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January 23, 2006


Vortex of hell

A couple of years ago, Esteban and Evelyn (visiting teachers from Uruguay whom I personally feel the Tango dancers in Singapore have been very fortunate to have returning to Singapore annually since 2002) taught a series of classes concerning the proper embrace techniques, dancing in crowded spaces as well as various aspects of social etiquettes suitable for milongas. For example, as an exercise, we were made to dance in a (for us at that time) constricted space, using chairs to form artificial boundaries. During these classes, Esteban also highlighted the importance and in fact the necessity of striving, wherever possible, to dance along the outer edge of the dance floor.

Two reasons of why dancing in the centre of the floor is a big no-no particularly stuck in my mind. Firstly, in the old days, once you wandered off into the centre of the dance floor, you’d never know who else was around you and you might end up with a knife in your back! Secondly, and confirmed by my subsequent observations I might add, people who “park” themselves in the centre of the floor are very often literally shouting, “I am a beginner, so I can’t move about safely anywhere else!” However, the very real danger is that in the crowded milongas in Buenos Aires – and in many busy milongas in Europe, I’d imagine – you may not be permitted to return to the normal flow of traffic once you veer off into the seemingly stagnant and safer part of the floor. In other words, you will then be condemned to the “dark side” until the end of the tanda. 😥

Jokes aside, why the sudden recall of this information, you may ask?

Last Saturday, the Singapore Tango community organized a milonga at a new location. There was a nice dance floor, relatively pricey food, and a decent sound system. Ambience was quite good too. However, I also witnessed the dreaded vortex of hell… 😯

Perhaps it was the larger dance floor, which was significantly larger than any of our regular milongas, or just the presence of quite a few non-regular Tango dancers!? For whatever reason, it seemed as if all of a sudden everyone wanted to break free from their imaginary shackles, and unexpected behaviours followed. As I was having my meal, it was quite a sight to observe the formation of a whirlpool as it were in the centre of the dance floor, sucking all comers into its depths. It was naturally quite hazardous to “passers by”.

Admittedly, I was also guilty on one or two occasions 😳 , but I eventually came to my senses and, sometimes with a little difficulty, managed to escape from the vortex. However, it was rather painful to witness the sucking power of the vortex rearing its head against many of the non-regular dancers, who are not really what I’d class as beginners, strutting their stuff, often against the flow of traffic. I was witnessing first-hand what Esteban described a couple of years ago.

Floorcraft – or the ability to navigate on any dance floor, be it crowded or empty – has often been a hotly debated topic on the Tango-L list. I have seen some innovative solutions suggested. However, I really don’t believe that there are quick fixes* – in that attending a few classes can eliminate the problem entirely. This is a community problem and it needs the support of the entire community in order to eradicate it. After all, there are two forces at work here: those who follow common sense and respect the flow of traffic, and those who don’t, whether they are habitual offenders or occasional law-breakers like me for instance. When a community recognizes a particular mode of behaviour is more acceptable (or unacceptable) then things will start to change.

*However, I do concede that certain amount of instructions will provide some necessary exposure to what is an acceptable code of conduct at milongas. The choice of music used can also help to improve the situation.

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