Tango is not only a fascinating dance, but also a fascinating culture, idea, lifestyle, and philosophy. In many ways, tango is a metaphor of life. The pursuit of tango is the pursuit of connection, love, 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 species. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. We are humanists. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation and compromise. If you believe in this cause, please join the conversation and let your voice be heard, which is urgently needed and long overdue.

Together we can awaken the world.




December 25, 2013

Milonga Codes


Tango is a very personal experience. It involves intent physical contact and emotional exchanges between dancers. It is an intimate activity that affects people deeply on many levels and hence should not be taken lightly. A good tango experience depends not only on dance skills. In fact, it depends largely on the personal relationship and social ambiance of the milonga affected by each and every participant's conducts. With the development of tango, codes of conduct have also been established and become an important part of the dance. Learning these codes and mastering the proper way to behave and treat each other in the milonga is an essential part of a dancer's education. The following are things you must know when you go to a milonga.


Part One: Preparation and seating

1. Personal hygiene
Tango is danced in a close embrace in which your partner can smell the odor of your body. Therefore you need to take a shower, wash your hair and brush your teeth before going to a milonga. If you dine on the way, don't forget to rinse your mouth after the meal. Dancing with smelly hair and a mouthful of food odor will make your partner uncomfortable.

2. Makeup
Using light makeup and perfume, because your face will touch your partner's and both of you may sweat when dancing. Be aware that some people are allergic to certain scents and chemicals in hair sprays, makeups and perfumes.

3. What to wear?
Your outfit should match the elegance and beauty of the dance. Men look good in suits, not T-shirts and jeans. Ladies look good in dress or skirt, not too long or too exposed. Some women come to the milonga in exotic costumes, which to me is a little odd. Women should avoid wearing ornaments that will scrap the outfit of the man or rub his body. Men wear leather shoes. Women wear high-heeled tango shoes. Sneakers and sandals are inappropriate.

4. Seating
In Buenos Aires, when the guests enter a milonga, they are cordially received by the host, who will then take them to the seat. In a small venue, men and women sit separately on the different sides of the room. If the venue is large, men and women usually sit at separate tables, but the tables are mixed to facilitate the invitation. Unless a request to sit together is made, couples and friends who come together are seated separately to ensure everyone the same opportunity to invite others or be invited by others.

5. Changing
In Buenos Aires, women change shoes in the lady’s room rather than at the table. Men, too, often go to the men’s room to comb the hair, tidy the tie, change a shirt, or put on some perfume between the tandas. This is not only for looking good, but also for courtesy and showing respect to others and the dance.

6. The couple
If the couple is not dating, it would be better if they do not sit together, otherwise people may avoid inviting the lady out of respect and courtesy. A dating couple only dance with each other; therefore, they should not occupy a table easily accessible by others. Such seats should be left to those who need to do cabeceo. In Buenos Aires, a dating couple usually sit at a quiet corner. They do not dance with others, neither do other people bother them.

7. Equal opportunity
With the exception of dating couples, all dancers have equal opportunities to dance with anyone else in the milonga. There should be no discrimination and coterie. Cliquing is inappropriate in the milonga because it causes segregation, making it difficult for others to invite members of the clique. Women should avoid sitting with their male friends and dance only with them, and vise versa. Separate seating helps to prevent cliquing and create integration.


Part Two: Invitation

1. Active participation
Women should not sit there chatting with each other and waiting passively for men to come to invite them, but should actively participate in the invitation process by paying attention to men’s eye contact and being responsive to their cabeceo. Everyone must behave in a polite and friendly manner and be considerate of other’s feelings. Indifference, arrogance and rudeness do not conform to the spirit of tango. (See Activity and Passivity in Tango.)

2. Cabeceo
Dancing tango involves repeated change of partners and hence a frequent partner selection and invitation process. In a place where tango culture has not yet formed, people commonly use verbal invitation, which could put a woman into a dilemma that she may not want to be put into. The correct way to invite a woman is to nod at her from a distance. The woman may turn her eyes away to decline the invitation, or she may nod her head to accept it. This way of inviting a woman to dance is called cabeceo. Cabeceo gives women the freedom to accept or reject an invitation without being obliged to dance or causing public embarrassment to the man. (See Women's Role in Cabeceo.)

3. Making eye contact
For cabeceo to work, women must participate the process. If women sit there chatting with each other and pay no attention to men, then men cannot cabeceo them even if they want to. Women need to know that making eye contact with men is crucial because men can only cabeceo those who look at them. In order to seize the opportunity to find a partner, women must stop chatting with each other or on the phone, and must make eye contact with men, especially at the beginning of a tanda. (See Tango Etiquette: Eye Contact, Talking, Clique and Hierarchy.)

4. Lighting
The light in the milonga, therefore, should be bright enough for people to see each other and do cabeceo. Some milonga organizers set the light too dim, or use the flashing light of a disco room in order to create certain effect, which only does a disservice to the milonga.

5. What if you made a mistake?
When doing caceceo, you need to make sure that a person is nodding at you and not someone behind you. However, in a crowded milonga, errors could occur. Sometimes a man thought that a woman has accepted his invitation, only to find that she went to join another man. In such case the man has to quickly cabeceo someone else while on his way, or change the direction and go to the men's room instead. Sometimes two women at the same table both thought that they have been invited by the same man. To avoid confusion the man needs to look directly into the eyes of the woman that he is inviting while walking towards her and avoid making eye contact with the other woman even if the latter stares at him. Some women feel offended by this and stop making eye contact with the man afterwards, which is totally unnecessary. An understanding woman can always catch the man’s eyes again if she wants to dance with him.

6. Changing seats
Cabeceo could be hindered by dim light, distance, crowds, or bad eyesight. As a remedy you may consider rotating seat in different parts of the room, that is, if the seats of the venue are not fixed. Otherwise, you may temporarily leave your seat and walk to where you can make eye contact with the person of your choice, and then do cabeceo.

7. How to invite a woman who is talking?
A gentleman does not interrupt a woman when she is talking. If you want to invite a woman but she is chatting with others – which unfortunately is a frequent occurrence in the US, you should move closer to where she can see you and wait there patiently while looking into her eyes until she notices you, and then seize the opportunity to cabeceo her. If she keeps talking without paying any attention to you, then you should give up on her and search for another woman.

8. Do not oblige a woman to dance
If a man tries to make eye contact with a woman, but she turns a blind eye, what does that mean? "She did not see me, I should go directly to ask her." Wrong. She does not see you because she does not want to dance with you. If she wants you she will see you. You should not force your way to her table and ask her, as which could oblige her to dance, putting her into a situation that she may want to avoid in the first place. Instead, you should stay where you are and wait until she makes eye contact with you, and then cabeceo her to see if she will accept your invitation.

9. Listening to what she means
If a man asks a woman to dance and she replies, "I am resting my feet." What does that mean? "She wants me to wait for her." Wrong. No matter how tactful her words are, so long as she does not immediately join you, that is a decline. You should give up on her for the moment and turn to someone else. Do not linger there waiting for her, as which, if she is expecting someone else, could make her feel uneasy.

10. Acting in good faith
The woman who said "I am taking a break" to one man should not accept another man’s invitation right away. She should at least wait until the next tanda. Otherwise a lack of integrity on her part is displayed. Neither should another man go immediately to invite a woman who just rejected someone. You would break her faith with the first man if she accepts your invitation. Or, you would bring contempt to yourself if she keeps her words.

11. Practicing good manner
The way to avoid guesswork and misunderstanding is to be honest and considerate. For example, the woman may friendly say, "I need to take a break now. Could we dance later?" Such polite decline gives the inviter a way out without feeling rejected and humiliated. Women who are resting may take off their shoes. That way, nobody will bother them.

12. Going all out
Some women accept an invitation for fear of hurt other’s feelings, but then they dance perfunctorily without emotional involvement, letting the inviter feel disappointed. This is also impolite. If a woman does not want to dance with a man, she should not accept his invitation. If she accepts the invitation, then she must spare no effort to assume her role as his partner. Declining an invitation is normal. Perfunctoriness, on the other hand, antagonizes the spirit of tango. Of course, none of the above would happen if cabeceo were used. (See How to Get More Invitations in the Milonga.)


Part Three: Dancing

1. Taking a detour
The woman who accepted the cabeceo should sit there wait for the man to come to take her to the dance floor. To avoid interfering with the people already dancing on the floor, the man picking up the woman should not walk through the dance floor, but should make a detour around the dance floor to where the woman is, if that is feasible.

2. Seeking permission
Before taking the woman into the dance floor, the man should make eye contact with the leader of the approaching dancing couple and get his permission. Forcefully squeezing into the floor is impolite. If the oncoming couple are novices who cannot slow down, it would be better to let them pass. Dancing in front of them does you no good, because they are likely to cause a rear-end collision. Skilled dancers will leave a gap for you to enter, and it is safe with such people dancing behind you.

3. Dancing social tango only
There are different styles in tango. Some are suitable for social dancing, others are not. (See The Styles of Tango.) A milonga is a social tango party and should be free from styles and behaviors that conflict with its purpose. Dancers should observe the milonga codes and dance only social tango in the milonga. Using the milonga to demonstrate and promote performance tango does a great disservice to the milonga. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.)

4. Tanda and cortina
In the milonga, tango music is played in a set of three or four songs, called a tanda. Between two tandas is a short interlude, called cortina. One should dance the entire tanda with the same partner. Unless you have a very good reason, withdrawing in the middle of the tanda is impolite.

5. Dancing only one tanda
You have danced one tanda with a woman and felt very good, could you ask her to continue for another tanda? While this is totally up to the two of you, you should keep in mind that someone else may be waiting for her, or her significant other may feel uncomfortable because dancing multiple tandas in a row with the same woman means you like her, whether that is beyond normal or not. For a woman, accepting such request signals the reciprocal feeling. It would be wise not to fall into it if you don't want to get involved.

6. Brief conversation
The prelude of a tango song often does not have a normal rhythm; therefore, dancers usually begin to dance after the prelude. People customarily use this short period of time for a small chat. But in recent years this brief conversation tends to become longer. Some people stand there talking even after others all started to dance. As a rule of thumb, when the rhythm of the song becomes regular, or when people around you start to dance, you should begin to move to avoid blocking the traffic.

7. Do not advise your partner
Giving advice to your partner during the dance puts yourself in a superior position and may affect the partnership. Milonga is where people come to dance with each other. Teaching should be left in the classroom. If you admire a master, attending his/her class is a good idea, but do not ask him/her to teach you at the party, as which could oblige him/her to do things that they should not do in the milonga. (See The Art of Love.)

8. Complying with navigation rules
The dance floor is divided into several lanes, just like the racing tracks of a sport arena. Dancing couples move counterclockwise in their respective lanes. The lane at the outer edge of the floor is for skilled dancers who can keep up with the flow of traffic. Less skilled dancers should dance in the slow lane near the center. Zigzagging between lanes or moving backwards could easily cause collision, and should be avoided.

9. Keeping a proper distance
The couple behind should keep a proper distance and not be too close or too far away from the couple in front. Beginners concentrating on doing the steps may forget about slowing down or speeding up as needed, often cause collision with the people in front, or block the people behind. Dancers who like to show off may intentionally keep a large distance from the couple in front, or stay at the same place doing their exhibition. These are all inappropriate. (See Cadencia and the Flow of Tango.)

10. Safety first
You might think that the most important thing in a milonga is to dance. In fact, that is safety. The man who leads the woman has a responsibility to protect her and prevent her from being bumped, kicked, or stepped on. For the same reason, he should not lead her do things that could harm others, such as high voleos, kicks and ganchos. The woman, too, should be considerate of people dancing nearby and avoid actions that may put others' safety in jeopardy.

11. Maintaining a good dance environment
A successful milonga depends on the efforts of all participants. Everyone in the milonga must demonstrate his/her best manner: friendly, polite, respectful, considerate, yielding and cooperative. Misconducts should meet public resistance. If a person behaved disrespectfully to others, the rest of the crowd need to boycott him/her for a while, letting him/her feel the public disapproval. This can help to maintain a healthy dance environment.

12. Evacuating the dance floor
The cortina between the two tandas lasts only for thirty seconds or so. This very short interval is used to clear the dance floor and change partners. All dancers should leave the dance floor during the cortina. Chatting without leaving the dance floor could hinder the preparation of the next round.

13. Escorting the woman to her seat
Some elderly women may be disoriented in a crowded dance floor. Escorting them back to their seats after the dance is a common practice in Buenos Aires. However, the man should not stay there talking with the woman after sending her back lest delaying her being invited by others for the next tanda.

14. The last tanda
Near the end of the milonga the DJ usually will announce, “This is the last tanda.” If you share a table with a couple, it would be nice to let the couple dance the last tanda and not preempt the invitation, unless the husband or boyfriend is too tired but the woman still wants to dance. Your good manner will be a blessing to the community.


Postscript

This post is written in reference to Mark Word 's article, Tango Etiquette: The Pocket-Sized Version. I originally wanted to translate Word 's article into Chinese. In the translation process I felt the need to make some changes to suit Chinese readers. The result is this version, in which I made a lot of additions and skipped some contents that may be culturally difficult for the Chinese. Unfortunately, the original American humor also has lost as a result. Those who are interested in reading Word's article please click here.



December 8, 2013

Women's Common Mistakes in Tango


1. Refusing to surrender
For two people to dance together like one unified body, one of them must lead and the other must follow. Otherwise the two will be conflicting with each other and impossible to reach oneness, harmony and synchronicity. The woman has to overcome her ego, surrender to the man and obey his lead. Women new to tango often have a strong ego and refuse to surrender, just like a young bride still accustomed to her single status that she needs some adjustment before becoming a qualified wife. It is often more comfortable to dance with a married woman than with an unmarried girl, because the latter is still too self-centric. For a woman, learning tango is much more than learning steps; it is also learning to surrender and be one with the man. Women who focus on the steps and refuse to surrender cannot dance tango well. (See Tango Is a Relationship.)

2. Leaning backward
A woman not surrendering herself often tries to keep a distance from the man by leaning backward rather than leaning forward into him. This creates two problems. First, in the absence of bodily contact the two partners have to use their hands to lead and follow, resulting in confusing signals, communication problems, coercing, discomfort, lack of intimacy, lack of sync, etc. Second, when the woman leans backward, the man cannot lean forward against her and has to adopt a vertical posture also, causing a distance between them. The original A-shaped frame thus is changed to an H-shaped frame, and the dance that emphasizes intimacy and synchronicity is transformed to one that focuses on individual performance. (See The Thirteenth Pitfall of a Tanguera.)

3. Interfering with the lead
Individual performance is particularly evident in Europe and North America where there is a strong presence of individualism and feminism, which advocate the independence of the woman, disapprove her surrender to the man, and encourage her to interrupt the lead and insert her own steps. Such propositions are in clash with tango, which focuses on the intimacy, oneness, cooperation, synchronization and harmony between the partners rather than on individual performance. In tango, the action of the woman is not initiated by the woman, but is brought out by the man. The woman can use her creativity to beautify the dance, but her embellishments have to be in unison with the lead, not in conflict with it. The woman should not initiate the movement or interfere with the lead.

4. Anticipation
After a step is made, a novice woman often takes the next step automatically according to her own anticipation. For example, she hastily chases the beats and cannot slow down, or makes the second, third and fourth ocho after the first one until the man has to stop her. Although a skilled man in such situations is able to lead her accordingly, her initiation could interfere with his intent. If the man is unskilled, then there could be frequent conflict. The woman must stop speculating, and develop the habit of waiting and dancing step by step according to the lead rather than her own anticipation.

5. Using hands
Surrendering yourself means that your body is fully committed to the lead and thus is completely relaxed. An unskillful woman not feeling at home with her craft often concentrates on the steps, so her body is prone to tension and stiffness. In her nervousness the woman may subconsciously grab the man, relying on the help of the hands to execute the movement. Without knowing who has the jitters, she blames the man for her sour hand, even though that is caused by her own tension. Dancing tango requires the ability to dissociate the hands with the body, that is, letting the arms and hands completely relax and executing the steps only with the body and legs without the help of the arms and hands. Using hands not only causes her own discomfort, but also causes the physical exertion of the man. In my experience, that is one of the most common and disturbing problems in tango. Once the dancers stop using the hands and switch to using the torso, their experience will be greatly improved. Of course, even then one still needs to know how to lead or follow with the torso in order for the arms and hands to be truly relaxed. (See The Functions of Various Body Parts in Tango.)

6. Heaviness
Another problem of a rigid body is heaviness. Heaviness may be related to the body weight, but more often it is the consequence of technical errors, such as relying on the man for her movements, grabbing the man to put forth her strength, using the man for her own stability, wrestling with him, and so on, which not only make it hard for the man to lead her, but also cause discomfort, fatigue, and loss of interest for him. In order for the man to enjoy dancing with a woman, she needs to surrender herself, relax her body, maintain her own balance, synchronize her movement with his, be obedient and agile, and not physically exert herself with the help of the hands, clutch him and use him for her stability, disobey or wrestle with him, etc. A woman who is light and easy to lead is much sought after by men. (See Balance.)

7. Not returning to the home position
A woman needs to swivel her hips in order to move around the man. (See Dissociation and Gear Effect.) After the step is made she has to turn her hips back to face the man and collect her free leg, that is, to return to the home position, in order to make the next step. A novice woman often fails to turn back her hips and collect her free leg, which not only cause the delay and rush of the next step, or even make it impossible, but also cause her body to seem loose and missing its elegant line. A woman must develop the habit of returning to the home position in a timely manner after each step to stand ready for the next step in any, usually the opposite direction.

8. Unrefined musicality
Tango steps can be divided into two groups: that of main or featured steps, such as the forward step in ocho, the rock step in ocho cortado, etc., and that of ancillary, transitional or decorative steps, such as the collection of the leg, the unwinding of the crossed leg, pivot, the swivel of the hips, the switch of the foot, and embellishments, etc. A novice woman tends to focus only on the main steps and overlook the ancillary actions. She may be able to step on the beat, but her pivot, hip rotation, weight change and embellishment are either made too hasty or slow, totally off music. A woman needs to understand that dancing to the music is not just stepping on the beat. Every movement of her body, including that of ancillary, transition and decoration, must all match the rhythm, tempo and mood of the music perfectly. Cultivating refined musicality is a long-term goal, but it is the most important and fundamental skill of a dancer that is well worth the effort.

9. Lacking of agility
Tango music has four beats in each measure. The first and third beats are downbeats, the second and fourth beats are upbeats. Dancing tango, one generally steps on the downbeats - the main action is on the first beat, the ancillary action is on the third beat, in the speed of doing two actions in each measure. However, it is often necessary to do two actions, such as taking a forward step and then immediately making a rotation, or stepping backwards and then immediately crossing one leg in front of the other, or making a step and then immediately changing weight to the other foot, etc., on two consecutive beats - the main action is on the downbeat, the ancillary action is on the upbeat, in the speed of doing four actions in each measure. Sometimes the main action and the ancillary action even need to be completed within one beat, in the speed of doing eight actions in each measure. The ability to act swiftly is particularly important in the advanced level, which involves very fast leg movement. Skilled dancers are prepared for continuous actions and can move agilely, ready at any time for the next step, thus can dance at ease and have time for adornments. Beginners, on the other hand, are often too slow to act, their movements are heavy, and they can only step on the downbeat but not on successive downbeat and upbeat, let alone taking two steps on one beat.

10. Being too light
I’ve mentioned heaviness. However, if your movement is too light, it could cause difficulties for the man also because in close embrace he cannot see your footwork and must feel it to know where your weight or axis is, whether you have switched foot, whether you have completed hip rotation or embellishment, etc., in order to decide how to lead the next step. If he cannot feel you, it is easy for him to take a conflicting lead. The cause of being too light could be: there is a lack of physical connection and communication, your movement is too subtle to be felt, your weight change is unclear, your upper body remains too still, you fail to follow properly - such as using a cross to replace a hip rotation, using a back step in place of a cross, changing weight while you should not, or not changing weight while you should, etc. Such could cause the man unable to feel you, or make a wrong judgment on your movement. Women having this problem need to improve their connection and communication to allow the man to feel them. Of course, these cannot be overdone. Neither too light nor too heavy contributes to coziness and harmony.

11. Passive follow
Following is not being dragged about. It is an active reaction that requires passion, wit, agility and creativeness. The woman must follow with feelings, sensitivity, concentration and responsiveness. She must not follow passively and indifferently. Novice women often are egotistic and reserved. Some accept an invitation unwillingly and take a perfunctory attitude. Others are not focused or emotionally involved. Still others hold back their personality and originality, and become the shadow of their partner. With such passivity it is impossible to dance tango well. A good follower is actively engaged, fully committed and going all out. She is totally in unison with the man without losing her personality and creativity in the dance. (See Activity and Passivity in Tango.)

12. Lacking of femininity
Under the influence of feminism, Euro-American tango exhibits a tendency of gender neutrality and "political correctness." When dancing tango, many Euro-American women replace close embrace with an open hand hold, remain independent, refuse to surrender, disobey the lead, deny gender differences, reverse gender roles, hanker for individual performance, and advance same-sex partnership, etc. If that kind of tango is what you are after, then good luck. However, if Argentine tango is what you want to learn, I suggest that you respect its essence of intimacy, oneness, synchronicity and harmony. In Argentine tango, the woman assumes the feminine role. She surrenders to the man, follows his lead, works closely with him, attracts him with her femininity, comforts him and makes him feel at home, inspires his imagination and creativity, and shines the dance with her beautiful footwork. By so doing the woman will get the full return, because her devotion and efforts will make the man cherish her, care for her, reciprocate the hospitality, and fulfill his responsibility as her leader and protector. In tango, the relationship between the two sexes is only meaningful when they both remain who they are as man and woman. Without femininity, tango will lose not only its splendor, but also its value of existence. (See Femininity and Feminism in Tango (I) and The Gender Expression in Tango.)

November 29, 2013

Men's Common Mistakes in Tango


1. Not listening to music
For some men, failure to dance to the music is because they do not know how to listen to tango music. (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.) For others, it is because they are so focused on leading the steps that they cannot hear the music. The former is a problem of musicality. The latter is that of attention allocation. Dancing tango requires the ability to allot attention to many elements simultaneously, including embrace, connection, posture, movement, partner, coordination, relaxation, decoration and music, etc. Among which listening to the music must be the priority, because dancing tango is dancing the music, not the steps. The latter is but an expression of the former. In leading, the man must first pay attention to the music. He must not only think of the steps that he is leading and forget about the music.

2. The steps are too difficult
Some men like to lead difficult steps that are beyond their comfortable zone, which require so much of their attention that they become heedless of the other aspects of the dance. Beginners often mistake complexity for beauty. But in fact one has nothing to do with the other. On the contrary, keeping the steps simple will be easier for the dancers to allocate attention, listen to the music, relax the body, perfect the movement, and enjoy the relationship. Unlike stage tango that features performance, social tango emphasizes the feelings and communications between the partners. Therefore, simple steps are more suitable. To dance social tango with difficult steps of stage tango could easily backfire. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.)

3. Leading with the hands
Many men lead with the hands for a number of reasons. First, one's long-standing habit is hard to break. Second, it's easier to lead with the hands than with the torso. Third, with the help of the hands it is facile to do steps. Forth, many women prefer dance in open hand holds, leaving men little choice but using the hands. Fifth, beginners often see tango as steps rather than relationship, feelings and music interpretation, although the opposite is closer to the truth. (See Tango Is a Feeling.) Finally, in order to teach steps, many teachers encourage their students to use the open embrace, which reinforces the habit of using the hands. However, using the hands to lead conflicts with the essence of tango, that is, intimacy, sensuality, comfort, oneness and synchronization. Tango has been from its birth a dance of close embrace and torso leading, which distinguishes it from other partner dances. For the man, learning tango is primarily learning to lead with his torso, that is, to effect the movement of the woman's body with his body, not his hands. Beginners must overcome the habit of using the hands, and develop the ability to lead with the torso.

4. Sending mixed signals
The problem of hand leading is that it often contradicts the body. Those who rely on the hands usually do not know how to lead with the torso. When their hands put forth strength in one direction but the torso does not turn or move accordingly, that could send mixed signals. The fundamental solution to this problem is to supersede hand leading with torso leading. Arms and hands should be completely relaxed in leading and used only to form a supportive frame rather than to coerce the woman to submit. Unawareness of the function of the body often causes the man to lead with the hands while his weight is not completely transferred from one foot to the other. But, since the partners are connected, the incompleteness of his weight change means that she too has not yet completed her weight change. Asking her to take a step in such a position is demanding the impossible. She must complete her weight change before following the lead, resulting in the incoherence of the dance. Such errors caused by using the hands could be avoided if the man uses his torso to lead. (See The Functions of Various Body Parts in Tango.)

5. Bending over
I stress leading with the torso rather than with the chest, because the entire upper body is utilized in leading. Using the chest to lead could cause a tall man to bend over with his buttock sticks out, which not only looks inelegant, but may also add pressure on the woman, causing her to bend backwards. The correct posture is to keep the body upright and tall. In order to maintain an elegant posture, a tall man should use his stomach instead of chest to lead a short woman.

6. Bowing the head
Many couples stick their cheeks together in tango as a sign of intimacy. However, if the man is much taller than the woman, this could cause him to bow his head, curve his torso, hold his chest in, stick his buttock out, and bend his knees, which not only look awful, but also add pressure on the woman. A tall man and a short woman would be better not tango together. If they choose to dance together, then the woman may rest her head on his chest, but the man should not bend over to meet her head with his. Rather, he should stand tall, keeping his torso upright, chest out, head up, and knees straight.

7. Coercing the woman to submit
An immature leader may think of follow as unconditional surrender and obedience. However, the surrender and obedience in tango is not unilateral, but mutual. Tango is about intimacy, empathy, adaptation, comfort, harmony and freedom. Both lead and follow should be gentle, thoughtful, moderate and comfortable. To lead is not to coerce, but to guide, support, collaborate, adapt, protect, and help the woman to unfold her skills and beauty. Just as the woman should submit to the lead, the man, too, should submit to the need of the woman. There must not be any coerce in leading.

8. Self-centeredness
An inexperienced man often thinks from his own perspective and fails to take into consideration the balance, axis, time, space and support that the woman needs in her dancing. Examples of his self-centeredness include taking care only of his own balance and overlooking hers, leading her to take a step while her balance is not yet in place, letting her rotate on a tilted axis, leading her to move but blocking her path, not giving her enough time to finish her step, leading her to do things beyond her ability, and so on. Such could cause her feeling coerced and uncomfortable. The man must think from the standpoint of the woman, constantly adjust his position, embrace, posture, weight, speed, movement, etc., to adapt to her needs and facilitate her dance, so that she can be free.

9. Not giving her support
Letting her be free in the dance does not mean letting her dance alone without your support. An inexperienced man often just sends a signal and then waits for the woman to follow, but fails to provide the support that she needs in her dancing. In fact, such support is crucial because she is leaning on you. If you withdraw your support, even if you lean back only slightly, that could cause her to lose balance and compromise the quality of her dance. When she moves away from you, you have to follow her to maintain your support for her. When she moves into you, you have to retreat while not lose the support for her. Otherwise, she will feel falling away.

10. Overlooking ancillary actions
The lack of understanding of the structure of the movement is another problem of a beginner. Most steps in tango are not composed of only one action, but a combination of several actions. For example, dancing the ocho from the crossed position includes five actions: unwinding, taking a forward step, pivoting and swiveling the hips, taking another forward step, and pivoting and swiveling the hips again. Thus, the entire sequence needs to be led in five action steps. If you do not break down the sequence and attempt to bring out two actions in one lead, that will make it hard for the woman. Beginners tend to focus on the main action and overlook the ancillary action. For example, the man may directly lead the woman to take a forward step without unwinding her crossed leg first, or lead her to step forward while she is yet to complete her pivot and hip rotation.

11. Lacking of sophisticated musicality
The tendency of overlooking ancillary actions is reflected especially in the beginner’s handling of music. The musicality of the beginner is often raw and untrained. He may be able to identify the rhythm and lead the woman to step on the beat, but his handling of the ancillary actions is often crude and unmusical. Still use the example of the ocho, in which the beginner tends to focus on the main action, i.e., the forward step. Once a forward step is made, he immediately moves on to lead the next forward step. While both steps may be led on the beat, the transitional action between the two steps, namely pivot and rotation, often is led without smoothness. Such lead cannot satisfy a mature follower, who wants the leader to handle all aspects of the entire sequence in a sophisticated way that every detail of the sequence meets the rhythm, melody, speed and mood of the music perfectly. Only in such a fashion dancing tango becomes truly a treat.

12. Self-exhibition
We sometimes see men short of good taste use their partner as a foil for their own self-display. Such men have invented more and more exhibitional steps for themselves, showing off at the milonga and drawing eyeballs to their performance. In my view this is a bad trend in tango today, because it is against the essence of tango. A man does not need to compete with the woman for attention. On the contrary, his job is to display her beauty. Instead of drawing eyeballs to himself, he should focus on making her feel pampered in his arms, shining her, and letting her be the center of attention. A leader's maturity is measured by how his partner dances, not by his own exhibition.

November 21, 2013

Tango and the Relationship of the Opposite Sexes


Part One

A reader commented, "I have enjoyed reading your other thoughts so much, that I am very sad to read about your view of gender roles in tango. In my view, tango, as with any art, is a subjective and living thing. The ability to reassign roles to me is a progression. It affirms that the art can and does live and breathe in our contemporary world, which, for most of us anyway, rejects misogyny, rejects homophobia, and encourages empathy. The art will continue to be shaped by those who choose it and I agree completely that there is so much that can only be considered bastardization. But the exchanging of gender roles, the influence of LGBT, this represents the beauty of the art, not at all some kind of a decay. It shows that it lives in our time of changing gender roles and progress in human rights and understanding. And, in wonderful irony, reflects tango revisiting its roots." (See The Alienation of Tango)

I would like to give a serious and sincere response to the above comment, because in my opinion gender roles are at the core of tango dancing. Tango would not be the same if the gender roles are reversed. I do not think the transformation of gender roles and the influence of LGBT can be simply seen as a progress. Trend and progress cannot always be used synonymously. Although feminism and homosexuality are fashionable in the Western societies now, following the trend blindly may lead to unintended consequences. That tango is in conflict with the trend may be a blessing to the Western world because through tango it is easier to understand how men and women could live together in peace and harmony, at least for most people it is so. This doesn’t mean that some people may not have their own choices, and that most people should not accept them. But some people should understand that their choice must not be the choice of all people. It is simply not true to say that those who do not make the same choice as they do are all misogynic or homophobic, and that those who do not dance tango the same way as they do are all anti-progression.

The real issue in question is the purpose of sex. Those who think sex is only for pleasure believe one can have sex with anyone including members of one's own gender, which from an individualistic point of view is a matter of personal rights and freedom, and they want the society not only to recognize their rights, but also provide means for all people to embrace their view and way of living.

Those who think sex is a responsibility relating to the procreation and upbringing of the next generation, on the other hand, believe the above view and way of living is detrimental to the best interests of the society and humanity as a whole. Individualism is a cracked ideology because we are not just individual beings but also social beings. Absolute personal liberty at the expense of the best interests of the humanity is fundamentally harmful to the individuals as well. One's tango is a part of one's lifestyle; therefore, it is not a matter of opening up and trying new things - a persuasion that drug dealers often use. It is choosing a way to dance that is consistent with one's value and way of living. (See Tango and Individualism.)


Part Two

Humans are smart, able to intervene and alter nature. But humans are shortsighted as well, unaware of the long-term consequences of their actions due to their short life cycle. Modern humans have no memory of what happened tens of thousands of years ago, hundreds of thousands of years ago, and thousands of thousands of years ago. Monogamy, that is, marriage of one man and one woman who are not blood-related, is the eugenic mechanism best suits the interests of the humanity. This institution is resulted gradually from millions of years of human evolution through countless positive and negative reproductive experiences and a painstaking natural selection process. The soundness of the institution, however, has been so forgotten by modern people that alternative marriage now becomes a fashion. But, no matter how smart humans are, what is of nature is still the soundest, most proper and fitting outcome, as it has gone through an extremely slow and gradual process of evolution, perfected little by little in the millions of years of making. Human interventions, on the other hand, are sudden and revolutionary, thus often lead to disastrous consequences.

Modern contraceptive technology is an example of such human interventions. Contraception changes human sexual behavior from that for procreation to that for sexual pleasure. Once this breach is made, a series of consequences follow. Contraception leads to sex freedom, which leads to homosexuality, which leads to the alienation of marriage, which leads to the disintegration of family, which leads to the decay of morality, which leads to the fall of civilization. One ant hole could cause the entire dyke to collapse. Since heterosexuals may have sex for pleasure, why should homosexuals not be allowed to do the same? If the ban on homosexuality is lifted, then why not that on bisexuality, transgender sexuality, prostitution, adultery, group sex, incest, sodomy, and every other form of pleasure-oriented sex? In many Western societies, legislations have been passed to allow same-sex marriage, which changes marriage from that between a man and a woman for reproduction to that between gays or lesbians for sexual pleasure and welfare benefits. If sexual pleasure and welfare benefits are the sound reasons for marriage, then why should marriage be limited to non-consanguineous adults? Why brother and brother, sister and sister, brother and sister, father and son, father and daughter, mother and son, mother and daughter, or other close relatives should not form a sexual relationship through marriage for the same reason? And why should marriage be limited to two adults? Why polygamy, polyandry and group marriage are not allowed? In fact, why is marriage even necessary at all, if it is not for the procreation and benefit of children? As long as reproduction and children are not involved, a person choose to have sex with whom and with how many people is a personal affair, since sex is an inherent human right from the individualistic point of view.

Marriage, however, is not a universal human right, but privilege granted to non-kin adults of the opposite sexes only, for it relates to the reproduction and upbringing of the next generation and hence the well-being of the society as a whole. Various offbeat sexual relationships are in contradiction to the eugenics and best interests of the human species, and thus are prohibited by law - first by natural law in the prehistoric period for at least tens of thousands of years if not hundreds of thousands of years, followed by written laws in the historical period for at least thousands of years in the past. Now, by means of contraception, humans can enjoy the pleasure of non-consequential sex, open-minded people therefore start to advocate the lift of the ban. In the US, the gay rights movement is surging. So far, sixteen states have passed same-sex marriage legislations. Homosexuality, bisexuality, adultery, sodomy and incest, which never cease to exist even when traditional marriage is the only legal form of marriage but previously are done in the closet, now start to enjoy some legitimacy and popularity thanks to these legislations. When such radical ideas become the generally accepted norm in a society, sex freedom, the alienation of marriage, the disintegration of the traditional family, the destruction of the human eugenic institution, and the decline in population quantity and quality are bound to happen. Modern man has completely forgotten about the repeated lessons in early human history that societies and civilizations withered away because of this.


Part Three

Homosexuals are human beings, too. Their human rights, including that of selecting sex partners and forming partnerships, should be recognized. However, we must also recognize that homosexuality is not a normal and natural biological function, otherwise the species would cease to exist. Marriage equality, i.e., treating homosexual relationship equally as heterosexual relationship, thus blur the distinctions between the two, is not a good idea in my opinion. It is another serious human intervention against nature. As mentioned above, marriage is a eugenic mechanism resulted from millions of years of human reproductive practice and a painstaking natural selection process. It is a privilege granted to non-kin adults of the opposite sexes for procreation only. For the best interests of the human species, this privilege must be protected by law. Failure to do so will have serious consequences.

The notion of "marriage equality" implies that marriage does not have to be between a man and a woman, that gender is irrelevant in forming a sexual relationship, that every human person is entitled to have sex with anyone regardless of gender and consanguinity, that it is legal and moral to have sex with a same-sex person, that sex is only for pleasure with no social responsibilities attached, that marriage is not a eugenic institution but only a lifestyle, that procreation and the upbringing of children is not the function of marriage, that the healthy growth of children does not depend on the presence and joint efforts of both father and mother, that the welfare incentives intended to encourage marriage between a man and a woman for procreation should also be extended to homosexual partnerships, and that individual rights, personal freedom, self-indulgence and self-interests are the only things that matter, etc. Can you imagine how such false ideas, if sponsored by the state, enforced by law, enhanced by propaganda, media coverage, TV shows, movies, popular literature, school education, workplace regulations, and dinner table conversations could influence the young minds and impact the future of the humanity?

We know that introducing alien species may endanger native species, marketing genetically modified food may cause the reduction of natural food supply, promoting tango Nuevo may inhibit traditional tango, encouraging alternative marriage may accelerate the disintegration of traditional family, taking affirmative action may result in reversed discrimination, etc. Instances of this kind are too numerous to mention. It is a human nature to be fond of the new and tired of the old. People rush to follow what is fashionable and despise what is proven by times to be reliable. Those who question the new trend are blamed down, as if what has been proven is obsolete and not good anymore, but what has not been proven is instead the cutting edge and progressive. If the distinct status of marriage were not protected and preserved, reversed discrimination, the destruction of human eugenic institution and the disintegration of the nuclear family would become inevitable.

More importantly, failure to protect traditional marriage would undermine the family-centered value system on which human civilization is based. The relationship between the opposite sexes, who are mutually attractive, interdependent and cooperative to each other by nature, is the foundation of all interpersonal relationships. From this relationship comes out children, family, tribe, nation, political state, and the consequent moral system on which the society is based. The relationship between the opposite sexes therefore is the foundation of all social relationships. In other words, it is through the most intimate reproductive relationships that people learn to love and get along with each other. The decline of family has a profound impact on the society, because it means the loosening of the natural bond between closely related people and the rising of individualism with an emphasis on personal independence, liberty, freedom, rights and self-interests while denying the interdependence and the need for cooperation and compromise among people. (See Tango and Family Values.) Feminism as a replica of individualism on gender issues opposes the interdependence of the two sexes, advocates women’s independence, encourages women to emancipate from family, to fight for their own rights, to be strong and aggressive like men, to compete with men, and not to be outdone by men, etc. Such radical propositions only exacerbate the antagonism and confrontation between the two sexes and are not conducive to gender harmony. (See Femininity and Feminism in Tango (I).) The way to improve the relationship is to be friendly, respectful, cooperative, yielding and adaptive to each other rather than being rejective, hostile, confrontational and uncompromising to each other. The recent government shutdown caused by refusing to make concessions, serves as an alarming example of the impairment of such extremist ideologies. (See Meeting in the Middle.)


Part Four

Gay rights movement, feminism and individualism have an undeniable influence on tango. Feminism disapproves the surrender and obedience of the woman to the man in tango, advocates that the woman maintains her independence in the dance and keeps a distance from the man, that the man does not lead but only invites the woman to move, that the woman may decide how, when or whether to accept the "invitation", that the man must wait for the woman's response at the pace of her choice and then follow her, that the woman is free to express herself, may interrupt the man’s lead and insert her own steps, and that the woman may lead the man or another woman, etc. Some authors write books to advertise this kind of ideas. Like-minded teachers also promote such ideas through their teaching, and students naively mistaking radicalism for progress blindly follow the trend, contributing to the alienation of tango and changing tango from a dance in which the two partners collaborate intimately to achieve oneness and harmony, to a dance in which the two partners are distant and antagonistic, focusing only on one’s own performance.

I believe most people are not extremists. But, living in the contemporary world which “rejects misogyny, rejects homophobia, and encourages empathy”, few could be totally immune from such radicalization. We often see beginners stick to the attitude that they have obtained over a long period of time, thinking of oneself as an independent individual rather than in relation to others, regarding the self not as a part of the whole, and thinking of others as rivals, etc. Most people, after going through a period of learning, will gradually overcome such self-centric attitude and adopt a cooperative attitude consistent with the values of tango. But there are people who cannot overcome individualistic mentality even after years of learning. Students of the contemporary age need to know that learning tango is learning a new set of values completely different from the values of the world. The world is about competition and winning. Tango is about cooperation and harmony. The world believes that balance is gained through might and fight. Tango believes that balance is gained through collaboration and compromise. Tango is not about the self, independence, personal freedom and individual performance, but about achieving a higher sense of common interests and mutual satisfaction through teamwork. (See The Freedom in Tango.) Principles in tango, such as surrender, obedience, communication, love, yielding, collaboration, adaptation and complement, not only help the two partners to dance together in unison, but also provide universal values for people to live together in peace and harmony. (See The World Needs a Different Philosophy.)

Whenever cooperation is involved, so is the division of labor. For example, in a household, the man often takes care more of the heavy-duty works that require strength, and the woman often does more light chores. Such natural division of labor is based on the physiologies of the two sexes, not at all some form of discrimination. In tango, the man leads the woman and the woman beautifies the dance, which too is a natural division of labor based on the physiological characteristics of the two sexes, not at all some form of gender inequality. Do you think it’s natural for the woman to lead the man and the man to beautify the dance? When you see a gal leads a guy, and the guy wriggles his body and swivels his buttock, pretending to be feminine, do you think that looks natural and beautiful? You have seen couples of the same sex dancing together and in them there is only femininity and no masculinity, or only masculinity and no femininity, do you think that looks pretty? Tango is subjected to laws of nature and art, not ideologies. I need not to repeat what has been dwelt upon in my other articles on gender roles. (Please click the following links to read more if you haven't already: The Gender Roles in Tango, Femininity and Feminism in Tango (I), Femininity and Feminism in Tango (II), Tango and Gender Equality, The Gender Expression in Tango.) I believe those who are not driven by narrow-minded ideological extremism will not find such division of labor discriminative against women. Male chauvinists use the division of labor between the opposite sexes as an evidence of male superiority, which is ridiculous. Feminists therefore want to repeal or reverse gender roles, which is even more absurd.

I believe tango is a good thing for the Western world. True progress is not radical, but rational, gradual, moderate and peaceful as nature is. Nature at its norm is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. It leads to coexistence, harmony, balance, peace, to the recognition of the connections of things and the abandonment of radical ideas like individualism, feminism and power politics, to common interests rather than self-interests, integration rather than segregation, adaptation rather than antagonism, moderation rather than extremism, compromise rather than obstinacy, love rather than hatred, and peace rather than war. In other words, nature is in opposition to the extremist human tendency against nature. Tango embodies the principles of how the two sexes can get alone with each other by the very nature of their being, that is, mutual attraction, collaboration, adaptation, compromise, complement and love, which is the reason of its vitality. Tango can help people to understand the harm of hostility and the benefit of cooperation. It provides useful lessons for us to live together in peace and harmony, thus is conducive to the true human progress. (See The Lessons of Tango.)

May 19, 2013

Tango Is a Shared Moment


"Tango is a shared moment," Carlos Gavito often says this in his classes. This poet-dancer is considered one of the last symbols of the “Milongueros" era, now in extinction. Born in Avellaneda, a suburb of Buenos Aires, Gavito started his professional career in 1965. He is currently touring the world with "Forever Tango". He resides in Florida, and travels frequently to New York, where he guest teaches at DanceSport. A few weeks ago we caught up with Carlos Gavito in a NY coffeehouse.

ReporTango: How did you start dancing tango?

Carlos Gavito: I never really learned tango. Tango was part of the Argentine culture, and when I was a boy it was in fashion. When I was seven years old I used to go to the basketball court of the sports club of my town, Avellaneda, where three times a week there were tango "practicas". In those days, tango was practiced between men. The older men would use boys who were placed in a standing position, mimicking the women, and the men would practice their steps. They would say, "Hey boy, come, stand here, put your foot here, and now there." And they would try new steps and new ways. So at the beginning I was just a body, but I paid attention to the steps and when I was fifteen, I did the same with a younger boy. It was then my turn to practice steps. In those days there were no dancing schools, and no television, so a kid like myself would have soccer during the day, and tango in the late afternoon.

R: So you were not allowed to do any steps before you were fifteen?

CG: No, I was not allowed to do the steps or go to any milongas.

R: What made you come back to those practice sessions?

CG: I was always into music. When I was fifteen, everybody was listening and dancing to rock n' roll, but all the clubs around my town would still play tango. Tango was always there. From the beginning I always liked tango, I found the music so beautiful, and so I always wanted to dance it, not as a profession, not as a performance, but as a social event. By the way, as a professional dancer, I always make the distinction between social tango and the tango performed on stage (See Social Tango and Performance Tango). One has nothing to do with the other. Stage tango is done to sell tickets, while social tango is dancing for your own enjoyment. That's why I've never understood the "ganchos" (hooks) and kicks in social tango. I always make it clear to students that I don't teach ganchos. I would only do it if you want to become professional and you want to learn a specific choreography from me, then I will do that, I will teach ganchos. But not in social tango. I feel strongly about that.

R: What made you decide to make tango a profession?

CG: Well, that happened much later, when I was around 23 or 24 years old. I was dancing jazz and I had taken also ballet classes. I became first a jazz dancer, and then one day a friend of mine, Eduardo Arquimbau (from Gloria & Eduardo) came to look for me. He was putting together a television special and needed guys who danced tango, not just plain dancers. He knew I could dance tango and so he came to talk to me. I will never forget, it was in a coffee place in Avenida Corrientes where we always used to have a coffee or drink. He told me about the possibility to do this show, and I said let's try, let's see what it is about. We started to practice in a club and it was fine. It was a program called "Así canta Buenos Aires" ("This is how Buenos Aires sings"). We then went on doing another one, "Yo soy Porteño" ("I'm from Buenos Aires"). I worked with him for about three and a half years. So, without really knowing it, I slowly went back to my roots, to tango. After that, Eduardo, Gloria and I started working in milongas. At those milongas we would perform four days a week as a trio. Later on, Eduardo formed a big show in which I was his leader. While Eduardo went on tour in Japan and Central America I took care of the show. When he finally came back I decided to go on my own to the Festival of Tango in Colombia with the orchestra of Aníbal Troilo. Before we go any further I would like to mention my teachers, I made a promise to always mention them: contrary to many tango dancers, I didn't have dance teachers, I had tango teachers. One was Julián Centeya, he was a poet and he was my best teacher. If you listen to the tango "Café Domínguez," the one who is talking at the beginning is Julián. He was my best teacher because he taught me tango from the inside. The other teacher I would like to mention is Miguel Caló. I worked with him and his orchestra in Buenos Aires around 1963. He would say, "Listen to the music, now listen to the voice of Raúl Berón, dance the voice, just the voice, now dance the piano." He directed me like I was another musician in the orchestra. He made me understand how to listen to the music and what I should listen to. These were my two tango teachers.

R: Aren’t there teachers like that anymore?

CG: No. Today, when people dance tango you can see every dancer rush to do steps. There should never be a rush to do a step, we should enjoy it while we are doing it and make it last, dwell on it. I often say this, when I dance tango, I enjoy so much the step I'm doing on that moment, that I want to make it last. The same as when we were kids and we would get five pennies to get an ice cream; we would lick it slowly, trying to make the most out of it because we knew that when the ice cream is gone there's no more! So I don't see the rush to finish one step and go into the next one. I think it's much more interesting to do one, stop, without really stopping but more like a pause and just do nothing for a while, enjoying the moment and then go on to do something else. I think most people rush because they don't know how to do nothing, and that's the most difficult. Even if your dance is not choreographed, you learn the basic step: the one that goes from one to seven. Then you think you have to do the whole step. But what happens if someone is in front of you or next to you and you cannot finish the step? In actuality, the step never ends, it's a three-minute step, it's the whole dance.

R: Is this why you make such a big distinction between social tango and stage tango?

CG: Yes, because in social tango you move with your partner and with the music. And that is also something that people should understand: the relation between you and your partner is not personal. What is personal between the two of you is that you are both trying to caress the music with your feet.

R: Can you describe your ideal tango partner?

CG: My ideal tango partner...Well, at the moment, it is definitely my partner in the show, Marcela Durán. We are a good duo, we understand each other without words, we don't need to talk, and we don't need to rehearse. Each one is trying to accomplish his own role, I lead, she follows. Some girls get fed up with following, and they want to dance like a man because they say it's more entertaining. But I say you don't have enough time in your lifetime to learn how to follow well. So I would recommend to these girls to really learn how to follow (See Femininity and Feminism in Tango (II)).

R: Do you think you and Marcela have chemistry, that you share the same emotions when you dance a tango? In other words, do you feel/interpret the music the same way, or you experience a different emotion than she does?

CG: It's a beautiful question. You know, even if we are having a different idea, a different understanding, or a different feeling, we are still thinking alike. What we get is the mood. She doesn't listen to my thoughts, I don't listen to her thoughts, but somehow we communicate the same mood to each other. Marcela and I don't have a personal relationship, we are friends and dancing partners, but our souls communicate, we don't need to talk. So, right now I feel like I'm dancing with my ideal, but really, my ideal does not have a face. She's a dream of something I want in real life, but that ideal does not have a face. You know, when you dance tango, you should really put a little bit of your life into it. If you dance your life, you dance better.

R:  What makes a good tango dancer?

CG: A good tango dancer is one who listens to the music.

R: Is that the only criteria?

CG:  Yes. We dance the music, not the steps. Anybody who pretends to dance well never thinks about the step he's going to do, what he cares about is that he follows the music. You see, we are painters, we paint the music with our feet. Musicians play an instrument and use their fingers, their hands. Dancers use their toes.

R: Has teaching tango been difficult at any point in your life?

CG: Yes, because tango was not always in fashion. To arrive to the point I'm at today took many years. Now I'm very much in demand, and I enjoy that because I've spent a long time dancing tango. I think I deserve it. I had been dancing tango before it became popular, and I didn't become a dancer because it was fashionable. Some dancers start with folklore or flamenco and then when tango became a commercial success they started dancing tango. It was not my case. I danced tango when it was not in fashion, and even when it was politically dangerous. So, I deserve what I've earned. I've earned it trough the years.

R: Is teaching tango in the U.S. different than in Argentina?

CG: At the moment, I think it's the same, because in Argentina it has also become very commercial. Teachers everywhere try to surprise and impress others. They sometimes teach steps they would not even do themselves. They say that if you teach simple things, students get bored. But a good teacher should never worry about that. He should teach social tango, not the tango to impress others. I don't care if there are ten, twenty or a hundred people in my classes, the way I dance is the way I teach, and I teach simplicity (See Simple Is Beautiful). Sometimes, a step can look very easy and simple, but when people try to recreate it, they can't, because simplicity is not always easy.

R: It’s easier to dance fast than dance slowly...

CG: Right. I sometimes see that the person who dances fast is actually trying to hide mistakes. The dancer who dances slowly does it because he's a hundred percent sure that what he's doing is perfect.

R: Most people here don't understand the tango lyrics. Do you think they are missing out by not understanding the meaning of a song?

CG: Look, it's simple. When I was a boy, I listened to Bill Haley. I didn't know any English, but I could tell whether the song was happy, or sad, or romantic. The lyrics in tango and the voice are very clear and you can hear when there's romance, nostalgia or sadness. You can feel it even though you don't understand the lyrics. Once again, the mood of the song, of the music is important to listen to. For instance, I can never understand why a person who dances to Miguel Caló, for example, does ganchos, when the tango talks about love. A gancho is an aggression, why would the woman agree to this aggression when the music is about love?

R: Who would you want to model your dancing after?

CG: The answer is not so much who but what. My model would be the way a cat moves. When a cat moves, you see his paws, and every single muscle. He moves slowly but he's always ready to jump, you can't catch it. I like that when it moves slowly, there's a rhythm to his slow motion, it's something beautiful to admire, and I think all dancers should try to imitate it.

R: What is your favorite tango?

CG: It's tough to answer since I've been dancing for so long. There was a time when it was "Quejas de Bandoneón," another time "Chiqué", "La Ultima Cita", and also "Yunta de Oro". I'm very much in love with Pugliese's music, especially "Pata Ancha". One of my favorite tangos is Café Domínguez because at the beginning you can hear the voice of my "godfather" Julián Centeya. I also love the tangos of Miguel Caló, each one of them. I love the voice of Raúl Berón, also Alberto Podestá. I love Pugliese and Ricardo Tanturi. But I'm not a big fan of Biagi or Canaro. These are not my kind of tango. Biagi is from the 60's, and I don't like the rhythm, it's too sharp on the beat. I prefer the music that goes away from the beat, that is softer, smoother, even looser. I don't like strong marks or accent on the music. I prefer tangos that are more like a dream, like flying.

R: Can you describe your best tango moment?

CG: It's so difficult. I swear to God that I enjoy every single tango I dance. That is why, when I go to a milonga, I don't dance the whole night. I dance a few selected tangos. What is important is that I always dance well. If I get tired, I go sit and watch, because I'd rather do that than dance badly. I dance to the inspiration of the music. I need inspiration. So first, I need the right music, and then I have to find the right partner. If I can't find the right partner, I won't dance. If I don't like the music, I won't dance. So, to describe to you my best tango moment is impossible, because for me every tango is a best moment.

R: I have met some people who think that if you are not Argentine, you can't dance tango.

CG: Well, I think they are mistaken right from the beginning. Tango was immigrant music in my own country, so it does not have a nationality, its only passport is feeling, and everybody has feelings. Passion is a plus. If you are a passionate person, you will be dancing better. There's a misperception that if a dancer knows a lot of steps, he's a good dancer. I think it's a mistake. It only means that that person has a good memory (See Tango and Integrity). I prefer the tango you dance while enjoying the moment, because then I will see that my partner is closing her eyes. That she is enjoying it too.

R: Unfortunately, you can't dance with everybody with your eyes closed.

CG: True. I've met girls who thought they had to have their eyes closed to dance a good tango. That's a mistake too. You close your eyes when you feel like it, when you're comfortable, not because you have to, or because it looks better. Trust is also important. Marcela said that very well in my video; when you dance with a partner you are close and the dance is very suggestive. But as I said before, it’s not personal, it's what the music inspires you to do. The embrace looks personal, but what we are actually embracing is the music.

R: Why do you think some people, get so passionate, almost obsessed about tango?

CG: Well, if you go back to the beginning of tango, tango is defined as a feeling, a "sentimiento" which you dance to. So when you start the dance, you don't start with a step, you start with a feeling (See Tango Is a Feeling). That's why I think we are not like other dancers. Other dancers go through a combination of steps, tango is improvised, improvised all the way, there are no combinations.  In tango you can't be preoccupied with the steps, you need to express your emotions while listening to the music. You can spot a mile away a person who is actually thinking about the next step. On the other hand, the dancer who follows the music will move at the same time as his partner. They will move as one. The American language says it clearly: "It takes two to tango." Why not two to cha-cha, or two to swing?  Why two to tango? Because two makes one.

R: Last question: How would you like to be remembered as a dancer?

CG: Only one way: that I was honest with my dancing.

(http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~tango/Articles/Gavito.pdf)




May 3, 2013

Femininity and Feminism in Tango (II)


When a man and a woman tango together, something magic happens: feelings, attraction, fantasy, synergy and romanticism. The gratification of tango comes from the fact that it is an intimate dance between a man and a woman. The man leads the woman and brings her femininity into full play. The woman surrenders to the man and uses her femininity to attract and reward him. They complement each other, satisfy each other’s needs, and enable each shine more brilliantly in the other’s company.

Some people believe that with practice anyone could play either role equally well in tango (see Comment), which I doubt. Men are not good at playing the feminine role not because they are not given the chance to practice, but because they are born masculine. A man does not have a woman’s physique, softness, lightness and flexibility. He also does not have the female psychology evolved due to women’s reproductive nature, their need for beauty (to attract male), affection, protection and security. These traits impact how women dance. On the other hand, women do not have men’s build and strength. They do not have the male psychology evolved due to men’s hunting nature, their need for taking initiatives, keeping under control, and protecting women. If men and women were naturally good at the reversed roles, tango would have been danced differently.

Not too far from my house, a female goose is hatching under a tree, and a male goose is guarding nearby, preventing the female from being disturbed. I have to make a detour when I pass that tree because the male goose does not allow me get close. He is very protective of the female goose. Can the male hatch and the female guard? I suppose they could. But that would not be natural and as fit. Masculinity and femininity are characteristics of the opposite sexes essential to the well being of the species. The male is typically strong, assertive, aggressive and protective, a good father and protector, if you wish. The female is typically soft, attractive, submissive and affectionate, a good mother and caregiver, if you wish. These characteristics enable the opposite sexes to attract each other and form a sustainable relationship for the benefit of the offspring. People often do not appreciate the way nature works and want to alter it. But, what is of nature comes from millions of years of evolution, and is, as a result, the best, fittest and most effective way. Messing with nature often leads to disastrous consequences, such as man-made climate changes, environmental catastrophes, mysterious diseases, sterility, pre-polluted babies, and disintegration of family. Those who think they are smarter than God are harming us all with their ignorant interference with nature.

Good human values are based on what is beneficial to the humanity rather than an individual person or gender. The problem of individualism and feminism is that their perspectives are narrowed down to a single person or gender. Consequently, they confuse what is good with what is evil and what is beautiful with what is ugly. Selfishness is ugly, but is being justified as the pursuit of happiness. Disrespect of others is ugly, but is being warranted as individual freedom. Arrogance is ugly, but is being prettified as self-confidence. Masculinity is admirable, but is being vilified as sexism. Femininity is beautiful, but is being denigrated as female weakness, etc. Such ideologies challenge the traditional way tango is danced, label it as male domination and gender inequality (see Tango and Gender Equality). They want tango to be danced in such a way that men and women are undifferentiated, that men do not lead but only invite women to do steps (see How Tango Is Led), that women do not surrender but remain independent, that women may choose how, when and whether to accept the invitation, initiate their own steps and lead men or other women, that the two partners maintain a distance from each other to prevent sexual advancement, and that tango embrace is being replaced with open hand holds to allow more individuality, etc. As a result, tango is transformed to something that is no longer tango.

Tango is based on the ideas that men and women are interdependent rather than independent, that masculinity and femininity complement rather than un-equalize the opposite sexes, that being a masculine male and a feminine female is attractive, beneficial and desirable, that the harmony of the two genders is arrived at through mutual submission and cooperation rather than confrontation and power struggle, and that love triumphs over hostility. While individualism and feminism focus on our individuality and independence, tango focuses on the partnership and oneness of the two. It asks us to be friendly, submissive, humble, adaptive, cooperative, agreeable and yielding. Tango proves that the two sexes can form a harmonious relationship by conforming to these values. Despite the challenges that tango faces in the West, it continues to exert positive influences on our societies, I believe, because unless we adopt its values, we are unable to fully enjoy the dance. (See The World Needs a different Philosophy.)

March 31, 2013

Tango Etiquette: Eye Contact, Talking, Clique and Hierarchy


Many women in this country assume it’s men’s job to invite them. They sit there talking with each other and pay no attention to men, taking for granted that someone would come to ask them for a dance. However, in order for a man to ask a woman, he needs to have a sense that she is interested in dancing with him. No man will invite a woman who he thinks is not interested and will reject him. The woman must give the man some hint that she likes to dance with him before he makes a move.

As a hint, some women move closer to where the man of their desire will notice them, which is not a bad idea in a crowded milonga where people sitting far apart may not see each other. But, changing seats alone is not enough. You may sit near a man and still not be invited if you concentrate on talking with your friends and pay no attention to the man. Talking prevents the talker from being invited. A gentleman does not interrupt a woman when she is talking. You could lose your critical moment when the tanda starts if you are talking. Even if you sit just one table away from the man, you still need to let him know you want to dance with him by making eye contact with him. If you concentrate on talking and don’t even look at him, how could he know that you are waiting for him? That is why in the milongas of Buenos Aires women do not talk. They try to make eye contact with men.

In the US, however, many women do just the opposite. Some are too proud to make eye contact with men, they expect men to come to them voluntarily. Others are too shy to look at men, as if that would reveal a secret desire they shouldn’t have. Still others worry if they stare at men, they may give men a wrong idea. When some women do make eye contact with men, they make it very briefly in order not to seem like they are begging for a dance. All these pride, shyness and worry are not necessary. If a woman can’t even overcome such psychological impediments, how can she dance well in tango that involves intense intimate physical contact with a man? Women need to understand that men have their concerns too. A man needs to know that you are emotionally ready for the dance and will accept him if he asks you. Most men need to see you eye-to-eye for a few seconds before they are convinced of that. If you turn your eyes away too quickly, they will take it as a decline. If you want to dance with a man, you need to fix your eyes at him. Only if he does not act after ten seconds or more should you then turn your eyes away. The same rule applies to men as well. You stare at a woman for ten to twenty seconds. If she wants you she will see you. If after twenty seconds she still does not make eye contact with you, you should give up on her for the moment and move on to another woman. You may not force your way by going to her table and asking her to dance, as which could put her into a dilemma that she might not want to be put into. In Buenos Aires, most portena women will say no to a verbal invitation because that shows the ungentlemanliness and inexperience of the inviter.

The psychological impediments lead some women to sit with their male friends and dance only with them. By so doing they present themselves as unavailable to the public, thus discourage others from inviting them. Cliquing is inappropriate in the milonga because it causes segregation. In order for a milonga to work it must be integrated so that all dancers have equal opportunities to dance with anyone of their choice by mutual consents. That is why in the milongas of Buenos Aires men and women are seated separately to prevent cliquing. To honor the milonga code, couples and friends often choose to enter the milonga separately and be seated apart. A smart woman does not sit with the same group of male friends every week, as which may give people an impression that she belongs to a clique and is unavailable to others.

Speaking of the clique there is a related issue. Because dancers of different levels focus on different things, they may not enjoy dancing with each other. As a result there is a hierarchy in tango. At the bottom are students learning steps, who usually partner with their fellow beginners. In the middle, those infatuated with the look tend to partner with those fond of fancy footwork, and those still obsessed with themselves focus on individual performance. Mature dancers who have passed those stages, on the other hand, like to partner with people of good embrace, musicality and ability to dance for others (see The Four Stages of Your Tango Journey). One should separate such division of level from clique. The former is indiscriminate, inclusive and encouraging, serving a positive function in the milonga by promoting humility, encouraging growth and rewarding achievements. The latter is discriminate, exclusive and discouraging, infringing equal opportunity and causing segregation. Women at the lower levels should not feel disheartened at the hierarchy, because it allows everyone to mingle with people of the similar levels and still does not prevent one from dancing with more experienced dancers - if you are not too proud or too shy to make eye contact with them. Women must be aware that making eye contact with men is critical in the partner selection process (see Women's Role in Cabeceo). Your eye is your key to dancing with the man of your choice. Use it wisely and you can dance all the way to the top. (See How to Get More Invitations in the Milonga.)



March 7, 2013

The Four Stages of Your Tango Journey


If tango to you is only what you can see it - the steps, then you are at the first stage of your tango journey. The intangible part of tango is still beyond your comprehension at this point. However, you should not let the step fool you. It is only the tip of the iceberg. Tango is a comprehensive art. Although you need to know the steps to dance tango, there are things more important that you must know. At this point your main attention should be placed on developing good posture, embrace, connection, balance, pivot, dissociation and walk. (See Tango Is a Language (I).) Many students take lessons beyond their level to learn advanced steps when their posture is still ugly, their body is still stiff and heavy, their embrace is still broken, their walk is still clumsy, and they still need to hold on to the partner for stability. As a result, the fancy steps that they are learning have little meaning to them, only enhance their bad habits. At this stage you need to overcome your eagerness to achieve quick results, proceed in an orderly and gradual way, take time to improve your posture, embrace, connection, balance, pivot, dissociation and walk, and correctly learn the basic steps in accordance with the standard. This approach seems slow, but it will lay a solid foundation that promises fast progress.

Once you’ve learned the basic steps and started to dance socially, you enter the second stage of your tango journey. At this stage you continue to learn steps, but your attention should be placed on correcting your old habits and cultivating new ones. If your personal praxes do not meet the tango standard, or if you gained bad habits during the first stage, you need to fix them now. This stage could be a long and painful period because the wont that you have accumulated in your lifetime is not easy to break. It takes patience and hard work. You need a good teacher to work with you in details and correct your bad habits bit-by-bit. You can practice in front of a mirror or record your dance to analyze your posture, embrace, connection, balance, coordination and movements. You need to constantly make conscious efforts against your bad habits until you have developed and internalized right poise and movements that meet the requirements and aesthetics of tango.

As your dance starts to have a tango feel, as you habituate yourself to the correct way of dancing tango, you enter the third stage of your tango journey. At this stage your attention starts to shift from the external to the internal. Once the step is no longer an obstacle to you, you can start to work on the intangible side of the dance. You need to improve your musicality, familiarize yourself with music of different genres, rhythms, tempos, moods, and orchestras, and learn to dance to different pieces differently. You need to learn to pause, to adorn your steps, to express your emotions, to dance in slow and fast motions, and with more advanced techniques aiming not only at the look but also the feeling of the dance, such as cadencia and gear effect. You need to improve the flexibility and coordination of your body and the ability to use your body to effect and harmonize the movement of your partner’s body. You also need to go beyond the techniques and become a socially acceptable dancer. For that you need to learn the culture and etiquette of tango (see Milonga Codes). With the growth of your abilities and the widening of your vision, you will start to see beyond yourself.

The ability to see beyond yourself marks a significant change in your dance, with which you enter the final stage of your tango journey. At this stage you start to pay attention to the relationship with your partner, to feel his/her feelings (see Tango Is a Feeling), to listen to his/her interpretation of the music, to be considerate and adaptive to his/her dance, and to be one with him/her. You no longer dance to show off your skills, but to give comfort and pleasure to your partner. Tango to you is no longer steps, but an expression of love. Your lead becomes less forceful and difficult, but gentle, thoughtful and suited to the ability of your partner. You want her to feel free and enjoy the dance. Your follow becomes less bumpy and interruptive, but smooth, light, and in harmony with the lead. You want him to feel comfortable and enjoy you. You start to understand the essence of tango and see tango as what the milongueros see it. Now, you are at the top of the game.

February 24, 2013

Tai Chi and Tango


I have been introduced to tai chi, a slow motion Chinese martial art, and was immediately hooked by its attributes pertinent to tango - rhythm, precision, flexibility, control, balance and beauty. Here is an example of tai chi.

Tai chi is practiced in a half squatting posture that requires strength on the legs to enable one to move like a cat. The body weight is placed on one leg and transferred to the other leg in slow motion back and forth while the torso remains upright and straight in the movement. All parts of the body, including hands, arms, torso, waist, hips, thighs, knees and ankles, are used to form the movement, demanding good coordination, balance and control. Each movement is well defined to meet the aesthetics and must be done precisely according to the standard. The request on strength and flexibility of the legs is very high due to the slow motion in half squatting posturing, which can help one develop strength, flexibility and control of the legs.

All these are relevant to tango because, like tai chi, tango too is mainly a leg exercise, though all parts of the body, including hands, arms, torso, waist, hips, thighs, knees and ankles, are used and must be coordinated to form the steps. Tango dancers often do not realize that their lack of lightness, balance, control, coordination, precision and elegance is a result of the lack of strength and flexibility of their body and legs. Those who want to overcome these shortages can benefit tremendously from practicing tai chi. 

Although tai chi does not need to be performed to the music, its movement has a rhythm of its own, as you can see from the above example. Tai chi is deliberately designed to be practiced in slow motion for health and fitness purpose, which can help tango dancers improve their ability to dance to music of slow tempos. However, tai chi can also be performed in fast motion, as this example illustrates, which can help tango dancers develop nimbleness and speed. All these traits of tai chi make it an excellent exercise for tango dancers in preparing their bodies and developing their abilities for the dance. 

Those who are interested in learning tai chi can start from here.