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 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.)