Thursday, 29 October 2009

Tango past and tango present

Dance is strange. Unlike an artefact, it exists only in the moment it is made, then it vanishes out of time and into memory, leaving, hopefully, a sense of order, of happiness. Its forms might be judged old-fashioned at one time, then a bit later as 'contemporary' again, but the dance itself is never older or newer than the moment we create it in, and we create it out of old forms, with our contemporary sensibilities.

It's too easy to assume that 'estilo milonguero' is old, and it would be tedious to try and preserve something exactly just because it's old. We don't learn to do something as it was done 70 years ago because it's old but because there's a good reason to do it that way, and that reason is almost always a technical reason - and because we enjoy doing it that way. If we want to bake bread, play an instrument or print an etching we need to learn techniques, and there are good practical reasons for the techniques; they work, they get results. It's always interesting to break the rules, but you have to know the techniques, the craft, to begin with. In classes, we can learn what generations of dancers have discovered and refined, we can learn about the possible movements of two bodies close together, the requirements of improvisation to the music, dancing on crowded floors. & on YouTube, we can watch video, like youngsters at milongas more than half a century ago watching the great dancers, getting the feel of it. Then we go out and make it for ourselves, and become part of the present and the history.

We're fortunate that some of the older dancers continue to travel and teach, and are welcomed wherever they are invited. I've no doubt money is important to them. State pensions can't amount to much in Argentina; people who might have spent a lot of their lives dancing might not have extensive savings and if they had savings in Argentina they might well have lost them in 2002. But I'm sure they travel primarily because they love what they do, and they enjoy the company of other people who love it too. Tango has given them more than pleasure, and they wish that for us. They love tango and want it to continue. Thanks to all of them!

(This was prompted by a recent, rather thoughtful post by Elizabeth Brinton, Muma. Apologies if I seem to disagree on one or two things.)