Friday, 25 November 2011

Tango in small places

Tango is urban. It came to maturity in a city on floors that often weren't that big, and on which a lot of dancers gathered. Perhaps it's the most social of social dances. It occurred to me recently that there's a critical mass for a good milonga. I think you need twenty or more couples: when there are only ten or fifteen couples in one of the smallest London milongas that tango energy, the buzz of a good evening, starts to falter, and of course there's the additional problem of having insufficient partners to choose. When I mentioned this to a friend recently she added that too many people can also have a dulling effect: for a start you begin to have problems actually finding the people you want to dance with.

This doesn't make life easy for people who love tango and dislike cities. At the extreme there's blogger Reality Pivots who has built a tango floor, 8ft by 24ft, into his smallholding: 'It's a magnificent obsession!' a musician friend watching tango dancing recently exclaimed. Tango happens week in and week out in church and village halls up and down the UK, and it's wonderful that the music and the dance continue to draw people even in circumstances that seem adverse if you're used to city milongas. I've become aware of a couple of examples of church hall tango recently, and I have to admire people who put in the time and energy to keep tango alive with six, ten or maybe fifteen dancers locally. Of course a lot depends on who is teaching: friends of Ricardo Vidort have ended up living and teaching far from urban centres, people who spent weeks in Buenos Aires just walking. On the other hand students of show dancers also teach locally, and watching people who've not learned to walk well trying to manage double ganchos at their weekly dance is no less excruciating in a church hall than in a London milonga. Excruciating, and desperately sad too.


RealityPivots said...

Along these lines I often think of an idea I ran across once: that the piano is the ultimate bourgeois instrument because it requires a totally controlled environment of just the right temperature and humidity for the piano to stay playable.
Where can the hot house flower of tango developed in Buenos Aires also bloom?

Tangocommuter said...

Hi RP! Best wishes for the floor and the sprouts!

True a piano works best in a controlled environment - but it's done pretty well in bars and dance halls for a long time, perhaps less rather than more in tune, but still serviceable. You see old uprights being wheeled on trolleys along the cobbled streets in San Telmo for busking tango orquestas. And tango in its widest sense flourishes everywhere, but I'm not sure that the tango of the milongas of Buenos Aires travels so easily. Not that I've visited widely enough to know, but people outside Argentina are generally less attuned to the music.

What do you reckon?