[Tango-L] demo advice needed

Alex alex at tangofuego.us
Sun Feb 10 14:54:31 EST 2008

Hola Trini! (and Astrid) (and listers)

First, to Jake’s use of “chick”...unfortunate...as Astrid pointed out...

I prefer “babe” or “babes” (in plural) – this truly shows the respect and
admiration I have and hold for women...women are one of the true miracles of
the universe...a realization that I come to every day of my life...and give
thanks to...

Kidding, on the "babe" part, but not the other...sorta...

Great comments by Stephen, Keith and David...I will have to go back and
re-read those myself...

Here are my thoughts...I’m no expert...and have only done a few demos in a
small city...to help develop a brand new grassroots tango community...this
is what I have learned...and humbly offer for your consideration...

Demos/performances are a necessary aspect of building/growing/nurturing a
new (or even not so new) tango community. These opportunities provide a
free/cheap/(or even paid!) way  to  do PR/Advertising/Marketing and
otherwise promote a community’s tango learning and social dancing
activities. Another thing that I firmly believe is that if one "element"
(say one teaching couple in particular) is active in performing and
promoting – it is good and healthy for the entire tango community – and the
other instructors within that community. Egos, jealousy, and competition are
self-fulfilling weaknesses.

Demos/performances may run contrary to the concept of Argentine tango being
purely social and totally improvised. But, the reality is that
performance/stage/fantasia tango does exist. I suppose the issues begin to
arise when there are people out there demo’ing “bad tango”. All of us in the
tango communities of the world implore you, kind reader, please do not
demo/perform tango if you know you shouldn't be (uh-oh, that might include

That said, (I’m writing this for future readers as much as in response to
you guys...for the record...) it’s unfortunate when you have to demo on a
stage/surface that only presents a one sided view of the dance. My partner
and I performed once (at 7:30 in the morning – for a breakfast meeting for a
group of 300-400 folks) where the stage was off in one corner, 18” off the
floor, the crowd all off to one side. We did have one or two tables full of
nuns directly in front of us. Yes, nuns. (Sidenote: Does everyone remember
that the bandoneon was introduced into South America by the missionaries?
How’s that for irony?)

I had requested that the stage be at least 36” high and in the center of all
of the tables. This was at a convention center – so they divide the large
hall as needed – and set up the tables and stage as needed. That’s the ideal
if you can swing it – the stage or dance floor in the center of the room.
The best view for everyone, and you can dance in the social ronda.

In our case, I found myself dancing back and forth in a diagonal on the
stage (it was 12 ft x 16 ft – I had to press for something this large – 6
pcs of 4’x8’ staging - it could be why they put it in the corner of the hall
– next to the head table) trying to “present” ourselves to the audience at
the corner of the stage that was facing them. Looking back, I should have
just danced on the ronda and not worried about it. (Make a plan/decision
beforehand and stick with it - don't change at the last minute.)

If your stage/floor is across the front of the crowd, you should work on a
back and forth, linear dance vs. in a circle (or rectangle). The key, to me,
is to present the open side to the audience as much as possible – your
dancing should reflect that – I found it incredibly difficult to do – and
felt like I had my back to the audience way too much. Back steps and giros
are big for keeping the open side presented to the audience as much as

There’s not much you can do if you don’t have a stage – press for it by the
organizers as much as you can (36” – 48” high) – if they won’t , you might
think about leaving the low floor in the front and dancing up the aisles for
everyone to see – a good way show off a great walk.

What else? 

Do a sound/equipment check before hand – days or a week before if it is a
fixed venue – one day or several hours before if it is set up just for your
event. Have every conceivable back up plan for your music – computer, iPod,
CD’s, assorted cables, etc. etc. Make sure they give you a wireless
microphone if you are going to talk/make announcements. If you have to
provide the sound system – make sure it is sized properly for the venue. A
40 watt boom box won’t fill a huge room. I used a 600 watt bookshelf system
for a performance in a room that was about 100 feet long, 50 feet wide, and
with 40 foot high ceilings  - it barely, barely handled it. The stage and
the equipment were in the middle of the room, so I pointed the speakers up
at an angle to each side of the room. Ah...also, I use a wireless rig on my
computer to play music with...iTunes...built-in wireless card...and a $99
Apple Airport Express. The Apple device plugs in to the venue sound system
inputs. Make sure your signal reaches and have your own appropriate
extension cords and power strips. Mine all worked fine in the sound check
the week before – but the day of...the stage blocked the outlet I needed to
plug in to. A little last minute scrambling fixed the problem.

Insert note: In spite of all my advance planning, I just remembered that my
iTunes locked up on my computer at the moment of truth - and I had to
re-boot - because I couldn't use my iPod backup with my wireless set

Bring a variety of shoes – shoes for slippery floors, shoes for sticky
floors, tape for the bottom of shoes (gaffer’s tape), cornstarch or wax
beads to spread – and dance on the actual floor surface. The joints on a
stage can present problems – trip hazards. It might be good to put gaffer’s
tape down over them – the tape itself will present a problem, but less of a
problem than a ¼” irregularity in the staging. Press the organizers for a
“real” sanded, finished dance floor, that is obviously the best. Most of the
time you will end up dancing on rough plywood. Not good for a
pivoty/enrosque thingy and hell of the follower for ochos.

Double check the stage construction and bracing. We once danced on stage
that was 48”-60” high – too high for the inadequate amount of bracing. There
were two couples dancing – and between the four of us, the stage was swaying
on the order of 4-6” back and forth. This hellatious swaying was barely
noticeable to us while we were dancing – but it was a distraction to the
guests sitting next to it – striking fear into their hearts and minds that
the whole thing was going to come down.

Depending on the stage surface and the staging itself, you may have to alter
your vocabulary. Big volcadas may not be safe. You might have to make
everything smaller. This should all be taken into account, thought out and
planned out.

As far as the format goes – you are pretty much at the mercy of the
organizers and the event itself. For this breakfast performance, we did one
song after pretty much everyone was seated with their food, and then we did
another one just plugged into the middle of the program. In hindsight, it
would have been better (and entirely possible) to have the music playing and
us dancing on stage as people arrived. They could chit-chat, find their
seats, get their food, start eating, all while we were dancing in the
background. Like the ubiquitous classical guitarist (or string quartet)
providing background music – we should have been providing “background”
tango. I think this lends itself to truly demonstrating what tango looks
like – dancing for several songs – or even for an hour. But, it depend on
the event, the venue, the organizers, the program. Sometimes, it will have
to be the “main show”.  The “background tango” concept allows we
inexperienced performers to calm down and relax by the 2nd or 3rd song. The
“main show” concept requires you to be introduced...walk on stage...dance
your two or three songs...and walk off.  This can be a very nerve racking
experience. A small bottle of tequila for a couple of swigs can help with
stage fright.

Ideally, if the event/format/venue/organizers will allow it, I would
recommend some background tango...then the “main show”....then possibly more
background tango as people are exiting the venue/event.

All of the visual elements of your tango come into play. Wardrobe, hair,
makeup (for her), shoes – all of the purely visual/aesthetic aspects should
be considered for maximum dramatic effect. Remember - you are trying to make
an impact on these people – most likely so that they will want to learn
tango and eventually become part of the community. Posture, the position of
your heads, the looks on your faces, where your gaze is, footwork and foot
placement, sharpness, commitment, clarity, energy, attitude, mood – it all
has an effect. This will obviously vary depending on the event, the venue,
and the audience. That is, if you are demo’ing for a group of elementary
school students, versus a roomful of million dollar benefactors, it will
require a different plan/approach on your part.

Also, salon/open embrace is more visually appealing than apilado...we all
know close embrace feels better, but to the unknowing audience, it looks
rather dull. (IMHO). If you can do an intro talk, you could explain that you
will be doing examples of both the more dramatic stage tango, and social
tango as it is seen in the milongas. But, the social tango might have to be
amp’d up a bit. Bigger steps, bigger moves, more drAma – so it doesn’t look
like you are doing the high school prom dance to the audience members in the
back. Performance tango is bigger – more dramatic – more feeling – more
connection. Disconnected, unfeeling tango looks bad.

I would recommend a tango coach, a trusted close tango
teacher/couple/friends to work with you and point out how things look. At
the very least video tape yourselves and play it back to see errant
footwork, bad posture and other elements in need of tweakage. Looking at
yourselves dancing in the mirrors doesn’t cut it. 

Also, watch performers/couples you like on YouTube - study not only their
vocabulary and style, but also their use of the space, their use of the
floor. You should try to use the entire length of the stage...from side to
side and try to stay away from the back areas.

Practice, practice, practice. And then practice some more. A respected
northwest U.S. teacher once told me that Pablo Veron practices for 4-6 hours
a day (or more) for four to six weeks prior to an event performance. We
might be tempted to think that a dancer of this caliber doesn’t need to
practice/rehearse. PV's follower/partner asked this guy to practice one
afternoon – he figured they would dance from 3pm until 5 or 6 pm. – she
wanted to “work on stuff”. They didn’t quit practicing until 2am. That’s the
reason these folks are so amazing in their tango – they dance and practice
for hours and hours – day in and day out.

I also didn’t communicate well enough with the organizer of the breakfast
event about the program. I found out the morning of – right before our first
song - that our two songs were spaced out about 2 hours apart. We had
planned to get there at 630am...practice/warm up in a back room...do our
thing at 730...and be on our way. That didn’t happen. Be sure you have a
very clear understanding of the program and your cues.  Everything should be
discussed with the organizers and planned out. (The two songs spaced two
hours apart didn’t have nearly the same effect as some “background” tango
would have.)

Insert note: This venue was very cold, luckily, we knew this in advance. At
my insistence, my partner brought a long winter coat (in September) and
dropped it right as we got on stage to dance - you should try to plan for

As far as the music selection goes (the reason I felt compelled to
post/reply in the first place) – yes, the follower should be involved in the
song choice/decision – but, the leader is the leader – and the selections
should be based on what he feels most comfortable with leading. For
instance, my partner likes Piazzolla, but I can’t lead/dance to it worth a
flip. Your music choice should also be based on quality/fidelity of the
recording – I like the old scratchy stuff - but typically I choose a clean
version. I rarely demo Nuevo – because I’m not a great Nuevo lead – and
because the message I like to put out there is one of the culture and the
history and the story of the golden age of tango – so I choose music

That said, we will practice and practice and rehearse and rehearse on the
chosen song(s)...but I have been known to change it in the heat of the
moment...right there...on stage...a different song will start playing...

Because...after all...tango is all about the improvisation...right?

Thanks for reading...hope this helps you Trini...and others down the line...

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