Tango is not only a fascinating dance, but also a fascinating philosophy, culture, and lifestyle. 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 and species. 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. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.

February 19, 2012

Tango Is a Language (II)

Dancing tango is like having a conversation with someone. You tell her how you intend to move. She tells you how she agrees to follow. You adapt your lead to her follow. She accommodates her follow to your lead. The silent exchanges of information - intentions, feelings, interpretations, feedback and adjustments, etc., make it possible for the two to dance together as one unit. Good dancing is a result of good communication.

In order to communicate, you need to speak the same language. If you speak a different language, or use invented words, or talk with a strange accent, it would be hard for others to understand you. Not speaking the same language is a big problem in our tango. Different leaders often lead the same step differently. Different followers often follow the same lead differently. Leaders complain that the follower does not follow properly. Followers complain that the leads are unclear. That happens often because people do not abide by the same standard.

Many students fail to understand the importance of standardization. They disregard the conventions, overlook the instructions and neglect the fundamentals. Young people in particular tend to be interested in things that are abnormal and unconventional. They seek to dance in a way departing from the standard tango. Teachers, too, often teach self-invented and nonstandard steps unsuitable for social tango dancing. Using such steps in a show by professionals is one thing - they dance only with a fixed partner and can choreograph and rehearse the steps before the show. Dancing tango socially with randomly selected partners in the milonga is another thing, where unless dancers conform to the generally accepted rules and standards, there is no way for them to communicate and improvise in unison with each other. (See The Styles of Tango.)

YouTube also adds confusions to the already divided tango language. Students may think what they see online is the standard tango, but in fact that is exhibition, or show tango, which is not the way most people dance tango in the milongas. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.) The tango that most people dance is the milonguero style of tango danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires, the birthplace of tango where the dance is created since the beginning of the last century, where it is still a grassroots dance of the ordinary people today, and where tango lovers from all over the world come to dance tango with the locals everyday in over two hundred milongas all over the city. No matter what tango language you speak at home, when you visit Buenos Aires you realize that their language is the tango language you must conform to. If social tango needs a standard language to remain social tango globally, that must be the language of Buenos Aires

The history of some other languages may shed light on this. The Chinese language, for example, has historically developed into many dialects so different that people from various parts of China could not understand each other. For the past one hundred years, the Chinese tried to unify their language by conforming to a standard dialect. This is only partially accomplished in the recent decades thanks to the spread of television, which uses Beijing dialect as the standard language (Mandarin). Many Chinese living in rural areas still use local dialects unintelligible to outsiders. If you study Chinese, you want to study Mandarin and not a local dialect. Likewise, if you learn tango, you want to learn Argentine tango and not Finnish tango or American tango. If your purpose is to dance tango in the milongas, you want to study social tango and not performance tango, and you want to learn the milonguero style danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires, not some self-invented and localized style danced only in a university campus in North America. Some university campuses in North America are pretty isolated. They rarely associate with other tango communities and seldom invite outside teachers in to teach. As a result, they developed their own tango dialect unfamiliar to tango dancers elsewhere. Similarly, foreigners visiting Buenos Aires often find themselves unable to dance with the locals because they dance differently from the local dancers. As tango gains worldwide popularity, the possibility that the tango language could be transformed into different dialects increases. If we are not careful, we may end up repeating the history of the Chinese language. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts.)

Here is how the Argentinians dance tango in their milonga.

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Tango Is a Language (I)