Tag Archives: Tango Styles

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.

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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!


Copycats and Being “Unique”

 

This intro comment is going to confuse people slightly:  We’ve had our fill of hearing how everyone should learn and discover their “own style” of Tango.  “Be unique”, “don’t copy”, etc, etc.

Please read on:

Back in the good old days in Buenos Aires there were plenty of dancers to watch and learn from.  It was possible to absorb bits and pieces (aesthetically, technically, etc) from multiple AMAZING dancers.  No one went to a class with ONE role model; the milongas with all its dancers were the role models.

How is a student supposed to do that now?  Especially a student outside of Buenos Aires? All one can do is look to their teacher as a role model and (consciously or not) copy them in the beginning.  Only after years of dancing and feeling at peace with the dance can one begin to take an individual path.  Otherwise, dancers end up spending more time trying to look “different” and “unique” instead of actually dancing nicely with their partner.

The whole idea of finding your own “style” is quite ridiculous to us.  Firstly, we dislike the word “style”.  Ultimately, you can only  truly dance who you are – you can only dance “you”.  So if “style” means the way you stand, embrace, tilt your head, etc. (i.e., the external package), we repeat:  ridiculous.  There will be copycats, but you will see it right away when there seems to be more effort in replicating favourite steps rather than just dancing.   It will probably look soulless or forced.

Here is a very recent example of what copying looks like.  There is no denying that this couple (especially the man) is dancing someone else’s dance and not their own (and we all know whose dance it is):

This is an unfortunate example of how trying too hard to look and dance like your role model results in a completely unoriginal and soulless dance.  There is plenty of talent here, but it has been severely sacrificed.

Some people claim to have their own “style” – simply because the outer package looks different – but these same people (international and local dancers alike) are the ones you see doing Javier’s “moves”, Julio Balmaceda’s “moves”, Gabriel Misse’s “moves”, Osvaldo&Coca’s “moves”, or any other “youtube” move, one after the other.  That is far more average and dull than the people who may have similar postures as their favourite dancers, but actually dance their own dance.

It is the responsibility of a Tango teacher to teach proper technique (i.e., providing students with natural and comfortable postures and movements) so that partners don’t hurt each other or themselves.

It is the responsibility of a Tango Teacher to teach the concepts of Tango (i.e., embracing fully, taking care of the woman, dancing with masculinity/femininity, etc).

It is also the responsibility of a Tango teacher to teach the culture of Argentine Tango (which includes the music, the codes of the milongas, and more).

Withholding any of these or expecting your students to find them on their own is a sign of neglect and makes us wonder if these teachers even like Tango (and/or teaching it).

ANALOGY: Dear student, we want you to learn the Finnish language.  We won’t tell you what real Finnish language is, instead we’ll let you find it on your own.

Good luck with that ;)


Dissing Good Posture?

We’ve all seen these “poor” postures in Tango.  We usually refer to them as the “E.T. head” and the “Leg Humper”.

Having good posture in Tango often translates into looking elegant.  We are often told that we have nice posture and dance elegantly. But honestly, this is not something we try to do.  It is something we are.  With a background in ballet for K and years of ballroom training for Jorge, good posture and elegant movement are just part of the package.

We find it interesting to note that young tangueros tend to be dissed for having good posture.  You won’t hear milongueros being dissed for their good posture.  Milongueros such as Jorge Garcia, Nito Garcia, Gerardo Portalea, to name a few, stand straight and look great!

Perhaps then, you can understand why attempting to change our posture in Buenos Aires was something we did not like and decided against.  We tried it for a few months and realized it simply was not working for us.  We did change a lot about our posture, but we did so following our Maestro’s advice in a way that only enhanced our dance.  What happened (and it was an exception) was that a milonguero we love and respect wanted Jorge to hunch/bend over and the both of us to really bend our knees.  To this milonguero, bending over and bending knees is where Tango is found.  Unfortunately, it’s not where our Tango could be found.

On a purely aesthetic level, picture two thin individuals who reach 5’11 (once shoes are on) bending their knees a lot and hunching over.  Add to that a “v-embrace” with a slightly open head for K.  Keep in mind we are the same height with heels on so the result is that our heads get in each others’ way.  Add to that K’s lack of chest “endowment” and the result is a lot of space between our chests. Since our heads are in the way, it creates extra inches between our chests, but the lack of “boobage” means we are no longer touching chests unless K arches her back!? We promise you, it is not a pretty site (or a comfortable embrace for either one of us).

People everywhere are dealing with the results of having bad posture in everyday life.  It’s not a surprise that many of the problems dancers deal with in their dance are a direct result of having bad posture (ex: balance issues, sore backs/necks/etc, difficulties walking with a partner, etc). Why would anyone purposely teach people to Tango with bad posture?  Or why would teachers, especially teachers with an understanding of the body, allow their students to continue dancing with bad posture without correcting it?  One answer we’ve come across is that teachers want to let students find their “own” Tango.  Now that’s just crazy.


3 Types of Tango

We have come to a realization that there are three kinds of (“Argentine”) Tango found in the world.

1)  Argentine Tango – regardless of whether it is “Barrio” style or “Centro” style

2)  Nuevo Tango

3)  Alternative Tango (which encompasses all the “alternative” forms of Tango found in between and outside of Argentine and Nuevo Tango


Tango “Styles”

We have previously stated that we don’t really believe in different styles of Tango and that there is only one Tango that has personal styles or is danced somewhat differently due to space, location (barrio), or era.  After our time in Buenos Aires, we discovered that this holds true… almost.  We did observe and hear some definitions for the various styles and here is what we learned (but is by no means the absolute truth on this topic):

Milonguero Style (or “Centro” Style)

Is seen mostly in the downtown milongas where there is less space to dance.  The embrace stays closed, the steps are smaller, and the musicality is slightly more literal and “choppy” (however, it is in no way S.O.S. Tango Musicality).

Villa Urquiza Style (or “Barrio” Style)

This is the most marketed style – especially by those who have no concept of what it represents.  It is about quality – in posture, movement, and musicality. Specifically, there is a focus on the connection of the steps to the music.  For this reason, it is said to be “elegant”.  This style is more easily danced when there is more space in the milongas because it can use a more flexible embrace (at time interchanging between closed and open).  The men tend to use enrosques during giros and dance more elaborate steps.  It is these elaborate steps which provide “space” for the more complex expression of music often seen in this style.

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A “milonguero” may dance any one of these styles and does not necessarily dance “Milonguero Style” Tango.

Our “Style”

What “style” do we dance?  We don’t claim to dance any “style” of Tango.  However, here’s our answer:  When we danced in a Buenos Aires milonga that didn’t provide much space, our Tango was more of a Milonguero Style (we were even told a couple times that our dancing was “muy milonguero”).  When we had and have more space, our dancing is more typical of the “Barrio” style.  Although we may have learned some Villa Urquiza Style Tango and our dance may have some flavourings of it, we would not claim to dance it at all.

For those who continuously want to claim that Nuevo Tango is a style of Argentine Tango, we can only say that we never once heard a teacher of Argentine Tango put Nuevo in a list of styles.