Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search 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 community and people. 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 to Argentina was at peak the gender ratio in Buenos Aires was five men to one woman. In other words, fifty men would compete for dancing with ten women in a typical milonga. The situation was so unfavorable to men that most men 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. That was the origin of cabeceo. (See Women's Role in Cabeceo.) Before a man was able to dance with women 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 had to be extremely careful with the woman in the dance also, fearing to lose the favor of the goddess if she felt slightest discomfort. Men's cherish and respect for women has since become a notable feature of the tango culture in Buenos Aires.

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 the milongueros 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 a man who is sloppy, who feels insecure, who does not have a comfortable embrace, whose musicality is not perfect, who uses the arms and hands to lead, who can't do cabeceo, who doesn't know milonga 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 off the milonga world. (See Milonga Codes.) Like the knights in the medieval Europe who were gallant, honorable, generous, kind and respectful especially 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 specialists who follow certain tenets. For them, tango is the 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.

Times have changed. Today the gender ratio in the milongas becomes one man to one point five women. In addition, women are instigated to compete with men for dominance and the chivalry of the milongueros is criticized by the feminists. (See Tango and Gender Equality.) As a result, men do not respect and cherish women to the degree they used to. Nowadays even a beginner who can't walk stably dares to obligate a woman to dance with him and use her as a foil to his self-centered exhibition. One has to reckon that a failure of feminism. Feminists thought the two sexes would be equal if women were as 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 learn from the history and reflect on their demeanors. 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 Roles in Tango.) Upsetting the natural law that guides the two sexes 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 uniting the two sexes. I pray it remains that way.

April 19, 2014

Cadencia and the Flow of Tango

The body produces continuous lilt due to the alternate weight change from one foot to the other. The lilt can be enhanced by the push or pull of her torso with his torso to increase the motion of the body in accordance with the rhythm of the music. This technique is called cadencia. When the woman is led to do cadencia, it feels like the baby in the cradle being swayed, or fish in the water being driven by the waves, which is a cozy feeling for both but especially for the woman, as she is the one nestling in his arms and enjoying the ride. (See Cadencia.)

Cadencia is usually done alternately in the opposite directions. The man swing the woman's torso with a push or pull of his torso to bring her hip and leg to swing. As that leg lands on the floor and her weight is transferred to it she pivots and swivels her hips instantaneously to allow him to take advantage of the inertia to swing her other hip and leg in the opposite direction. This is how ocho is danced. Tango teachers often emphasize the swivel of the hips or dissociation but overlook the swing of the body or cadencia when they teach ocho. However, if the cadencia is blended in, it will not only increase the elegance of the movement but also produce a lilting feeling, making the ocho more enjoyable.

In order to do that there must be some speed or momentum. If you dance on the same spot without a horizontal motion, it would be difficult to generate the swing. That is why experienced dancers like to dance in the flow. When the floor is full of experienced dancers, you will see a counterclockwise flow of people like waves surging forward in correspondence with the rhythm of the music, and the speed of the flow is quite fast. But if there are too many novices on the dance 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 on. (See Spot Dancing in Tango.) In an empty room that may cause no problem, 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 feeling. People dancing on a crowded dance floor must not be such "rocks in the stream". I'm not saying that you may not slow down or pause for a moment and then move on. Experienced dancers do that also, but they do so only when there is enough space, or when the music tells everybody to slow down. 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, which 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. That is not only because electronic instruments are short on expressing the mood of tango, but also because the contemporary rockers lack the experiences 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 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 these feelings can one dance tango well.

The feelings expressed are those of men and women of the time, represented by the opposite moods that are both different and coherent. Classic tango is heterosexual rather than homosexual in nature. It has a rhythm that is masculine, robust, lucid and steady and a melody that is feminine, sentimental, beautiful and moody. Each note or phrase expresses the strength, resolution and firmness of men, or gentleness, affection and obedience of women. The two opposite moods intertwine with each other and complement each other, reflecting the two sexes in the dance. Dancing tango, you have to imagine that you are playing the music with your body. The man and the woman are different instruments. 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. Each with a unique sound, expresses a different mood. Both are indispensable and irreplaceable, and they must collaborate harmoniously in order to create a beautiful tango. (See The Gender Expression in Tango.)

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 and monotonous march, classic tango not only has a recognizable rhythm, but also is rich in syncopation and, therefore, 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 or spices up the music, making the rhythm more interesting, challenging and adaptable to a rich variety of footwork to express complicated emotions. (See Tango Music and Its Daceability.) 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 improve with the advance of their education and experiences. Tango dancers need to study tango music, understand its sentiment and be familiar with its melody, rhythm, tempo, syncopation, pause and extension 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. Many of them can sing the lyrics and dance to them with facility, which is one of the reasons why the milongueros perceive their dance quite differently from the foreigners. Not understanding the lyrics is a disadvantage of the foreigners, but that is not an insurmountable obstacle. The dancer's education may compensate for 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, rhythm, tempo, tone and mood of the music. Of course, learning the language can help to better understand the emotions 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.)