Category Archives: Tango Thoughts

Gabriel Who? Gabriel Missé!?

We’ll be perfectly honest.  We were undecided about taking the workshops. Our technique in Tango couldn’t be any more different. That’s why, to help us make up our minds, we decided to email our friends in Seoul to get their opinion. Their opinion was that although our styles are completely different, taking lessons with Gabriel Missé is like taking a little trip to a Tango Museum.

That little piece of info combined with the fact that when Miguel Zotto was flown in for the same event* last year, we noticed (in pictures) that not many people had attended the workshops.  And so, we thought, why not?! We registered for three workshops on one night – each of which was an hour and 15 minutes long with 15 minute breaks in between.

*See below for more information about the whole Toronto Tango Summit event.

Small Class Size – What Up Toronto?!

We couldn’t have been happier that only a few other Toronto tangueros came out for the workshops on Friday.  It meant that we received a ton of individual instruction.  However, it was mind-blowing to NOT see anyone else there.  We couldn’t understand how people who have specifically said they love Gabriel’s dancing weren’t there.  We couldn’t understand how people who normally flock to any visiting instructor weren’t there.  We couldn’t understand why Toronto tangueros who have been learning from other “V-embrace” teachers weren’t there.  We just couldn’t understand… but we kind of did.

Why Missing The Workshops Made Sense (For Us and/or You)

TECHNIQUE

As we already mentioned, the difference in technical style was a big deterrent for us. EVERYTHING was different from what we’ve learned and from what we teach. From walking toe first, to leading 90% with the right hand/arm, to an embrace that barely touches… It just couldn’t get any more different. That’s why this was more of an academic and let’s-try-it experience than a let’s-change-our-dance experience. As teachers, we can’t be wishy-washy with our technique/style or our students will be confused – and we’ve been on that side of the coin as students! We’ve made up our minds about how we dance Tango, but that doesn’t mean we can’t expand our knowledge.

STAGE vs SALON

Aside from technique, it seems that every youtube performance we’ve seen of Gabriel is a choreography. We have not been interested in learning from dancers whose priority is Stage Tango. We truly believe that if you want to learn how to dance socially, you should learn from teachers who primarily dance socially.  Analogy: It’s like taking photography lessons from someone who shoots with film when you want to learn how to shoot digital.

BODY AWARENESS

The general tanguero with very little previous dance or body movement background often lacks a necessary sense of body awareness to learn from various teachers with differing technical styles. And yet it has almost become a cliche for people to say and believe they have the ability to pick and choose the essential points/technique from each Tango teacher. Given our extensive background in dance, body awareness is not a major issue for us and we are able to understand what our bodies are doing when we try different techniques.

However, body awareness is only one factor. The other factor is the idea of the “complete package”. We cannot use only one or two technical aspects of Gabriel’s dance and make it work within our technical style. When you learn the technique of one teacher, you need to learn it all.* These two factors are legitimate reasons why tangueros learning a different technique were probably better off missing these workshops.

*We would say that many people incorrectly believe that by learning every aspect of one teacher’s technique, it will make you a clone. It’s possible to look very different and have the same technique.  In fact, most people wrongly assume that our main and most influential teacher is Javier Rodriguez (due to Jorge’s similar body-type more than any other reason) when in fact it is Andres Laza Moreno.

Why Taking the Workshops Made Sense (For Us and/or You)

BECAUSE IT WAS GABRIEL MISSÉ!?

Gabriel is from Buenos Aires and learned from the Milongueros starting when he was a small boy. Many of the Milongueros he learned from have passed away and are considered icons in Tango.  He enjoys teaching specific movements that he learned from these Milongueros and he is very clear to tell the class that he teaches social tango and what he does in a performance is different.

Gabriel does not apologize for telling you bluntly that REAL and AUTHENTIC Argentine Tango is this, this, and this.  He also has no problem mocking current techniques and styles of dancing Tango or saying that many of the old dancers currently being called Milongueros are NOT Milongueros. He told the class to learn Spanish and respect Tango because it’s a dance from HIS culture. All things which would cause many North American tangueros to have a conniption fit.  We, on the other hand, found it honourable and respected him for it.

All this to say, we really enjoyed the workshops.

THE EVENT

Let us add that this event, the Toronto Tango Summit, entailed more than just workshops. In fact, the main event was the Grand Ball on the Saturday night which included dance exhibitions by Gabriel Missé & Analía Centurión and Roxana & Fabian Belmonte (the organizers of this event), and music by a live Tango orchestra. This year’s and last year’s Grand Ball were both very successful and were a good time for many dancers and non-dancers alike.

Advertisements

Javier Rodriguez, Castration, and More

Oh Javier… how we love thee.

If you haven’t been fortunate enough to have learned from Javier Rodriguez, let us share some of his wisdom with you. But first, let us give you a mini-summary of Javier in his role as a teacher.

Javier is blunt, has no shame, and shares all that he has learned and knows about Tango without apology. We’ve heard that (North) American Tango dancers/communities have found him to be too abrasive and too frank (ex., he has no problem telling women to stop squeezing their “chichi“) and he doesn’t work as a teacher so that he can lie to you and tell you how good your tango already is.

In North America (and we’re starting to think in all English-speaking countries) everything needs to be sugar-coated and oh-so-positive. That’s why anything goes in North American Tango. We don’t want to be told what Tango is or how to do it. We’ll tell people to follow Gavito’s advice when he tells a class to only speak positively about Tango and to only say what we like  about a person’s dance (although we don’t know the circumstances behind that comment and in fact, he has told dancers to also notice what they don’t like),  yet we won’t listen to Gavito when he says the embrace and the walk are what make Tango what it is. We think we can do it better and we think we should change it to make it our own (while calling it by the same name).

Meanwhile, in Asia, many of the cultures may be more direct (How old are you? Are you married? Do you have children? Why not?). However, they sure as hell aren’t used to hearing about “chichis”. Yet it’s these same Asian communities that embrace the traditions of Argentine Tango and will happily do as they are asked. They respect and look up to their teachers.

With that said, let us divulge some wonderful insights Javier and Andrea shared with the class in Seoul:

Don’t Castrate Your Partner Women, pull your hips back and make room for the men. When you keep your hips flat, you castrate the man you are dancing with by stripping him of his freedom to walk forward without restraint.

Javier demonstrated this with multiple men and we don’t think there was a person left in that class that doubted this assertion.

Hierarchy Among Dancers  Javier & Andrea were asked about a problem that exists in various communities. What happens when the best dancers only want to dance with the best dancers, the mediocre followers only want to dance with the best leaders, and the mediocre leaders are left wanting? Javier responded (in a way that most of us North Americans don’t like to hear) that this is the way it is everywhere around the world… and this is the way it should be. If the mediocre dancers want to dance with the best dancers, they need to become better dancers. If the best dancers are already dancing with them, the mediocre dancers have no reason to improve.*

* There are too many dancers who no longer take lessons OR who only take lessons that teach new sequences rather than those that improve (BASIC) technique (which is where the problems lie).

Hierarchy on the Dancefloor  Many dancers understand the dancefloor setup now. There’s an outer lane and one or more inner lanes. Javier & Andrea told all of us what many people learn after going to Buenos Aires: The outer lane is for the best dancers. It’s for those who understand floorcraft and who can dance well. Those who cannot follow the rules of floorcraft and, more importantly, are not very good dancers, should dance in the inner lanes.*

*Swallow your ego and place yourself accordingly on the dancefloor. In the same token, deal with the crappy floorcraft and try to dance in the outer lane if you’re one of the better dancers in the community.

Our Thoughts on What Others May Consider IDOLIZATION

We’re not sure where the loathing of “idolization” has come from. We understand that some people take their idolization too far… and obviously a teacher is not a god. But it seems that people are loathing the fact that some dancers look up to their teachers as mentors – with respect and adoration. Those dancers who respect and learn from/follow one or two professional teachers tend to be the best dancers in a room. It’s those dancers who learn from anybody and everybody who CLEARLY show no progress in their dance.


Ballroom Dance Studios

Ballroom dancing and Argentine Tango are two entirely different beasts (we’ll also post about the different beasts within the world of Argentine Tango eventually). Having a background in Ballroom dancing allows us to fully appreciate just how insane it is that instructors/studios of primarily ballroom dances are teaching Argentine Tango.

In Toronto, those ballroom studios who teach Argentine Tango (and most of them do since it is all the craze) have instructors who have never set foot in our city’s milongas!? Plus they offer this definition of Argentine Tango (which we stumbled upon on the Arthur Murray Dance Studio website):

“Argentine Tango: (arrabalero) A dance created by the Gauchos in Buenos Aires. It was actually an attempt on their part to imitate the Spanish dance except that they danced it in a closed ballroom position. The Tango caused a sensation and was soon to be seen the world over in a more subdued version.”

What, what, what?!

The history of Tango is a blur and that seems to be the only historical guarantee. The other guarantee is that Argentine Tango is NOT danced in a closed ballroom position. A reminder of the difference between a hold and an embrace can be found here.


The Stroh Violin in Tango

We know it when we hear it.  We had learned the name and seen a picture of this interesting instrumental contraption while in Buenos Aires… but we always forgot it!  It was only today that Jorge finally discovered the “violin corneta” again when La 2×4 radio station discussed Julio De Caro.

As is the bandoneon, the violin corneta is a German invention

“In 1920s Buenos Aires, Julio De Caro, a renowned Tango orchestra director and violinist, used it in his live performances, and was called “violin corneta” (cornet violin) by the locals.”  – Wikipedia


We *HEART* the Seoul Tango Festival

Lydia, from the super positive blog “Toronto Tango Blog”, contacted us the day we returned from our trip to Beijing (purely for travel) and Seoul (purely for Tango… and food :)  She asked the following questions:

  • What did you miss most about T.O. (Toronto) tango while you were in the Far East?
  • What new ideas did you get for your students here?
  • What are some major differences between the Seoul Tango Festival and the Toronto Tango Festival?
  • What do you see as the strengths of our Toronto scene
  • What’s coming up for MIM tango?
  • Oh yes, and did Kristina buy any shoes?

We already had plans to write a blog post about our experiences in Seoul.  We had such an amazingly perfect time that, truth be told, we simply were not looking forward to returning to Toronto’s Tango scene.  These questions left us with knots in our stomachs because the answers that came to mind only solidified the feelings and thoughts we already had.  After spending seven amazing nights in Seoul in order to partake in the Seoul Tango Festival and experiencing foreigner gringo Tango that had been pretty close to Buenos Aires Tango…  we were actually feeling quite depressed about our return.

So let us start by telling you about the festival.

The Seoul Tango Festival

The festival took place over five days with 300 people attending (maybe more?). Three couples were invited from Buenos Aires as “Maestros” to teach nine workshops each over the span of four days. There were seven milongas (five evening milongas, one daytime milonga, and one after-party milonga).

Over half of the workshops were sold out, but this did not mean there were 100 students in each class.  The numbers were kept fairly reasonable although perhaps a slightly larger studio space would have made classes even better.  We took all (nine) of Javier Rodriguez & Andrea Misse’s workshops and they were fantastic.  For those of you who believe that this couple do not represent the Tango of the milongas found in Buenos Aires or that they only teach sequences and non-milonga movement… perhaps you’ll rethink this after we give a little background info.

Before leaving on this trip, we had the great fortune of learning, once again, with the milonguero Alberto Dassieu here in Toronto.  This man is an incredible dancer, an incredible teacher, and an incredible person.  During both his visits he took the time to specifically point us out to everyone in the class in order say some very kind words about our dance and to tell everyone that we are the future of Tango.  Now here’s the reason we’re bringing him up: to make a quick and simple comparison.  In Javier & Andrea’s classes, we were taught fewer steps and sequences, reminded to dance smaller more often, taught more concepts, and taught even more culture than we were taught in Alberto’s classes.

Now if you can keep that in mind, imagine how incredible the Seoul Tango scene is… especially when we tell you how obvious an impact Javier & Andrea (among other traditional teachers from Buenos Aires) have had there. Javier & Andrea have been invited to teach in Seoul for the last five years.  They are, in large part, responsible for developing the Tango scene in Seoul; a scene infused with the tradition of the dance and a deep respect for it.

The milongas were jam-packed.  It was like being in a milonga in Buenos Aires… and we mean that on multiple levels. The milongas were held in beautiful studios with gorgeous, dark, hardwood flooring and the Grand Milonga was held in an amazing conference centre (with terrific food!). Everyone was dressed to the nines – no cargo pants, no sneakers, no hats, etc.  Many of the codigos were being followed… in ways we had never seen outside of Buenos Aires.  Perhaps 50-75% of all dancers were using the cabeceo, but among the best of dancers, 100% were using it.  Most men were walking women back to their seats after a tanda.  Only traditional Tango music played and in the traditional manner (i.e., TTVTTM with cortinas in between each tanda). Full tandas were danced too and rarely did a couple stay on the floor during the cortina.  No one tried to dance to the cortina.  Men were dancing with women… women were dancing with men.  The level of dance was very high. Everyone danced in “un abrazo” (an embrace)… and by that we mean close.

On the night of our performance, it was clear that everyone was extremely excited about the demos – demos by international dancers… NOT the maestros.  For us, our demo couldn’t have gone any better. We were actually calm and for the first time, we enjoyed dancing while being in front of an audience.  We ended up choosing our Tango song only a few hours earlier after finding out that no other couple was dancing to Di Sarli.

The audience was amazing. After each couple performed, they clapped long and hard so that each couple could bow to all four sides of the room – just like in Buenos Aires! Plus we didn’t stop hearing compliments for the rest of the weekend!? We’re not stupid or blind, we know that our performance is nowhere in the realm of the Maestros AND we were performing alongside some incredible international dancers/teachers.  And yet, we were sincerely told how beautiful, lovely, and elegant our demo had been.

Our demo in Seoul... Photo by Peilun Li

As for the dancing in Seoul… It was great! Jani’s “worst” dances (and there ended up being no bad dances) were still some of the best dances he’d ever had.  There are two main reasons for this.  The women who were in Seoul embrace fully and they create space between themselves and their partner’s hips.  On top of this, dancers know the music and are excited about it which puts pressure on the DJs to play really good music with no repeating playlists. And the DJs played great music. The dancers also completely understand floorcraft – although the huge issue that we observed (and funnily enough, Javier and Andrea later brought it up in their workshops) is that the floor doesn’t progress forward. You could dance a whole tanda and stay on only one side of the floor the whole time. However, leaders rarely if ever passed… and NEVER did a leader pass on the right side!

Now that we described the festival, let us answer Lydia’s questions:

What did you miss most about T.O. (Toronto) tango while you were in the Far East?

We were having an absolutely fantastic time in Seoul that we simply weren’t missing anything.  We had it all in Seoul: great workshops, great milongas, great music, and great dancers.  However, we really wished our friends and students could have seen and experienced all that we were experiencing.

What new ideas did you get for your students here?

Most of what we learned in Seoul only further confirmed that we’re on the right track with our students.  The focus of every class we took was the embrace and the walk – and that’s exactly what we focus on in our classes.  However, we realized that we need to help our students develop a critical “eye” for Argentine Tango.  There is simply too much out there being passed off as “Argentine Tango” when it clearly isn’t.

What are some major differences between the Seoul Tango Festival and the Toronto Tango Festival?

We think the Toronto Tango Festival is a really fun event.  Truly.  But it isn’t a festival completely committed to the promotion of Argentine Tango.  We just experienced an Argentine Tango festival in Seoul and it included traditional music, traditional dancing, and traditional teachers.

What do you see as the strengths of our Toronto scene?

The Seoul Tango scene showed us how a commitment by local teachers to teach (traditional) Argentine Tango can really influence a Tango scene… and it showed us just how far behind Tango is in Toronto.  We think Toronto is about 10-years behind. Yet Seoul Tango has likely been around for far less time.  The reason we think 10 years is because a radical shift in thinking is required and we’re not very optimistic about a radical shift occurring.  It means that IF there’s going to be a change, it’s going to be a long, slow process.

We ourselves are Tango infants in regards to the amount of years danced, but we were thinking about Toronto Tango’s history and we made the following observation: Toronto Tango’s foundation is heavily based on the teachings of stage/performance Tango dancers.  Don’t get us wrong, we have respect for some of those dancers, but we would like to see Toronto embracing the tradition of the social improvised dance of Argentine Tango.  All the elements that made the Tango in Seoul so incredible are the very elements that are missing in Toronto’s Tango.

We do think it’s really fabulous that Paradiso has brought great teachers like Enriqueta Kleinman, Graciela Gonzalez, Susan Miller, and Alberto Dassieu to Toronto.  However, we think Toronto is in need of an injection of youth (in the improvised social dance of Argentine Tango)… and I suppose that’s what we’re here for!  Unfortunately, it’s hard to get people (young and old) excited about Tango when the visiting teachers are “old” or not so supple.  That’s not to say we agree with that.  However, it takes most people a long time to see within Tango… and in Toronto, there is still a huge proportion of the community who continually demonstrate their preference to learn from stage/exhibition dancers and/or other young non-traditional dancers.  The other issue is that Toronto dancers need to stop learning from so many different teachers and choose just one or two.  As ex-ballroom and ballet dancers (which are standardized dances), we know that students are never encouraged to learn from multiple teachers.  So now take Tango (a non-standardized dance where teachers have different styles and technique) and we cannot even fathom why students don’t understand the importance of sticking with one or two teachers when they learn Tango (or any art form for that matter).  Actually, there’s a *3-part interview with Ney Melo that came out recently and he makes a comment about this which we completely agree with:

I say ‘If you try to be everything, in the end, you are nothing’. You cannot mix technique. If I want to dance like a certain teacher, then I will take classes from that teacher and do EVERYTHING that they do. I will copy everything about their dance and stick with their technique for a long time.

Those with no dance or body movement experience somehow think they suddenly understand all body movement and that they have excellent body awareness… when in fact these same people can barely get through the most basic 8-step sequence… alone!  One of the reasons a better dancer dances well is due to the combination of technique they use.

*Ney also makes some really keen observations about Tango in North America that are well worth the read:

Part I
Part II
Part III

What’s coming up for MIM tango?

We’re going to continue doing what we’ve been doing… and that includes offering TRADITIONAL Argentine Tango which is made up of a dance and a culture.  We refuse to sell out and we’ll continue to teach the Tango of Buenos Aires… the Tango of Javier Rodriguez & Andrea Misse… the Tango of Alberto Dassieu… the Tango of Andres Laza Moreno (our Maestro). We’ll also continue to teach our students the codes of Tango AND floorcraft.  Finally, we’ll continue to share our love for this dance while guiding our students on their Tango journey.

Oh yes, and did Kristina buy any shoes?

Yet another wonderful aspect of the Tango in Seoul is the fact that they have their own Tango shoe designer and maker in the city!!  Unfortunately, Koreans tend to have cute little feet and there weren’t any in Kristina’s or Jani’s sizes!


O Demos; How We Hate Thee!

Apparently, we’re supposed to like performing demos.  Somehow being a teacher means we’re not supposed to get nervous when we dance said demos.  But we’re not nervous when we perform!? Noooooo… We’re “excited” (*sarcasm*).

Take a look at the kitties below. They tell it the way it is.  Gato numero uno is nervous.

Nervous

Gato numero dos is excited.

Excited

We’re with gato numero uno.  We may well want to be gato numero dos when we dance a demo, but the rapid heart beat, shaking, and stiff muscles all lead us to believe we are nervous.  We’re shaking (literally) in our Tango-booties.  While there may be a serious issue with those Tango dancers who seem to like performing/acting more than they like the actual improvised/social Tango they’re dancing, we would love to experience a taste of their adrenaline-free demo.

The idea that the essence of Argentine Tango is easily lost in a performance is often very true for us.  Meanwhile, this is said as we head to Korea to partake and PERFORM  (eek!) in the Seoul Tango Festival.  We’re learning though.  We’re learning that sometimes it’s better to keep our demos “simple”.  However we’re also learning that sometimes it’s better if we take risks, as it opens the door to dancing from our soul.   That is why we are not going to choose the songs for our demo until the day of the performance and we’re going to choose songs outside our usual comfort zone.  This is another chance to remind ourselves that the dance is for the two of us… we don’t need to be perfect… Tango is about being free and so…

We release and destroy the need to impress anyone.


Got No Rhythm

Among Tango dancers, there are those who have played instruments, have gone to university to major or minor in music, and/or are music aficionados.  While some have proven to have excellent beat perception, we have been continually amazed by Tango music’s ability to make one “deaf”.

All that we have observed, read, and heard (not to mention, using a little plain old “common” sense) have led us to understand that ignoring the “compas” (ie, the beat) while dancing Argentine Tango is absolutely unacceptable.  The music, in Tango, is king… and within the music, the “compas” is king.

While in Buenos Aires, whenever the late Osvaldo Zotto’s name came up, the following comment almost always followed: “muy sordo” (very deaf). Did he feel the music and move within the music?  Sure.  But he had an ability to miss/avoid the beat like no other well-known dancer we have ever seen.

There’s no doubt that Tango music is very complex and oftentimes the beat is very elusive.  For those of you who have difficulty finding the beat, maybe this will be helpful. However, if this doesn’t help, maybe you have an actual case of beat deafness.