It’s February again, and that doesn’t just mean my birthday, no, it means Valentines day and the tango festival ValenTango in Portland Oregon! Vaccine requirements and mask mandates were present for this festival which added a new dynamic, but really, it didn’t impact the feel of this festival like many might have you believe prior to the start. Classes, milongas, friends, and more, with beautiful weather which is somewhat rarer compared to past years and other festivals in the past!

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With Masks at ValenTango?

To those unaware or are reading this in the future, this ValenTango is the first since Covid started to spread in 2020.  ValenTango 2020 happened right before everything started to shutdown, and in 2021, it was canceled. Now it is 2022, with vaccine requirements and masks required, this will be a point in time to look back on, and the photos are going to be an interesting look and documentation of this time in history. Covid has impacted everyone across the globe in one way or another.

You might think that with the masks mandate (required by the state) that it would impact the amount of dancing.  For the most part, the masks didn’t seem to effect the people on the dance floor, or the frequency of people I saw who kept on the floor for back to back tandas. I did notice though that the amount of people talking and length of talking was much more minimal, so the added noise between songs in the tanda made listening to the music a nice break.  ValenTango has been noisier than other festivals in my experience, mainly due to the number of people that attend vs others I’ve been to.

For a huge majority, the mandates were all abided by, maybe only a single couple on the dance floor with not following the rules, and even then, was usually only for that tanda and you’d see them wearing it the rest of the time.  I’d guess people were pointed out, or was agreed just for said tanda.  No clue, but compared to many other dance events I’ve attended socially, this had a HUGE number on compliance, especially compared to others. I will say, I wish there were more fun masks, if at least to cover the KN95 and similar masks some people were wearing. Why not treat your mask as an accessory like you do shoes? Some did, but many didn’t, it would’ve made the photos much more interesting.

Classes for once!

I’ve never really taken classes at festivals, i’m usually dancing late, or even photographing the classes.  This year I got a full pass instead of just a milonga pass and figured I’d give some of the classes a shot.  Still limited my classes as I try to dance at the mixers and alternative day milongas, but I still was able to get to a few.  I must say, I was pleasantly surprised.  I will say, when it comes to classes, I can watch, then recreate what I see pretty easily for my side.  Most of my vocab is seeing stuff on the dance floor that I think works well and giving it a shot and making it work, usually with my own twist.

I ended up I think taking one intermediate class, an advanced couples class, and sat on the sidelines for a beginners class. There is an old saying that goes around, that the intermediate classes have mostly beginners, the advanced classes have mostly intermediate dancers, and the beginner classes have the more advanced dancers. This I would say is a pretty good thought process as people I feel want a challenge, and the better you become, the more challenging the beginner stuff actually is. I’d say the same goes for me, The advanced couples class was wonderful, and the material wasn’t difficult for my partner and I at all, we were doing variations, but our basics could have used some touch ups, but then again whose couldn’t after the past few years?

When the instructors came around in the advanced couples class, they weren’t bugging us on the material in the class, pretty much told we have the material and doing fine there, but instead were getting slight refreshers on some more basic things and more in depth minor adjustments to make it better. This class I feel really got more out of, mainly because I was just working with my partner and got practice time.  A huge advantage over the other classes with more constant switching of partners and rotations.  Due to a usual unbalanced roles, waterfalls or other switching methods kept making the actual material harder, and when paired with someone that might not be the best skill, it really makes you appreciate the couples classes.  I actually wish there were more couples classes due to the format, but I do see how it could be restrictive for many people.

The more advanced the class, the more I feel like speaking up is easier for people, probably due to people having more confidence, but also because the sequences are prone to have more complications. The intermediate class with the waterfall rotation were okay, and you also got some personal attention like the advanced class, but you could tell there was a more rush to try to get to everyone due to the size being a bit larger. The beginners class I sat on the side to photograph, I didn’t see much in terms of more individual attention, and more focused on exactly what was happening, if people weren’t getting it, then they got the attention.

What worked, or didn’t…

There were many things that worked great this year, and some thing that felt a little under par compared to previous years. Let’s start with what worked out! The weather! Yes, I joke, but it usually is never that nice for the whole time. The vendors were plentiful and choices were available for all sorts.  I didn’t need anything, as the shoes I bought at the previous ValenTango works just fine, was hoping to get jewelry for the partner, but Tyler wasn’t there, that’s okay, will order from him directly. The dance spaces for the most part, were kept at a good temperature, which was surprising considering the masks and complications previously. The classes were good. Traditional music milongas were pretty good for the most part.  The live music was amazing as usual, and the performances were great fun as always.

So what is there to say that wasn’t up to par? Well a few things come to mind, and the alternatives were a little more weird than previous years.  I’ve talked about how some DJs have weird tandas, and this year, the DJs I expected more crazy tandas, were actually better, and those who I expected to be much safer, actually were really confusing. The first night traditional was okay, and got really crowded the later it got compared to other years. Other than the Alternative music, the mixers were not as well attended, maybe not as well advertised, or maybe people were taking more classes and instead did the practicas or had food during that time.  There are always some little things here and there.

There really wasn’t much at all to complain about that the festival had control of.  The fact that the bar was only open from 5pm-10pm made eating in the hotel for lunch not possible and had things crowded when you could attend.  Not something the festival had control over.  The parking situation was fine, the area around the hotel seemed fine as usual. Because of the good weather, I actually went to the zoo, the Japanese gardens, walked the Burnside bridge, went to Powell’s Bookstore, and had time to visit with family in the area. I just wish I didn’t have obligations on Monday morning, which had me miss Sunday evening and night closing milongas as I needed to get home that evening (4.5 hour drive) and a good night sleep. I did however get to what I wanted, danced, photographed, and even made some time for a little socializing with some people at the festival.

This is always a fun festival, really the first of the year.  Maybe everything else this year wont require masks because mandates will lift, or maybe they will, time will tell.  I hope to see more friends and people on my travels this year. ^_^