On circulation

2009 May 10
by Simba

Mallory Bugatti by pdcawley, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License by  pdcawley

Ms Hedgehog is researching the dynamics of flow in the ronda, comparing with traffic and pondering about the importance of song length.

While song length can probably have some influence, I believe other factors are much more significant. And it is kind of hard to perform real experiments, even though she deserves credit for the attempt.

According to Jorge Dispari, the flow on the dance floors of Buenos Aires used to be much better than today. At Canning, for instance, during the peak hours, the circulation almost stops completely. While it is still possible to dance, it is not as enjoyable as when there is good circulation. And if he is to be believed, there was more people on the floor at that time as well, so floors being more crowded is not the reason.

He explained it by two factors:

  1. Dancers today don’t have the necessary skills
  2. Dancers interpreted the music more in the same fashion earlier

While it is impossible for me to compare earlier times in Buenos Aires today, my experience from milongas all over the world largely supports the main idea that navigation skills and interpreting the music in a similar fashion improves the flow on the dancefloor.

Here is why: I know from teaching and observations on practicas and milongas support that ‘too few’ have the ability to dance a) in a straight line b) on the spot c) change between  these when necessary. Dancers also observe the need to keep moving and not moving counter to the line of dance. Which I attribute to a lack of skill. If they know how, but choose not to, I attribute it more to musical interpretation. If dancers cannot keep within their own space, they are likely to cause a congestion or at least interrupt the other dancers.

If dancers are generally in agreement that they need to move at  certain speed around the dance floor, congestion is less likely. Anyone stopping while the others keep moving easily clogs the entire floor in less than a minute,  which is easy to show by experiment (yes I have done this on several occations). When dancers are generally in agreement of which parts in the music are for moving around/walking, and which are for more stationary repertoire like giros (the final variation for instance), the flow improves.

Hmm — a little more work, and we might have the proof here :-). Assume we have enough dancers to achieve a crowded dance floor. (Too much space, and everybody can move wherever they like, and no significant interaction occurs.) Lack of skills imply congestion. Heterogenous musical interpretation implies congestion. Skills and homogenous musical interpretation are necessary, but not sufficient conditions for good flow of the ronda.

Of course,  you could show experimentally that the three minute theory is true, at best you could show that it is a necessary condition given sufficiently crowded floor. I do believe it occurs, but I believe it mainly covers the corner case where both conditions above are satisfied, but the floor is extremely crowded and good dance music with songs significantly longer than three minutes being played.

Say we have all three confirmed by experiment, how do we establish their relative importance? One could do a large survey of milongas, estimating the skills of dancers etc and do a regression, I suppose. For me, it is enough to know that the tree minute song limit is pretty much satisfied for all golden age tango music, so it is hard to imagine when it would be significant. I.e actually affecting the flow of the ronda. (If you play other music with longer songs, I belive other factors than song length destroys the ronda flow.)

As to how to improve the skills and musical interpretation, I don’t have the answer. Not allowing unskilled dancers is not exactly how to achieve a milonga with good attendance these days, I’m afraid.

If only it were possible to create a milonga ouside Bs As where you could feel that the entire dance floor was dancing and breathing together, making the old adage true: You have three dance partners in tango: 1) Your partner 2) The music 3) The dance floor.

7 Responses leave one →
  1. 2009 May 11
    tangocommuter permalink

    Interesting thoughts. I’m not sure the kind of music played, the length of tracks, or the presence or absence of cortinas have much to do with it. In my (unfortunately not infrequent) experience what stops the ronda are the repeated attempts of the couple ahead of me to do a gancho, or turning endlessly on the spot with wild heel-waving, the egoistic mentality of the ‘star’ dancer rather than people concerned with the well-being of the whole.

    No London milonga I’ve ever been to, with the exception of Tango al Fresco, is ever seriously crowded: it’s just that people use a lot of space. Actually, if the milongas here were a lot more crowded people might dance better and more responsibly.

    It might not be impossible to start a small ‘salon’ milonga in London. It wouldn’t have the big reputation of the popular places so it probably would remain a gathering of friends who enjoy dancing together. It would be great if it worked. But the charming BsAs custom of your host and hostess greeting you at the door and seeing you to your table might not be possible here. Pity!

  2. 2009 May 11

    Thanks for your comment, tangocommuter!

    I believe a lot of things need to be in place to create a successful milonga. I will write about that later. Note that several Argentines, (last one I saw was Una Milonguera) assert that there exist no milongas outside of Argentina, only practicas. And they do have a point. Not that it means we have to give up trying. The attitude of the dancers is obviously very important, and it takes time to change in a community, if you succeed at all.

    Good luck!

  3. 2009 May 11
    Game Cat permalink

    Hi Simba,

    A small salon milonga with the attributes you and TC described is possible in London and worthwhile aiming for. The first preconditions are already in place:

    1) There must be differenet styles that are not comfortable with each other on the floor – salon vs nuevo. The former needs a strong respect for line of dance. They are both happier apart and know it.

    2) Several milongas running at the same time of week: There are already several competing on Fridays and Sundays.

    The next part is the hardest – for enough like minded people to gravitate to a favoured milonga to create a critical mass. If the owner makes a strong enough effort – right music, layout, strict explicit enforcement of etiquette – it will happen.

  4. 2009 May 12

    I will take the point even further by saying there are no real milongas outside of Buenos Aires (capital federal). The center of tango was always in Buenos Aires, not in other parts of Argentina.

    Miguel Angel Balbi told me, “It’s not a milonga unless there are milongueros.” With their numbers close to extinction, that means that in the not-so-distant future, there will be no more milongas in Buenos Aires. There are no young milongueros because none are self-taught.

  5. 2009 May 12
    Michael permalink

    It’s simple. Teaching concentrates on figures not navigation. I’ve danced AT for 11 years. It’s only rare I’ve seen courses on navigation.
    In Buenos Aires, everybody dances in close embrace (chest-to-chest). In the United States, some people dance open (no chest contact) which requires more space. Also, a lot of leaders think for$10 they bought the entire dance floor.

    Some of the figures that are taught in the States require more room than ususal, e.g. volcadas and colgadas. Very few dancers check to see if they have the space.

    Music and interpretation have nothing to do with collisions. It’s dancers oblivious to other dancers. A festival promoter said “You’re not dancing with just your partner. You’re dancing with everybody on the floor” meaning taking up space for an excessive amount of time causes a traffic jam behind you.

  6. 2009 May 12

    Thank you for all your comments!

    @gamecat: I don’t know the London scene, but it definitely sounds like you are moving in the right direction 🙂 People’s attitude is crucial, good luck with improved etiquette. I know some people respond negatively to ‘rules’ in tango, so I don’t know how more explicit enforcement will turn out; it could be that making it more transparent makes it easier for people to understand — it’s not only for the elite, after all.

    @Janis: While there is some truth to it, I don’t think it is very constructive to consider the milonga to be almost extinct by definition, but the milongas have clearly changed since the golden age. It is very hard to recreate a Bs As style milonga back home, but we will keep trying, and I hope you try and keep the Bs As milongas alive, also after the milongueros are gone.

    @Michael: I don’t think it is that easy. I think we almost miss a subtle point here, I intended to write about good flow, which is something more than the absence of collisions. It is when you get the feeling that you are in fact dancing with the entire floor. You feel the energy, and it adds to the experience.

    Somehow I think teachers and figures tend to get too much blame for the lack of good navigation and flow. Figures have an important place in learning tango, imo, and there is limited use in teaching workshop after workshop on navigation. The basic principles can be stated quite simply, and after one workshop you either get it and need a lot of practice to actually apply it, or you don’t get it, and then I don’t know why you would take another class (on navigation). I believe awareness and practice is much more important. Teachers should use every occasion to remind their students how to behave on the dance floor, though.

    And people need to remember that even if you can, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea…

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