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.