Sunday, January 30, 2005

That's more like it

We've had two very big Saturdays in a row, 150 people or so. Last night, we were visited by a bevy of fine dancers from all over the west coast: Christopher, Caroline, Alex, Jaimes, Homer, Charity, Anna, Andrew, Stefan, Mitra, Greg, Stephen, Jane, Alejandro, et al: the usual suspects at any Tangofest in the country. They came to support our community effort. Very nice!

We have not held Tango Festivals here, because we've focussed on our major goal, which is to build the local community. To do that, we've been working on creating the highest-quality regular Milongas. Despite our success, I think that, to become a community institution, we need to get 200 local people here each Friday & Saturday night. The visiting dancers & musicians help the local community meet that goal, by adding to the excitement. Very gestalt, and very Tango.

With all those visitors, and a dance that lasted until 3am (!) it became obvious that we really need to finish building the Tango hostel upstairs. Homer mentioned that itinerant Tango people will pay for even a cot to sleep on. But we'd like to do much better than that.

So much to do! So exciting!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Connecting to the outside

Carpenter & bassist Marty Jones finishes the Tango Center sign/mailbox, his collaboration with Demetrius Gonzalez, Olga Volchkova & myself. It's a practical public art project, in the tradition of Guimard's Metro Stations in Paris. It's a moral issue -- art shouldn't just be for galleries & private collections. It should be part of everyday life, on display for everyone to enjoy.

In this case, it's also part of our public service, to blur the boundary between the community center, and the community outside. This works pretty well already at night, when everyone can see people dancing inside. But during the day, unfortunately, there's no visibility, because we have tinted windows. So it's hard to see what the Tango Center's about. This should help. It also helps the poor postman, who had no place to put our mail.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Self-selecting seats

It would be obvious to any cafe owner.

After you have something good going on, one of the simplest ways to increase the number of regular visitors is to add tables & chairs ... and couches and other little nooks & niches, into which people can adapt, fit, hang out.

People don't come back if a place is empty all the time. People also don't come back if they can't find a place to sit, each time they visit. So ... make sure the place is always packed, and have extra seating available.

Inspiring musicians

One of the goals of the Tango Center is to create a vibrant Tango dance music scene in Eugene. So, we need to find a way to inspire musicians. Before we opened the place, Mood Area 52 had already taken the initiative and created a Tango band with a very nice, unusual, but definitely tango sound. Then, in late 2003, Argentine Tango & jazz pianist Claudio Mendez came to visit us, with the phenomenal guitarist Daniel Gomez, in a tour organized by Bandoneonist Bertram Levy from Port Townsend, Washington. This visit inspired pianist Evan Griffiths, who's a superb dancer, to start a Tango band made up of members from the dance community. It's an amateur band, in the best sense, and now we have two regular Tango bands.

On their current tour, we had Mendez/Gomez/Levy play dance Tango at the Milonga, and it was a gigantic hit. The next day they held a workshop, and probably, it wasn't attended well enough to spark another band.

Most of the professional musicians I know say the primary factor in starting a music scene is money. If they feel it's possible to make a living playing Tango for dancers, they will. It's that simple. That's where the Golden Age of Tango in Buenos Aires came from ... hoards of dancers. On the other hand, they started dancing more when some superb bands emerged. We're lucky that we can get lots of dancers here, just by playing recordings of Tangos ... but that's not going to make a new movement. People really want to hear it live.

Claudio tells me that unfortunately he can't make a living playing Tango for dancers in Buenos Aires. There are so many tango musicians, and duets & trios & sextets, that dancehalls pay very little, and then only if you contract to play milongas at one place every night of the week.

By the way, I think we probably had a good format for visiting Tango musicians, who have a tendency to need to play something else too. At 7pm Saturday, we started a one-hour concert of whatever they wanted to play. At 8pm, we had our traditional pre-milonga lesson. Then they played Tango for dancing. I think this will work better when we have the beginning class and intermediate classes simultaneously ... the advanced dancers were kind of antsy during the concert, but they were really antsy during the introduction lesson. An intermediate lesson would have been just the ticket.

We're going to try that starting mid-February ... Ev Marcel will teach an Intro lesson on the main floor, and Robert Hauk will teach an intermediate lesson on the Parquet. I saw this work at Cellspace in San Francisco ... the trick is to have traditional tango running at about half-volume continuously in the background. Works like a charm.

Back to Claudio's comment on the scene in BAs ... it suggests that perhaps we should go down to BAs to hunt for Tango musicians to bring up here every week. A two-week tour, they can sell CD's, make more money than in BAs, and hold workshops with local Tango musicians. It's a traditional model in the world music scene ... Peter Gabriel hunted for talent this way to great effect, for example. If done right, it's good for everyone.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Micro-loans & scrip

There are two kinds of loan programs we need to use to grow the tango center. One helps us with capital expense and the other with inventory.

When you run a store with predictable sales, and you need more inventory, it's quite safe to borrow in order to get more inventory. But when you need capital for infrastructure, loans can come in the form of "scrip", useable for future use of the facility.

Again, the reason for soliciting loans is to allow more participation by the community in the growth of a center, without personal loss. Projects can also solicit donor pledges, and it's a useful experiment to see which is most effective.

We have a simple first test of the loan program: the Tango Store. CD's, books, and other items, cost money to buy. We can sell tangoscrip, and take loans, for inventory. We can keep track of inventory & loan repayments. This is the first online tool we need. Once we have it, it can apply to any sub-project of the Tango Center, or any other community center.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


There are many ways in which I'd like the Tango center to be like San Francisco's exploratorium. I don't want to lose any of the tango qualities, or the peer-to-peer learning, but I'd like to re-inforce them with more kinds educational tools.

Display of Song / Orchestra / Album
Music is very important, so we want to display the name of the song, the album, the orchestra ... But unless this information is digital, it will be difficult. We could also organize a team of volunteers to sift through cards and put them on display, of course. Eventually, we need a set of people putting together song translations and subtitles too. Classes in Spanish, Russian, Finnish etc. based on Tango lyrics would of course be useful. It might even result in new songs.

Giant pendulum, weak magnet
At the exploritorium, there's a giant concrete pendulum which you have to 'lead' back and forwards by a very tenuous magnet. I was with someone who didn't have the patience to do this with such little detectable force, and I believe that means she wouldn't be able to do Tango. At least, not without certain advances in her philosophy and sensitivity. I think having this pendulum, or similar self-educating aids, could help people a great deal.

Infrared camera
In one sense, it would just be cool to have an infrared display, in front of a back corner of the parquet, or in the far back, so people could watch themselves dancing (a mirror elsewhere would also be useful ... and perhaps a video camera & screen. Just not on the social dance floor.)

Another use would be several cameras so you could look at your posuture in motion. For all cameras, a capture button, so people don't look at themselves while dancing, would be very helpful.

The bird's eye view
This is an idea basically from the event/density studies ... I get it sort of from William Whyte of "Social Life of Small Urban Spaces" ... make a map of the floor & tables 7 lounge of the tango center. Point several infrared cameras down on the crowd, and stitch the pictures together onn a map, to get a sense of the flow on the floor etc.

A time lapse camera would also be nice. And a web cam, as long as you couldn't identify people (people don't want to be that clearly seen, live).

Kinesiology of walking
Basically models that deal with physical timing issues, especially of various moves. Kind of a tango animatronic, which you could stop, and watch go backwards ... modelled on the best dancers.

Sculpture & sketching
There still needs to be some way to encourage people to come to the Tango Center to sketch, sculpt and paint. The best way, of course, would be to have a gallery, where these items could be sold (handmade posters too). We could have public competitions to see which are best (most alive), and most prominently displayed. Children's classes too.

Instructors board
Before any of this, you want a big, visible board with the schedule of classes, instructors, tango events, at the center and elsewhere. At the moment, the front desk is serving this purpose, but it needs to be re-inforced.

Pattern constructor, sequence exhibits
Which describes what I'm doing here ... find the patterns in music, floorcraft, dance, lyricism, public spaces, interior-shaping, etc. Name them, describe them. Show coherent things built from them (like, a display of good dancers making something from a song, or a DJ's evening ... the music combined with the time-lapse & bird's-eye view).

Also, lead people through sequence exhibits ... like, how to DJ. Or arrange a tango for bandoneon & guitar. Or write some poetry. Or build a display. And walk them through it ... true interactive displays should allow people to make something, to do something. Make a pair of shoes, for example, or hem a dress, or fix a heel, or darn a sock ... or stretch, do a yoga posture or program, adjust your spine, stay healthy, do experiments, stay healthy, etc.

A display of things like the three red filter demo, the 40-penny problem, the limits of conciousness demo, etc. Food for thought about tango.

I'd also like to show videos, which you could stop, forward or rollback, of plants unfolding, ontologically. And Chris Alexander's demonstration of unfolding of venice etc.

There is a neat little touchscreen display of Zebra fish development at the Exploritorium, which needs very much to be duplicated. (Note: touchscreen kiosks are available for under $2,000). It could also be good for teaching language, geography of Argentina, or Oregon ... all without being too much like a pinball parlour. Many more couches, tables & chairs should help this ...

We have to do more without looking in tango, and areas for exercising this discipline could be fascinating. A touch-typing teacher, for example. Or exercises in self-sculpting and self-drawing without the use of mirrors. There is a result that using your hand to match the angle of a mountain lets you more accurately guess an angle ... it works, and helps you see the raw advantage of getting close to reality. There are also many potential proportion and posture observation experiments.

Attractive, interesting models of downtown, and the region, and patterns and sequences, will lead people to participatate in the Community Projects initiative.