Five tips for taking tango pictures in dark environments

I have been taking tango pictures intensively for more than 2 years now. Most of that time I’ve been using a Canon 350D with a number of lenses. What’s special about tango pictures? Most importantly, the tango events are in the evening/night with minimal lighting. I avoid using a flash, since it’s unpleasant for the dancers and because the pictures have very sharp and ugly lighting. Another thing is that I don’t use a tripod. I can’t tell the dancers where to move or to stand still, so I go with the flow. The fact that they move also means I need a shutter speed of 1/15s at the slowest; 1/20s is better and 1/40s is comfortable.

All these tips come down to the same: get the fastest shutter times possible while keeping the picture quality acceptable.

#1: take the highest ISO your camera can afford
50mm - f/1.8 - ISO800
If you can use sensitivity ISO 800 instead of ISO 100, you’ll win 3 stops. This is the difference between a picture at 1/40 sec (sharp) and 1/5 sec (blurry), certainly with moving targets (and tango dancers do move). Of course there is a trade-off: you loose colour detail.

This is the main reason why you’ll need a camera with a decent sensor, or in other words, an dSLR instead of a regular point-and-shoot camera. Even my 350D gets colour defects at ISO800. When they’re too bad, I tend to convert the pictures to black-and-white or somewhere halfway (by decreasing the saturation).

The camera I’m drooling over now, the Canon 5D Mk II, can take decent pictures at ISO 3200. That’s another 2 stops faster.

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My first picture in the papers

De Morgen: artikel
An Baccaert wrote an article in De Morgen about Nathalie and Andrés, who are representing the Benelux in the ‘Mundial de Tango‘ in Buenos Aires. She wanted a nice picture to include with the article and came across one I made at the Tango Marathon in June.

She asked me if she could use it, and because An is a friend of mine, because I know Nathalie, because I use a Creative Commons license and maybe also a bit because I like the idea of having an image of mine in the papers, I agreed. So there it is: my first newspaper publication!

(hat tip to Clopin for getting me the PDF version!)

Creating a tango calendar

Resurrection of

BTF Sunday 086 When I started dancing argentine tango, there were two sites that gave you an update of where and when you could dance tango in Belgium. The first one was, with a frame-based layout that I don’t find the most user-friendly nor visually pleasing, and the second, with a Flash-based agenda that was quite easy to use. Unfortunately the editor of the latter had to stop the site due to lack of time. Two weeks ago I noticed that he had even let the domain name expire and it was free again. Five minutes later I was the new owner of My goal: to make it again into a comprehensive overview of where to take tango courses and dance tango in Belgium.

WordPress again

Oh, what can I say, I know WordPress so well now, I use it wherever I can. So yes, it’s a WordPress site, with the K2 template, but with (currently) only static pages and no posts. I’ve divided the site into 2 parts: where to follow classes, and where to go dancing (practicas, milongas, salons, workshop). I’m obviously going to sprinkle some Web2.0 gold dust on the project. One example of this: Google Calendar.
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Countdown to Brussels Tango Festival

Brussels Tango Festival
Thursday is the start of the Brussels Tango Festival and I’m looking forward to it. This is what my schedule looks like:

I’ve also just ordered my Canon 50mm prime lens to take lots of pictures at f/1.8. Five days of dancing with attractive women, taking pretty pictures and obviously some more dancing. Sounds great!

Tangotation: writing tango steps

I have been looking for a way to write down tango steps since I began dancing. I experimented with drawing arrows, writing full text, abbreviations, inventing signs, … I’m not alone in this quest:
Tango notation: larrydla or Tango notation:

And that is only when you take into account the feet. The Labanotation system (developed by professional dancers) has a graphical element for each movement of the legs and arms.
Labanotation: dance notation
While this is probably one of the best systems around, it’s too complicated for us laymen dancers. So I decided to distill a base vocabulary for writing down tango steps: Tangotation.
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My tango wiki has launched!

I have had a tango site for almost two years now. You know how it goes, you start with collecting some tango-related links (hey, look, a description of the giro!) and before you know it, you have developed your own poor-man’s-wiki-like tango glossary. Hard to extend, hard to update.

So I thought, let’s bite the bullet and install a real wiki (MediaWiki), and drop all my tango information in there. I installed it 3 months ago, spent a lot of time copy/pasting the info while annotating it and here it is: – the Tango wiki
featuring info on tango music, tango movies but first and foremost: the Tango Glossary – an extensive list of tango words, steps and figures.

Why a wiki?
The type of information I want to collect on this tango site is ideal for a wikipedia-like set-up. When you explain what the Cruzada position is, you need to talk about the Paso basico (8-count basic step), so you would link to to it. And from there you would want to link to the Salida, the Resolucion, … So you have a lot of interconnected words and concepts that all link to on another. There is no concept of a publication date (which is so typical for blogs). There is no concept of a question/answer (like forums). So obviously a wiki is the way to go.
The main advantage for me is the ability to edit on-line in a web-interface and easy interlinking ([[KEYWORD]] creates a link to the explanation of KEYWORD). Even better, I am not the only one who can edit the data, anyone can add to the site. I am of course worried by possible abuse (e.g. the standard “Help:Contents” page has already been attacked by several bots who fill it with links to dubious sites), but for now I will go with the community spirit, fingers crossed.

So anyone with some experience in tango: you too can participate in the adding/updating of my Tango Wiki! Just click “Edit” on any page and start writing!


La Gamba Sinistra: italian tango

I just spent a wonderful five days on a tango course in Italy. Life at the Abano Ritz (Abano Terme, near Venice) is quite enjoyable, and the teachers Marisa & Oliver and Birkit & Muzaffer were excellent.

Since it was my first tango holiday abroad, I did learn quite a lot:

  • I’m not nearly as good in milonga (the simple style you dance in the often crowded tango salons) as I want to be. Being able to do two ganchos one after the other with a nifty little adorno in between is nice, but I enjoyed the simple milonga lessons the most (variations on the paso basico, …)
  • As corny as “Holistic Holiday dedicated to Argentine Tango, Friendship and the Joy of Living” (cf may sound, that was exactly was it was. The Italian food and drink, the hot water swimming pool, the sun, the foot massages, and that combined with tango dancing. Really a great way to spend a holiday.
  • There’s more music you can tango on than the traditional Buenos Aires Gardel and Piazzolla tunes: I of course knew The Gotan Project, but apparently I should also check out Bajo Fondo Tango Club and Carlos Libedinsky (via You can also dance to more western music like Grace Jones, Sting and Van Morrison (as can be found on
  • Experienced tango dancers sure know their tango music: song titles, orchestra styles, voices of singers. The knowledge I gather while creating the Tango Musica podcast will come in handy.
  • Life ain’t fair. Men’s tango shoes can have heels up to 35mm (1.38″). Girls can go up to 80mm (3.14″). Raise that chin!
  • The prejudices about Italians are largely based on the truth. As a man, I of course have no experience with the Italian macho seduction skills, but both men and women seem to have a natural tendency towards careless arrogance.

    As far as geography goes, you can never know too much about Italy. If you meet an Italian in Japan and ask where he’s from, he won’t say he’s from Italy. Instead he’ll name some obscure Italian city, assuming you know the ins and outs of his country.


Tango steps and Twister

Simple salida (exit)
I have been looking for a while for the best way to describe tango steps and figures. There are quite a number of steps out there, and at some points you end up totally twisted around the lady without a clue of how to unravel.

Pure text does not work for me, although TangoHK does a pretty good job of that. Tango video excerpts are rare on the net, and even those are not always clear. A guy in black pants dancing with a girl with a wide black skirt against a dark background… I always thought it should be possible to draw the steps in a clear way. Preferably a moving image (Flash/PowerPoint?) but already well drawn 2-D directions would do.

El Portal del Tango is one of the first sites that has these kind of drawings for tango steps. Here they are: simple salida (exit), forward ocho (eight), retroceso (regression), cadencia (cadence).

It does remind one of Twister, doesn’t it?