The quality of tango dance has something to do with the music. I never saw a lousy, unfamiliar, outlandish and non-tango song that produced a beautiful tango. Well-performed tangos are all danced to excellent classical tango music, which is an inspiration and stimulant indispensable for bringing the dancers’ skills into full play. Good classical tango music motivates the dancers, lifts their spirit, stirs up their emotions, kindles their creativity, generates synergism, and leads to what the Argentines call duende, an elated state in which the dancers perform exceptionally well. Without good music, there is little scope for even a master’s abilities.
There are thousands of tango songs available on the market. Only a small portion is excellent danceable music. The majorities are mediocrities or junks unsuitable for tango dancing. The CD makers know how to make money. If they put all good songs in one place, nobody will buy junks. So they mix the good and the junk together. In a CD of twenty songs, perhaps only one or two are good songs and the rest are junks. The Argentines know their music. They buy a CD for one or two good songs and discard the rest. American tango tourists, on the other hand, buy a CD and play them all. Here, our garbage collecting habit and bizarre taste haunt us again. We collect junk music like we collect junk steps. Worse still, we show favoritism to eccentric and rare junks, such as exotic, non-tango and alternative music.
Experts all agree that familiarity with the music is essential to an exuberant tango experience. The Argentines only play the best, well-known classical tango music in their milongas. They don’t even play rare and unfamiliar tango songs, still less outlandish and alternative music. Playing such music is a disservice to tango. It is weird. It lacks the richness and depth of the classical tango music. It cannot bring the dancers’ skills into play. It changes tango to a hybrid dance and repels the seasoned dancers who in Argentina are treated with respect, free or discount admission, best seats, and their favorite classical tango music, because they are the mainstay of the milonga.
Classical tango music is the signature of tango. It is created and developed with tango and for tango. People recognize it and associate it with the dance when they hear it. There is a sentimental attachment between the two. In reality tango dance and classical tango music are two aspects of one thing called Argentine tango, inseparable as body and soul. The fact that tango can be danced to other musics doesn’t mean it can remain intact when so danced. One may dance tango to the music of Beijing opera, but that will not be tango. Alternative music from different cultural background does not have the same rhythmic structure and sentimental richness of the classical tango music, which is passionate, multi-layered, manifold, changeful, deep and moody, allowing the freedom to interpret and improvise. Any music sharing the same rhythmic structure and sentimental richness will be recognized as tango and not alternative music. By definition, alternative music is the music that lacks the structural and sentimental depth of tango, and therefore is not the best music for tango dancing. It only appeals to beginners deficient in good taste and musicality or weird dudes seeking novelty, and those who choose to pander to their taste in order to make money.
Those who love tango more than money, on the other hand, can do one thing for tango. If we meticulously select 300-500 best classical tango songs and play only them repeatedly in our milongas like the Argentines do in the milongas of Buenos Aires, we will change our tango culture and raise the level of our dance in more ways than we can imagine. After all, tango is intimately related to its music. The better the music, the better the dance, the better the milonga, the better the community, and the better we will be.