Heartbroken and musings

If I cared less about tango, statements like these (in bold italic below.) wouldn't break my heart.

"Why dance tango if all you can do is walk?"
"the milonga is too crowded to do 'anything good' "

My heart sinks when I hear those sentences. I hear variations of them all the time.

I regret showing how much that first statement bothered me at the time. I was so shocked that someone who had read my blog (and had danced with me), could first of all believe that, and second, actually say that to me. I took it personally and it wasn't intended to be personal at all. It was just that suddenly this leader that I was standing only inches from, seemed miles away.

I tried to explain. Tango is a walking dance - not long sequences of steps, but simply walking and moving to the music. I put one hand on his chest, over his heart, and my other over my own heart. I said, tango is only this - between your heart and mine, in the music. That's all.

He came to tango to understand women . . .

I think he may now be more confused than ever. For every follower like me, that tells him about the elegance, connection, and bliss of a simple, musical dance, there are 5 followers who want dances filled with double ganchos, lightening fast, waist high linear boleos and triple volcadas. It's their prerogative to want what they want, and mine to want what I want. What's a leader to do? Can I blame him for, at the very least, playing the odds?

The Tango Path(s)

It got me thinking about how we all come to tango. What did we see? Who did we talk to? What moved each of us?

I wonder how many people would dance tango if they had never seen a stage performance - if they had only been exposed to, what is for me anyway, the heart of expressing tango music - the social dance. How many people would dance tango if they couldn't see what steps the other dancers were using - if no one could see their steps.

Of course if it weren't for stage/performance tango being so very popular - tango might have stayed a strictly Rio de la Plata phenomenon. Tango dancers outside of Argentina and Uruguay owe their tango experience to the stage performers that toured during the 1980's and 90's - and continue to tour and perform. But if they'd never seen "tango fantasia" - would the social dance hold the same appeal?

If they had seen only this, would they have still wanted to learn tango? (Milonga at Nino Bien):

With only a few exceptions, when a leader tells me I should learn more nuevo moves and dance more open embrace, it feels just a little bit like a potential lover that says, "let's just be friends". It's not meant to be but it feels like a little rejection.

As I said above, there are exceptions. There are a couple of open embrace/nuevo dancers who have such emotional connection to the music and to me that I think I could be across the room and still feel that connection roll off their bodies. It's a rare thing, and mesmerizing. They still take up twice as much (at least) room on the dance floor as everyone else, which creates its own problems - but that is a separate matter. I've seen milonguero dancers take up large quantities of room with poor technique, it's just a little more rare.

Still, I get offended, far more than I should, when nuevo dancers imply that "traditional" tango dancers just aren't as creative.

The New Tango

"To dance like what everyone did 50 years ago, would be like going to a museum everyday and copying the oil paintings of Picasso. I am not saying it is wrong. It is the way to learn an art, but it should not be the ultimate goal." (Monza's blog here.)

It is easy to take that statement as yet another Nuevotango vs. Traditional tango argument. On the surface, it can certainly seem so. But the problem lies deeper than that. The first problem is "what everyone did 50 years ago". There has never been a single, definitive, cohesive style to tango. Different neighborhoods had varying styles - different venues' characteristics encouraged different techniques. No two tango dancers dance the same way. The fact that this is not easily observable from the outside is a problem for the observer, not the dancers.

The next problem, for me anyway, is looking at Nuevo Tango as something creative and new in some way that traditional tango is not. The "New Tango" masters themselves, two quoted near the bottom, have said that what they developed were variations of what was already there.

In my lesson with Phyllis Williams and Darryl Gaston, to help ease my nervousness about performing in front of new teachers, Phyllis told me that tango comes down to only a few things - a side step, a back step, and a forward step. Everything is a variation of those things. You can do them bigger, with more momentum, or more speed, but ultimately, it is still only those three things. (If you differentiate pivots from that list, then you get four things - it's a matter of preference. But still, even that is only 4 things - and nearly infinite possibilities come from those few elements.)

[T]oday there is a new generation that learned to dance 2,3 or 5 years ago, who only know how to do the new styles, the ganchos, the colgadas, but who are not in contact with everything that came before, and I go to the milongas and I see people that know how to move but that don’t know how to dance, people don’t breathe tango like they did before.
–Mariano ‘Chicho’ Frumboli

"What did we invent? Nothing. Yes, we came up with line(ar) boleos or ganchos like this, but everything was already there. Even what in the beginning we called them "alterations" and then later we called them changes in direction. We didn't invent them, they were there. A change of direction is a simple ocho, really." -Fabian Salas

. . .


I've always believed that we each come to tango for different things, for different reasons, different goals. Some people learn simply because it's great exercise that gets them out, mingling with other people - it's just something fun to do. Other people like to "see and be seen". For some dancers, the milonga is relaxing and soothing. For others, it's exciting and energizing. And there's every experience and combination of experiences, in between. What matters is that we all come together at some point and share the music and the floor (hopefully).

Maybe I should just relax and paraphrase Dolly Parton, from Steel Magnolias:
"Oh honey, tango don't care what style you dance, long as you show up (to the milonga)."


The Tango Therapist said...

Okay, Mari. People are going to think that we are colluding on our Austin Tango Blogs. I just saw this after publishing about the power of a tango walk. I should go back and make a link but everyone who reads my blog reads yours anyway. :-)

Anonymous said...

great post. i feel the same, and sadly where I live I see the power of numbers overwhelming - there are more people wanting and learning stage tango, and fewer and fewer dancing by walking with the music.

but we keep the flame burning.

tangocherie said...

Mari, the thing is, they are two different dances, with even different music most of the time. Only the name of tango is the same.

Instead of trying to reconcile this fact, we need to accept it and just dance on in whatever style we choose. Just not all of us trying to do it in the same salon.

Keno said...

"Oh honey, tango don't care what style you dance, long as you show up (to the milonga)." This is so wonderfu, I don't care what a follow wants in big moves, I dance with people who love to walk. and feel the music. But this is just me.

AlexTangoFuego said...

I've tried to steer clear of this subject on my blog, ever since my "Nuevo is Ass-Wiping, and Milonguero is Ass-Kicking" post caused such a stir a couple of years ago.

But I may have to wade in.

The vast majority of people drawn to tango think of it as "just another dance". Texas Two-Step. West Coast Swing. Lindy Hop. Salsa. Ballroom. They are all "just" dances - and Tango is lumped in there with all of them - a casual recreational social activity, much like a pottery class.

We who "get" that tango is much more than "just" a dance are in the minority.

I have my theories on why this is - but they would be too lengthy to get into here. Maybe I'll finally do a post on it.

Or maybe I'll be back here.

P.S. The majority have every right to experience tango on their own terms - even if it is in a distant open embrace. The sad part is that they will never know the true beauty of the tango connection, and the ever-elusive tango trance.

I'll say it again here, as defined by Dan Boccia, the tango trance is the state of being so completely immersed in the music and so profoundly connected to your partner that movement flows from within the partnership absent conscious thought."

Anonymous said...

@alex- tango trance, great description. I call it entrega:


Anonymous said...

Hi Mari,
I came to Tango having first listened to the music and then watching people dance in close embrace many years before I had a chance to try it. In my journey, I have done all of the moves until I was confident in sticking with my own dance, which is what I saw in the first place. I may dance less, but I get what I want. Sometimes less really is more.
And Cherie is right about dancing in the style we choose.....

Mari said...

@TangoTherapist - we must be sharing the same tango air to be publishing at the same time. I can hardly wait to see/hear more about our tango walk - maybe during practica next week?

@anon - stage tango classes are starting soon here. It's a sound business model and I can certainly understand the attractiveness of the idea. I can't help thinking we have plenty of stage dancers already - just looking for a stage. :/

@tangocherie - I have to agree - they are different. I was reminded by two people via email that I have in fact danced nuevo and certainly appeared to be enjoying. Totally true. I've never said I disliked it. But for me it's a little like a fancy dress party. It's fun and dramatic and I feel a little exotic when I'm doing it - I just don't feel like me. It's fun, but it feels like a different dance. For other people dancing chest to chest, temple to temple, feels clausterphobic and unnatural - forced. Who would want to feel that? We all want, and feel natural, doing different things. Live and let live - as long as there's room on the pista. That seems to be the tricky part.

@Keno - I think I should get t-shirts made with that line. Of course I'd probably get sued. But still. What you said reminds me of how important it is to see how people are dancing, what their preferences are, before we ask for/accept a dance.

@Alex - well no one could accuse you of holding back your viewpoints lol. I addressed much of this already on your FB comment, so I won't duplicate it here. I do so enjoy your comments and your blog!

@anon#2 - great site - thank you for sharing. The blog has been added to the roll on the main page.

@londontango - thank you for you comments. I can't help thinking how lucky you were to see that style, and really enjoy the music, so early on. Less certainly feels like more to me.

Kirra said...

I too have taken what should be a benign comment personally. Tango is my 'church', my 'religion', I can't help but want to convert folks who don't understand. I have spent much energy on this in the past and now just smile and nod.

Unfortunately I have been personally attacked and called an arch conservative, a close-minded traditionalist, and a misogynist by a neo/nuevo teacher. Folks who know me and take my classes know this is not true, but all of his students believe him. I find this attitude to be more the norm these days with the different styles. It breaks my heart.

Thanks for your post. You seem to put into words what I cannot.

Kirra said...

One more thing...
My teacher said, "Some people put tango on like a jacket, for others, for us, it is in their blood."
And he also like to paraphrase Fred Astaire. "It is not what you do, but how you do it."

Anonymous said...

For me, all the above sentiments about tango are lessons in life. They've helped me grow as a person. Through tango, into my wider life.

Margo Romero said...

I agree with Keno... I love to just walk and feel my partner leading me around the floor, his chest again mine, his cheek against mine...

Damn that's soothing!


I think I might be in this for the Abrazo...

Great post...

suze said...

Hi Mari
To me they should actually be two different dances. While I can see the beauty in salon, as a professional dancer I feel the need to express with my body fully, not solely with my heart. I can see doing that with someone you are connectd to but the majority of machos at the milonga dont make me want to connect. When I dance nuevo with a good leader, I am truly dancing. I wrote in my book that it is a subject that causes bitter disputes but was told I was wrong...
Glad I found you after someone linked from your blog. un beso

Mari said...

@Kirra - thank you so much for your comments. I have found myself, quite recently actually, being chided on both ends of the spectrum. Some friends and dancers tell me I'm too conservative, too tied to the past, unwilling to admit that tango is evolving (none of which I think is true of course). And then the other side, when I do dance to "undanceable music" (nuevo, neotango, alternative) and, when the floor allows, engage in some larger, more dramatic dancing - I've been told that I'm not setting a very good example. *shrug* I've stopped trying to explain all the time. I do what I can, write what I can, but in the end, people will believe what they have already chosen to believe. I like that Fred Astaire quote. I think I feel a post coming on . . . lol

@Anon - agreed. Thank you for your comment. :)

@Margo - so glad to hear from you! I need to catch up on your blog! I think I'm definitely in it for the abrazo lol

@Suze - I like your blog so much - I'm so happy that you posted a comment. I think my response will end up having to be another post lol - I get too long-winded.

To a large extent I think you're right, we are talking about different dances - or rather opposite ends of the spectrum of something we've labeled tango.

(Forgive the limiting generalizations ahead.)

On one end there seems to be the very communal, conservative, internal, small space tango - danced mostly to Golden Age music, on the other end - avant guarde, experimental, larger space, invididual artistic expression focused dance which is frequently referred to as "neuvo". Like I said these are just generalizations and the bulk of dancers that I've encountered in person and online fall in the middle - depending on their mood, the people around them, the space available, the music etc.

The problem comes when dancers on opposite ends of the spectrum need to share a space - leaving the neuvo dancers feeling stifled, and the traditional/salon dancers feeling their space is being intruded upon. Tango, outside of a stage performance, is a social experience with expectations that everyone will respect one another and their space. When that can no longer be accomplished, separate dancing spaces maybe necessary. But, because time and money are limited, holding separate milongas forces the large number of dancers "in the middle" to choose. If a community is still quite small, then dividing milongas up that way can be damaging to the common ground necessary for a community to thrive. It's a tricky balance.

And machos at the milonga don't make me want to connect either. It can't be a conversation if only one person gets to talk. Seems like there's a couple in every crowd. :/

Kirra said...

@mari :)

At the beginning of tango we (I use 'you' and 'we' in a general sense here) need to try everything out but hopefully at some point we understand that we need to build on a good foundation and stick with a teacher/style and really learn it to our best ability.

Then there is the moment when, after you have studied, that you need to go out again and explore. Sometimes this leads you full circle and you come back to what you studied but other times you diverge and do your own thing.

At the moment I feel that the newer dancers are still in the first adventure phase and look at the keep-it-simple styles with disdain.

If after each style has gotten to a certain level of dancing then maybe we can all share the floor but in these learning moments it simply creates chaos.