Monday, 30 September 2013

You dance with your feet; I can see you learned in London!

...Pedro Sanchez said to me a few years back. It wasn't intended scornfully: he was just trying to get through to me how tango is danced in Buenos Aires. 'Con el cuerpo!' he kept saying. With the body! It took me a while to realise that he was talking about the upper body.

I thought of this recently, sitting watching the dancing at a London milonga. Dancers who've learned in London (and elsewhere) prioritise the footwork, which can be elaborate and skilfull. But that's where the energy begins and ends. The upper bodies tend to be largely inert, and the dance looks dull and incomplete.

Poorly-trained teachers, even from Buenos Aires, have learned little more than footwork, and that's what they practice and teach. In any case it's only recently that close embrace has become widely acceptable here: if you don't contact your partner with your upper body there's not much need to use it when you dance. But once you do dance in contact with partners, everything changes. It's a whole different dance.

Another quote: as Silvia Ceriani, the late Tete Rusconi's dance partner said, 'If you want to dance, you have to move your body!'

This appeared recently: a video of the late Eduardo Aguirre, who spent the last ten years of his life in Europe, teaching with Yvonne Meissner. He passed away in 2010 and I know is greatly missed by partners he danced with. Sadly, almost inexplicably, he taught only briefly in the UK. Where do you see the energy in this dance? He's showing what the feet do, but to me that's not the important part: the energy is in the upper body. I'm sure we've all learned much more precise and fine-looking ways of using our feet in turns – but have we learned to dance, and dance with such warmth and energy? I think this clip makes quite clear that the 'cuerpo' isn't the feet! It's a very bodily way of moving, an abundantly physical dance. This is a classroom demo and might be a bit exaggerated, but it shows the movement clearly.

Towards the end of the clip he and Yvonne dance briefly with music and show how, just turning, you can follow the surges in the music. A short, great lesson in dance and musicality. Así se baila el tango! That's how tango is danced! Wonderful.

Thanks to Patricia Muller for that one.

Monday, 23 September 2013

'Tango is more than music. It is the window to collected memories...'

– attributed to Homero Expósito, author and poet, a few years younger than Troilo, with whom he wrote tangos. The quote seemed to follow on from the previous post. Their memories and our memories, different, but all our memories are present in our dance, where we share unspoken memories, become aware, wordlessly, of the memories of our partners. Listen to the memories of your partner as you dance.

YouTube led me to this video. 


It's another of those channels of music, and there are five clips from this session. I love watching these two! Never heard of either of them, but there's a wonderful synergy. Basic tango, a voice and a guitar, song and music without the complexity of orchestration, perhaps not so easy to dance to, but then you might anyway prefer to sit and listen – and watch. & it's like watching a dance, it doesn't feel like a carefully rehearsed performance. Beatriz Carró is wonderful, sings with real spirit, and seems to sing very freely: the guitar is a skillful accompanist, following, filling in, adding where necessary. The words and the chords may be fixed but the interpretation is improvised; as it happens the lead is a woman singing, and the follow is a guy with a guitar. Vida Mia is another very familiar tango. It's great to notice these were recorded just three weeks ago. This is contemporary music!

(PS. I think you only get this kind of relaxed freedom with a few performers. If you have a whole orquesta there has to be a director laying down the beat. Here the guitar effortlessly follows the beat of the singer's phrasing.)

The channel is El Pardo Tango, and the guitar is El Pardo Vieyra, so I presume it's his own channel.

I was particularly drawn to Pedacito de Cielo as it's such a well-known vals, one we've all danced to many times, and it occurred to me that I didn't know anything about the words, so I looked it up and found the original with a rough translation alongside. It's not a perfect translation, but it gives an idea of the sense. I've tweaked it a bit in an effort to make it more readable. & thanks to D for clarifying 'ojeros': I've left it as 'dark eyes' since 'dark circles under the eyes' doesn't really fit.

The lyrics of Pedacito de cielo ('A Little bit of Heaven') by Homero Expósito in the original Spanish and in rough English translation by Albert Combrink 

La casa tenía una reja – The house had a fence 
pintada con quejas y cantos de amor – painted with complaints and love songs. 
La noche llenaba de ojeras  - The night filled with dark eyes
la reja, la hiedra  y el viejo balcón – the fence, ivy and the old balcony 
Recuerdo que entonces reías  - I remember then laughed 
si yo te leía  mi verso mejor  - if I read you my best verse 
y ahora, capricho del tiempo, leyendo esos versos – and now, the whim of time, reading these verses 
lloramos los dos!  - Cried the two!

Los años de la infancia pasaron, pasaron –  The years of childhood passed, passed
La reja está dormida de tanto silencio  - The gate is asleep so quiet
y en aquel pedacito de cielo se quedó tu alegría y mi amor - and in that little piece of heaven rested your joy and my love.

Los años han pasado – The years have passed 
terribles, malvados, dejando esa esperanza que no ha de llegar – terrible, wicked, leaving that hope that hasn't arrived 
y recuerdo tu gesto travieso – and remember your mischievous gesture
después de aquel beso robado al azar - after that kiss, randomly stolen.

Tal vez se enfrió con la brisa – Maybe the breeze cooled 
tu cálida risa, tu límpida voz – your warm laughter, your clear voice
Tal vez escapó a tus ojeras – Perhaps it escaped your dark eyes
la reja, la hiedra, y el viejo balcón - the fence, ivy and the old balcony
Tus ojos de azúcar quemada – Your eyes, burnt sugar,
tenían distancias doradas al sol held distances gilded by the sun
Y hoy quieres hallar como entonces – And now you want to find like then 
la reja de bronce – the bronze gate 
temblando de amor! trembling with love.

Todotango gives 1942 as the date of Pedacito de Cielo. 

One thing leads to another... So I came across this. Same guitarist, with bandoneon this time, no singer, another well-known classic. 

& there's much more where that came from. Check it out.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

More from another world

I've been writing some notes for a friend who's visiting Buenos Aires soon. I've done this a few times and I always want to add, email and ask to be included in a tour of ESMA. It seems a cruel suggestion to someone going to enjoy a few weeks in tango paradise. & yet...

The Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada, the naval engineering school, or rather the large mansion that was the officers' quarters, was one of the most notorious of the places where detainees were taken during the 1970s into the 80s. Not that there's anything at all frightening to see there: parts of it were even rebuilt so that it wouldn't agree with any accounts of the few survivors. The ESMA campus has now been taken over as a 'Space of Remembering' and they arrange tours which recount what is known about what happened there.

I remember clearly the morning I visited. It was cold and overcast, and I was tired: I'd been late at a milonga the previous night. It was a cold morning, but I came away feeling colder than I've ever felt in my life. It's my impression that we can accept the coldness of the weather but it's nothing compared to a cold human heart, which chills you mind and body, the numbing cold-heartedness of people who can decide that other people are not worthy of being treated as humans and can be played with, tortured, almost as a game. It seems that there was hardly even the excuse that they were trying to get information. The prisoners were kept in the loft in the roof of the officer's quarters, and dragged down into the basement every now and again. Then a van would come by, on Tuesday mornings if I remember right, to take the living remains of humans for a flight out over the ocean. To be close to this, close geographically but mercifully not close in time, can only make you feel colder than you've ever felt.

All of which suddenly helps to make real sense of the embrace of tango in Buenos Aires. Maybe the embrace is as it was in the golden age, but we shouldn't ignore what has happened since. Sure there's nostalgia for the golden age, and quite right too, but I don't think one can ignore a decade or more when it was risky for young people, young men in particular, men who are now in their 50s and 60s to be out in the streets, and when everyone lived through a time when it was known that people were 'disappearing', when the authorities weren't protecting but often persecuting the people, when the 5am knock on the door was always possible, and when the country was very isolated. There's one sure way of feeling warm again and that's holding someone else very, very close. It makes sense that tango became popular once democracy of some kind was restored.

So don't take the embrace lightly, it really matters. Sure, tango is fun, but if you dance there and are taken aback by the immediacy and warmth of the embrace, it's serious too; think of the background. Visit ESMA if you're there, support the Space of Remembering: if we ignore history we don't like it can creep back and take hold of us again.

It's taken me a while to make this connection, and I hope it's not fanciful, but I can't help thinking that what happened then is part of tango there now.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Report from another world

I Skype a friend visiting Buenos Aires: she's been to classes with Alicia Pons. Was it about hyperactive ankles? I joke (badly). 'No, she talked about how we must relax into the embrace of our partner'.

In a flash it occurs to me that this must be the elusive difference between the embrace of partners I've danced with in Buenos Aires, and the embrace of many dancers elsewhere, that ability for total relaxation. Really total. Not as in 'relax because we're dancing tango and that's how it should be danced', but a complete relaxation into the other. Perhaps it's the secret of the fabled 'milonguero embrace', person to person, so complete that even the awareness of dancing tango doesn't come between. It's not necessarily a matter of whether you hold your arm higher or lower, whether your weight is further forwards or back, or whether your posture is more or less upright, although these might be helpful. It's personal.

I've really felt a different embrace there, and I'm sure it must be in the quality of that relaxation, completely giving yourself to the other without hesitation or fear. Surely that's tango, not double backwards 'estilo milonguero' ochos with saccadas thrown in, or whatever the dance teachers offer. Tango is personal contact, really personal: it's as if the dance is there to enable that personal contact, not to disrupt it. & the embrace, like the dance, has no absolutely specific codified form: it's just whatever works to get two people very close so they can move together with the music. I remember what an old tanguera says in the film Tango, Nuestro Baile: tango is when you feel your partner's heartbeat.

But we know what a warm embrace is, to give yourself to someone else, even if it is just for a tanda. Tango says you can enjoy this. Perhaps not a passionate embrace, but an embrace without warmth, without any commitment (however temporary) just isn't tango. Well, this is a personal view, it's not the kind of tango I'd enjoy dancing.

(I've just noticed Patricia of Tango Adelaide wrote on this recently, and links to a lovely video of one of her – and my – favourite milongas, Lujos at the new Plaza Bohemia on Alsina. Good to see the floor busy, to see familiar faces, and to watch again that beautiful dance, surging effortlessly with the music... under good lighting too!)