Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Lost in translation

...not the film but a cultural import, tango, and its social background. If we hang out with good dancers, listen to the music and let it carry us along we can begin to dance good tango. But how much of the social background do we need? Do we need to play tangos in tandas of three? Do we need cortinas between tandas? I think regular use of cortinas is recent in London tango. In Buenos Aires it is general practice to dance no more than three consecutive tangos with any one partner, and cortinas are a sign to clear the floor: your time's up. But here it seems discourteous to abandon a partner after two or three dances; a good conversation should last a bit longer than 10 minutes. So cortinas aren't so useful here, although they are still a good way to change the sound a bit, refresh the ears, since most tangos have similar characteristics, and they also help dancers to mix more widely. But the convention of everyone going back to their seats after three tangos doesn't suit us, it's not a part of the social background we need.

But there is one part of the social background I really miss: empanadas. When you go to a milonga in Buenos Aires you settle in for more than a quick evening out, so you need to eat, and empanadas and toasted sandwiches are always available. How can you dance if you are hungry? Drinking without eating isn't such a great idea – especially if you are dancing. You meet your friends, enjoy food and a drink with them, and dance. Of course the social background is different: in the Mediterranean tradition the main meal tends to be lunch, and people snack in the evening. & of course our milongas don't usually run late. However, it is just possible that people would want to stay later if good snacks were available. You tend to settle in if there's food and drink, and night transport and arriving home late might seem a little more bearable.


Flor de lino said...

There is one big benefit of having the floor clear after each tanda - it makes it easier to dance to a piece of music with a person you like dancing with to that particular piece . Otherwise, once you've indicated to your partner during a cortina that you'd like to dance more, you can't suddenly abandon him/her when the new tanda comes up even though you'd rather dance it with somebody else. I feel that many possibilities have been lost because of this and it can be rather frustrating. And I am not from Argentina, for me it is a practical issue, not a cultural one.

Tango commuter said...

Good to hear that other people appreciate the music and the dance to the extent that they'd prefer to dance a particular piece of music with a particular dancer. It makes complete sense, and the cortina/tanda pattern gives a perfect opportunity.

I think 'cultural' just means a practical solution devised in one culture. The legend is that cortinas were used originally to prevent couples who might not know each other well from spending too much time together, but society isn't so rigid these days, either here or in Argentina. We might not have the same practical needs, and a solution found in Argentina 70 or 80 years ago might not be appropriate. There again, we might find it is useful for other reasons.

Cortinas are relatively new in London. I like the musical possibility of listening to something else for a few moments, and I hope we find that cortinas are also useful in helping us to structure our evenings.

As to whether we need better snacks, that's another story...

David Bailey said...

"But how much of the social background do we need?"
An excellent question. It seems to be a topical debate at the moment, in fact.

I'm not sure about the tandas / cortinas thing - AIUI they're done that way to ensure that you have enough time to develop a connection with your partner. And considering most trad tango tracks last about 10 seconds, you need that time.

I totally agree with your statement that:
"I think 'cultural' just means a practical solution devised in one culture."
- yes, exactly. There's nothing sacred about the codigos. And we should devise our own ones.

Go on, you go first :)

Claudita said...

I totally agree with Flor...and when I dj I use Cortinas (which people mostly ignore..). I also prefer dancing to particular music with particular people, and to some music I wouldn't really want to dance..so definite tandas with cortinas work for me...
In the end it's also very much about what one is used to..I really believe that dancing only one tanda with each partner I dance with for quite a while has taught me to develop a connection with my partner more quickly.

Tango commuter said...

I wouldn't want to try to devise new codigos! & I find the support for dancing in tandas very interesting.

I think the trick might be to play around a bit. It might be interesting to try playing tangos in tandas of five, with cortinas. Five tangos is around 15 minutes, a reasonable time to dance with one partner. Perhaps vals and milonga tandas need to be a bit shorter. I like cortinas because I enjoy tango music more for a bit of a break: bit of Coltrane, flamenco, Rolling Stones, even Bach, every 15 minutes or so refreshes the ear and helps to structure the evening. One part of traditional milongas I'd rather not see here (or anywhere) is the separation of single men and women so they face each other across the dance floor. Though I could probably get used to it.

I wrote the original post to say that if we are out dancing and drinking all evening we need more than a few nuts or some sweet cakes on the table. I was delighted to get an email which said: 'Your blog entry which asked for something to eat in milongas has had an effect. On 8 May at Carablanca we are getting a small delivery from Waitrose Entertaining of mixed sandwiches. The idea is not to provide meals but just a light bite. Thanks for the push.' Something to look forward to!

msHedgehog said...

I like cortinas because I'm a popular follower and it gives me a moment when it's definitely polite and OK to change partners, although I don't have to. If there are many people there who want to dance with me, and I want to dance with them too, and time is limited, cortinas help the evening flow for me.

I also have different people I prefer for different music, and I agree with Claudita that frequent changes are better for quality of my dancing, otherwise I get lazy.

Of course, sometimes I get one I don't want to put down - but I try to be good. :)

I would be more willing to brave the night bus home if there were toasted sandwiches.