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 into individuals, but tango unites us into a team, community 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, accommodation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.
January 29, 2017
Of all 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 well educated crowd. Good music connects the dancers, touches their hearts, stirs up their emotions, synchronizes their movements and inspires their creativity. Without good music, dancers cannot perform well no matter how good other conditions may be.
Unfortunately, the music played in our milongas is not always good. Many DJs play songs that are not of the highest quality while leave the best pieces rest in peace in their computers. I've heard the theory that dancers like to try new songs, that they don't like to dance to the same old music again and again, and that they'd rather take risks than be bored, etc. Such arguments aggravate the tendency to seek novelty at the cost of the quality of the music.
It is true that new songs could be adventurous to dance to, but that is not the main thing tango dancers are after. In fact, most tango dancers prefer falimiar classic tango music that has a danceable rhythm rather than unfalimiar new songs with irregular and unpredictable beats. Familiar and danceable songs arouse their desire to dance because, like singing and playing music instruments, they can do better when they know the music. DJs should not pander to the extreme taste but should take a balanced approach in selecting music to serve the majority of dancers.
Some DJs play too many fast songs, which, although energetic, could cause fatigue easily. Others play too many slow songs, which, although sentimental, lack energy and excitement. I believe the majority of the songs played in the milonga should be in media tempo, but should be combined with fast and slow tandas to avoid boredom. If all tandas are of the same speed, the dancers will get bored. A proper mixture of different tempos, moods and genres helps to keep the dancers excited. But the majority of songs should be in walking pace, which is most suitable for tango dancing.
In selecting music I believe danceability must be the first and foremost consideration. DJs should be mindful that not all tango songs are produced for dancing. 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 during that period and after is largely for listeners and not dancers, often with undanceable beats or using techniques influenced by American Jazz that are hard to follow. Such songs should not be played in the milongas no matter how novel and creative they may be. (See Tango Music and Its Danceability.)
I believe the best songs for tango dancing are those juxtaposed with opposite moods. Good tango music is heterosexual rather than homosexual in nature. Its rhythm is masculine - lucid, strong, steady and forceful, and its melody is feminine - supple, beautiful, sentimental and moody, reflecting the two sexes in the dance who in essence are playing the music with their bodies. Men and women are different instruments, each with a distinct sound, expressing a different mood. 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 believe tango as an intimate dance is best danced to music that can touch people's hearts and stir up tender feelings. DJs should select songs that are beautiful, soulful and rich in syncopation, and avoid songs that are plain in melody, dull in emotion and monotonous in rhythm. High quality danceable songs in fact are much smaller in number in comparison to songs of mediocre quality or songs created for listening and not dancing. A DJ should be able to distinguish them and play only the most beautiful, soulful and danceable songs in the milonga.
I am a fervent believer that only the best songs should be played in the milongas, so fervent that I deleted all songs that are not suitable for tango dancing and only kept the very excellent and danceable songs in my computer. The truth is, one does not need thousands of songs to dj a milonga. A three-hour milonga only contain 15 tandas or 60 songs. If you meticulously select 600 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 matters.
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 fact is, such pleasure is rare. I believe event organizers should be more specific about the music to the DJs they hire. I believe DJs should let their playlists known to the public, so dancers could have a choice. I hope, with the growth of our tango, the music in our milongas will improve also, so wherever we go we can always enjoy the very best music and dance.
January 22, 2017
Tango is created by people living at the bottom of society. Their imprints still remain 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 birthing experiences of all women are 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 humanness 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 tango dancers are created equal whether they are taxi drivers or CEOs, servant girls or first daughters. You enjoy the person dancing with you for who that person 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 Tango in 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 constitutional foundation for this nation.
After 240 years, however, the gap between the rich and the poor in America has not narrowed. In fact, it is widened in our times. Power corrupts. When we were under the oppression of a despot, we called for equality. When we gained the control of our own destiny, we started to do the same thing to others. Self-interests and compassion are juxtaposed in human nature. When we keep a balance between the two, we do fine. But when we lose that balance, when we only think about ourselves and disregard others, when we formulate theories like individualism, personal freedom and individual rights 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 society, the rich rather than the poor, and the villains rather than the victims, when we allow ourselves to pursue self-interests at the expense of others, when we allow tycoons to use unfair competition to establish monooly in manufacturing, commerce, banking, insurance, healthcare, pharmaceutics, utilities, real estate, professional services, etc., when we create laws to protect and benefit the special interests, when we allow the rich to use their money to influence policy making, when we use freedom to promote arms sales, violence, obscenity, homosexuality and alternative life styles (See Tango and the Relationship of the Opposite Sexes.), when personal liberty is used to undermine traditional family, the very foundation of the human 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 are in now.
Ours is the lesson of freedom lost for the vast majority of people when we only seek for personal freedom. (See The Freedom in Tango.) 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 public good, not that to harm society. It is a self-restrained 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 personal rights are subject to the communal interests of society as a whole, where nobody's freedom will be deprived by another's freedom, and where brotherly love, coexistence, compassion and sharing are the common values of all people. It is a society consistent with the spirit of tango.
The following video is relevant to this subject. 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.