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.




October 24, 2018

Pluralism vs. Monism


Pluralism posits that the world is composed of many entities independent of each other, in contrast to monism which views the seemly independent parts as connected fragments of an integrated whole. Pluralism is used by individualists to underscore the individuality, independence, liberty and sovereignty of the individual, and to promote individual freedom, personal rights, diversity, unconventionality, alternative life style, LGBTQIAPK, same-sex marriage, multiculturalism, etc., against the monist view regarding the individuals as interdependent parts of a coherent human society, emphasizing unity, connection, integration, harmony, common values, common interests, common cause, responsibility, and the well-being of the society as a whole. (See A Wise Voice.)

Aristotle said, "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Before modern times, monism was the dominant philosophy throughout human history. (See Meeting in the Middle.) Early humans understood the importance of the unity and cooperation of the collective to the survival of the individual. That is changed when modern science and technology empowered the individual and made the individual increasingly self-sufficient, resulting in the rising of individualism and pluralism that lead to divergent personal choices and lifestyles, multiculturalism promoting different values, relativism denying the differences between right and wrong, good and evil, and civil and uncivil, affirmative action protecting marginal cultures, ethnic minorities, heterodoxies and alternative lifestyles, reversed discrimination against mainstream culture and orthodox tradition, and the aggrandizing fragmentation, division, dissension and disunity of the society. (See The Spirit of Tango.)

What pluralism and individualism fail to take into consideration is that as a people we rely on each other for survival and our success depends on our cooperation. (See Tango and Individualism.) A human society must be based on a philosophy that unites people rather than divides people, and some form of government, organization and order. Turning people into egocentric rivals could only create conflict, animosity and chaos, as attested by the unrest resulted from the US led efforts to "free" people, and the consequent refugee problem, aggravated by the open-border policy and multiculturalism at home. The situation could only get worse if we keep propagating radical liberalism, asserting absolute personal freedom, putting the self above the society, opposing any order that we consider authoritarian, calling democracy "the tyranny of the majority", fragmenting the society into more and more conflicting entities, disparaging mainstream culture and tradition, labeling one gender the sex predator of the other gender, and politicizing and radicalizing education, media and law. (See Tango and Equality.)

Neither authoritarianism that deprives individual freedom nor individualism that rejects human interdependence, common interests and cooperation can lead to a harmonious human society. A healthy and coherent society is based on the unity, love, sharing and collaboration of its people who are united, agreeable, cooperative, accommodating, putting common interests above personal interests and can work as a team. (See The Lessons of Tango.) That is how we dance tango, that is how a business succeeds, that is how a nation wins a war, and that is how America becomes strong again. Despite the negative influence of pluralism and individualism, tango gives us a new perspective to see ourselves as interdependent members of the community. Tango teaches us to cherish, love, cooperate and accommodate with each other, and has demonstrated that is the only way to a better world. (See The Freedom in Tango.)


September 8, 2018

Champaign Milongueros Group Charter


Champaign Milongueros is a group of local tango dancers who regularly meet here to study and dance the milonguero style of tango. 

Our mission is to gather like-minded local tango dancers to promote the milonguero style of tango and to lead the trend with our authentic tango style, refined dance skills and distinct milonga culture. (See Never Forget Why We Started.)

We meet here under the spirit of fraternity, solidarity and teamwork.

We observe the tango protocols practiced in the milongas of Buenos Aires, including milonga etiquette, personal hygiene, dress code, separate seating, cabeceo and navigation rules.

We ask members to be responsible team players in our collective efforts to build an intimate, strong tango community.

To secure the quality of our milonga, this group opens only to selected dancers. Group members must have the following qualifications:

1. Dedicate to the milonguero style of tango.

2. Commit to long-term participation.

3. Are fit for tango dancing and have the potential to grow.

4. Are eager to learn and can regularly attend classes.

5. Are responsible team players.

6
. Newcomers need to complete the training and meet our standard to become a member and attend our milongas.



April 20, 2018

Tango Music and Its Danceability


One

Classic tango music is 4/4 time. There are four beats in each measure and each quarter note receives a beat, counted as 1, 2, 3, 4. The first and third beats are strong beats, on which we step. The second and forth beats are weak beats, on which we do ancillary actions, such as weight change, hip rotation, pivot, pause, embellishment, etc..

Each quarter note can be evenly divided into two eighth notes. We count the resulted 8 eighth notes in a bar as 1-and, 2-and, 3-and, 4-and. Similarly, each quarter note can be evenly divided into four sixteenth notes. We count the resulted 16 sixteenth notes as 1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a, 3-e-and-a, 4-e-and-a.

The ability to divide the notes and to predict where the subdivisions fall is important, which enables the dancer to feel the rhythm of the song and take advantage of the increased footwork possibilities. Feeling rhythm is internal. The rhythm must be in your mind before it can happen on your feet. Without rhythm there cannot be dance.

But feeling rhythm becomes not so easy when syncopation is involved. Syncopation is the way musicians spice up the music by shifting, splitting, adding, or omitting beats. Examples of syncopation include shifting the accent from the odd-numbered beat to the even-numbered beat (1, 2, 3, 4), extending a beat (1 - -, 4), starting a note on an unaccented beat and continuing it through the next accented beat (1, 2 -, 4), splitting a note into subdivisions (1-and, 2-and, 3-and, 4-and), accenting the subdivision (1-and, 2-and, 3-and, 4-and), adding accents (1, 2, 3, 4), omitting a beat and replacing it with a rest, etc. Syncopation modifies the rhythm of the song and makes it more interesting yet challenging to dance to.

Nevertheless, dancers welcome the challenge. As long as the beats are consistent with the speed specified by the time signature, the music is danceable. In fact, songs that we like to dance most are neither arrhythmic nor mono-rhythmic, but complex yet still have regular, recognizable and predictable beats, which is the characteristic of classic tango.


Two

That, however, is changed when musicians started to experiment new ideas like improvisation, counterpoint, cross-rhythms, poly-rhythms, compound rhythms, asymmetrical rhythms, complex harmonies, odd numbered meter in which the notes are not evenly grouped (such as 5/4 time and 7/8 time), mixing duple time, triple time with quadruple time, ensemble of different instruments or instrumental part and vocal part of the song with different rhythms, etc. These methods, though creative and may provide new listening experiences, made the rhythm too complex to dance to, which increasingly becomes a characteristic of modern music.

Musicians still produce classic music in modern times; therefore, not all contemporary music are modern music. Only those contain unconventional elements are modern music. There are gray areas, of course, but modern music all are incorporated with at least some nontraditional elements, which made the rhythm of the song, or sections of the song, irregular, unrecognizable, unpredictable and undanceable.

Some people argue that all music is danceable. That argument is untenable. Perhaps any music that can be played with the feet is danceable, but fingers can move much faster and an orchestra of dozens or even hundreds of fingers could make the music extremely complex, especially when it is intended not for dancing, but only for listening.

For music to be danceable, it must have recognizable and predictable beats. Dance is the body's response to rhythm, not noise. We feel comfortable with rhythm because it facilitates our movements. Our rhythm echoes regular occurrences, seasonal changes, biologic clock, heartbeats, and muscle memory of rhythmic motions such as walk, etc. Millions of years of human evolution made rhythm aesthetical and musical to our senses, and our body naturally responds to rhythmic sound. Although it is possible that with practice some people can step on irregular and unpredictable beats that they memorized, ordinary people without special training can't do that. DJs should be aware that the music they play at the milongas is for the ordinary social dancers to dance, not for a few highly trained individuals to show off their skills. The DJ must keep the majority of dancers in mind and not yield to the pressure of few individuals. (Being a DJ myself I am fully aware of such pressure.)


Three

It must be pointed out that the changes in modern music are not coincidental. We live in a society where commercialism constantly pushes for innovation, repackaging, impression, exoticism, eye-catching boldness, etc. in order to increase sales. Innovation improves our life, but it also causes unintended consequences. Every time I bought a smart phone, a smarter one is created the next week. In economic terms that is called "creating demands", so consumers would throw away their perfectly functional old stuffs and keep buying new ones, causing tremendous waste. People grown up in this culture exhibit a lack of depth and lasting quality. They confuse novelty with beauty, focus too much on the flashy form rather than the substance and constantly seek for change and innovation. The following quote from a reader's comment reflects such a mentality.

"Most of us did not start doing the tango in order to get the ocho just right. Most of us saw elegant, dramatic and erotic moves in a performance that took our breath away. Then we take tango lessons and dance among older people who look down their noses at beginners for not doing the details as well as they can, who are quite conservative in their tastes, who are uptight about the eroticism, who are offended when attractive young people look better at the erotic movements than they do, and who are too weak, inflexible, heavy, and cowardly to do the more dramatic moves... The idea of dividing tango into social dance and 'show' dance trivializes efforts to be more creative and to actually do the dance that we were attracted to in the first place. Performance is not just for tourists. It includes ballet, modern dance, jazz and other rich, culturally important forms. It can be brilliant and revolutionary, changing the way we think. It can give tango dance its Isadora Duncans, Sergei Diaghilevs, Merce Cunnihams and Astor Piazzollas. Tango and dance have always included a conversation between performance and social dance. Both should be respected at spaces in which creativity can take place. That's how art and culture evolve in living ways."

I'll not get into why the milonga is not the place for performance (See Social Tango and Performance Tango) but concentrate on creativity here. No doubt, creativity has changed our way of living. But, despite its contributions, we should not ignore its drawbacks. Human creativity is a double-edged sword. It provides us with cars, computers, GPS and beautiful, danceable music like classic tango; it also provides us with narcotics, weapons of mass destruction, high-tech crimes and undanceable noises. Human creativity can improve life if we use it wisely; it can also destroy life if we foolishly think we can do whatever we like just to be creative and ignore the force beyond our control that produced and conditioned us, whether you call that force the Cosmos, Nature, Law, Tao, or God. In fact, human creativity has already caused many problems to our very existence such as the irreversible damage to our home planet, pollution, climate changes, environmental catastrophes, the exhaustion of natural resources, the collapse of the Eco-system, the astonishing number of death caused by automobiles, drugs, guns, etc., cyber crimes, the chemical, biological and nuclear threats, LGBTQIAPK, same-sex marriage, the disintegration of the traditional family, shameless political strategies and the polarization and dysfunction of our governments, etc. 

The obsession to creativity is also the cause of the relentless efforts by many DJs to make their music selections unconventional. They collect songs that are rare, abnormal, exotic and hard to follow. They try to be different from their peers but pay little attention to the danceability of the music. They flaunt the banner of innovation and look down at the classics, despite that the classics are the time-tested quintessence embodying the common perception of what is beautiful and danceable. They ignore the fact that sixty years after the end of the Golden Age tango dancers today still love the classic tango music while the "revolutionary" music created during the same period has long been forgotten. They are blind to the fact that in every generation there are people who have created lasting classics and people who have created fleeting rubbish. They don't understand that creativity must serve the best human interests, needs and aesthetics to have a lasting value, which in case of dance is danceability, not outlandishness. Although they love music and may have collected a big number of songs, they don't know what constitutes danceability and what does not. And worst of all, they tend to play abnormal, rare and undanceable songs in the milonga since the danceable ones are traditional.

Dancers don't reject creativity and innovation. In fact, that is what we do on the dance floor. We welcome challenges that make the dance more interesting. But we also desire music that is danceable. We want DJs to put danceability above anything else in their selection of music. We want them to carefully listen to every song from the beginning to the end to make sure it is entirely danceable before playing it at the milonga. We want DJs to play music according to the law of dance, which gives leeway for creativity but also demands danceability. And, we want them to play for us, the majority and average dancers at the milonga, not only for a few elites or weird dudes.

January 3, 2018

Dancing to Melody - Poema


Stepping on the beat and dancing to the music are not one and the same thing. The former is the basic of musicality, but it is not the most sophisticated. Beats are rhythmic stresses that regulate the speed of the music. They are interrupted and unemotional. Stepping on the beat is like jumping, the focus is on the accent, and the movement is broken and dry.

The most important thing in dancing is to express the feelings of the music, which lie not in the beats but in the melody. Melody is the linear, sweet and emotional tone in music that decides the sentiment, emotion, beauty and fluidity of the song. Dancing to melody is like driving, the focus is on the linear tone and the movement is continuous and smooth.

In dancing, we can focus on beats, or we can focus on melody, which leads to different dance styles. When we focus on beats, we wait for the beat to come and step on it with force, the movement is vertical, sudden, short and incoherent. Here is an example.




This song, Poema, like most tango songs, is nostalgic and melancholy. "Tango is a sad feeling that is danced." - said Enrique Santos Discepoloo. The lyrics of the song were written by Eduardo Bianco, who played the first violin in the orchestra of Teatro Apolo in 1927. Bianco learned that his wife cheated on him with the pianist of the orchestra and shot his rival to death in a fit of jealousy. The lyrics reflected his grief, pain and sorrow. Here is the English translation by Alberto Paz.

                        It was a dream of sweet love,
                        hours of happiness and loving,
                        it was the poem of yesterday,
                        that I dreamed,
                        of gilded color,
                        vain chimeras of the heart,
                        it will not manage to never decipher,
                        so fleeting nest,
                        it was a dream of love and adoration.

                        When the flowers of your rose garden,
                        bloom again ever so beautiful,
                        you'll remember my love,
                        and you will come to know,
                        all my intense misfortune.

                        Of that one intoxicating poem,
                        nothing is left between us,
                        I say my sad goodbye,
                        you'll feel the emotion,
                        of my pain…

The music was composed by Mario Melfi in 1932, which was arranged by Francisco Canaro in 1935. Only the last two stanzas were sung in the Canaro's version, by Roberto Maida.

Dancing Poema, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the poet - like you were biding sad farewell to your past love. You still need to step on the beat, but you don't do it in a sudden and broken way. Rather, you focus on the emotions of the melody and let your movements be horizontal, even-paced, continuous and fluid. Here is an example.




Notice that in this example the couple did not chase the beats, but danced slowly, as were reluctant to let go each other. Their steps are much more supple, lingering and melodious, matching the melancholy mood of the song. (See The Elegance of the Milonguero Style.)

I often feel my partner still focuses on the beats when I try to lead her dance to the melody, which is not surprising given that most students are only taught to step on the beat. Next time you dance Poema, try to focus on the emotions of the melody instead of the beats. The key is to control the speed of the movement to let your steps be even-paced rather than sudden and broken - especially if you are a woman, because who represents the melodic or feminine mood of the music. (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.)