The Essence of Tango – Feelings or Steps?

19 03 2010

What is the essence of tango? What generates the passion that makes tango both seductive and addictive at the same time? Does the same motivation that gets us started in tango dancing continue to generate the emotion and excitement to sustain it?

One of the ongoing debates within American tango communities is a focus on feelings vs. a focus on steps. The discussion goes back to the introduction of tango in America. At the time, Americans were captivated by what they saw on stage, and wanted to learn that stage dance, to dance socially. Many tanqueras and tanqueros have come to understand tango social dancing as what was performed on stage, when in fact these same performers danced a very different style socially – and still do today.

Yet the trend persists. Social dancing for some as become synonymous with learning steps, steps to perform for others. Yet most traditional tango social dancing in the salons and barrios of Buenos Aires is a much more understated style that focuses on feelings generated by posture, embrace and musicality. That dance is commonly called ‘milonguero’ style, though it’s sometimes confused with ‘salon’ or other ‘close embrace’ variations. ’Millonguero’-style social dancers feel what stage dancers see. They’re inspired in their dance by their connection with their partner and how it feels to them, instead of how their performance looks to others.

Is there a natural growth or progression? Only time will tell for each person. As in in many types of artistic expression, the best artists may never feel like they have finally arrived. Instead their art continues to evolve through their own understanding, inspiration and interpretation.

Good tango dancers can only aspire to the pinnacle of tango; they never reach it. Some of the best dancers in the world feel like they’ve only just begun.” As recently stated by older and wise ‘milonguero’ who has been dancing tango in Buenos Aires most of his life, “After over 60 years of tango dancing, I think I’ve finally learned how to walk.” How humbling for those of us who have only danced a few years, while sometimes feeling that we have already learned how to walk.

As perhaps best stated by Daniel Trenner — one of the early pioneers in bringing ‘milongueoro’ style social dancing to North America:

“It took years to get past being fascinated with the steps, which were my first draw to the dance. The dancers who were doing less footwork were uninteresting to me and I just didn’t see them. Then, years of advice from the milongueros to feel the dance, not just learn steps, began to take effect. I started to notice the dancers for how they stood, embraced and felt the music. It isn’t like I didn’t know about these things before, I just didn’t see them… even though they were right in front of me.”

Tango is Fragile

15 10 2009

I continue to experience how fragile it is to dance Tango, particularly at this early stage of my tango journey (i.e. years 1-5).  For the last number of months, I feel like I’m cycling on and off with my dance or perhaps I should say forwards and backwards. When I have my ‘A’ game, every tanda with each ‘follow’ is wonderful – no matter how good the music actually is or how experienced my partner. I may be ‘on’ for as little as one tanda, one night, or if I’m lucky, for a week or two.

Then suddenly, it’s as if it’s over and the clock is rolled back to a time weeks, or even months earlier and lasts perhaps another a week or ten days. Some partners I recently had fabulous dances with as little as a few days earlier, may suddenly seem to me to be out of my league and I may not have the necessary confidence to even ask them to dance, yet alone re-create that oh so wonderful experience. And even with those I do dance with, the dance may seem to be mechanical or in our heads and we don’t come close to creating the magic we felt so recently.

And as I continue to work hard to improve my dance and continue to go through these cycles, I’ve concluded that growth and development of my dance requires humility and vulnerability. When you feel good about how well you’re dancing and think you know everything, you loose it all. Yet, when you may feel a bit uncomfortable with your dance, less confident and perhaps a bit fragile AND you approach each milonga and each partner with a good dose of humility and that humility carries you along and can result in perhaps a very good dance.  It provides an avenue for growth and may give you and your partner your best dance of the week.

Tango and Life

19 05 2009

I often find it difficult to explain to friends what Tango really means to me, although I did find the following useful:

“We enter this world alone.  We leave it pretty much the same way.   And in between, a dance we call life.
Problem is (that) it takes two to Tango.   So we look for signs; something to help us to find our perfect partners.  A smile, a wave.  But we have to to be careful; because while some signs can be misinterpreted, others can be missed completely …
Some dances you sit out.  Others you change partners.   The important thing is … (that) you never stop dancing.”

 (Chuck Fishman, Early Edition)

Why the name “Tango chose me”? Sally Potter and the movie, ‘The Tango Lesson’

7 05 2009

Each time I view Sally Potter’s movie, The Tango Lesson,  I gain new insights and understanding of the Tango dance, the partnership and the passions of Tango and of life expressed both on and off the floor, as well as the new discovery on how the partnership continuously works to create something special, together.

Near the end of the movie, Pablo Veron was asked by Sally Potter why he chose to dance Tango. Pablo replied, “Tango Chose Me” — hence the name of my  blog.   The journey is profound.  While each step along the way may seem uneventful, the composite has given me a new life that continues to provide me profound insights  — about myself, my relationships with others and life in general — that build on each other one day at a time.

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