I get occasional comments from John, I don’t always agree with him but they are never the less well thought-provoking and intelligent. So I thought I would dedicate a whole blog to a reply.
I loved his metaphor of the garden, so I will quote it in full:
Think of BsAs as a great established garden, set in the grounds of a great house, laid down by a great landscaper, maintained with loving care by generations of gardeners. In this garden we see great plants, with deep roots established over decades, providing shelter for newer introductions. Different parts of the garden may have a different look to them but all in all a great garden has a character that you can feel and recognize.
I also agree totally that anyone who spends time in BsAs but cannot stay would, of course, want to start their own tango scene (garden to keep the metaphor going) and it is also true that this scene would have to be started without guidance and would, without doubt, look somewhat different from what you would find in the birthplace of tango.
I see many places where tango is springing up around the UK and this is all to the good, Bangor being one of the cases in point
I also have seen places where misguided people have tried to start “Argentine Tango” with no knowledge at all of what is happening in Argentina, I have seen people who see it as yet another business opportunity and will teach steps until the punters run out of patience or money, or both.
And finally I have seen people with a real knowledge and love of tango, striving to bring it here to the UK.
We need to bring the best of BsAs here, of that there is no doubt, and I do realize that it can never be quite the same.(just as it is never the same from Barrio to Barrio in BsAs). The point is though, that when teaching becomes something for its own sake, or Argentine tango, becomes a trade mark and not the musical genre that it is, and we lose all contact with Buenos Aires, then what we have is no longer Argentine Tango. It is exercise to music, a show dance, or just another cash cow.
Now you ask how we can nurture a garden here taking into account local conditions, well that is a big question: Firstly small groups forming in distant places, will like circles in a pool, eventually meet up and a bigger scene will develop. We need to bring in the best teachers, but not just from Europe, as I believe that parts of Europe now have a tango of their own, bearing little relationship to Argentine. The question then is, How do we know who the best teachers are? Well without naming those I know, the only true test is time. It has taken me fifteen years to come to my conclusions; I hope with guidance, you can reach yours sooner. The only thing I can say is “if the emphasis is not on the embrace, and the music, but instead is about moves, then I say move on to another teacher”
Local conditions will no doubt colour how and when you can tango, but should never alter the basic fact that tango is about the music, and the dance is all about the embrace.
The only time I hear that local tango is deficient is when what we see is show tango or fantasia as the Argentines sneeringly call it, and when Argentine tango music takes second place to the DJ’s ego.
It is true we are not born with tango playing in our ears; there are few of us who can soak up the years of tango history and know the lyrics of every song and the name of every orquesta and every cantor. There are, of course, those who can and have, we should listen to them, because they are the people who will show you what tango really means.
I will mention to the relative youth of the dance scene here, although this disregards the fact that there is a young scene in Buenos Aires, as well as the old milongueros. In the venues where there is a younger set, it is true there is less embrace and more show, but it is also true, they never play Jungle music or reggae fusion, Egyptian funk or even Foxtrot, no they play pure tango.
Tango music itself is not a dead genre, while some of the best artists are dead, there is still good music being produced, we just need to know where to find it, (maybe the subject of another blog).
While it is true that tango over here is lacking and will never be what it is in Buenos Aires, we should not get too down hearted about it, but what is equally true is, we should never give up trying. Those who know and love Buenos Aires will always be frustrated by those who do not, and those who do not, will never understand the frustration of those who do. All we can do is meet on the dance floor and let the dance do the talking.