Tag Archives: Milongas

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.

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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!


Tango Victims: Charity Dances, Pity Dances, and Being “Nice” Dances

*I vant to suck your Tango blood!

We overheard two women over the span of five minutes ask a young tanguero to dance with them later in the night.  We know this tanguero and his inability to say no; the same inability that still creeps up on Jorge sometimes.  Heck, K has even been caught off guard lately.  Women abuse this knowledge and are often asking said tanguero for dances.  Although we’ve written about the lack of a consistently used “cabeceo” in our community and how we believe that women and men have equal rights to ask for dances, there’s something that people should understand about Tango: Tango and Tango dancers are to be respected.

This is what we overheard: “I was his partner in the class so he should be nice and dance with me in the milonga.”  This is not so different from the common rumblings of how tango teachers should dance with their students in a milonga.  Or how friends should dance with friends.  Or how better dancers should be “generous” with their dances and dance with beginners.  These types of statements are very frustrating.  To begin with, most people go to a milonga to have a good time, enjoy dancing, and get away from the “real world”.  Then why are people being expected to do something that may include not having a good time or enjoying their dance?  Practicas can be used for this. That said, Toronto has, in the past, been virtually void of any real practicas.  Either everyone has already “perfected” their Tango or they think practicing means dancing a whole song or tanda without stopping, without giving feedback, and in general, without improving one’s dance.

What gets to us more than this is the complete disregard for what Tango is and what it means to dance Tango with someone you don’t want to.  Tango is an extremely intimate dance.  You are putting your chests together, wrapping your arms around one another, touching heads/faces and sharing approximately 12 minutes of your life this way.  Forget Tango for a second and ask yourself how you would like it if a stranger came up to you and asked/demanded a 12 minute hug from you (simply because you had a chat with them at the corner store)?

If you want to dance with a visiting/local teacher, take privates with them.  When your dancing is enjoyable for the both of you, the teacher will ask you to dance or let you know they would like to dance with you in a milonga.  Teachers are people too and they dance Tango because they love it (or at least we do).   No one should have to sacrifice their love of the dance to dance with students, potential students, friends, or just to be “nice”?

As in all facets of life, there are exceptions,  but these should not be expectations.  In order to avoid making any assumptions, please use the cabeceo.  Use it from your seat.  Don’t come and stand around the person you want to dance with in a stalker-like fashion.  This, by definition, turns the potential dance partner into a Tango victim.


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.


Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am!

Regardless of the city and customs, it is safe to say that in every Tango community, the man appears in front of the woman for a dance.  Whether it be by cabeceo – where the woman waits at her seat until the man arrives in front of her in order to avoid any mistaken acceptances – or by direct verbal invitation at the woman’s seat, the man has made the trek to the woman’s location.  How nice and brave of him to have done so!

Fred Astaire the gentleman

What ensues may or may not be a delightful dance.  Perhaps both of you cannot wait for the songs to be over.  On the other hand, you may be experiencing a wonderful embrace while moving delightfully to the music.  The last song of the tanda will end, you will thank each other, and then the leader will leave the follower high and dry on the dance floor to find her own way back to her seat.  What?!

How has the simple tradition of  walking a woman back to her seat after a dance – which exists in many countries around the world – not made its way into North American Tango culture?  Although we assume it did exist in the past with other dances, it no longer exists in our ultra modern society (sarcasm).  Being from Finland, Jorge has never known to do any differently until we began Tango in Canada.  Besides observing how men leave their partner from any place on the dance floor, Jorge has actually had difficulty bringing women back to their seats.  Some women are so used to the complete lack of gentlemanly courtesy that they are virtually running off the dance floor after the tanda, leaving Jorge to follow in their wake.  The expression “Wham bam thank you ma’am” feels very appropriate here.

Men, after sharing your body, mind, and spirit with your Tango partner, have the decency to walk women back to their seats.  If you haven’t already been practicing this concept or it doesn’t exist in your community, now is the time to start!

Women, after sharing your body, mind, and spirit with your Tango partner, have the decency to allow men to walk you back to your seats.


Tango in Medellin, Colombia

Try as we might, we were not able to experience Argentine Tango in Medellin.  The supposed birthplace of Carlos Gardel (Wikipedia says so…  OK, it also goes on to say he was born in Argentina and Uruguay too) and his place of death.  Apparently that’s what counts.

We researched on the internet (very little un-detailed info), we e-mailed a teacher in the city (helpful), we tried to find the milonga cafe (you try navigating those streets), and we even called the milonga location (the number was out of order).  However, the Tango universe was against us and Saturday night remained another Tango-less night in our travels around South America.

Medellin, and Colombia in general, have not been complete Tango disappointments though.  The moment we arrived in Colombia we heard Tango playing on the radio stations.  Mixed in with all the other Colombian rhythms, there was Tango!  At times, the songs were completely bastardized versions of the old greats, but at other times we were treated to beautiful pieces we had never heard before by the Maestros.

We left the beautiful city of Medellin to catch a flight to Ecuador only two days before the Medellin Tango Festival begun.  Had we known about the festival earlier, we would have tried to plan our travels around it.  The event seems to be quite a huge deal.  The beauty of this festival is that, unlike other places in the world, the festival interests everyone and not only Tango enthusiasts.  Tango and Gardel seem to have very special places in the hearts of the Medellin people.

Perhaps one day we will have the opportunity to experience the Tango Medellin has to offer… but not until someone in that city actually makes their Tango/milonga information readily available on the internet!


Comical Compliments x 2

We have been struggling a great deal with a big faux-pas here in Buenos Aires.  We do not enjoy dancing in the milongas.  Yes, everyone take a moment to gasp and shake their head in disgust.  We definitely didn’t see that one coming ourselves.*

Here is a brief overview of our reasons.

Both of us:

1) don’t enjoy having to sit apart in order to dance with other people – we miss out on enjoying each others’ company

2) we don’t like the lack of space to dance – dancing Tango in busy downtown milongas is akin to shuffling forward in a grocery line (there is a contradiction in the fact that the walk is one of the most important elements of Tango given that there is NO space to take one normal sized step in a milonga)

K:

1) has not been impressed with the level of dancing (we were both convinced this would not be an issue here, but it is)

2) although she may enjoy some wonderful dances with some wonderful dancers, she does not care if she dances with any of them again (were there some exceptions? yes, but few and far between)

3) she grows tired of the same old steps and patterns found on the crowded milonga floor

Jorge:

1) hates how his dancing is dictated by space and the couples around him rather than by the music and his creative energy

2) finds it difficult to dance with the Porteñas of the milonga that are used to dancing the same old steps and patterns found on the crowded milonga floor because they assume the steps rather than follow

This last point leads to the title of this post.  K received the most comical compliment from two different men on the same night.  In Castellano, she was told by surprised men, “You follow everything!” This compliment really shines light on the difficulties Jorge has with the dancing of the Porteñas.  Meanwhile K was flattered but couldn’t help laugh to herself.  Isn’t she supposed follow everything!?

*As a post-script: We learned to love dancing in the milongas once our Tango movement became appropriate for crowded milongas AND once we unlearned/released the muscle-leading/following we were accustomed to.