Dancing to Piazzolla
Watching videos of some milongas in Buenos Aires is mesmerizing for me. The music and dancing are beautiful generally, but, especially with some of the more crowded traditional milongas, if the camera angle is just right, you can see the mass of people moving counter-clockwise as one flowing, beautiful, multi-legged organism. Each couple is doing something different, but they are within the music together, with the rest of the floor. Some dancers call this "flow". When you've felt it on the dance floor, there's nothing else like it. It requires a high level of floorcraft and a certain willingness to not stand out - if that makes sense.
Within the flow, my partner and I can relax a little, be soothed by the music, each other, and the mass of bodies around us. It's deeply moving, almost meditative. Blissful. Soothing on an almost cellular level. That is the milonga experience I crave and it's so rare. I hear it's rare pretty much everywhere outside of Buenos Aires. It's a shame, because traditional tango music seems designed to create that flow - the structure of the music opens the opportunity for it. Flow is one of the three reasons, the other two being connection and the music itself, that I dance tango. Simbatango talks about the same three things in his blog post, the Three Fundamentals of Tango.
I know Piazzolla is considered listening music, not dancing music, by many, maybe even most, tango dancers (certainly in Buenos Aires I'm told). But when the chance affords itself, as it did last night with Austin Piazzolla Quintet playing at Esquina Tango, I can't resist, I dance.
It's challenging to say the least. Whatever you're bad at, whatever your tango weakness is, it's amplified 10 times dancing to Piazzolla because you have to do everything much more slowly, deliberately. It's exhilarating, intense, emotionally-charged - and exhausting. I couldn't do a milonga like last night's, with mostly Piazzolla, very often. As gorgeous an experience as it is - it's missing one of the essential three things I covet - the "flow". The structure and style of Piazzolla's music (and some would argue Pugliese's music s well) is not conducive to dancers finding that sort of communal, enveloping, shared experience, it seems. It's a different animal altogether. There are exceptions. There are some songs that fall outside of "Traditional" or "Golden Age" tango that seem to also be conducive to connection and flow on the pista - I think those might vary from community to community.
The only way I have been able to describe the different feeling, for me anyway, is that it feels a little bit like going to an elegant costume party. It's exciting and mysterious, adventurous - but (again for me) not relaxing. Not as soul-soothing. Beautiful - but in a different way. I love dancing to Piazzolla and Pugliese and Neotango/alternative tango etc - they push my dancing in new directions, explore different territory. But the feelings and experiences I have with most pieces in those categories of music are fundamentally different than what I go to dance tango (socially) for. It's a wonderful dance experience, but not so wonderful a tango experience. I'm not trying to weigh in on the what is and what is not genuine/authentic/real/legitimate tango here -I'm only trying to describe how the different music feels to me. Which is all I can ever do really.
So now, while I take my ibuprofen, nurse my sore feet, and drink my tea - I'm settling into some Di Sarli, then later, some D'Arienzo, or Calo.