘they sounded just like listening to a CD’. Go figure.

Oh, and there’s the brutal economics to consider. Organisers already have to budget to cover the cost of hall hire, advertising, a DJ, catering, insurance etc. etc., so the extra cost of live musicians fees and travel just isn’t affordable. And because the attendance at a Milonga is never guaranteed then sadly it’s very brave or foolhardy to commit to paying musicians a fair rate.

So, there it is; live music is a nice romantic idea, but in reality, it’s just too expensive, and can’t match up to recordings of the great orchestras from the Golden Age. Shame.

We are teenagers now

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In January 2006  a small group of friends got together to give their first Tango lessons.

The scene was Windsor Arts Centre (since renamed as ‘The Firestation’) and on a cold Sunday evening we were a bundle of nerves and excitement.

We knew that a big crowd of people had signed up for the lessons, but we had no idea just what was about to start. We had spent endless hours talking about the lessons; what to teach, and how to do it.  We had all endured disappointing Tango lessons, and with naive arrogance we were sure that we could do a better job. 

3 hours later, I recall driving home with a huge smile on my face; the whole evening had been a fabulous success, and a new local Tango community had been born. There had been a buzz of excitement all evening, and there was a sense of being in at the start of something good.

Now, 13 years later, the local Tango scene is very strong. Our milongas are popular, and dancers who have learned with us are now enjoying Tango all of the UK and abroad. New friendships have been made, and some romances too.

It makes me wonder what the teenage years of ‘Thames Valley Tango’ will bring!

 

 

Happy New Year

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And it’s an especially happy one for us after such a great Etonathon event last week.

We were honestly gobsmacked that so many dancers came along, especially on the Saturday night. dancers visited from all across the UK.

And a special mention for Sam, who called in for one night on his way from Canada to a Tango event in Amsterdam, and then changed his plans to stay at Etonathon for the whole 4 days!

But what made it especially great for me was the excellent music selection by our guest DJs Michael, Jalal, Diego, Kirsty, Claudia, Fabienne and Clive. They all did a fabulous job, and I can’t recall such a strong team at one of our events.

It’s going to be a hard act to follow at Easter!

 

Who’d of thought it?

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Our ‘Junction 8’ Tango nights have been running for nearly 10 year now!

They started out as just a fun evening for people who’d been asking for a more varied mix of music. Now,10 years later, the events are firm favourites, and we seem to get more dancers coming along every time!

TBH DJing at ‘Junction 8′ is a real challenge, The normal structures of a traditional milonga aren’t any use, and keeping the flow of the music, and at the same time keeping everyone happy with a varied music mix is bloomin’ tricky. As the years roll by I’m getting more familiar with how things work, and what keep the dance floor full. For a start, I stopped playing any electronic Tango years ago. I sometimes ask for suggestions for favourite tracks, but in all these years there hasn’t been anything suggested that works well as a popular dance choice. (Bohemian Rhapsody? No thanks!).

So it’s really amazing when we get a great crowd every time. People bring their friends, and tell me it’s their favourite Tango night of the year (Really? Oh, OK then).

Here’s to the next 10 years!

Etonathon’s coming…

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Our ‘Etonathon’ event at Christmas time has been running since 2007. To start with it was called ‘Yule Tango’ (geddit?) and included workshops during the day & milongas in the evenings.

Then we decided to ditch the workshops & have afternoon milongas instead, and since then it’s been one of the most popular Tango events. Dancers from all across the UK and beyond can take a break from their relatives, and enjoy a few days of high-quality dancing instead.

About this time of year we start to panic about the arrangements; DJs, Babysitters, & kitchen helpers all have to be arranged. The Hall was booked years ago, but there are still hotel rooms and travel plans that need finalising. To be honest, by the time the event starts it seems that most of our work has been done!

But then there’s 4 days of hosting, dancing, and trouble-shooting to make sure the event runs as well as is humanly possible and everyone has a great time.

Luckily, we have great support from our friends in the Tango community, and it’s a real pleasure to put on an event that’s always so well received.  The advance bookings are already starting to come in, and the DJ team is nearly in place, so we can’t wait for Etonathon 2018 to arrive!

Is that you, Mum?

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Running a Tango event can be hard work, but some things make it all worthwhile, especially lovely feedback from happy dancers. Like this message  we’ve just received from a dancer after last weekend’s ‘Septonathon’:

 

“Sarah, Charles – it would be remiss of me not to express my ongoing gratitude for your sustained time, efforts and energy. It’s said that ‘The only thing that is constant is change’; they also say that you have to ‘Adapt or die’. While that is very true, it doesn’t sufficiently account for ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. You’ve got the formula just right, which is why I think you run one of the best milongas anywhere and make tango in the UK richer for it. I’m very glad I live only an hour away! Sincere thank yous again from a delighted punter”

 

*blush*

Keeping it all crossed

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There are just a few hours to go until Septonathon 2018 starts and, as usual, we’re starting to get excited and a little bit nervous.

We’ve been running this type of events for many years; they last 3 or 4 days, with guest DJs and a big crowd of dancers coming from all across the UK and beyond. But it still feels like the first time, there are loads of little details that have to be planned and organised, and we still worry that everything’s going to be OK.

We’ve already stocked up on cups, and new coffee machines. Right now I’m checking how to programme the new LED lights, and checking the spare (yes, spare) rope lights. Tomorrow is a very busy day; buying the flowers to decorate the tables, then loading up the car and heading off to Old Windsor to do the first phase of the set-up. This’ll give Sarah some time & space to get busy making the dozens of cakes that we serve throughout the weekend. Later we’ll be at the shops again, stocking up on catering essentials and loo rolls. Yep, it’s a glamorous life!

But the best part is looking forward to seeing all our friends over the weekend. Some really great people regularly travel huge distances to support our Milongas, and we’ll spend the time smiling and laughing with them, in between dances.