Category Archives: Tango Thoughts

Watered-Down

A recent comment on “How We Teach and Promote Argentine Tango” and a recent email seeking to organize a milonga (in the “Nuevo” style) brought us to the realization that far too many people want to water-down or dumb-down Argentine Tango. Tango is perfect the way it is! Why must it be radically changed?

We treat our students like mature and evolved beings. We trust that they will love Argentine Tango music (the Golden Era stuff). We trust that they will love the dance without all the showy moves. We trust that they will love a chest-to-chest embrace and will not be embarrassed by it. We trust that Argentine Tango is special enough without all the fluffy extras.

It is our job as teachers to educate our students. And so, we educate our students about the codes, the music, and the dance. It frustrates us when people feel the need to organize fusion events or play alternative music so the “young people” will like it and have a “fun” time. There is an assumption made that young people can’t possibly appreciate the complex music of the Golden Era Tango orchestras. We don’t make that assumption and we teach a predominantly young student base at the University of Toronto Argentine Tango Club. They don’t ask for alternative music or salsa intermissions because we have guided our students to love Tango the way it is. This is comparable to avoiding bringing your children to McDonald’s for the first time. Although they may like it, it doesn’t mean it’s good for them or that they should have it.

McDonald’s Water Tower

As an aside, we also find it quite frustrating that many dancers try to segregate among age-groups in Tango. We have been rallied numerous times to give our support to events that our youth-focused (which will end up excluding the “older” crowd). Why would we do this when the majority of our favourite dancers are among that crowd? This is another way we educate our students; we inspire them to seek the best embrace among all ages and not their BFF among their age-group.


Perfection

We wrote this a while back when there seemed to be a shared Tango consciousness regarding great teachers having or lacking the ability to be star dancers and star dancers having or lacking the ability to be great teachers…

Mark at Tango Beat wrote, “Great performers in every art discipline are not necessarily the best teachers. Is tango the exception?” He makes a valid point and we have had the experience of learning tango from dancers who seemed to dance well, but couldn’t teach to save their lives. However, we have also been fortunate enough to have as our maestro, Andres Laza Moreno, who has the “wide spectrum of talent” that Mark speaks of. Andres is both an incredible teacher and a phenomenal dancer.

Meanwhile, Bora wrote, “People’s tolerance for your mistakes goes down when you enter the ‘experts’ circle.’ After all, who will want to learn from you or see you dance if you fail to live up to the occasion, even if it’s during a social dance at a milonga?” Although we understand and partially agree with this comment, it depresses us tremendously. We’ve witnessed performers flexing almost every muscle in their body in order to avoid making a single mistake. Yet those with an eye for it, can see all the “mistakes” happening underneath this guise. They’re only fooling those very people who don’t want to learn from people who aren’t “perfect”! It is satisfying and oh-so-real to see the Tango greats make mistakes and own them! THAT is real Tango; as is understanding that there are no mistakes in Tango; there are only miscommunications.

Thankfully, there are those who understand and have said that a good dancer does not necessarily make a good teacher, and a good teacher does not necessarily make a good dancer. Nor does that need to be the case. THANK YOU. The old adage “do as I say and not as I do” fits nicely here.

The two of us do not need to dance like Sebastian Achaval or Ricardo Vidort in order to be great teachers. And at least we have the wherewithal to know that we are not even in the same realm as some of those great dancers (although that doesn’t seem to be the case with most teachers)!  We can, however, still be excellent and lovely dancers with an ability to teach the most “advanced” dancers in our community… without being perfect or being perfect technicians. In fact, we have been told and reminded that Tango should NOT be perfect and it is during those times of “imperfection” that Tango can enter your dance (Gracias, Javier). That little comment is a Tango-jewel. It’s something we treasure and pass on whenever we get the chance.

Finally, back in our ballroom days, our teacher and coach (a National champion) told us that you don’t need to be a champion or among the best dancers to be an incredible teacher. Some people need to seriously reconsider why they think they need to learn from the “best” dancer who teaches in the world when they’re unlikely to ever dance better than the “worst” dancer who teaches in their community. We’re not saying this to limit anyone’s potential, but rather to encourage students to seek out the best teachers (especially in their own hometown) instead of only those they THINK are the best dancers.


The Honeymoon Phase is Over When:

Honeymoon Bliss?

…you don’t feel the need to dance every “tanda”.

…you actually enjoy sitting and listening to the music at a milonga.

…you have no desire to dance outside on a concrete floor, in cold weather, or at other locations not meant for Tango.

…you are aware of the Tango music you are amassing – you no longer download/copy any song that is Tango-like in nature.

…you are no longer interested in volcadas/colgadas/ganchos (if you ever were).

…you no longer attempt to put Tango moves to every piece of music (if you ever did).

…you no longer find it acceptable to hear anything but “golden era” Tango music at a milonga (if you ever did).

…you know how to decline a dance… and you do it.

…you no longer think “El Huracan” is a good piece of music to dance to (unless it’s D’Arienzo’s ’44) and you’ve heard “Desde el alma”, “Corazón de oro”, and Poema” (Canaro) played often enough, thank you.

…you think it’s outrageous to hear 3 or more D’Arienzo Tango tandas played at the milonga (especially if it’s less than 4 hours long)… and in fact, you don’t think everything your local DJ plays is good, is in a properly constructed tanda (i.e., what happened to playing songs from the same era?!), or is being played at the appropriate time in the night (because you can actually hear the difference between the songs AND you are actually listening to the music now).

…you do not want to hear Tango tandas by D’Arienzo and DiSarli following one another (too much!).

…you still love Caló with Berón, but you now know that it is like vanilla-flavoured ice cream (flavoured with REAL vanilla) – simple and special, but not the end-all of Tango music. (A friendly poke to some of you out there – you know who you are ;)

…you no longer think that chest contact alone amounts to an embrace – you want more than a feather-light touch.

…you no longer think that any/every teacher brought to your city or seen on YouTube is amazing and you are not impressed or interested in all the tricks and flashy moves they do.

In many ways, it makes us sad to admit that we are no longer in the Tango honeymoon phase. On the flip-side of the coin, we are happy that we are not dancers who are STUCK in the honeymoon phase – and there are many of those.  Once you grow out of the honeymoon phase, that is when you and your dance can begin to mature. We feel that we are now more knowledgeable, our dancing has evolved, and we don’t live in a delusion. We KNOW that Tango in Buenos Aires is so much better.


How We Teach & Promote Argentine Tango

... Tango Awareness, that is.

1. We play only traditional Argentine Tango music AND we only dance to this music.

2. We teach our students to dance counter-clockwise, in one lane, and to not pass other couples (unless absolutely necessary – and NEVER on the right side of a couple) AND we dance with these proper floor skills.

3. We teach our students to keep their feet on the ground as much as possible AND we keep our feet on the ground as much as possible.

4. We do not teach ganchos or other unnecessary movements AND we don’t dance with these kinds of movements.

5. We teach social and improvised Tango that is conducive to dancing on a milonga floor AND we dance a social and improvised Tango.

6. We teach the “cabeceo” (reminding our students that it is done from your seat and not at the corner of the woman’s table) AND we actually use it.

7. As teachers, when we go to Buenos Aires, we go as students ready to learn more. We take classes, we learn more about the music, we dance socially, and we live Tango.

8. We teach our students about the music and the importance of it. We tell them which orchestra/singer/era will be playing during the class. We even remind our students that they should not embrace until the song has begun in order to develop a feeling for what is being played.

9. We teach our students that a “cortina” is a small piece of non-Tango music used to CLEAR the floor between “tandas” and no one should dance to the “cortina” or remain on the floor during this time.

10. We tell our students to go out dancing, to dance with various partners… but we also let our students know that they are allowed to decline dances for whatever reason.

*Although we teach and promote these concepts (and more) with the hope that we’re positively influencing our students, we are often reminded that people will eventually make their own choices – for better or for worse.


Some Things Are More Important Than Tango

A local Tanguero recently put up a Tango video of a very famous male dancer (we’ll call him Tango Jerk). Tango Jerk is known (yes, through rumors and gossip) to beat the women he dances with. What’s frightening is that we’re quite certain many of you know exactly who we’re talking about with only that small amount of information.

K couldn’t hold back.  She felt the need to comment on the video to say that she had seen a picture of the female dancer with bruises, (allegedly) from Tango Jerk, and therefore, the video shouldn’t be promoted. The resulting comment, from this very sweet and nice Tanguero, was that it was Tango Jerk’s personal life and therefore he didn’t care, nor was it any of his business. Before many of you become irate, let us assure you that if you knew this Tanguero, you would know he didn’t mean it to sound as heartless as it sounds.

K then responded that if abuse has actually occurred, then she does care, Tango Jerk should be in jail, and again, no one should promote Tango Jerk. Four females proceeded to “like” K’s comment and that made sense. Unfortunately, no males “liked” the comment (besides Jorge). But what we found particularly baffling was that a female had liked the Tanguero’s comment about it being Tango Jerk’s personal life.

Please comment dear readers.  Tell us we’re not the only ones who understand that domestic violence is EVERYBODY’s business and that we ALL care about it.  Please tell us that Tango talent does not supersede a woman’s safety and the law. And please feel free to pass this on.


Creativity and Being Unique

We’ve previously written about copycats in Tango. And we will write in the future about our thoughts on the slowly brewing Tango norm: “Estilo Mundial” (This is a randomly chosen video and they ALL look the same!?). For now, we wanted to delve into what we think about being “creative” and “unique” when there is such a HUGE stress on it in Tango.

We think it’s bullshit.

How about this: Just be yourself.

People constantly complain about clones and when they do so, there’s an unspoken/unwritten assumption that the person should be “unique” instead. By definition, each one of us is unique – hence the term “individual”. However, we are all humans.  We are all one. We share more things in common than not (“Hug a stranger today. If you go back far enough we are all related somehow.”). So why do we have to try to be so different?

Don’t get us wrong, we aren’t interested in being clones. We’ve never really been sheep.  In childhood, Jorge only had whatever his mother could afford. This, of course, meant brand names rarely existed in his home. Plus he was a ballroom dancer. That’s not quite what teenage boys are usually getting into at that time in their lives. Meanwhile, K specifically fought against going with the norm her whole life. She purposefully avoided many fads: desert boots and Converse in the 80’s, George Michael and belly button rings in the 90’s, and cell phones in the 2000’s ;) HOWEVER, it didn’t mean she flipped to the other extreme to be “unique”. Being “unique” is really just a timeless FAD. Why aren’t people happy to just be themselves?

Yes, we need innovators in the world.  We need people who push the envelope and challenge themselves and others.  However, Tango evolved (slowly) as dancers sought to challenge the dance ever so slightly and/or stumbled accidentally upon better and more efficient ways to move. We don’t believe there was a goal in mind to be super creative or unique, or an effort made to change the dance. Those who sought to change the dance (quickly), by being “unique” and “creative”, are those responsible for Nuevo Tango and other versions of Tango (which are not, as many people would like to have us believe, a “style” of Argentine Tango).

By being yourself, you are being all you need to be in life and in Tango.


What Makes a Good (Tango) Student?

Taking Gabriel Missé’s workshops allowed us to make some observations about ourselves in the role of student.  We compared these observations to our own students, as well as to students we’ve seen in other teachers’ classes. This is what we realized:

When we take someone’s class, it means we’re there to respect the teacher. We become blank slates, we believe the teacher knows best, and we do as we’re asked. We push ourselves hard. We listen while the teacher speaks. And we ONLY work on what a teacher has asked us to work on. Perhaps this is one of the major reasons why after almost 4 hours of lessons with Gabriel Missé and Analía Centurión, we were (more or less) dancing in their style and using their technique. That’s not a pat on our backs. Rather, it’s a thought to you, the reader, to ask yourself what you do to better your dance when:

A) You struggle with body awareness

This isn’t an insult.  This is a fact for many people. You are struggling with body awareness when you are constantly being given the same corrections from every teacher you take a lesson from (or even from one single teacher). In the same way you might work on technique, body awareness is a skill that needs to be developed and (re)learned.

B) You learn from many different teachers

There is an issue when specific techniques you use come from different teachers and you are not working on only one specific set of techniques. Mixing and matching is dangerous in Tango. Every teacher you take a class from will try to correct the other teacher’s technique you have (unless their focus in on figures/sequences or they have a complete lack of desire to see your dance improve). With that said, we have observed teachers who choose to avoid “wasting” their energy on a student until they see that the student has a genuine interest in learning from them.

C) You believe you are the best judge of your Tango.

Do you argue with the teacher?  When a teacher asks you to do something, do you say, “I am doing that!” or “I can’t!”? Do you claim to prefer doing something a certain way? If you answer “yes” to any of these, then you believe you know best and we believe this will hinder your ability to improve.