Visions of tango
Visions of tango? This topic is highly explosive. So, before I begin, I ask you for patience and, if you disagree with me, for respect: we all love tango, but not all of us have the same vision or the same taste.
Let me start with this article as an experiment. Take a look at the video and give some thought to the dancing you see there. Some of you will like it, but the majority will think of it as bad dancing.
What if I tell you that I like it? Would you believe me?
And why do you think others have a completely different opinion?
Well, this article is about just that. My intention is not really to start a discussion, more to shed light on the countless discussions in the tango world. People take a stand often for personal reasons, but most of the times there is a deeper reason that is connected to how people view tango.
I have to warn you – I'm not an objective observer. I take sides in this discussion! I have strong opinions about these things – you will see below which one (if you haven't already). I consider it my mission to help those who agree with me, those that feel that there is more to tango than just performing.
Of course, things are not always black and white. One cannot draw a strict line between the two different ways but that should not stop us thinking about the differences. That is a necessary condition of learning.
In tango, the lines are often blurred and there are several reasons:
Sometimes they are purely financial – teaching the more acrobatic shiny variety of tango is more lucrative.
Other times, they come from the artistic mindset of the teachers who come to the world of social dancing with an artistic background or ambition. These two reasons can of course exist at the same time but the reason can also be completely different.
In this article I will talk about four dichotomies. I have formulated four questions that will help every dancer to find out what his or her vision of tango is, or rather, where one should stand if one wants to become a social tango dancer.
And here they are, so ask yourself:
1. Where do you dance?
Why do you take classes and where are you going to use this knowledge?
If you are a social dancer your answer will be "At milongas of course!" So, what kind of knowledge do you need to be able to dance at milongas?
It is interesting that often when I share my article "Practice less, dance more" so many people disagree with me and the polemics start.
Some people think that you can't learn to dance just by dancing more at milongas – because their goal is not dancing at milongas – their vision of tango is stage tango, and I agree, it is impossible to learn how to dance stage tango at milongas. That is where you learn to dance social tango (which some people call tango milonguero).
2. Why do you dance?
The question here is do you dance for your partner or for those who watch?
Dancing for your partner is called social dancing. Dancing for a public is called show (escenario).
In my opinion, if you are a social dancer your foremost goal should be to be able to connect with your partner. Everything you do is testing or supporting that connection.
On the other hand, if you are more of a showy dancer, you will probably consider the connection a tool that will help you with the steps.
This is the reason I believe that competing (for example the Tango Mundial) is bad for the development of social tango. Being a champion, in my opinion, is not a good recommendation. Competitors dance for the judges – which is dancing for the observers. And, dancing for the observers requires that you develop a different style than what is required when dancing in a milonga.
I believe the only judge relevant when social dancing is your partner.
3. How do you dance?
Everything you do in tango has its purpose.
For example, some insist on using large steps and a lot of energy. Why? In my opinion, that approach was developed by the stage dancers. When you perform and you have a large crowd in front of you, you need them to see what you are doing, even those seated in the back row. That is why everything you do has to be large.
You also have to move a lot and take up a lot of space, because if you don't, you will look small on the big stage.
It is similar with stage actors. They have to make big movements and speak loudly – on the stage you can't notice subtle gestures and face expressions.
Dancing social tango on stage would be boring for the crowd.
Here I believe one should think in dichotomies like large vs small, loud vs soft, grandiose vs subtle, showy vs discreet…
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4. What kind of dancer are you?
Are you an artist/performer or a social dancer?
They both belong to the tango world, but are located in different places. Art in my mind means inovating, dedicating time and energy to be original and mastering the techniques to achieve what you imagine in the best way possible.
On the other side you can find social dancers who are not artists, but artisans (check the lecture by Osvaldo Natucci).
This is why I think social tango is not really that hard to learn. Learning social tango is easy and necessary. Learning to perform on stage is hard and unnecessary.
Teaching all your students to dance show tango is like teaching all swimmers to become Olympians. 99% of them will never compete, but 100% of them will swim in the sea. The goal should be to make them float and not drown 🙂 You learn to swim foremost by entering the water, not by taking countless classes or having hardcore workouts.
I always advice fellow teachers to prepare their students for dancing at milongas, not to perform. 99% of them will never perform on stage, but 100% of them will dance at milongas.
I know, there is a big chance you might have a different opinion and, if that works for you, I have no saying there. But if you agree with me, help me spread the word by sharing this article with your friends. Thanks for that!