Tag Archives: Buenos Aires

Tango is FUN!

In our previous post, we wrote about a special moment that rarely happens in an embrace.  It involves laughing.  Perhaps this will lead many to think it is not a rare occurrence… because Tango is FUN!

There is a “North American” Tango mentality that exists; a mentality that does not exist in the Tango of Buenos Aires.* In Buenos Aires, Tango is serious business.  It’s a passionate affair of the heart, the mind, and the body.  Portenos who Tango are in love with the dance, the music, the embrace, going to milongas, and yes, the nostalgia of it all.  They radiate intense energy while dancing and while listening to the music at their seats.  But are they smiling much?  No, not really.

We have been asked often why people don’t seem to smile while dancing Tango.  “Isn’t it enjoyable?” Our answer comes in the form of an analogy which coincides well with the horrible Tango media sound-byte: “Tango is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire.”  The analogy is this: When participating in sex/love-making with a partner, how many of you are smiling while doing so?  We think it’s safe to say that most of you are not smiling.  Does that mean it isn’t enjoyable?  No! Sex/love-making is serious business.

This brings us to the point of this post.  Regardless of the “style” or version of Tango being danced, we have observed the North American Tango mentality to be completely different from the Buenos Aires Tango mentality.  Looking at it from the North American Tango mentality (NATM), we have narrowed these differences into three groups: the “Enjoyment Factor”, the “Connection Factor”, and the “Being Nice Factor”.

Enjoyment Factor – the NATM requires Tango to be “fun”.  There is almost an expectation that we should smile while we dance.  There is a tendency for the cortinas (the interlude songs between the groups of Tango music) to be really upbeat and “fun”.  Finally, there is a need to make one’s dance “fun”.  In order to do this, one should “play” with the moves and the music, and your dance should be “unique”… and fun.

Look at that “fun” boleo!

Connection Factor – the NATM has an almost obsessive fixation on “connection”.  This is not in reference to the straight-forward glue-your-chests-together embrace connection, but more to do with the “elusive” connection talked about, blogged about, and “workshopped” about.  It remains elusive because it isn’t so elusive!

It has been our experience as students and teachers that the reason for this may have to do with the fact that the embrace is not being taught well, or more importantly, at all.  When students are taught to give their chests to their partner at all times and they are taught to “chase” each other’s chest at all times, “connection” becomes an almost obsolete term.

Being Nice Factor – Finally, the NATM is all about being “nice”. Forget about going out to dance Tango because you would like to have a lovely evening.  No, the milonga is the place to put your desires aside.  There is an expectation that you should dance with everyone and with as many people as you can, regardless of the dancer’s level/ability.  In some communities, you are also expected to hug your partner after the tanda (although the man may nevertheless leave you standing in the middle of the floor afterward).

We have said it before, but we’ll say it again: Tango is more than just a dance; it is a culture.  If the two are separated, we are left dancing a ghostly version of what Tango is.  For this reason, we do our best to live and exude the culture in our dance.

*We cannot speak to the mentalities that exist in Asia, Europe, or other places in the world.

Advertisements

Hugging Technique

Tango is, without a doubt, found in the music and the embrace.  It is a dance of the people – for the people.  We understand that and we only truly learned it and understood it after 8 months of living (and inhaling Tango) in Buenos Aires.  We also understand, as people who have danced the majority of their lives, that having good technique only enhances one’s Tango.  There is no debating that having better posture and good balance are going to make the dance feel better for both yourself and your partner.  Having “perfect” feet – well, that isn’t so important.

In Tango, we can all understand that the embrace is a hug and that we’re giving our partner a hug that lasts a whole song.  However, it has been assumed by some that there is no technique to hugging and people don’t need to learn how to hug.  If students need to learn to walk (and they do), hugging (which is something they do far less than walking) is definitely going to have to be taught.   If you think that hugging and walking are easy for Tango students, go observe a beginner class to see how the majority of students end up walking on bent legs (something they didn’t do before arriving to the class) with their hips and feet leading the way.  But this is a topic for another time.

We previously wrote about the “Culture of Touching” that exists in Argentina and how living in a country that does not have this type of physical interaction leaves many at an “embrace disadvantage”.  There is a reason that many people mock the North American hug with its minimal touching.

This might be a bit of an exaggeration…

We have been the recipient of innumerable awkward hugs (in and out of Tango).  Hugging may be natural, but it is NOT normal or comfortable for many people.  We have been given crushing hugs, limp hugs, half hugs, and soulless hugs (to name a few).  The truth is, many people DO need to learn how to hug – especially how to give consistent hugs in Tango to friends and strangers alike.


Too Much Talking

The most important aspects of Tango were learned while listening, not while dancing.

A common complaint from Tango students around the world seems to be this: “There was too much talking and not enough dancing.”  During group lessons and private lessons, people just want to dance.  We get it.  However, we also think it’s safe to say that the same people who complain about too much talking are also the same people who are fixated on steps.

The most important aspects of Tango were learned while listening, not while dancing.

Graciela Gonzalez teaches an incredible workshop for LEADERS.  She is well known for her workshop for followers, but the one for leaders is quite special.  There are opportunities to practice the concepts taught, but it is the explanation of these concepts (hence a lot of talking) that are the most important.

Our most dramatic Tango-changing moments happened when teachers in Buenos Aires were TALKING and explaining the concepts, history, or culture of Tango to us.  That’s not to say changes didn’t occur while dancing and practicing, but the biggest changes… those happened while LISTENING. Unfortunately, people see classes as the only place to practice.  Instead students should learn/understand the concepts (listening), try the concepts (a bit of practicing), practice the concepts (in a practica), and finally embody those concepts (in a milonga).


One Dance for Another

Many tangueros speak of all they have given up in order to dance tango and how everything revolves around the dance – more than any other. Overall, it was the opposite for us. Having been competitive ballroom dancers, we actually spent more time dancing and practicing, spent more money (memberships, competitive outfits, private lessons, practices, competitions), and we were all-consumed by it. We didn’t read tango blogs – instead we researched our competitors, looked at competition photos, and shined our trophies (kidding ;) We traveled around the country competing and had we continued to live and compete in Finland, we would have begun traveling throughout Europe to compete. For us, dancing tango meant we had more free time than we’d ever had and more money … well in the beginning anyway.   Then the privates started.  -We are still aghast and disgusted by the fact that Tango teachers charge more for privates than National Ballroom Champions who are experts in FIVE or TEN dances rather than ONE and have generally danced far less time (not including any milongueros).-  Then the shoe fetish began.  Then the extra group classes we wanted to attend.  Then all the milongas and practicas… and finally, the plan for a pilgrimage to the Tango mother land.

Now, we breath and live Tango.  We listen to the music almost all the time (there wasn’t a chance we would have listened to Ballroom music all the time), we watch youtube videos, we read blogs, and  generally have Tango on the brain.  Whereas some people have difficulty adjusting their lives (friendships, etc) to this new love, it was something we were both used to doing with other dances.  We LOVE dancing and dancing has always been a passion for us.  Now that we have Tango, the passion has deepened and we feel the culture of Tango within us.

We couldn’t be happier that it all turned out the way it did.


Who is Javier Rodriguez?

Let us begin with a quote a dear (tango) friend of ours made about Tango and Javier: “Not knowing who Geraldine and Javier are would be the same as saying you love ballet and you don’t know who Baryshnikov is.”

We are constantly amazed when people who love Tango have no idea who this couple are (were) and this is a thought we have had even before we came to Buenos Aires and before we finally decided to try a private lesson with Javier. We booked a private with him long after arriving in Buenos Aires and only after seeing him perform in Sunderland (a milonga here in Buenos Aires). It was there that we saw just how incredible and respected he is. After his performance with Stella Misse, the locals (including many milongueros) were on their feet and the sound of applause all but raised the roof!

Javier does not teach choreography unless it’s specifically what you are looking for. He dances an improvised Tango and his performances are improvised (unless it’s an OBVIOUS choreography – we say obvious because we have heard/read many people say/write that one of Javier’s demos was a good choreography when it was in fact an improvisation). Whether he dances big or small is completely dependent on the space he has. There hasn’t been a dancer/teacher/milonguero here who has has told us to dance small all the time. In fact, we’ve been told the complete opposite: When you have the space, use it!

Javier’s lessons have completely opened our eyes to what Tango is here in Buenos Aires. He has helped us to understand how porteños view and feel about Tango … how to dance with male and female energies… etc, etc… Javier can blow your mind and change your life with regards to tango. And he can do it in just one lesson.


Missing Tango

Three months have passed with virtually no Tango in our lives.  It’s been pretty depressing.  However, there hasn’t been a day that has gone by where we haven’t thought of Tango, heard Tango playing in our heads, or played Tango on our little laptop.  We are definitely looking forward to returning to Tango in Buenos Aires.  In fact, we’ll be returning earlier than planned despite having to leave the warm weather of our travels.

Mi Tango Querido… We miss you.


Culture Immersion

When we were in Buenos Aires we often felt very conflicted about seeing dancers we knew from Toronto.  Let us rephrase that:  We weren’t really conflicted, but we didn’t want to offend anyone.

Let K preface by saying that she has lived abroad.  K originally went to teach children English in Finland for a year, but then met Jorge and moved back there for another 3.5 years.  During her first year, she was invited by a foreign student to befriend all the other foreign students, as had her predecessor.  Although very thankful, K had no interest in this.  Had she really traveled all that way to hang out with other foreigners?  No.  Instead, she befriended Jorge and spent all her free time with him and his family, and she immersed herself in the Finnish culture.

That said, we hoped that anyone we saw from the homeland would be of the same mindset as us.  Which was: We went to Buenos Aires to experience the culture. Let us say hello, possibly go for coffee, and then be on our separate ways.  We certainly didn’t spend all that hard-earned money to see and spend time with the same people we see back home.

In all honesty though, we did meet some lovely Asians who were wonderful people and who danced the “same kind of Tango” we danced (perfectly said by one of these new friends).  Although we did spend a lot of time with these gringos, the positive was that they were gringos of a different culture than ours.

“Those who visit foreign nations, but associate only with their own country-men, change their climate, but not their customs. They see new meridians, but the same men; and with heads as empty as their pockets, return home with traveled bodies, but untravelled minds.”
– Caleb Colton