Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Tango is suffering with someone else in your arms

Here's an unpublished draft from July 3, not that suffering...not suffering like it's a really bad dance suffering...but suffering suffering...human condition type least that's how I'm choosing to interpret it...

02/28/18 note...I'm dancing a whole helluvalot more tango abierto with The Divine Miss Sugar G...and having a helluvalot'o fun...hell, I might even end up buying some white tango shoes...(grin)...

Please accept my apologies for the sensationalist headline. I was reading Susana Miller's essay "Tango Abierto y Tango Milonguero" and the last line plucked me like a guitar string.

If tango entrenches itself in one style we’ll end up alone, dancing a virtual tango, seated in front of our computer, and we’ll lose its essence: the risk of both enjoying and suffering with someone else in your arms.

So, I'll freely admit that I machete'd her words to draw in a few more readers. But she did say it - kindasorta. But that's not what really resonated with me in reading this. It was her balanced treatment of open v. close, and her lucid brevity in verbalizing the various growth phases of tango. Not so much distinct phases of development, but the continuous evolution of a person and the tango in their life and soul. And heart and mind.

I was telling my close friend Rigoberto the other day that "I think about tango every day, but I rarely dance anymore...". There is my true and heartfelt headline.

Susana's essay came along at just the right time for me. I needed to hear that there is no close without open, and no open without close. I can see the former very clearly, and I am hopeful the latter does hold to be true over time.

For me, I have absolutely no use for open embrace tango. It doesn't do anything for me. It doesn't float my boat. To the contrary, it sinks my boat. My teacher in Aspen taught us close embrace almost from the get-go. Aspen is, or was, a close embrace community, much like Denver. It's my default. It's the source of my longing for tango. Delving into the why's and science and psychology of it...another time.

I've been lamenting to myself that if I am able to dance a few times locally each year; once or twice a year at a festival, or every two years - that will be enough. Lamenting to myself or convincing myself. I've even pondered the possibility that my tango fix may take the form of a trip to Buenos Aires every four or five years.

I suppose I'm maturing in my tango - or focusing on higher priorities in life - or a combination of the two. I'm still trying to wrap my head around what's going on in my head. Wound up in the head around tango. I also recently posted a status update on Facebook that read something like this: "...uh, I dunno...something like "looking forward to the day when I can NOT think about tango".

Now I'm whining.

The point is that I needed to hear this - that open embrace is fundamental to close embrace. Close embrace might not exist without it. My dream/fallacy/lamentations of Austin moving to become a more "close embrace" estilo milonguero community...(not sure what I meant to continue to say here...the draft post just trailed off with this...)

By the way, thanks to Joe Grohens over at The Topic is Tango from bringing this to my attention on Tango-L.

Here is the essay in its entirety:

Tango Abierto and Tango Milonguero
[by Susana Miller]

[open embrace tango and close embrace or estilo milonguero tango, as danced in the milongas of buenos aires]

The so-called tango abierto, based on the spectacle and glamour of its moves, is the gateway to tango. It is what people see all over the world, in Buenos Aires; at the theatre and on TV. Can anyone possibly resist the match between great technical display and romanticism? Inevitably, it’s ‘love at first sight’. This is the type of tango that attracts many students to class. A small part of these go on, trapped by its passion, dancing in classes or on the stage or teaching it. As in any other discipline, knowledge of tango is shaped like a pyramid, with a large amount of beginners at its base and the few chosen and ambitious elite that will never stop studying at its peak. Dancing tango isn’t easy. It’s never been a massive practice either, not even during the so-called “golden age of tango” in the forties and fifties.

The difference between this dance and any other is that you can’t learn it by going to the milongas, watching the dance floor or by studying a DVD. It needs study and time, just like an academic career.

You need about 10 years to dance it properly. That doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy the journey. In fact, it’s enjoyment that moves the learning process forward, a process which is not linear, but two steps forward and one back.

You need time for doubts and time to compare and double check the knowledge that comes with good, regular practice.

It’s almost impossible to avoid tango abierto. Throughout the world, most students, far away from the pistas porteñas, start with this type of tango, as indeed do most young people, even in Buenos Aires. It’s here that they find a wide open space in which they can reassert themselves and hold on to in the midst of this global and somehow oppressive world.

The fact is that tango abierto is spectacular. It requires great physical challenge as your body is the protagonist. Hours of practice and dedication are needed.

Once you’ve started, nothing else matters. It is the only thing you talk about. You don’t even notice how boring you’ve become to all your friends, tired of hearing the same old story over and over again. At work you can’t avoid discretely practising a couple of steps. Nor can you avoid it whilst waiting for the three a.m. bus. Every single mirror, every shop window shop are an opportunity to double-check your posture. And after this (at first) subtle invasion of public places, you inevitably end up moving your own living room around in order to use it as a small studio.

The fact is we all started with tango abierto. It is part of our personal history: the game, the freedom and the challenge, all of these are fixed in our emotions, like the fond memories of childhood.

Tango’s ‘old guard’ that has been dancing for over 40 years, also started with tango abierto. They started with the many backwards sacadas, barridas and ganchos until they eventually ended up with their embrace del centro, cerrado and parrillero that they continue to enjoy nowadays.

Tango abierto attracts beginners and inevitably makes their life easier, which is fantastic, since no popular dance continues for decades unless there are beginners. But the paths of learning gradually turn long and twisted, and you never know where and how the story is going to end. But he or she who continues will finally reach something really big, a sort of climax, la fiesta del tango: a more mature tango, less narcissistic and less ostentatious. Tango is in no rush, it knows how to wait even until you reach your forties. Tango withdraws itself in order to get stronger, and emerges triumphant, a tango that is no longer based on the look of the others but on the profound dialogue between partners. Its conception of music is richer and more sophisticated. It isn’t formed by the muscular tension of the tango of stage performances but by relaxation of the body. Therefore, it’s a more organic tango, not suitable for theatres and performances where the tango abierto is danced.

Those who continue to dance tango abierto over the years become the maestros, those who dance it both properly and in the correct context, on bigger dance floors, with more space. They never run the risk of colliding with other dancers. They choose suitable places to dance, usually far from downtown. When they have to dance on smaller dance floors they adapt their style, dancing milonguero like the others.

For those dancers over 30 and those who are younger but with experience, the musical embrace of the tango milonguero leads the way to tango for the rest of their life. Tango abierto and tango milonguero are the two streams which fuel the source and maturity of tango. They are mutually indispensable. If one is lacking there will be no future for tango.

The maestros who generate communities should specialise in one style, whilst acknowledging, accepting and supporting other existing styles. They should encourage those that teach other facets of tango, which in turn need to be nurtured by all the other expressions of tango. Each style and expression matches different ages, expectations and stages of life.

It is very difficult to begin without the game and the freedom of tango abierto but it is also very difficult to dance tango for a lifetime without giving it more significance, however important pleasure and fun may be. Tango’s maestros and organizers should negotiate events, locations and times in an intelligent and rational way, smoothing down, regardless of egos and competences, for tango isn’t a place where you always have to compete and find out who’s who. Idolatry and selfishness can only serve to hurt the general well-being and growth of our community, or even divide and destroy it entirely. If tango entrenches itself in one style we’ll end up alone, dancing a virtual tango, seated in front of our computer, and we’ll lose its essence: the risk of both enjoying and suffering with someone else in your arms.

[end of essay]

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