While driving the other day, I put on some dance classics of Pedro Laurenz. As I was listening and enjoying the music (Recién, Como dos extraños, etc.), I turned up the volume a little.
Suddenly the music’s impact on me changed completely. No longer was I merely listening, I was feeling. The volume had not been increased excessively, but the effect was remarkable. Previously, I had been able to hear and appreciate the instruments and singer quite clearly, but with a small turn of the dial, the emotion of the music took over. My response to the music was no longer cerebral, it had become visceral.
No wonder I don’t feel inspired to dance even my favourite tangos at a milonga, if the volume is too low. Perhaps this statement doesn’t apply to everyone, but I believe that the desire to dance is primarily physical and emotional, rather than a cerebral response. The music should invade your body, pick you up and carry you away.
Some folk, it seems, will dance to any music. They’re up on the floor, in the embrace, ready to dance, before the tanda even starts. Internally, I shake my head, puzzled about what they might be feeling. If they are feeling! Perhaps tango for them is more akin to physical exercise. To each his own, I suppose….
Then you have the analytical approach. This dancer tries to extract and express every musical nuance in a tango. This dancer has a bad case of Too much musicality. Is anything gained by intellectualising the dance like this? What is the point of trying to score as many musical points as possible in one tango? Does this approach contribute to social tango?
Dancing tango is simple – simply dance the feeling.
El caballero del tango
was born 27 January 1905, and was in his prime as a pianist, composer
and most prominently as a band leader during the Golden Age of Tango.
Collaborating with the popular singer Alberto Castillo, and then the
more romantic voice of Enrique Campos, his orquesta produced numerous
classics which I find simply irresistible. No traditional milonga is
complete without Tanturi!
Perhaps the best known of these classics outside Argentina is Una emoción which featured in the credits of the film Assassination tango.
And for the more visually-oriented, take a look at milonguero Rubén Harymbat & Enriqueta Kleinman dancing to Recuerdo malevo (Tanturi/Castillo), and Carlitos Espinoza & Noelia Hurtado performing to Calla bandoneón (Tanturi/Campos).
One good way of improving your tango is to listen to Golden Age dance music - a lot!
You start hearing, feeling and responding to more and more elements of this rich, multi-layered music. Ah, what a delicious pleasure it is to dance with someone who really gets the music.
But what about all those fabulous, danceable tangazos which are sung? What might you be missing if you don't understand Spanish, or in many cases Lunfardo? Some people dismiss the lyrics as unimportant. I've even heard tango lyrics derided as merely variations on the "She done him wrong" theme. But there's so much more to these stories of the barrio. I've found that having even a small inkling of the story to which I'm dancing totally enriches my tango experience.
Fortunately, a number of dedicated and talented souls are opening these doors to non-Spanish speaking tango enthusiasts. Take a look and get lost on the blogs of Poesía de Gotán, Tango Decoder and Embrujamiento.
Look up some of your favourite tangos, and then see if things change for you next time you dance.
Thinking of visiting
the Mecca of tango? Are you ready for the challenges which await you? Are your
Here is one person’s opinion – not expert, not comprehensive,
but coming from a lot of observation and personal experience.Visitors
to BsAs need as many assets as possible to break into the local milonga scene –
and I’m talking about the traditional milongas here, such as La Nacional, El Beso, Plaza Bohemia, Lo de
Celia, etc.So here’s my list:
skills must be used to avoid embarrassing collisions, or disturbing the
dancers around you. This means following a tight line-of-dance and respecting
neighbouring dancers’ space.
It is important to dance appropriately and conservatively.
No big figures, gentlemen. Nor feet off the floor, ladies.Everyone sees everything in the milonga - dancing
that doesn’t fit in, is quickly condemned in people’s minds
When dancing, there needs to be maximum
concentration on your partner – it’s
not about you, it’s about them.Add
to this, musicality that reflects familiarity with the music, and how to
respond to it.
So will breaking into the scene take a long time?There are a number of factors to keep an eye
on, quite apart from the above list (e.g. don’t sit as a couple if you expect
to dance with other partners).Here are
some extra tips:
Stay for a reasonable period in BsAs (no, two
weeks aren’t long enough), attend the same milonga regularly, and return to BsAs
as often as you can to re-connect with partners you have met
If you get a couple of dances on your first
night, and your partners liked what they felt, then they will probably look out
for you next time ..... when you may then find a couple more new partners
Have patience, and an understanding of social
pressures – local people go to the milongas to see and dance with their
friends, so there is an element of wanting to dance together first.You may have to wait and persist.And while you may not get many dances in your
early visits to the milongas, there is lots to interest the true tango lover,
such as listening to the music, and watching the dancers.
These thoughts are the product of 15 years of annual visits
to BsAs, when in the early years, lack of competence, ignorance ... anda reasonable dose of fear, meant that we only danced as a couple.No-one had told us anything about how to fit
in, about the codes, about dancing that was appropriate.Then there was a period of ‘dipping our toes
in the water’, until we had eventually developed our skill, understanding, and confidence
enough to fully embrace the ‘singles’ scene at the traditional milongas
mentioned at the start, and to look forward to making local tango connections.Above all, we came to utterly respect and
enjoy the codes and customs of the milongas that belong to the people of
There’s probably more that could be added to my list. What
do you think?
PS. If you’re thinking of visiting BsAs for the first time
to dance tango, and your teachers haven’t prepared you for what awaits, then
make sure you talk to people who know.