Tango is not only a fascinating dance, but also a fascinating idea, philosophy, culture, and lifestyle. In many ways, tango is a metaphor of life. The pursuit of tango is the pursuit of connection, love, unity, beauty, harmony and humanity, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us as individuals, but tango unites us as a people. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation, reconciliation and compromise. If you share this conviction, please join the conversation and let your voice be heard, which is urgently needed and long overdue.

Together we can awaken the world.




October 24, 2018

Tango and Pluralism


Pluralism posits that the world is composed of many entities independent of each other, in contrast to monism which views the seemly independent parts as connected fragments of an integrated whole. Pluralism is used by individualists to underscore the individuality, independence, liberty and sovereignty of the individual, and to promote personal freedom, diversity, unconventionality, alternative life style, LGBTQIAPK, same-sex marriage, multiculturalism, etc., against the monist view regarding individuals as dependent parts of an integrated human society, emphasizing unity, connection, harmony, common values, common cause, responsibility, and the well-being of the society as a whole. (See A Wise Voice.)

Aristotle said, "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Before modern times, monism was the dominant philosophy throughout human history. (See Meeting in the Middle.) Early humans understood the importance of unity and cooperation to their survival. That is changed when modern science and technology empowered the individual and made him/her increasingly self-sufficient, resulting in the rising of individualism and pluralism. Which lead to divergent personal choices and lifestyles, multiculturalism promoting different cultures and values, affirmative action protecting minority groups, marginal cultures, heterodoxies and alternative lifestyles, relativism denying the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, and civil and uncivil, reversed discrimination against mainstream culture and orthodox tradition, and the aggrandizing fragmentation, division, disunity and polarization of the society. (See The Spirit of Tango.)

What pluralism and individualism fail to take into consideration is that as a species we rely on each other for survival and our success depends on our cooperation. (See Tango and Individualism.) A society needs a philosophy that unites people rather than divides people, and some form of government, organization and order. Turning people into egocentric rivals could only create conflict, animosity and chaos, as attested by the unrest resulted from the US led efforts to "free" people, and the consequent refugee problem, aggravated by the open-border policy and multiculturalism at home. The situation could only get worse if we keep propagating radical liberalism, asserting absolute personal freedom, putting the self above the society, opposing any order that we consider authoritarian, calling democracy "the tyranny of the majority", fragmenting the society into more and more conflicting entities, disparaging mainstream culture and tradition, labeling one gender the sex predator of the other, and politicizing and radicalizing education, media and law. (See Tango and Equality.)

Neither authoritarianism that deprives personal freedom nor individualism that rejects cooperation can lead to a harmonious society. A healthy, humane and coherent society is based on unity, love, sharing and cooperation of its people who are united, agreeable, cooperative, accommodating, putting common interests above personal interests, and can work as a team. (See The Lessons of Tango.) -- That is how a nation wins a war. That is how a country becomes strong again. And, that is how we dance tango. Despite the negative influence of pluralism and individualism, tango gives us a new perspective to see ourselves as interdependent members of the community. Tango teaches us to cherish, love, cooperate and accommodate with each other, and has demonstrated that is the only way to a better world. (See The Freedom in Tango.)


September 8, 2018

Champaign Milongueros


Champaign Milongueros is a group of local tango dancers committed to the milonguero style of tango. We chose this name for the group because we want to continue the milonguero tradition and distinguish ourselves from the existing tango culture in this university town. Champaign is one of the earliest tango communities in Illinois, yet for more than two decades Champaign tango remains small and weak because it has only focused on university students, the part of the population who would leave the town after graduation and are interested in things that do not appeal to older local dancers.

We want to depart from that path and try a new approach.

1. This group is mainly aimed at locals. We believe that only with local dancers as the mainstay can Champaign tango community meet the needs of the permanent local residents, deviate from the current culture, achieve sustainable growth, and have a better impact on university students.

2. We are dedicated to the milonguero style of tango that features close embrace, feelings, gender roles and classic tango music, not the Nuevo style featuring open embrace, exhibition, gender-neutrality and alternative music. In contrast to the ideologies that unduly promote pluralism, diversity and differences, we emphasize authenticity, standardization, conformity and milonguero tradition.

3. By observing the tango protocols practiced in the milongas of Buenos Aires, including milonga etiquette, dress code, separate seating, cabeceo, and navigation rules, we want to create an integrated, respectful, friendly, pleasant, elegant and orderly environment in our milongas.

4. We emphasize team spirit, brotherhood, love and responsibility within the group against the individualistic tendency that focuses on the independence, rights, liberty and freedom of the individual. A milonguero is not an individualist. He/she belongs to a group of dancers who understand the interdependence of people and the importance of the community, and who regularly dance together, conform to the group standard, observe its codes, participate in its administration, and are role models for novices and newcomers. We want to continue that milonguero tradition and work as a team to make our milonga a welcoming home for all like-minded dancers.

5. To secure the quality of our milonga, this group opens only to selected dancers. To become a member of the group, you need to complete a 20-hour training course on the fundamentals of the milonguero style and milonga codes with us. We welcome anyone to attend our classes, but only those who meet our standard may become members of the group and visit our milongas. Students who have failed the course may repeat it until they qualify.

6. Members need to continue their training and actively participate in group activities to retain their membership. Members may lose the membership if they fail to keep up with the standard of the group.


April 20, 2018

Tango Music and Its Danceability


One

Classic tango music is quadruple time. Each note is a quarter note and there are four quarter notes in a bar, counted as 1, 2, 3, 4. The first and third beats are strong beats, on which we step. The second and forth beats are weak beats, on which we do ancillary actions, such as weight change, hip rotation, pivot, embellishment, pause, etc.

Each quarter note can be evenly divided into two eighth notes. We count the resulted 8 eighth notes in a bar as 1-and, 2-and, 3-and, 4-and. Similarly, each quarter note can be evenly divided into four sixteenth notes. We count the resulted 16 sixteenth notes as 1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a, 3-e-and-a, 4-e-and-a.

The ability to divide the notes and to predict where the subdivisions fall is important, which enables the dancer to feel the rhythm of the song and take advantage of increased footwork possibilities. Feeling rhythm is internal. The rhythm must be in your mind before it can happen on your feet. Without rhythm there is neither music nor dance.

But feeling rhythm becomes not so easy when syncopation is involved. Syncopation is the way musicians spice up the music by shifting, splitting, adding, or omitting beats. Examples of syncopation include shifting the accent from the odd-numbered beat to the even-numbered beat (1, 2, 3, 4), extending a beat (1 - -, 4), starting a note on an unaccented beat and continuing it through the next accented beat (1, 2 -, 4), splitting a note and accenting the subdivision (1-and, 2-and, 3-and, 4-and), adding accents (1, 2, 3, 4), omitting a beat and replace it with a rest, etc. Syncopation modifies the rhythm and makes the music more interesting yet challenging to the dancer.

Nevertheless, dancers welcome the challenge. As long as the rhythm is consistent with the speed specified by the clef, the music is danceable. In fact, songs that we like to dance most are neither mono-rhythmic nor arrhythmic, but complex yet still have regular, recognizable and predictable beats, which is the characteristic of classic tango.


Two

That is changed, however, when musicians started to experiment new ideas like improvisation, counterpoint, cross-rhythms, poly-rhythms, asymmetrical rhythms, complex harmonies, odd numbered meter in which the notes are not evenly grouped (such as 5/4 time and 7/8 time), mixing duple time, triple time with quadruple time, ensemble of different instruments or instrumental part and vocal part of the song with different rhythms, etc. These methods, though creative and may give new listening experiences, made the rhythm too complex and thus unsuitable for dance, which becomes characteristic of modern music.

Musicians still produce classic music in modern times; therefore, not all contemporary music are modern music. Only those contain unconventional elements are modern music. There are gray areas, of course, but modern music all incorporated at least some nontraditional elements, which made the rhythm of the song, or sections of the song, irregular, unrecognizable, unpredictable and undanceable.

Some people argue that any music is danceable if it is playable. That argument is untenable. Perhaps any music is danceable if it is playable with the legs. But fingers can move much faster, and an orchestra of dozens or even hundreds of fingers could make the music extremely complex, especially when it is intended not for dancing, but only for listening.

For music to be danceable, it must have recognizable and predictable beats. Dance is the body's response to rhythm, not noise. We feel comfortable with rhythm because it facilitates our movements. Our rhythm echoes regular occurrences, seasonal changes, biologic clock, heartbeats, and muscle memory of rhythmic motions such as walk, etc. Millions of years of human evolution made rhythm aesthetical and musical to our senses, and our body naturally responds to rhythmic sound. Although it is possible that with practice and rehearsal some people can step on irregular and unpredictable beats that they memorized, ordinary people without special training can't do that. DJs should be aware that the music they play at the milongas is for the ordinary social dancers to dance, not for a few highly trained individuals to show off their skills. The DJ must keep the majority of dancers in mind and not yield to the pressure of few individuals. (Being a DJ myself I am fully aware of such pressure.)


Three

It must be pointed out that the changes in modern music are not coincidental. We live in a society where capitalism and commercialism constantly pushes for innovation, impression, repackaging, exoticism, eye-catching boldness, etc., in order to increase sales. Innovation improves life, but it also leads to tremendous waste. Every time I bought a smart phone, a smarter one is created the next day. In economic terms that is called "creating demands", so consumers would throw away their perfectly functional old phones and keep buying new ones. People grown up in this culture exhibit a lack of depth and lasting quality. They confuse bizarreness with beauty, focus too much on the flashy form rather than the substance, and constantly seek novelty. The following quote from a reader's comment reflects such mentality.

"Most of us did not start doing the tango in order to get the ocho just right. Most of us saw elegant, dramatic and erotic moves in a performance that took our breath away. Then we take tango lessons and dance among older people who look down their noses at beginners for not doing the details as well as they can, who are quite conservative in their tastes, who are uptight about the eroticism, who are offended when attractive young people look better at the erotic movements than they do, and who are too weak, inflexible, heavy, and cowardly to do the more dramatic moves... The idea of dividing tango into social dance and 'show' dance trivializes efforts to be more creative and to actually do the dance that we were attracted to in the first place. Performance is not just for tourists. It includes ballet, modern dance, jazz and other rich, culturally important forms. It can be brilliant and revolutionary, changing the way we think. It can give tango dance its Isadora Duncans, Sergei Diaghilevs, Merce Cunnihams and Astor Piazzollas. Tango and dance have always included a conversation between performance and social dance. Both should be respected at spaces in which creativity can take place. That's how art and culture evolve in living ways."

I'll not get into why the milonga is not the place for performance (See Social Tango and Performance Tango), but will concentrate on creativity here. No doubt, creativity has changed our way of living. But despite its contributions, we should not overlook its drawbacks. Human creativity is a double-edged sword. It provides us with cars, computers, GPS and beautiful, danceable music like classic tango; it also provides us with narcotics, weapons of mass destruction, high-tech crimes and undanceable noises. Creativity can improve life if we use it wisely; it can also destroy life if we foolishly think we can do whatever we like just to be creative and ignore the power of the force beyond our control that produced and conditioned us, whether you call that force the Cosmos, Nature, Law, Tao, or God. In fact, human creativity has already caused many problems to our very existence such as the irreversible damages to our home planet, pollution, environmental catastrophes, the exhaustion of natural resources, the collapse of the Eco-system, the astonishing number of death caused by automobiles, drugs and guns, cyber crimes, the chemical, biological and nuclear threats, the disintegration of family, LGBTQIAPK, same-sex marriage, toilet dispute, polarization and dysfunction in our governments, etc.  

The obsession to creativity is also the cause of the relentless efforts by many DJs to make their music selections unconventional and novel. They collect songs that are rare, abnormal, exotic and hard to follow. They try to be unique and different from others, but pay little attention to the danceability of the music. They flaunt the banner of creativity and look down at the classics, despite that the classics are the time-tested quintessence embodying the common human perception of what is beautiful and danceable. They ignore the fact that sixty years after the end of the Golden Age dancers today still love classic tango whereas the "revolutionary" music created during the same period has long been forgotten. They are blind to the fact that in every generation there are people who have created lasting classics and who have created fleeting rubbish. They don't understand that creativity must serve the best human interests, needs and aesthetics to have a lasting value, which in case of dance is danceability, not outlandishness. Although they love music and may have collected a big number of songs, they don't know what constitutes danceability and what does not. And worst of all, they tend to play rare, abnormal and undanceable songs in the milonga since the danceable ones are traditional.

Dancers don't reject creativity and innovation. In fact, that is what we do on the dance floor. We welcome challenges that make the dance more interesting. But we also desire music that is danceable. We want our DJs to put danceability above anything else in their selection of music. We want them to carefully listen to every song from beginning to end to make sure it is entirely danceable before playing it at the milonga. We want them to play music according to the law of dance, which gives leeway for creativity, but also requires danceability. And, we want them to play for us, the majority and average dancers at the milonga, not only for a few elites or weird dudes.

January 3, 2018

Dancing to Melody - Poema


Stepping on the beat and dancing to music are not one and the same thing. The former is the basic of musicality, but it is not the most important and sophisticated. Beats are rhythmic stresses that regulate the speed of music. They are interrupted and unemotional. Stepping on the beat is like jumping, the focus is on the accent, and the movement is broken and dry.

The most important thing in dancing is to express the emotion of music, which lies not in beats but in melody. Melody is the linear, sweet and emotional tone in music that adds feelings, beauty and fluidity to music. Dancing to melody is like driving, the focus is on the linear tone, and the movement is continuous and smooth.

In dancing, we can focus on the beats, or we can focus on the melody, which lead to different dance styes. When we focus on the beats, we wait for the beat to come and step on it with force, the movement is sudden, short and incoherent. Here is an example.




This song, Poema, like most tango songs, is nostalgic and melancholy. "Tango is a sad feeling that is danced." - said Enrique Santos Discepoloo. The lyrics of the song were written by Eduardo Bianco, who played the first violin in the orchestra of Teatro Apolo in 1927. Bianco learned that his wife cheated on him with the pianist of the orchestra and shot his rival to death in a fit of jealousy. The lyrics reflected his pain and regret. Here is the English translation by Alberto Paz.

                        It was a dream of sweet love,
                        hours of happiness and loving,
                        it was the poem of yesterday,
                        that I dreamed,
                        of gilded color,
                        vain chimeras of the heart,
                        it will not manage to never decipher,
                        so fleeting nest,
                        it was a dream of love and adoration.

                        When the flowers of your rose garden,
                        bloom again ever so beautiful,
                        you'll remember my love,
                        and you will come to know,
                        all my intense misfortune.

                        Of that one intoxicating poem,
                        nothing is left between us,
                        I say my sad goodbye,
                        you'll feel the emotion,
                        of my pain…

The music was composed by Mario Melfi in 1932, which was arranged by Francisco Canaro in 1935. Only the last two stanzas were sung in the Canaro's version, by Roberto Maida.

Dancing to Poema, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the poet - like you were biding sad farewell to your past love. You still need to step on the beat, but you don't do it in a sudden and broken way. Rather, you focus on the emotion of the melody and let your steps be even-paced and continuous. Here is an example.




Notice that the couple in this example did not chase the beats, but danced slowly, as were reluctant to let go each other. Their steps are much more supple, fluid and melodious, matching the melancholy mood of the song.

I often feel my partner still focuses on the beats when I try to lead her dance to the melody, which is not surprising given that most students are only taught to step on the beat. Next time you dance Poema, try to focus on the melody instead of the beats. The key is to control the speed of the movement to let it be even-paced rather than sudden and broken - especially if you are a woman, who represents the melodic or feminine mood of the dance. (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.)


Related Reading

Self-Centered Leading and Partner-Centered Leading

The Elegance of the Mionguero Style


December 28, 2017

The Elegance of the Milonguero Style


In contrast to other styles that remind me of a bustling casino, the milonguero style of tango reminds me of a Zen garden - an oasis of austerity, peace, serenity and natural beauty for quiet contemplation. The style aims at inward experience, so the look becomes less important. In fact, it is danced in simple and natural steps, very little adornments are used in order to avoid complication and distraction, thus enables the dancers to focus on the feelings.

That, however, does not reduce its aesthetic value. On the contrary, the style possesses a natural, simple and elegant beauty second to none.




Using cadencia to make the dance elegant

The key element responsible for the elegance of the style is cadencia. The woman leans chest-against-chest on the man's torso, and the man uses the connection as the fixed point to swing her torso, which brings the sway of her hip and leg in a chain reaction, causing the movement of her body to look elegant and graceful. Notice that the woman does not use her thigh to move her leg, but lets the leg follow the body to sway. Her focus is on the horizontal lilt of the body instead of the vertical action of stepping down, and she does not rush to chase the beats. Rather, she lets her body take its natural course to swing gracefully in accordance with the tempo and mood of the melody.

Using the hips to highlight her femininity

In doing so she often needs to swivel her hips so her free leg can take advantage of the inertia of the body to sway. (See Cadencia and the Flow of Tango.) Since she dances around the man, she also needs to swivel her hips in order to step on his side. She needs to swivel her hips in her walk in order to use the hip to move the leg. (See Women's Walk in Tango.) She needs to swivel her hips when she does front ocho and back ocho, and when she turns around him in molinete... (See Dissociation and Gear Effect.) In short, hip rotation is used all the time in the woman's dance, which highlights the beauty of her supple and pliable body. The style does not emphasize the footwork, so she is able to focus on the motion of the hips, controls it to make the swivel gentle, subtle yet noticeable. She does not over turn the hips, but turns them only to a degree necessary to let it look natural and elegant.

Dancing with simple and natural steps

Another element pertinent to the elegance of the style is using simple and natural steps. Some tango styles are known for their fancy movements and flashy figures, which, although may be beautiful in some way, lack naturalness and elegance. The following is an example.




As you can see, impressive maybe by some standard, a display like this relies on fancy footwork, intricate movements, exaggerated steps, abrupt turns and hasty actions. It looks busy, garish, farfetched and beat-chasing, but lacks the confidence, serenity, ease, simplicity, naturalness and elegance of the milonguero style. And, it does not match the melancholy mood of the music.

In contrast, the first couple use austere steps so that they can concentrate inwardly on quiet contemplation. The man leads by swinging the woman's body. The woman keeps her body tall and straight while swinging it gracefully, allowing its intrinsic, natural beauty manifest itself.

Audrey Hepburn Said, "Elegance is the only beauty that never fades." I am convinced of that.


Related Reading

Self-Centered Leading and Partner-Centered Leading

Dancing to Melody - Poema