Monday, 24 May 2010

Tango in Europe

Watching some Europe-wide tango last weekend, I suddenly realised that all the Italian partners I've ever danced with have been wonderful to dance with. Perhaps not that many, but I can't remember an exception. It never occurred to me to wonder why, but there might be a few good reasons.

Tango began (probably) with Gardel's recording of Mi Noche Triste in 1917, which combined a mixed music, with emotionally resonant poetry, with everything Gardel had managed to learn from trained Italian opera singers about phrasing, breath control, singing and musicality. (Plus, of course, his amazing voice.) This combination of a Spanish literary tradition with an Italian musical tradition was an instant and huge success. José María Kokubu thinks that the phrasing of this music suggested a new way of putting body movement to music – dancing – which was tango.

That musical tradition might not be as pervasive in Italy now as it was a century ago, but it's still there. Moreover, singing, speaking and breathing are related. It's easy to assume that breathing is identical everywhere, but I've read that breathing in Italy and Spain tends to be deeper, and sentences longer, than in the north. (Yes, someone did some research...) So when it comes to tango the Italians should have a head start. In effect, tango music is very much an Italian tradition; it just developed outside of mainland Italy.

Italians also are lucky that their language is so close to Spanish, Argentine Spanish in particular. Many excellent teachers visit Italy very regularly: Ana Maria Schapira spends quite a bit of time there, and I've enjoyed tango with her students. (I'd not like to speculate on whether they enjoyed my leading.) A number of other Argentine teachers have actually settled in Italy, Luisito Ferraris, for instance, and Mirtya Tisera, here dancing together, although they usually teach separately. Rosana Remon also now lives and teaches in Italy: here she is dancing with the late Tete, who visited Italy regularly. Mingo and Esther Pugliese now live in Italy, too. Italy's a lot easier to get to than Buenos Aires, and the food is so good...

I can't help seeing a bit of a north-south divide in European tango, with the south perhaps closer to the feel of the tango of Buenos Aires, and the north being more preoccupied, even in a close-hold dance, with technical correctness, perhaps as a substitute. I tend to look on technique as a bit like salt: you need it in small quantities, but you can't make a meal of it. The great survivors of the 1940s and 1950s Buenos Aires tango must have learned technique when they were young, and practised to get it right, but my hunch is that the milongas were where they really learned to dance, night after night, getting it wrong and getting it right, or rather, finding how it worked best for them, with a partner and the music. & tango music and dance are emotional, and we tend to be less comfortable with emotional display in the north. Tango actually gives us the opportunity to be emotional, which some of us do welcome!

YouTube gives us a seat at the best milongas to watch the best dancers. Jantango's video of Ismael is one I watch again and again. How much advanced technique does he show in his dance, and how much feeling for the music? And how satisfying is that dance to him and his partner? Despite the measured, calm appearance, I'm sure it's a deeply emotional dance.


jantango said...

I like your thought about technique. The milongueros didn't work on technique. If their partners liked how they danced, that was all they needed. Ricardo Vidort said they didn't know what technique was in those days.

Feeling pours out of Ismael when he dances. He is calm and in the music. He dances what he feels. If you asked him about technique, I believe he wouldn't know what to say. His dance comes from his heart.

Simba said...

I noticed this N/S divide, too. And Italy is my #1 out of BsAs (tango) destination. I have always been a fan of all Italian :-)

I guess you mean that the tango cancion began in 1917 with Carlitos, tangos existed as early as 1880 and probably before, and the first tango recordings were at least as early as 1911 ( ).

Tangocommuter said...

Thanks for confirming that, Jantango. I guess the youngsters used to get advice from their peers who were watching. 'You tend to rush it. Take it easy!' 'Turn your foot to the right when you lead that gyro.' 'Try to get your weight further forwards'. That kind of thing. But definitely not technique classes.

And thanks for confirming the N/S divide, Simba. I too am a fan of all Italian - with the exception of certain politicians. Actually of most politicians;-)

That para on tango was much too brief, and it's not for me to say anything about Don Carlos, but I think that 1917 recording is the earliest in which that way of singing, of phrasing, which comes from Italian opera, met the old tango music and rhythms - and some quite melancholic lyrics, too. Suddenly, it seems, instrumentalists caught on to that kind of phrasing: in fact, suddenly musicians trained to play Italian opera (like de Caro) were playing dance music. My impression is that this happened very rapidly after 1917. The recordings going back to 1911 have a much more straightforward phrasing. 'Tango cancion' sounds like song only, whereas I think it was a broader musical style derived from opera, in effect tango as we know it and love it.

Any advice about good places to visit and dance in in Italy?

Andreas said...

Italy is fab, and I also find that dancing with Italian women is mostly fabulous. For me, that is due almost entirely to their wonderful embrace. They don't do it halfway. I don't need steps when I get an embrace.

Tangocommuter said...

That full-on embrace makes a dance happen before you even take a step! It's also the kind of embrace familiar from BsAs. & I think Italians often have a kind of innate response to the music too, which gives me that immediate feeling of 'speaking the same language'. Wonderful.

Simba said...

Italian politicians... and television! Not unlike Argentina in that respect too :-) Still can't help falling in love with them both, with all their faults.

From what I remember the changes in structure were introduced with the sung tango, hence it was called tango cancion, but as you write it influenced tango immensely, also the instrumentals.

To be honest Italy as a dance destination is still on my todo list but I suggest you follow your teachers, that's what I intend to do. I heard Milano is excellent.

@tangocommuter & Andreas: I agree wholeheartedly. De todo corazon!

A-In-London said...

Hi :-)
Yes, Tango in Italy is amazing! Try Florence and Turin, and Rome too. There is Tango in most towns, no difference between big or small. It's really worth.
The embrace you receive from Italian women is total, complete, full. It almost feels like it breaks "boundaries" of personal space, but it actually tells you "Look, normal boundaries are much further than you thought. And now let's dance :-)".

Tangocommuter said...

Many thanks for that. Well, if I needed convincing...!