Thursday, 4 June 2009

A difficult legacy.

It's said that tango is popular world-wide now because of Copes and the popularity of his show, first in France then on Broadway, in 1984. Without that, it's possible that tango now would be danced in a just few milongas in Buenos Aires, and we simply wouldn't know about it. If that's true, thanks, many many thanks!

But the downside is that our sights have become fixed on stage tango. If our teachers aren't stage tango dancers, their teachers probably were. Getting instruction from dancers who have never danced on stage or been taught by stage dancers, whose entire background is dancing in the milongas, is really difficult. A few of them live in Europe, and others visit Europe from time to time. Most of them would never dream of teaching anyway: they dance because it's their social world, it's what they've always loved to do for a night out.

Stage dancers are quite different. They are trained dancers, often with backgrounds in contemporary, in ballet; quite a few come out of gymnastics. They are trained from childhood in display, in showing, even in showing off, whatever gets applause on stage. They are often trained teachers too, and what they teach us comes out of this world, the world of the stage rather than the world of the milonga. It's more than just the 'steps', it's a whole mind-set. Hence, I think, the volume of complaints about 'floorcraft': MsH and her jivetango friends aren't the only people I hear loud and clear. Floorcraft doesn't concern stage dancers, with their well-designed choreographies, but it was vital in the old milongas of BsAs where you wouldn't get to dance if you weren't competent, and dancing well didn't always mean displaying a huge repertoire of flashy steps.

That's the difficult legacy: stage dance.

In Paris recently I learned some simple turns from Tete and Silvia. I've seen these often enough in videos, and they are used frequently in BsAs milongas. They can be done in little space, and they enable leaders to turn 360 degrees and see what space is available. They are simple and elegant, but I'd never learned them in four years of classes in London. I'd been taught giros, with saccadas at every step and a gancho or two thrown in, which take a lot more room and a huge amount of practice to look even remotely effortless, but not simple, practical moves that evolved to suit crowded dance floors.

MsH's friends aren't responsible for the problems they complain about. I'm sorry to say that I don't think their attempt to analyse the dance, the type of music, the shape of the floor, is going to help. I think that turning our (since I'm one of them) backs on the big London milongas and starting a small milonga (or two) is the only thing to do. Small, because it won't cater to so many people, and there won't be room for big moves. Just small friendly gatherings where people, friends, can get together for evenings to enjoy dancing together, and gatherings that can invite dancers who have long experience of the milongas, to teach. They won't be trained teachers, but they'll have spent a lifetime watching and dancing social tango, and they know when it doesn't look right, and why. & they have a warmth and love of tango that is really encouraging.


Simba said...

If you think you need to start your own milonga: Go for it!

I sometimes think that the 'conflict' between stage and social tango is unavoidable, as in many cases, the stage is what draws people to the tango in the first place. It takes a trained eye to appreciate the subtleties of good social tango.

And I know at least one example of a guy that started with a social/milonguero minded teacher, who feels so liberated after starting practicing nuevo. I rather have it the other way.

Tango commuter said...

Sure the 'conflict' is unavoidable, and I doubt if anywhere outside BsAs will ever have milongas quite like that. But most of Europe listens to the older teachers as well as to the highly-trained younger ones. From my experience of Paris and from what I've heard of Italy and Germany, there is, possibly as a result, a much better general standard of dance.

I've no problems with 'nuevo' as such: after all, it is part of social tango for over 50 years. My problem is much more with the way it is danced, in particular by dancers from a stage background, who set, I think, a bad example to social dancers. & in London I'm concerned about the exclusion of the more intimate, musical and social dance from classes.

Incidentally, I didn't say that I think I need to start a milonga of my own. I said that people who are finding problems with dancing in London milongas should think about getting together to establish something small, where we can concentrate on social dance. I wouldn't think of this as an alternative to mainstream milongas. I think it is good for good social dancers to continue to dance at mainstream milongas. But it might be useful to have a milonga that is focused on social tango.

Game Cat said...

TC - eloquently put.

Rather than starting a milonga, perhaps one could do something similar to what the First Friday people do at gracha in London?

I think there are small groups of friends who go out to milongas together, and who like the milonguero style (incl floor craft, etiquette, etc.). As individual groups, they are not enough to create critical mass in a milonga. But how about one brings a few such groups together and go to a smallish milonga that plays decent music on the same night?

The convoy effect should work easier. Plus you meet new like-minded dancers. They could try different milongas till they find one they like, then make it their "regular" until everyone else there adjusts their behaviour to suit the polite but determined interlopers.

Resistance is futile....prepare to be assimilated.

David Bailey said...

I'd support a "ground-up" campaign, certainly.

Of course, I suspect running a "quality floorcraft" milonga is going to be much much much more difficult - and much much much less profitable - than running an open one.

But I'd love to see it happen. Let me know if I can help.

Janis said...

Most Argentine dancers had their training in folklore, which is choreography. Classical ballet performance is choreography. They are trained for the stage, so tango is a natural step for many dancers. Once they have acquired training in tango, they are teaching their choreographies. It's no wonder that most of those who teach in Europe are oriented to performance tango. They didn't learn tango by going to the milongas. All they know about teaching is what they learned from their tango teachers. Floorcraft isn't part of their training.

The milongueros can turn on a spot, and they are the only ones who do so in the milongas. It's their specialty. Simple moves for crowded floors don't keep dancers in classes for years; fancy steps do.

London organizers could post the rules, and anyone who doesn't want to abide by them can be asked to leave. The organizers of Cachirulo in BsAs announce what they expect (in several languages). Dancers know what to expect there. Rules create better dancing. Those who can't follow the rules are asked to leave. Things have gotten under control at least in one milonga in BsAs.
London is not the only city with this problem. It will continue until people demand that teachers demonstrate floorcraft and what it is necessary.

David Bailey said...

"London organizers could post the rules, and anyone who doesn't want to abide by them can be asked to leave.
London is not the only city with this problem. It will continue until people demand that teachers demonstrate floorcraft and what it is necessary."

Unfortunately, I can't see any commercial incentive for London venue organisers to do this. (Admittedly, I've not actually asked any of them about this, maybe I / we should...)

In fact, there's a commercial disincentive - the more you appear heavy-handed, the less you appear welcoming, and you might put people off. If your sole objective is "feet on floor", then rules and regulations won't help generate revenue. At least, not in the short term.

Personally, I want a harmoniuous milonga, and I'd be prepared to pay more for it. I dunno how many others feel this way though.

msHedgehog said...

There are experienced teachers in London who teach exactly these things and who dance only socially and who produce good results. And if you expand the requirement to include all teachers who consistently and repeatably produce leaders who are nice to dance with and have their priorities right, you add several more choices to your list. It would be interesting to hear the practical reasons why you haven't chosen to switch.

Tango commuter said...

Sorry, MsH, but I'm not sure what you are asking: why I haven't 'chosen to switch'? Happy to answer if you could clarify that.

& I know there are experienced teachers in London who produce good results: I've learned very largely in London, even if I can't claim to be one of the good results! But we were talking about poor floorcraft, and I'm suggesting that it's not the fault of the floor or of the music, but of the stage dancer's mentality. I've noticed that outside the UK dancers listen to, and watch, a wider spectrum of teachers, and I believe the quality of dance is much better: friends who've danced outside London have confirmed this.