Last night I enjoyed the New Year milonga at Tango Del Barrio. What a lovely scene and lovely social environment. There is no such thing as tango in the absence of a tango community and Cincinnati has a tango community thanks to TDB.
Many people who are relatively new to the TDB community are unaware that it starts with me about 17 years ago. It was my business. I named it Tango Del Barrio. It grew. I invited others to teach for me. I created a board of directors and was the first director of the board. It was my idea and wish to transform it from my business into a non-profit. And so it is. It is truly a community volunteer run tango social group. I say all of this not out of pride — though I am totally proud of the TDB community — but to help explain why I am now creating a second Cincinnati tango group: TangoNorthside.
To put it simply, there are aspects of the art of Argentine tango that are not fully realized within the TDB community. Bringing that to Cincinnati is my personal mission. I love and appreciate the TDB community. But my work as a tango teacher, organizer, and art / culture ambassador is not done: there are yet aspects of the dance and the music that I want to pass on, show, and bring to others.
What are these things? They are not easy things to speak about simply because they are about aesthetics. And aesthetics is both hard to talk about and also, as the saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” In addition, everyone is the CEO of their own development as a tango dancer and everyone’s opinion and development as a dancer, no matter what the level, is hard won. And yet, I know about my own development as a dancer (I have danced and taught now for 25 years) and the way I see things and the way I think about the dance is significantly different from the way I thought about it 10 years ago, which was way different from 10 years before that. And I have watched many dancers develop over 10, 15, 20 years and have witnessed their sensibilities about the dance evolve too.
My aesthetic view: To dance tango is to dance a feeling. Your feelings connect to the music, but you dance to your feelings. It takes a lot of absorbed attention to stay connected to your feelings while you dance, just as it takes a lot of a certain type of attention to listen to the music while you dance. I repeat myself: a dancer dances to his or her feelings, and his or her feelings need to stay connected to the music. This is an enigmatic thing to say, but I mean it quite literally. If a person is distracted while dancing, if a person is chatting while dancing, if a person is trying to dance a new figure they are learning, or trying to impress, they are not dancing to their feelings because they are distracted. Argentine tango is not just a good time, it is not a party dance, it is something far deeper but only if the dancer goes deeper. Stay on the surface, have a good time, and that does not go as deep and profound as the dance does. One older Argentine dancer / teacher once said to me between dances “I dance every dance as if it is my last, as if I will die at the end of it.” Well that is a gigantic commitment and I am sure she forgets to care that much at times too, but still I have taken it to heart and care, or at least try to care, that much.
A student of tango versus a tango dancer: If you are a student of tango, it is really hard to be a dancer of tango. If you are trying to be a better dancer, as all students are, then that will get in the way of a feeling orientation to the dance. Your feelings for the dance need to develop too. At a practica is where you can work on your technique and execution. But at a milonga, it is for the money, it counts, so there it is better to dance a simple dance: try to be as connected to your partner as possible, and train yourself to go deeply into the music and your feelings.
The place of technique: You want your technique to be integrated so that it communicates easily to your partner. And your technique opens the doors to the many possible movements in tango. Done well, the movements of tango—the walk, ochos, molinete, boleos, vaivén—are the language of your feelings. The quality of your cadence; the grace, smoothness, lilt, rise and fall, roundness and pulse of your movement have expressive meaning. Movement is feeling, or, movement is feeling expressed. You want your technique to be good enough to be a conduit for feelings. If you struggle with technique then you can’t access the feelings. So technique is a big deal.
The music: I hope you realize that tango music was developed with the dance and the dance was developed with the music. That is why tango, the music and the dance, is so different from salsa, and from swing. The music is different. The dance is different. The dance fits the music. And the music fits the dance. I have been DJing since I began dancing and teaching 25 years ago. I have been learning about tango music continuously. If I go back 10 to 15 years, I was playing non-tangos as part of an evening of dance. I was inspired in part by the nuevo developments in the dance that were very exploratory in regards to the music. It took me 15 years of close listening and dancing to fully appreciate the relationship between the traditional dance and the traditional music: I am talking about Golden Age (1935 to 55) tango music. These days I am only about the traditional music. I know how hard it is for developing North American dancers to fully get this. But I want people to get it, and only through repetitive exposure to traditional music will you get it, so in this I am a traditionalist.
What tango music has that alternative music does not is in the qualities of the composition and orchestration. Please go to Youtube and listen to the melodic phrasing and pauses filled with decorations in Tanturi y Campos, Oigo Tu Vos. Check out the multiple voices in Osvaldo Pugliese’s Patetico. And check out the sweeping crescendos, rises and falls within DiSarli’s Indio Manso. These pulses, voice changes, moods, and complexity are not in the alternate songs, fun as those songs might be to dance to. Only traditional tango music has that, at least in terms of dance music.
I get that talking about aesthetics, especially the connection between feelings and beauty, is a little thick. But now you know where I stand and what my mission at TangoNorthside is about. This is the sensibility that I will bring to the classes I teach and the dances I will DJ.