What the Japanese can Teach us about Tango

In 1990-91, I spent several months learning the Japanese tea ceremony. Depending on how you learn the process, it can have over 90 steps and though the etiquette, use of the implements, and order of steps is very strict, the possibilities of expression and creativity within that structure are endless. Preparation for the ceremony, from the materials, implements, food to the location of the ceremony itself, can be daunting. Frequently, the preparation can take far longer than the ceremony itself.

Depending on the occasion, the season, the space, and the people - the ceremony can express many different things. It can celebrate the changing of the seasons, an anniversary, or mark an important event. Mostly though, it is a gift from one person, the host, to the guest(s). It is a gift of time, peacefulness, stillness, and of devoted attention. For the duration of the ceremony, host and guest are occupying a space of their own apart from the rest of the world. Neither person is of higher or lower status. There is very little talking. though there is most definitely a conversation going on. There are expressions of gratitude and appreciation in each motion and gesture, between host and guest.

I have had a love affair with so many facets of Japanese culture, as has my husband. For so long I could not figure out how I could experience the same profound centeredness, peacefulness, in tango as I did in performing the tea ceremony. That concentrated effort, the focus on my guest, the attention to detail - culminating in something as transient as drinking tea.

Then I read this quote on the tango blog: En Tus Brazos (http://golondrina-entusbrazos.blogspot.com/),

"You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive. It is not for unsteady souls." -- Merce Cunningham

The tea ceremony blooms before us for one moment in time, and then it's gone. Like tango, we unwrap this gift in stages, in layers, only to find that the gift itself can't be held in our hands.

There has been a significant focus on the Japanese and the tango experience in Japan since Kyoko and Hiroshi Yamao won the Seventh World Championship of Tango (http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gg264kJVlkEW5_XjF1x__HoI-v3w) in the Salon category. Tango has been danced in Japan since the 1930's, so this is no new fad to the Japanese. In fact, much of the work done to preserve and restore traditional tango music can be credited to Japanese aficionados and dancers, in particular Tsunami Megata: http://www.todotango.com/English/biblioteca/cronicas/tango_en_japon.asp who, after learning tango in Paris, started the first Tango Academy in Tokyo.

The Japanese feel a strong empathy for the Argentine experience expressed within tango music. Japanese culture (especially literature) has common themes that speak to that experience.

Kyotani Kohji, bandeneon player, said, "Tangos are basically sentimental, as are we Japanese. When we play, we try to communicate to our audience the similarity of our feelings (with those of the Argentinos) rather than the contrasts between the latino and the Japanese; it is what we have in common that counts - sentimentality, sadness." (Kyotani, 1990, Interview)

Some recurring themes throughout Japanese cinema, art and literature are:

Mono no aware (lit. "the pathos of things"), also translated as "an empathy toward things," or "a sensitivity of ephemera," is a Japanese term used to describe the awareness of mujo or the transience of things and a bittersweet sadness at their passing.

Wabi-sabi, the aesthetic defined as the beauty of things "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete"

Yugen is said to mean “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe… and the sad beauty of human suffering”

Shibui - "The word has no translation, but it means something like the bitter appearance of that which is positively beautiful" -- (1934) Arturo Montenegro, an Argentine diplomat in Tokyo.

Wouldn't these concepts easily fit into our understanding of el duende and the "in the moment" beauty of tango?

References: Tango and the Political Economy of Passion, by Marta E. Savigliano (Westview Press, 1995, ISBN 0-8133-1638-3, paperback)


AmpsterTango said...

Kampai tomodachi-noh!

Mari said...

Ampster - doumoarigatou gozaimashita!

AmpsterTango said...

Doitashimashite Mari-chan

Cha-noyu tótemo é des!

Anonymous said...

How beautiful, and indeed, how true. Thank you for sharing this.