Saturday, July 10, 2010


To my mind, there are very few absolutes in tango. Tango is many things to many people. Tango can also be One thing to some people. And all of that is fine and good. What I am having less and less tolerance for is people who have absolutely no tolerance for others. I have read in blogs, heard in milongas, and read on facebook from some folks that Tango IS X and only X and anything other than X is not Tango, but some other dance that should not be allowed in a milonga.

Come off of it.

Tango is a wide range of styles, preferences, movements, music and dance. Some of these things I personally don't care for too much. But I still acknowledge them as tango, just perhaps not my tango. However I embrace a wide range of these elements. For example, I am a close embrace dancer. It is what I prefer and enjoy. However, some of my favorite leaders either go in and out of open and close embraces, or they really enjoy open embrace. So I have learned and am practicing open embrace. I even took a private lesson with an excellent open embrace dancer/teacher for the sole purpose of being able to improve an area that I know is a weakness so that I am a more versatile dancer. Does this make me a tango heretic? I don't think so. I think it opens up doors and possibilities.

I read from one blogger who was complaining about an open embrace move and how it was not tango and how it ruined the moment for her. However, from the comments that followed it came out that she did not actually know the technique of how to follow the move. Perhaps if she learned it then although the move might never be her favorite, it might not be such an earth shattering break for her if it is lead. Instead of reviling this move (which is not any sort of aerial or lift or other "stage tango" step, but it is a more nuevo move that requires a break of the embrace and for the follower to be on her axis and responsive in a particular way), it might have been more productive to say "hum, well, that was awkward. I should ask so-and-so in practica what exactly he expects from his follower when he leads that."

If we homogenize tango, and take out everything that is "not" tango, I wonder if we would be left with anything? Mostly because I don't think that everyone would be able to agree as to what IS tango and therefor everything would be weeded out.

The normal human reaction to that which we don't understand is usually with fear and derision. But instead of reacting that way, wouldn't it make more sense to pause and reflect as to what it is that is making us upset, and maybe by understanding it, we could accept it. You don't have to love it, or even like it, but acceptance will take you a long way in tango, and life....


Elmer said...

I think you are absolutely right! :)

At a recent workshop I attended a follower asked how to know when to change from close to open to close embrace while dancing for those who, like the instructor, believed in flexible embraces while tango dancing. The instructor said that tango patterns "breathed" and the music would tell you when to change. He seemed to know what he was doing so I believed him. :)

Elizabeth said...

Debbi, I agree with you here. I sometimes dance with the most gifted open/close danceers, one who plays bandoneon and teaches music. Brilliant connection. Why bow down to some dogma? Evolution is happening, and with respect as the top priority, and music and the embrace, which can surely be powerful enought to survive the shift of a few inches, we can have it all, breathe it all..
Great points,

tangocherie said...

As far as I know, there's no law against dancing any way one likes, except I suppose, against dancing nude in public.

The problem arises with naming the dance...and with a different point of view of how "it" should be danced in public socially.

Because a social dance is danced publicly and socially, everyone is all together on the same floor. For that reason, and to avoid crashes and injuries, everyone on the same floor should be of a like mind and keep their own space and "follow the rules" of the dance style in question.

Part of the pleasure of dancing in a milonga is the feeling that you are dancing with the entire room. If you are kicking and gonchoing and the couple next to you is following the ronda while within their own space, and let's say the couple on the other side of you is dancing a contemporary choreography--everyone is isolated within their particular steps and outside of the music--well, that's the problem.

So one can dance "tango" in many ways, but not ALL TOGETHER! It just doesn't work that way. Magic is lost, feelings don't combine on their way to heaven, and dancers are defensive and wary, never knowing what to expect.

And the music?!

Years ago I heard someone boasting that he could dance "tango" to Beethoven! Excuse me? Did he mean the D8CBasic? What is "tango" if it's not improvising with elegance in a tight embrace to classical orchestras that move and inspire you?

If you do something else, you can of course call it anything you want, but it's not tango to me.

Debbi said...

@Elmer - I like that, that tango breathes into you. :-) Thanks!

@Elizabeth - thanks so much, I too am not one to bow to dogma, never was. might be part of the reason I followed an artistic bend in the road. :-)

@Cherie - I certainly am not advocating that folks ignore the floorcraft! Good lord that would be foolish! Believe me, I get quite upset when people lead or do high boleos in crowded floors or start flailing about the floor like fishes out of water.
You are also lucky to live in a city where one can go to a milonga that is specifically the style one wants to dance. Very few other cities have that luxury, and I am not in one of them right now. On the whole when people do dance not only with their partners, but with the other couples on the floor, and avoid creating chaos, it works regardless of who is dancing milonguero or salon or even nuevo. To my mind it is all about respect for each other, which I think is the point I am making.
But of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. :-)

Debbi said...

Oh, and I would never say tango to Beethoven would be an appropriate choice. What I meant was the different styles within tango music. There are arguments I over hear about lyrical vs rhythmical, 40's vs 50's, etc. Even though I may not prefer to dance to some tango orchestras, they are still tango music.
I am sure that if someone played The Sugar Plum Fairy Suite at a milonga I would laugh my head off, and not dance to it. ;-)

tangocherie said...

Debbi, I totally understand that in other places, you have to go to the milongas that are available. And when we travel we always visit the local places, and so I've been on the floor when folks are dancing all embraces-all styles to a mix of music from D'Arienzo to Narcotango to Evora.

I guess I didn't make my point well in my previous comment that when everyone is doing their own thing on the floor and not dancing with everyone else, they are missing one of the huge pleasures of tango: that they all are dancing with each other in a cosmic way. When the music slows, everyone slows, when the bandoneon revs up at the end, there are lots of giros, etc. And yes, it can seem like the whole room is breathing together with the music.

I know where there are few choices of milongas, and organizers want to make everyone happy, dancers have to live and let live. I was just putting forward the case once again of "separate but equal," but I know in small communities it's not practical.

These discussions of what is Tango and how should tango be danced and to what music, don't exist with other dances (except I suppose in ballroom where they have so many rules and syllabi). And I believe one of the big reasons for that is La Ronda, which is a huge part of dancing traditional tango. If everyone was just spinning in his own space on the floor, how he dances isn't important as long as he doesn't kick anyone.

Tina said...

I think the definition of tango goes so much deeper than whether an embrace is closed or open, etc...

Tango for me is defined by the music... You can embrace however you'd like, do figures or just walk, but as long as the music has completely entered your body and heart and you're totally "there" with your partner, and you're in harmony with the others on the dance floor, it's tango. :-)

As long as it's danced to tango music. :-D

tangocherie said...

P.S. Debbi, I know you know all of these things and are a gorgeous traditional dancer. I also appreciate that people Stateside have to be more tolerant of the milongas that are available to them, and I really know you wouldn't want to dance tango to Sugar Plum Fairy, but if you did, you'd be very cute and I'd hope someone would post it on YouTube!

(When I said "you" in my earlier comments, I didn't mean you yourself but "one.")

johanna said...

Debbi, et al:
I'm fascinated by how defensive people get when we start discussing what is and isn't tango. For some, it can be absolutely anything they want, as long as they call it tango. For others, it is a very strict and specific thing. When these two groups encounter each other, the friction is caused by lack of a common language.

As Cherie said, these sorts of discussions do not arise with any other dance style because there are certain factors that everyone agrees makes them that particular dance. And nobody has a problem with that. Cha Cha is Cha Cha and Salsa is Salsa the whole world over. You can go anywhere on earth and the minute they play a Foxtrot, you can be sure that you'll be able to dance to it with anyone else who dances that dance form.

That is also the case with Tango - for now. So for me, the concern is that the further we evolve from the tango center (and resist trying to define what is and isn't tango), the less likely this sort of magic can happen with a total stranger on the other side of the world. And without that magic, is it tango?

Naming things is one of human's most identifying traits. No other creature names things. It is the way we perceive the world, interpret its dizzying array of offerings, and make choices about them. There is nothing inherently wrong with naming things.

Tango is different because the thing that "defines" it is, as evidenced by the many, many, many blog posts attempting to do so, almost indefinable, and as a result, resists "naming". For a great number of us, Tango is mostly about the "connection" - something that occurs when a number of factors all happily collaborate. These include embrace, music, and certain movements done together.

But this definition is hardly objective because it is impossible to determine if what I feel in that connection is what you feel in that connection, and whether or not that connection is attainable doing anything else. For some, toasting bread produces similar feelings of connection and ecstasy. Is that tango?

It seems that trying to define what is and isn't Tango is perceived as telling people that they can't have fun, or be creative, or that their feelings and opinions are being questioned or invalidated. I think in trying to define Tango we are looking for a common ground so we can all dance happily.

Debbi said...

I want to make sure I am clear with what I am saying here. I am talking about intolerance towards others. Not naming tango, not likening tango to toasting bread, not dancing to Mozart, not supporting bad floorcraft.

I am talking about being tolerant and accepting of others who might be a little different than you. Maybe they dance aplilado, that does not mean they should be reviled. Maybe they are not Argentine, that does not mean they can't dance tango (which I have heard said numerous times), maybe they go in and out of close embrace.

Within the tango communities as well as the tango umbrella at large, I strongly believe that there is room for a good number of us and for different flavors.

There was a talk a attended on the old masters of tango, and a video was shown of one of the golden age star followers (I am going to ask the lecturer for her name and a link to the video that was shown of her as I can't find it myself). She was 90 years old and come to be honored at a milonga. She had a young leader perform with her. And she danced in open embrace. Granted, if I can get the video to post and share you will clearly see that she was not following and her leader was there as a prop, but you know what, at 90 years old, bully for her. She can do what she wants for an exhibition dance.

All I am saying, is that if people insist on defining tango as only that which they themselves dance, they will be very lonely on the milonga floor.