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.




January 22, 2016

From Steps to Feelings


How tango is danced in Buenos Aires

Many Europeans and Americans dance tango differently from the Argentinians. For years I tried to find a video to show how tango is danced in Buenos Aires in order to change people's perceptions. But I couldn't find a satisfying one because tango video clips are mostly shot by people interested only in their version of tango. A few that reflect the truth are often poorly made and with annoying nonsense. Perhaps most milongas even in Buenos Aires are not up to the standard, since foreigners are always heavily involved, making it difficult to capture a truly porteno milonga. Only recently I came across this video produced by Paul Holman, which I find is representative of a milonga that I can call home.


I love this video not only because of its clarity, lighting, color and cinematography, but also because of the producer's unique perspective. Paul Holman understood that tango is about the embrace, music and feelings, that steps and footwork are not important, that the milonga codes play a crucial role, and that he needs to capture the entirety of all the essentials and avoid the misleading trifles to let the viewers understand what a good milonga is. I watch this video every day lately, just to enjoy that soulful scene and remind myself of how one should dance and behave in the milonga.


How tango is danced in Europe and North America

In Europe and North America, people have a quite different perception of tango. Here is how they dance tango in a common Euro-American milonga.


They dance tango not to enjoy the embrace, but to practice steps and show footwork. I believe people understand tango is an intimate and soulful dance. Most of us even yearn to taste that apple, which is why we dance tango. (See Why People Dance Tango.) But for some reasons we just don't feel comfortable enough to be intimate with another person, so we shy away from the embrace, keep a bashful distance from each other, and focus on the steps instead.

To be fair, this is not the worst case. One can tell it's a growing tango community. A number of dancers dance in the milonguero style, some of whom are fair to good dancers. But the majority are still novices who focus on the steps rather than the embrace and feelings. They avoid intimate torso-to-torso contact and use the arms and hands to lead and follow. Many are busy in keeping up with the beats. Some are practicing what they recently learned. Most are emotionally detached. The milonga codes are not well complied, as attested by the verbal invitation, blocking the traffic, remaining on the dance floor during the cortina, wearing ornaments that would rub the partner's body, loud background noises, and a lot of talking. The music, although traditional, is not very engaging, and the whole scene is quite chaotic. Towards the end there are some better dances. But overall, I don't find this milonga terribly attractive and satisfying. Unfortunately, this is a typical tango scene in Europe and North America.


Another common Euro-American tango scene 

Common among our young people is another kind of tango scene showing below.


Young people seem need to discharge their youthful energy and to prove their ability of doing things unconventional. Dancing in open hand holds rather than embrace, they can do fancy steps and showy movements. Some even attained certain degree of skillfulness in what they are doing. Nevertheless, there is no fundamental difference between this kind of tango and other sport dances. Personally I don't see how such way of dancing tango is even enjoyable in comparison to the feeling-oriented milonguero style. I wish there were better reasons why some people insist on doing this when there's a better way, other than they need to release energy, show off, have obstacles, or don't know better. As far as comfort, soulfulness, indulgence and gratification are concerned, there is really no comparison between the two styles.

It may be characteristic for young people to act rebelliously, but being obsessed with the stereotype or wanting to show that they are different from the old people is childish and naive. Old people are once young and rebellious, too. In fact, many milongueros can do Nuevo steps better than most young people today. They quit doing that because they become wiser after tried everything that young people with their limited experience cannot even imagine. Most young people learn tango from their peers, who learn from their peers, and they simply don't know another way to dance tango. Once they experienced the milonguero way, most will renounce theirs and follow suit. (See The Psychology of Tango.)


This is how milongueros emerge

Three decades of trial and error since 1983 eventually lead some tango dancers in Europe and North America to move away from exhibitionism and pay more attention to the embrace, music and feelings. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts.) As a result, scenes like this start to appear in Europe and North America in recent years.


Their embrace becomes closer. Their connection becomes more intimate. Their dance becomes more feeling-oriented. Their steps become simpler, more musical and elegant. Their milonga becomes better organized. Antisocial behaviors are less seen. While showy footwork still occurs, the embrace still brakes sometimes, the hand use still remains habitual for some, the music selections are still more dramatic than sentimental, the hastiness is still common, the dresses are still too casual, the skill levels are uneven, progress nevertheless is evident in comparison to the previous two scenes. Such transformation certainly would not come without pain, given the strong Western tradition of individualism, liberalism and feminism. But the dancers in this example prove that they can change. It is a reassurance that there is really a lot of hope in tango, in humanity, and in our ability to adapt.


How social tango should be danced

It is worth your time to watch Holman's video again and compare it to your own tango dancing. The following is a better edited version. This time please pay attention to how the milongueros and milongueras follow the milonga codes, from sitting, making eye contact, doing cabeceo, dancing, to sending the woman back to her seat. If you wonder what kind of steps they use to make their dance so coherent and concordant, you can watch those who dance in the background. But nothing fancy really. Their dance is not about the steps. (See The Conceptional Beauty of Tango.)


As you can see, they concentrate entirely on the music and feelings, as if the steps are irrelevant. Dancing tango to them is to enjoy the sentiment and intimacy, not to do gymnastics. They dance with complete relaxation, unhurried pace, subtle movements, and tasteful suspensions. Their steps are small and simple, totally void of flaunt, and used only to remain united with their partner in the dance. The beauty of their tango is in the oneness of the union rather than the performance of the individual. In their tango nothing is ornate, but everything is exquisite and elegant. Even the music selections are more sentimental and intriguing than ours, fitting perfectly to the mood of their tango.

Please also pay attention to the woman. Her ability to remain coherent with the man is amazing. She rests comfortably in his arms, intimately leans on him with her arm around his shoulder, so that she can enjoy the caress of his embrace. Her eyes are dreamily closed, allowing herself to focus inward on the feelings. Her inconspicuous footwork magically keeps her body moving in perfect unison with his no matter how he turns, permitting her to tune to the soft whispers of his body and enjoy his attentive ride. (See Driving and Synchronization.)

To tango is to indulge yourself, not to impress others. On a crowded dance floor who cares about your footwork anyway. The only thing that matters is the feelings you experience. This is why performance tango doesn't make good sense in the milongas. I hope Holman's video will inspire more people to learn the milonguero style of tango and accelerate the transformation of our tango from a step-oriented dance to a feeling-oriented dance. (See The Four Stages of Your Tango Journey.)


P.S.

There are quite a few Noches Hungria Tango Marathon video clips on the YouTube. Most are positive, here is an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hC3z7O1JpS4. The clips I selected are used to illustrate a phenomenon, not to reflect the whole picture of any community or event.

January 14, 2016

Women's Walk in Tango


The tango walk is done by two partners chest against chest in the embrace. The man walks forward, the woman walks backward, and they must walk with matched CBM, dissociation, lilt, rhythm, posture, etc., in perfect coordination, balance, harmony and elegance. Many students cannot walk well because they don't have the needed muscles, flexibility and techniques, their legs and feet are too weak to maintain balance and stability, their postures and habits are not up to the standard of tango, and their personal praxes conflict with each other, causing disharmony and instability in the walk.

There are more exercises in tango designed for women than for men, just like there are more fashionable dresses, shoes, jewelry, and cosmetics designed for women than for men. Which is not surprising given the importance of beauty to women and the fact that, while men lead women in tango, it's women who beautify the dance. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) How women walk, therefore, matters more than how men walk in tango.


Muscle development

In order to walk well, you first need to develop muscles that enable your feet to suck the floor and stay very grounded in the walk. Dancing a lot certainly helps. Exercise and workout can also be beneficial. One exercise that I found particularly helpful is demonstrated by Vanessa Gauch in the following clip.


When done in slow motion, this exercise can effectively build foot muscles and improve stability and elegance in women's walk. The exercise can be summed up in six steps to help you memorize the sequence: (1) Stand on one leg and stretch the other leg forward. (2) Transfer the weight forward until you stand on the heel of the front foot and the toes of the back foot. (3) Change weight back and forth a few times in that position. (4) Transfer the weight to the front leg completely. (5) Start the next step by sway the hip forward in a curved motion and use the hip to move the leg - this will generate a hip motion that gives women's walk a feminine look. (6) Repeat the sequence with the other leg.


Walk backwards

In tango, women mostly walk backwards, which is difficult because that is not how people normally walk. To learn to walk backwards, you almost need to start from toddle. The following clip, demonstrated also by Vanessa Gauch, can help you understand how it should be done.



Walk backwards in leaning position

It is important to point out that the embrace affects the walk significantly. Walking in an A-shaped frame is very different from walking in an H-shaped frame. Women using open hand holds in the dance cannot stretch their leg back far enough, because without leaning on the man it is hard to keep balance on one leg while outstretching the other leg. Here is an example.

The two teachers are competent dancers, I believe, but the H-shaped frame they used in the exercise hampered their performance. In comparison, walking in close embrace, or an A-shaped frame, is much more stable, balanced and elegant, as illustrated in the following example by Jennifer Bratt and Ney Melo.


Notice that Jennifer often use slight dissociation - turns her hips slightly upward and downward - to allow the leg to reach back a little farther, causing a hip motion that adds the feminine touch to her walk. Notice also that when her hips are turned, she uses the thumb rather than the toes of the foot to reach the floor. Notice still that her leg is swayed by the hip slightly sideways, in contrast to the forward walk in which the leg is swayed by the hip towards the center, as demonstrated by Vanessa Gauch in the first clip.

Here is how her walk works in real dance.



Hip sway

Good tangueras all use the hip to move the leg, without exception. Here is another excellent example, danced by Mariana Montes with Sebastian Arce.


Their style is too exhibitionist to suit the milonga, especially on the leader's part, in my humble opinion, but the opening walk (0:15 - 0:28) is absolutely gorgeous, appropriate in social dancing, and worth watching again and again. The walk is done in close embrace that enables Mariana to stretch her leg out farther. Her beautiful hip sway, combined with a subtle dissociation, and a very straight leg line, all contribute to the unequivocal beauty and elegance of her walk. Notice that her leg is also swayed slightly sideways as a result of using the hip to move the leg.


Keeping your own balance is the key to be weightless

As comfortable as it is to lean on your partner, you need to keep yourself light and not become his burden. This means you have to keep your own balance by bending your standing leg when you stretch your free leg backwards, as explained by Vanessa and illustrated by Jennifer and Mariana, so that most of your weight is carried by your standing leg rather than on him. This will also allow you to outstretch your free leg farther. Personally I found that when a woman leans lightly with her chest rather than heavily with her stomach on me, she becomes lighter.


Improving your walk is the key to improve your dance

I hope these illustrations would give you an idea of how to walk in tango as a woman and help you to improve your walk. Walk is not only an important part of tango, but also the foundation of the dance because other steps are but variations of walk. One's walk defines one's dance, as demonstrated by my favorite tango couple Noelia Hurtado and Carlos Espinoza in the following tango. Pay attention to Noelia's walk and see how it relates to her other steps. For a woman, beautiful walk is a guaranteed eye catcher and proof of her ability. By learning to walk elegantly, your tango can be improved in more ways than you can imagine. (See Walk.)