Space in tango: friend or foe?

Guest post by Jane Prusakova
Jane's blog, "Software and Other Things" can be found HERE.


Always Tango Elegant Milonga in Austin, Texas


Buenos Aires Oct/Nov 2011 diary (Niño Bien)

There is a subtle difference between pictures from tango events in US and in B.A.  Ok, maybe not so subtle.  The distance within and in-between couples, the use of space, the amount of real estate in and between the lines of dance varies from none to a few feet in many Buenos Aires milongas, and at the US dance events – and creates a very different environments.

Tango (like most folk partner dances) originally evolved as a flirty, sexy game between men and women, with the goal of getting close – as close as it could possibly be appropriate in the deeply religious Latin America. The space was, if not exactly the enemy, then the challenger.  The proof is in the original tango pose – with the man holding the woman’s shoulder and hand, and trying to reach her foot while she arches her body back – is all about trying to get closer and trying to escape at the same time.  

Tango pose via - www.articulosweb.net/viajes/tango

The situation is very different in modern US tango scene.   Leads try to maintain a few steps’ distance between couples in the line of dance.  Both leads and followers find it hard to get close to their partners.  And instructors teach a lot of moves and combinations that require several feet of dance floor to execute.  Space is a requirement and a resource for the dance, where better dancers are expected to use more space, not less, in their social dancing, as they execute more complicated patterns and make larger steps.

What happens to Argentine Tango next is up to the entire tango community.  The dance still can go back to its sexy beginnings, where dancing was an excuse to hug and play with a beautiful stranger in an elegant and safe environment.  American milongueros can learn to dance closer, enjoy the energy of a tight space, and let go of [some of] their inhibitions.   Being aware of and able to control one’s expectation of a personal space can be helpful in many situations, on and off the pista.

It is also possible that American dancers with their deep pockets and strong preference for wide open space will prevail, and change the tango into something it hasn’t been before – a dance that is less personal, more pattern-based, and looks more sophisticated in pictures and videos, than it used to.  The dance communities will maintain larger dance floors, dancers will keep inventing and learning more and bigger combinations, and good technique will continue to evolve towards larger steps and wider arm movements.  It will become popular to separate and step away from one’s partner as a figure of the dance, and execute steps independently.  There will be more lead and follow by sight and eye contact, rather than by touch.  All in all, it will be a very different, possibly, beautiful dance, that is not the Argentine Tango we try so hard to experience today.

5 comments:

Barbara_Warren said...

"It is also possible that American dancers with their deep pockets and strong preference for wide open space will prevail, and change the tango into something it hasn’t been before – a dance that is less personal, more pattern-based, and looks more sophisticated in pictures and videos, than it used to".

Already happened long ago. it's called Ballroom Tango/

Tangocommuter said...

I've read (in Robert Farris Thompson's book, I'm sure) that there were dance halls in Buenos Aires where there was space, where Copes and Maria Nievas learned and perfected their skills for the stage. Even today, I think a number of the floors outside the centre are rarely crowded. But by and large the Argentines have a taste for dancing close, which we don't always have, although plenty of people are beginning to enjoy the close embrace dance in Europe. Let's hope the two kinds of tango can continue to co-exist!

Chris said...

Nice article, Jane.

"And instructors teach a lot of moves and combinations that require several feet of dance floor to execute. Space is a requirement and a resource for the dance"

Sure, and let's remember that's in part because space has become a requirement and a resource for the teaching - because most instructors choose to teach in bulk, in classes.

Contrast that with Argentine tango dance's traditional one-to-one learning - needing only enough space for one couple.

No surprise that the dance forms that result are so different, especially as regards suitability for dancing on a floor full of other couples - essential to the social nature of the traditional dance.

Jane Prusakova said...

Barbara:
ballroom tango originated in Europe, and in a different era. The communities dancing tango in Europe and in BA in 1920s were almost completely separate, with the ocean between them - and a very long time and big expense to cross it. Tango had the space to evolve separately into a ballroom dance in Europe, and survive the way it was in Latin America.

It is different now. Current tango renaissance in BA is tightly integrated with AT gaining in popularity around the world. If AT becomes something else, it will change everywhere.

MOCKBA said...

Is it about the space - or more about the speed of the ronda? Traditional pair dances are danced with a fast pace along the dance floor, not leaving the dancers much time for the close contact. We tangoed in a cowboy club to swing tunes and were hard pressed to keep pace with the ronda there. And indeed sensual pauses in the linear progress of the pair, known as cortes, were considered absolutely indecent in XIX and early XXth centuries in BsAs.

We know that downtown BsAs venues are tight and crowded, while the salons of the outlying areas have lots of space; and the styles of tango do differ quite a bit; but tango isn't danced as if it were a race in any of them.