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.

January 29, 2017

My Two Cents on Music Selections

Music plays a crucial role in tango. Of all the elements that make a successful milonga, music is among the most important three. The other two are a friendly environment governed by the milonga codes, and a high level of dancing. Good music connects and motivates the dancers, touches their hearts, stirs up their emotions, lifts their spirit, synchronizes their movements, and ignites their creativity. Without good music, the dancers cannot perform well and reach duende no matter how good other conditions may be.

Unfortunately, the music played in our milongas is not always good. Many DJs choose to play songs that are not of the highest quality while leave the best songs rest in peace in their computers. I have heard the theory that dancers like to try new songs, that they don't like to dance to the same old songs again and again, and that they'd rather take risk than be bored, etc. While such argument may not totally be false, it often becomes the excuse of those who are willing to sacrifice the danceability of the music for the sake of novelty. It is true that adventurous new songs may attract attentions. But saying that that is the only thing dancers care is an overstatement. Most dancers that I know love to dance to songs that they know well. Familiar songs arouse their desire to dance because, like singing and playing music instrument, they do better when they know the song. Tango dancers will never ever be tired of the best classic tango music. Although there may be generation gaps, I believe the majority of the songs played in the milonga should be known to the dancers overall, including younger generations.

While striving for novelty, the DJs must still pay attention to the danceability of the song. I am a fervent believer that only the most beautiful and danceable songs should be played in the milonga, so fervent that I deleted all the songs that are not of the best quality, and only kept the very excellent, beautiful and danceable songs in my computer. The fact is, you don't need thousands of songs to dj a milonga. A three-hour milonga only contain 14 tandas or 56 songs. If you meticulously select 560 best of the best songs that are of the highest quality, you can play for ten milongas in a row without any repetition. It is the quality and not the quantity that counts. (See The Signature of Tango.)

Some DJs play too many fast songs, which, although energetic, could cause fatigue easily. Others play too many slow songs, which, although sentimental, lack an energy and excitement. I believe the majority of the songs played in the milonga should be in media tempo, but they should be combined with fast and slow tandas to avoid boredom. If all tandas are of the same speed, whether fast, medium or slow, the dancers will get tired. A proper mixture of different tempos and moods suits the tastes of most dancers. But the majority of the selections should be in walking pace, which is most suitable for tango dancing.

Tango as an intimate dance is best danced to music that can stir up tender feelings. DJs should select songs that are sentimental, soulful, beautiful and rich in syncopation to allow the dancers to express their feelings, and avoid songs that are dull in emotion and monotonous in rhythm. Nonetheless, the music must have lucid beats that are not too difficult to follow. (See Tango Music and Its Danceability.) DJs need to be aware that not all tangos are created equal. There was a period in Argentine history during which tango as a social dance was discouraged by the military rulers (1955 - 1983). Tango music produced in and after that period is largely for listeners and not dancers, often with unpredictable beats, or using vocal techniques influenced by Jazz music that are hard to follow. Such songs should not be played in the milonga no matter how novel and creative they may be. Good, danceable tango songs, in fact, are much smaller in number in comparison to mediocre songs or songs created for listening and not dancing. A DJ should be able to distinguish the two and play only good, danceable songs in the milonga. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts.)

In selecting tango music, I believe the attention should be paid particularly to songs that are juxtaposed with opposite moods. Tango music by its very nature is heterosexual rather than homosexual. A good, danceable tango has a rhythm that is crisp, strong, forceful and easy to dance to, accompanied by a melody that is beautiful, supple, moody and sentimental, so it can stir up the masculinity of the man and the femininity of the woman. In essence, the dancers are playing the music with their bodies. The man and the woman are different instruments, each with its unique sound, expressing different emotions. Both are indispensable and irreplaceable, and they must complement each other and collaborate harmoniously to create a beautiful tango. Lacking either mood would make the music less symphonious, gender expressive and gratifying. (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.)

I always feel indebted to good DJs like Tine Herrman, Paul Akmajian, Burak Ozkosem and Julia Ingram, to name a few. Every time I hear their music, I feel worth the trouble to travel a thousand miles just to enjoy the music. But the truth is, such pleasure is rare. I believe DJs should let their playing philosophy known to the public, so dancers may have a choice. I believe event organizers should be more specific about the music requirements to the DJs they hire. And I hope, with the growth of our tango, the music in our milongas will improve also, so that wherever we go, we can always enjoy the very best music and dance. 

January 22, 2017

Tango and Equality

Tango is created by people living at the bottom of the society. Their imprint still remains in the dance. The original tango is a lowbrow dance. It is raw, simple, sensual, soul-searching and comforting, touching the heart of one's humanity. Dancing that tango reminds Beatriz Dujovne of a birthing mother's ecstasy, struggle, agony, sweat, pain and joy. Whether a maid or a queen, she wrote, the basic birthing experience of all women is identical, just like that in tango. "Tango is all of us in life's common places. It is who we are at the core, behind our social masks." 

That shared humanity in tango is a huge source of sublimation for people struggling at the bottom. Tango liberates them because in tango they have regained the dignity of being on the same footing with others. All dancers are created equal in tango whether they are taxi drivers or CEOs, servant girls or first daughters. You enjoy that person dancing with you for who he/she is as a fellow human being regardless of his/her social status. Tango is where Cinderella and Prince Charming fall in love. "It melts down differences by zeroing in on our commonality," Dujovne wrote, "it feeds our hunger for being on a level with others." (See The Tangoin All of Us.)

Equality has been a dream of the American people since the creation of this nation. When the early immigrants to America were unfairly treated by the English King, they argued for equality. Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1776: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." That document, The Declaration of Independence, laid the foundation for this nation.

After 240 years, however, the gap between the rich and the poor in America did not narrow. In fact, it is widened in our times. Power corrupts. When we were under the oppression of a despot who mistreated us, we wanted equality. When we gained the control of our own destiny, we started to do the same thing to others. Compassion and self-interests are juxtaposed in human nature. When we keep a balance between the two, we are doing fine. But when we lose that balance, when we only think about ourselves and disregard others, when we formulate theories like personal liberty, individual rights and individualism to legitimize selfish behaviors (see Tango and Individualism), when we misinterpret the founding documents from a narrow, individualistic perspective in favor of the self rather than the society, the rich rather than the poor, and the criminals rather than the victims (see The Freedom in Tango), when we allow ourselves to pursue self-interests at the expense of others, when we form monopoly groups and build unfair systems such as those in our financial, insurance, healthcare, pharmaceutical, commercial, real estate, and legal institutions to benefit and protect special interests (see Mammonism), when we allow the rich to use their money to influence the policy making, when we use freedom to promote violence, obscenity, homosexuality and alternative life styles (see Tango and the Relationship of the Opposite Sexes), when personal liberty is used to undermine traditional marriage and family - the very foundation of the society (see Tango and Family Values), when divorce, irresponsible sex, single parent family and same sex marriage become the accepted norms and are sponsored by the state, etc., we get ourselves further and further into the mess we now are in.

Ours is the lesson of freedom lost for the majority of people when we only seek for personal freedom. Only few can be winners in the competition if equality and justice are not the premise of all other human rights. True freedom is the freedom from being violated by others, not the freedom to violate others. It is the right to act within the limits of law necessary to the public good, not that to harm the society. It is a self-disciplined human right under the principle that all men are created equal, not the right to do whatever one pleases at the cost of others. In other words, a free society is an equal society based on compassion and cooperation, not on self-interests and competition. It is where individual rights are subject to the communal interests of the society as a whole, where nobody's freedom will be deprived by another's freedom, and where coexistence, brotherhood, compassion and sharing are the common values of all people. It is a society consistent with the spirit of tango.

The following clip is relevant to the subject. I cannot refrain from smiling when watch this video. It is well-directed, thought-provocative, and with many humorous details like the responses of the crowd, the looks in the girls' eyes, and the old lady being carried away, etc. The dance is of the highest quality with excellent musicality and choreography. I especially appreciate the ending where the elegant dignity of the heroic nonentity won over the arrogance of the elites. Watch in fullscreen.

Related Reading

The Freedom in Tango