Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of humanity, connection, love, unity, harmony and beauty, 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 team, 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, accommodation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.

April 29, 2014

The Chivalry of the Milongueros

A hundred years ago when the wave of immigration to Argentina was at the peak, the gender ratio in Buenos Aires was five men to one woman. In other words, in a typical milonga fifty men would compete to dance with ten woman. 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 a woman to nod at them. Only then dared they venture to dance with the goddess. That's 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 had to be extremely careful with the woman 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 Argentina.

In such a gender ratio, the privilege of dancing with a woman was granted only to guys capable of making her completely content. Self-centered peacocks, therefore, had little chance to compete with the milongueros who mastered a very comfortable embrace, exquisite musicality and consummate dance skills. Laymen may think of milongueros as goof-offs. (See Tango and the Outlook on Life.) But if you believe that surrounded by a battalion of admirers the goddesses would pick a mediocrity or be fooled by fanfares, you certainly underestimated the goddesses. 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 not perfect, who use the arms and hands to lead, who can't do cabeceo, who don't follow the codes, and who are short in manner, not to mention in those days. Therefore, the milongueros are a group of 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 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 also. 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, 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. The gender ratio in the milongas now becomes one man to one point five women. In addition, the chivalry of the milongueros is criticized by the feminists, and women are instigated to compete with men for dominance. (See Tango and Gender Equality.) As a result, men do not cherish and respect women to the degree they used to. Nowadays even a beginner who can't walk well dares to obligate a woman to dance and use her as the foil to his self-centered exhibition. One has to reckon that 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 femininity, they are no longer the goddesses in men's eyes.

Dancers of today need to learn from the history and reflect on their attitude toward the opposite sex. Masculinity and femininity, which are resulted from millions of years of human evolution, are nature's way to unite the two sexes. For the good of the human race women must not lose femininity and men must not lose their love for women. Gender roles are crucial in keeping the two sexes in unity and harmony. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) Deranging natural law that regulates 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 wish it remains that way.

April 19, 2014

Cadencia and the Flow of Tango

The body produces continuous lilt due to alternate weight changes from one foot to the other. The lilt can be enhanced by accelerating the motion of the body. This technique is called cadencia. Dancing with cadencia feels like riding back and forth on a swing, or like fish in the water being surged by the waves, which is a cozy feeling for both partners but especially for the woman, as she is the one nestling in his arms and enjoying the ride.

Often, cadencia is done to one side of the man, and then to the other side of the man. After each swing the woman needs to swivel her hips so the man can reverse the swing in the opposite direction. Therefore dissociation and cadencia often go hand in hand. (See Dissociation and Gear Effect.) The sequence is like this: He swings her torso to bring her leg to swing to one side of him. As her weight is transfered to that leg she swivels her hips 180 degree. He then reverses the swing to bring her other leg to swing to the other side of him. This in fact is how ocho is danced. Tango teachers often emphasize the dissociation, or the swivel of the hips, but overlook the cadencia, or the swing of the body, when they teach ocho. However, if dissociation and cadencia are combined, 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 cadencia there must be some speed. If you dance in place without the 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 can see a counterclockwise flow of people like the waves surge forward in correspondence with the rhythmic flow 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 them waiting for them to move on. (See Spot Dancing in Tango.) In an empty ballroom that may cause no problem. But if you dance on a crowded dance 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 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 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 everyone to slow down. If the dancers behind you 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 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.) 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 in real life, represented by two opposite moods in tango music that are very different yet harmoniously intertwined. Classic tango is heterosexual rather than homosexual in nature. It has a rhythm that is masculine - sharp, robust, rigid, forceful and steady, and a melody that is feminine - soft, sentimental, emotional, moody and beautiful. 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, 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 and comlement each other 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 lacks an opposite theme. (See The Signature of Tango.) It is either too soft, without a lucid rhythm, or too monotonous, short 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, 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 spices up the music, making it more interesting, challenging and adaptable to a rich variety of footwork to express complicated emotions. (See Tango Music and Its Daceability.) This feature of classic tango, however, may cause a difficulty for beginners 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 experience. 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 are favored by the Argentinians. Many of them can sing and dance to the lyrics 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 sentiment and 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 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.)