Tag Archives: Traditional

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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The Honeymoon Phase is Over When:

Honeymoon Bliss?

…you don’t feel the need to dance every “tanda”.

…you actually enjoy sitting and listening to the music at a milonga.

…you have no desire to dance outside on a concrete floor, in cold weather, or at other locations not meant for Tango.

…you are aware of the Tango music you are amassing – you no longer download/copy any song that is Tango-like in nature.

…you are no longer interested in volcadas/colgadas/ganchos (if you ever were).

…you no longer attempt to put Tango moves to every piece of music (if you ever did).

…you no longer find it acceptable to hear anything but “golden era” Tango music at a milonga (if you ever did).

…you know how to decline a dance… and you do it.

…you no longer think “El Huracan” is a good piece of music to dance to (unless it’s D’Arienzo’s ’44) and you’ve heard “Desde el alma”, “Corazón de oro”, and Poema” (Canaro) played often enough, thank you.

…you think it’s outrageous to hear 3 or more D’Arienzo Tango tandas played at the milonga (especially if it’s less than 4 hours long)… and in fact, you don’t think everything your local DJ plays is good, is in a properly constructed tanda (i.e., what happened to playing songs from the same era?!), or is being played at the appropriate time in the night (because you can actually hear the difference between the songs AND you are actually listening to the music now).

…you do not want to hear Tango tandas by D’Arienzo and DiSarli following one another (too much!).

…you still love Caló with Berón, but you now know that it is like vanilla-flavoured ice cream (flavoured with REAL vanilla) – simple and special, but not the end-all of Tango music. (A friendly poke to some of you out there – you know who you are ;)

…you no longer think that chest contact alone amounts to an embrace – you want more than a feather-light touch.

…you no longer think that any/every teacher brought to your city or seen on YouTube is amazing and you are not impressed or interested in all the tricks and flashy moves they do.

In many ways, it makes us sad to admit that we are no longer in the Tango honeymoon phase. On the flip-side of the coin, we are happy that we are not dancers who are STUCK in the honeymoon phase – and there are many of those.  Once you grow out of the honeymoon phase, that is when you and your dance can begin to mature. We feel that we are now more knowledgeable, our dancing has evolved, and we don’t live in a delusion. We KNOW that Tango in Buenos Aires is so much better.


How We Teach & Promote Argentine Tango

... Tango Awareness, that is.

1. We play only traditional Argentine Tango music AND we only dance to this music.

2. We teach our students to dance counter-clockwise, in one lane, and to not pass other couples (unless absolutely necessary – and NEVER on the right side of a couple) AND we dance with these proper floor skills.

3. We teach our students to keep their feet on the ground as much as possible AND we keep our feet on the ground as much as possible.

4. We do not teach ganchos or other unnecessary movements AND we don’t dance with these kinds of movements.

5. We teach social and improvised Tango that is conducive to dancing on a milonga floor AND we dance a social and improvised Tango.

6. We teach the “cabeceo” (reminding our students that it is done from your seat and not at the corner of the woman’s table) AND we actually use it.

7. As teachers, when we go to Buenos Aires, we go as students ready to learn more. We take classes, we learn more about the music, we dance socially, and we live Tango.

8. We teach our students about the music and the importance of it. We tell them which orchestra/singer/era will be playing during the class. We even remind our students that they should not embrace until the song has begun in order to develop a feeling for what is being played.

9. We teach our students that a “cortina” is a small piece of non-Tango music used to CLEAR the floor between “tandas” and no one should dance to the “cortina” or remain on the floor during this time.

10. We tell our students to go out dancing, to dance with various partners… but we also let our students know that they are allowed to decline dances for whatever reason.

*Although we teach and promote these concepts (and more) with the hope that we’re positively influencing our students, we are often reminded that people will eventually make their own choices – for better or for worse.


The Search for “Natural”

There are several unnatural body movements and concepts found in Tango. One of the obvious ones being the woman’s back walk. However, many of the movements are very natural (or can be) and that is how we teach our students to see Tango. It is also the way we believe Tango has evolved – giving women the ability to be stronger and more independent in the dance, and allowing the movement for both dancers to be more natural.  The problem is that many students are taught to dance in countless unnatural ways.

Collecting  Collecting one’s feet (or specifically squeezing the thighs) OBSESSIVELY is not natural (or necessary). Let gravity work its magic and the leg will fall naturally perpendicular to the floor, straight under the pelvis. Having legs that act like pendulums will allow the ankles to come close together or make contact between steps.

Pretty Feet In addition to being taught to collect legs obsessively, many women have also been taught that their feet aren’t pretty enough. In order to “pretty” up the feet, women are taught to pronate their feet. There are many dancers and professional tango teachers that now have completely over-pronated feet.

This is an example of an over-pronated foot in Tango:

This is an example of a more natural line:

Having natural lines mean your feet fall downwards when they are beneath you. When they are to the side, they can relax, but they should NOT be pushed downwards in order to get a more “intense” (pronated) look to the foot.

Some dancers coming from ballet may have developed this pronation in their feet, but it should not be taught and it should not be the expected norm.

Toe first How do most people walk in their daily lives? Do they land toe first? No. Humans walk in a way that has the heel hitting the ground first. Students new to Tango have enough to worry about without having to relearn how to walk.  Although toe-first can add an aesthetic variation to the dance, it is by no means necessary. Plus many who teach the toe-first technique often also teach the idea that the foot should lead (or move first) and then the body. We’re always fascinated by this. How on earth is a woman supposed to feel a man’s foot moving first?

Photo borrowed from  Simba Tango.

**We’ll always remember what one Milonguero told us: Toe first is for dancers; heel first is for Tangueros.**

Hips Forward Tango requires room between the man and woman’s pelvises. Otherwise, women, you are castrating the man. You are taking away his ability and liberty to walk forward freely. We will admit that at first glance, having your hips back is unnatural. However, if you want to hug, create space, and not lean on your partner (or have all your weight on the balls of your feet), then your hips will need to be pulled back so that your centre of gravity will be over your own feet. Having your hips back mean that your legs will be perpendicular with the ground. Leaning forward with the weight all in the balls of your feet is unnatural and painful…  and if you are not leaning forward, you are touching one another’s groins… and that is unnecessary in Tango and brings us back to the point that the man is being “castrated”.

One or Two Tracks Very few people naturally walk in one track (this being the equivalent to walking on a tightrope). Why? Because just like walking on a tightrope, it’s difficult?! We stand on two legs that are under us in such a way as to give us good, natural balance.

Over-Disassociation or No Disassociation We’ve seen students who have been taught to disassociate exaggeratedly when walking – especially when walking outside of a partner. The disassociation is so extreme that when these students dance with anyone who has not learned from their teacher, the entire balance of the couple is thrown off. On the flip side of the coin, we have (more often) seen students who have never learned to disassociate – in general or as part of the lead. These people move like cement pillars and wonder why they can’t lead any of the more demanding movements (without tension).

Overly-Relaxed or Full of Tension It is fundamentally important that dancers be relaxed in Tango. Teachers who ask their students to have firm (read stiff) arms and embraces, clearly don’t understand that Tango consists of an “abrazo” (hug). But again, there’s a natural way to be relaxed when dancing and it requires a little more muscle activation than what is needed when lying down. When it comes to being “relaxed”, here are two phrases to remember:

Hug your partner. Don’t turn your embrace into a frame.

Relaxing does NOT  equal collapsing


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!


Women Leading

It should come as no surprise to people who read this blog that we do not like it when women lead in Tango.  To preface,  let us say we are feminists.  We believe in equal rights.  We are very open-minded and very liberal. Anyone who has been to our classes can attest to the fact that we don’t appear to have a traditional/stereotypical relationship.  K does the majority of the talking in front of a group.  She is outgoing and loud (and a little crazy).  Jorge, on the other hand, is quiet, calm, and very easy going.  Leaving our personal relationship aside, let us put it this way: If ever there was a woman you would guess would start up leading in the milongas, your first bet would be K.

However, K doesn’t lead in the milongas and here are the main reasons why we don’t like women leading (in general and especially in the milongas):

1) lack of culture and tradition

Tango is a traditional dance that calls upon a man to lead a woman.  It is part of the dance and it is part of the culture. In the same way that neglecting to use the cabeceo or proper floorcraft are a disrespect to the culture, so is a woman leading.

2) lack of “manliness” or male energy

Men are on average bigger and taller than women (Jorge is taller, but not always bigger – and there are plenty of men that are bigger, but not taller :)  Men are more likely to emit a male energy when they dance – women are not as likely to do so.  A woman is more likely to look wimpy and dance in a “feminine” way (not to mention often in heels!?). She is also likely to feel wimpy. As such, “wimpy” men are not very enjoyable to dance with either.

3) lack of reason

Yes, it may be important for female teachers to learn how to lead (although if you teach as a couple, this may be less important). That said, the majority of dancers on the floor are not teachers.  Yes, there are often more women in a milonga (but K has no interest in getting up on the floor to lead those extra women and has no problem dancing less). Yes, K practices leading (and has yet to lead a better follower than Jorge ;).  Although it definitely benefits a man’s dance to learn how to follow, it does not help a woman to follow better. It may indeed give her insight into the minds of and problems faced by leaders, but it will not do much to improve anything in her dance.

___

Traditionally, Tango is a “man’s” dance, but this does not negate the fact that the woman has an equal role.  The culture and tradition of Argentine Tango can be respected and followed even while it continues to evolve.  For example, we teach our male students how to embrace a woman so that both parties are comfortable.  Perhaps it is safe to say that in days gone by, the man chose his embrace without any input from the woman… and no woman would dare tell him to change his embrace.  Our students are taught that they will eventually find an embrace that is theirs, but they are also taught, for example, that having a left arm that bends at a far steeper angle than 90 degrees in going to put strain on a woman’s right shoulder and her back… and so not to do it.

In conclusion, let us make it clear that we are NOT referring to, nor are we against, couples in a homosexual relationship wanting to learn and dance Tango. We would only suggest that each person in the dance partnership embrace the expectations of whichever role they choose, be it leader or follower.


We Hate Traditions…

…but we LOVE Argentine Tango

It seems that the majority of people demand the “perfect traditional” wedding with a marriage in a religious temple, something blue/borrowed/old, bride’s maids, ushers, etc (or whichever traditions follow one’s culture and beliefs). Yet when it comes to tango, there are those who shout, “Screw tradition!” and turn their noses up at it. We hate traditions – K wore a red dress, had bride’s dudes, and didn’t scare with any of the superstitions. But when it comes to tango, we respect it. We respect the dance and the culture it is. We are called names and disliked for voicing our respect of tango and not creating our own version or style.

We respect this and believe this to be Argentine Tango:

While this is an interesting and different dance that is called Nuevo Tango: