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:
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!