Monthly Archives: February 2011

Tango Garden

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.

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Filed under milonga, Tango

Beginners?

When do we stop being beginners? Can we ever stop learning in tango? When do we become advanced enough to teach?

All these questions I am constantly asking, and I am afraid I have yet to come up with a definitive answer. I myself have been dancing tango for more than ten years, nearer fifteen. The fact that I cannot even put an answer on this, I think, shows what a protracted journey it has been for me.

Even after all this time I still feel like a principiante when in the crowded and well organised milongas in Buenos Aires. The porteños have tango in their blood and understand that there is more to this dance than steps, or even the dance itself. They learn the music first, how to move to it comes only with time.

Yet here in the UK, I see people who take six months of classes and then think “I can teach this”, I see ballroom teachers whose only experience of tango is from a book, teaching steps and choreography, and I see DJ’s who think that it is clever to put something on other than tango (after all it is four-four time).

I am moved to write this after comments about people learning steps, who are considered to be no longer beginners. To be more than a beginner you need to immerse yourself in the music, you need to feel the hearts and minds of the greats like D’Arienzo or DiSarli and you need to be acquainted with the milongas of Buenos Aires.

So to me those who learn routines and dance steps will always be beginners. People who learn to dance this way cannot know the joy of a pure improvised tango and until they do they will not understand.

I have seen people who have learned steps come to Buenos Aires and stand confused and unable to move in the milongas. They take a step from their routine and find that they cannot make the next; they find themselves barged and pushed to the centre where they can do less harm. Unless they are prepared to start afresh they will leave disillusioned and look elsewhere for their dancing experience.

While I am happy to teach what I know and pass on my experience, I still lack much of the knowledge needed, even after all this time and as others will tell you, I still have trouble identifying the music.

I see tango watered down all the time, as more and more people come onto the scene, all wanting to make a buck from the new sensation. The only person I know of who ever became rich through tango was Francisco Canaro, and much of that was from cheating his fellow musicians. Nobody is ever going to become rich teaching tango in the UK, the most we can hope is to cover our costs.

To teach tango here for any other reason than the love of it, is cheating yourself and your customers.

The other great “mistake” I see is teaching for its own sake; how often in this country do we get a milonga without a workshop first? We see three or four hour classes with half an hour of practice. To my mind this is all about face, when we go to Buenos Aires we will take maybe one or two classes, but dance three or four hours a night, every night. That is a ratio of about ten to one, hours dancing to hours in class.

You will never become a better dancer by listening to someone talk, the only way to improve you dancing is to dance and dance some more, then go back and just have your dancing fine tuned a little each time, then dance some more, (In the words of one of my dance teachers “Practica, Bob, practica, practica, practica”).

You could, of course, just keep going and learning steps, but then you will be learning something else, not Tango.

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Filed under milonga, Tango