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.

April 29, 2014

The Chivalry of the Milongueros

One hundred years ago when immigration was at its peak, the gender ratio in Argentina was five men to one woman. In other words, fifty men would compete to dance with ten women in a typical milonga. Sexual hunger caused by such gender imbalance is beyond our imagination. Most men today, with their haughty attitude, would have little chance to find a partner then. The situation was so unfavorable to men that they did not even have the guts to invite women. They would only spy at a distance and wait for women to nod at them, only then dared they venture to dance with the goddesses. This was the origin of cabeceo. (See Women's Role in Cabeceo.) Before a man was able to dance with a woman for the first time, he had to spend years to practice with other guys and did not dare to try for real until he had completely grasped the craft. He would be extremely careful with the woman in the dance also, fearing to lose the favor of the goddess had she felt slightest discomfort. Men's cherish and respect for women has since become a notable feature of the tango culture in Argentina.

In such a gender ratio, the privilege of dancing with a woman was granted only to men capable of making her completely satisfied. Therefore, self-centered peacocks had little chance to compete with those who mastered a comfortable embrace, exquisite musicality and the ability to accommodate, pamper and protect women. Laymen may think of milongueros as some goof-offs. (See Tango and the Outlook on Life.) But if you believe that surrounded by a battalion of admirers the goddess would pick a mediocrity, or that she would be fooled by fanfares, you certainly underestimated the goddess. Even today, women cast their eyes only on the best. They don't want men who are sloppy, who feel insecure, who do not have a comfortable embrace, whose musicality is less perfect, who use the arms and hands to lead, who can't do cabeceo, who don't know the codes, and who is short in manner, not to mention in those days. Therefore, the milongueros are thoroughly steeled tango elites with great knowledge and skills on the dance, music, codes, culture, lunfardo, and the ways of the milonga world. Like the knights in the medieval Europe who were gallant, honorable, generous, kind and respectful to women, and like the samurais in feudal Japan who were loyal, courageous, simple in living, and preferring death to dishonor, the Argentine milongueros are a group of sophisticated technicians who follow certain principles in life. For them, tango is their religion and milonga codes are not only guild regulations but life principles as well. One may say that, though without the title of nobility, the Argentine milongueros are a comparable class to European knights, Japanese samurais and Chinese literati. Their doctrine is the chivalry, bushido and Confucian orthodoxy of Argentina.

Today, times have changed. The gender ratio in the milongas becomes one man to one point five women. In addition, women are instigated to compete with men for supremacy, and the chivalry of the milongueros is criticized by the feminists. (See Tango and Gender Equality.) As a result, men do not cherish and respect women to the degree they used to. Even a beginner who can't walk stably now dares to oblige a woman to dance and use her as a foil to his self-centered exhibition, totally disregarding manners. One has to reckon this a failure of feminism. Feminists thought that the two sexes would be equal if women were strong as men, little did they realize that once women lose their femininity, they are no longer the goddesses in men's eyes.

Dancers of the contemporary age need to review the history and reflect on their demeanors. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts.) For the sake of tango women cannot lose femininity and men cannot lose their love for women. Gender roles are crucial in keeping the two sexes in harmony. (See The Gender Expression in Tango.) Interfering with nature will have serious consequences. (See Tango and the Relationship of the Opposite Sexes.) I wish men will always cherish women the way they did when there were five men to each woman. I wish women never cease to be feminine and quit to play the masculine role. Tango was created to be a bridge connecting and uniting the two sexes. I hope it will remain that way.

April 19, 2014

Cadencia and the Flow of Tango

Experienced dancers know that the body produces continuous lilts or cadences due to the alternate weight change from one foot to the other, and the lilt can be enhanced by increasing the motion of the body. When the dancers lilt together, it feels like the baby being comfortably swayed in the cradle, or fish being gently surged by the wave in the water, which is a cozy feeling especially for the woman, as she is the one nestling in his arms and enjoying the ride. (See Driving and Synchronization.)

The lilt usually alternates in directions. The man swings the woman's torso, causing her free leg to swing along. As that leg lands, he goes on to swing her torso in the opposite direction, resulting in her other leg to swing reversely. This is how ocho is danced. The woman could also take advantage of the inertia by swiveling her hips as her weight is sifting to the landing foot to let her other leg swing in roughly the same direction. This is how molinete is danced. The technique used in ocho and molinete is a combination of dissociation and cadencia. (See Dissociation and Gear Effect and Cadencia.) Tango teachers usually do not emphasize the swing of the body when they teach ocho and molinete. But, if cadencia is blended in, it will not only make the movement more elegant, outlining the beauty of her flexible body, but also produce a lilting feeling, making the dance more enjoyable.

To generate the lilt, there must be some speed in the horizontal direction. If you stay at the same spot doing steps without a horizontal motion, it would be difficult to generate the lilt. That is why experienced dancers like to dance in the flow. When the floor is full of experienced dancers, you will see the flow of people moving counterclockwise like the waves surging forward in accordance with the rhythm of the music, and the speed of the flow is quite fast. But if there are too many novices on the floor, then the speed of the flow is slowed down. Sometimes it even becomes like a pool of stagnant water.

Novices who have no sense of flow often remain at the same spot doing steps, disregarding the people behind waiting for them to move. (See Spot Dancing in Tango.) In an empty room that may cause no trouble. But, if you dance on a crowded floor, that could cause obstruction to traffic. Mark Word calls such people "rocks in the stream". You drive to work in the morning and suddenly there is a slow car blocking your way, that is the same kind of feeling. People dancing on a crowded dance floor must not be such "rocks in the stream". I'm not saying that you cannot slow down, pause for a moment and then move on. Veteran dancers do that often as well. But they do so only when the music tells everyone to slow down, or when there is enough space. If the people behind are approaching, then you need to move forward to avoid causing obstruction to traffic. This is the code, which everyone dancing on a crowded dance floor must follow.

April 1, 2014

The Characteristics of Classic Tango

Dancing tango is not just stepping on the beats of whatever songs played - that perhaps is how disco is danced, but not tango. Dancing tango is dancing the feelings of the music. This dance, created by early immigrants to Argentina, contains the homesickness and nostalgia of its creators and reflects their thirst for love and longing for a better life. (See Tango: The Historical and Cultural Impacts.) Good tango music is very sentimental. This is a notable feature of classic tango. Modern rock bands with electronically amplified instruments might be able to create a more majestic sound, but they could not replicate the lingering sentiment of the classic tango. This is not only because electronic instruments are short on expressing the mood of tango, but also because the contemporary rockers lack the experience of the early European immigrants. Classic tango is a product of that particular era. The environment of its mass production has ceased to exist in modern times. But, the human feelings expressed in classic tango, I believe, are universal and ageless, which people of the contemporary age, especially those struggling at the bottom of the society, can still understand and resonate. (See Why People Dance Tango.) When dancing tango, one should not just dance the steps and ignore the feelings of the music, because only by understanding and resonating with them can one dance tango well.

The feelings expressed in tango are those of  men and women in real life. These opposite moods coexist in tango. Good tango music has a lucid rhythm that is easy to dance to, but its melody is soft, beautiful, moody, and deeply sentimental. Each note or phrase expresses the masculinity, strength, resolution and firmness of men, or femininity, softness, affection and obedience of women. The two opposite moods intertwine and respond to each other, reflecting the man and woman in the dance. The juxtaposition of opposite moods complementing each other is a notable feature of classic tango, which is heterosexual rather than homosexual in nature. Dancing tango is like having a conversation between the two sexes. One is like the bandoneon, the other the violin. One is the passion of the drums, the other the beauty of the melody. One is philosophy, the other poem... When dancing tango, you have to imagine that you are playing the music with your body. The man and the woman are different instruments, each with its unique sound, expressing different emotions. Both are indispensable and irreplaceable. They must complement each other and collaborate harmoniously in order to create a beautiful tango. (See Masculinity & Femininity in Tango and Other Music.)

Those who deny gender roles do not know what they are doing. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) The so-called new tango or alternative music promoted by them often lack an opposite theme. (See The Signature of Tango.) It is either too soft, without a clear rhythm, or too monotonous, lacking of rhythmic diversity. In contrast, classic tango is created in line with the characteristics of the dance. Unlike mush soft-music or monotonous march, classic tango not only has a recognizable rhythm, but also is rich in syncopation, and so is very danceable. Syncopation means changing the location of an accented beat by emphasizing an unaccented beat, or beginning a tone on an unaccented beat and continue it through the next accented beat. Syncopation modifies the original rhythm, making the music more interesting and challenging, adaptable to a rich variety of footwork to express complicated emotions. This feature of the classic tango, however, may cause a difficulty for a beginner to grasp its rhythm. As a result, some people prefer the monotonous alternative music instead. The taste of the beginners will gradually improve with the advance of their education and training. Tango dancers need to study tango music, understand its sentiment and be familiar with its melody, rhythm, syncopation, tempo, extension and pause, etc., in order to dance tango well.

Most classical tango music has a vocal part, which usually is not throughout, but appears only in certain parts of the song, as if it is an instrument collaborating with the other instruments. The lyrics are commonly written in lunfardo, the old street slang of the lower classes in Buenos Aires, expressing nostalgia, homesickness and the pain of lost love. These are the songs of the immigrants. Only old milongueros and a small number of portenos today can fully understand them. Those who do not understand the lyrics may not always feel easy to grasp the syncopated and extended syllables, thus could have a difficulty to follow them. But these beautiful lyrics express deep and delicate feelings, and so are favored by the Argentinians, especially the molongueros. Many of them can sing the lyrics and dance to them with facility. Which is one of the reasons that the Argentine milongueros perceive their dance quite differently from the foreigners. Not understanding the lyrics is an unfavorable factor of the foreigners, but it is not an insurmountable obstacle. The dancer's education may complement his/her inadequacy in language, because as long as one is willing to listen, the emotions of the song can be perceived through the melody, tempo, rhythm and mood of the music. Of course, learning the language can help to better understand the feelings of the song. By the way, some foreigners understood neither the culture nor the language of tango, but they thought they knew tango better than the milongueros, which to me is ridiculous. (See Tango and Gender Equality.)