Friday, 26 February 2010

Andrea Missé and Javier Rodríguez comment

Somewhat sad words from Javier Rodríguez and Andrea Missé: this is also from El Tangauta.

JR: Eight years ago, Europe was the place to be. For a long time tango dance celebrities outside Argentina were to be found in Germany, Italy and France. Today the old continent still offers very good milongas and organises the best festivals. However, the level of the dancers has lowered compared to those in Asia... To dance tango men and women need to feel and think about the partner they dance with. Today there is a lot of hidden resentment, repressed relationships and there is fear. People are attracted by tango because of its embrace, they search for it, but once they come to class they prefer a more open position where each dancer is in his own axis, maintaining his feeling of independence. They want to dance with each other, they are dying to be embraced, they need each other, but they neither show nor accept it. In the end they get tired of it...

AM: Whereas for us to learn how to dance was like a game which we played with brothers, uncles, fathers and mothers: therefore we don't have such a complicated attitude towards it.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Tete on Tango

The current edition of El Tangauta includes some recollections of Tete, and Sylvia recalls some observations from his notebooks.

"Dancing does not start with steps: the music comes first.

What is tango? Tango is like flirtatious talk (chamuyo) between a couple. It is the constant joy, the sensuality and the sexuality that is always latent between a man and a woman: memory, the memories of friends and of many past nights. Past and present.

What is tango? A mystery where everybody knows everything and nobody knows anything.

What is tango? A passion for music as huge and as immense as our own existence. Without it, our lives would not be complete. I think the magnificence of this music is to be able to know it by being able to surrender (entregarse) with all your body and soul, and to know its infinity and to feel where it leads us to be free and full of passion and love.

Tango: thanks to these five letters we come closer to each other and learn to know each other more."

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Debrief: walking

Returning from a visit to the city of soft breezes can be strange. Everyone who knows you will be queuing up for a dance, which is nice, but the assumption is that there's going to be some special magic, even an extraordinary array of new 'steps'.

Actually I'm trying to remember and put into practice what I was taught about walking. My attention is largely on the shift of weight, on the foot pushing forwards with an emphasis (as if you were kicking a football, said Pedro Sanchez) and with keeping the stepping leg straight (as Cacho Dante insisted). & then I have Mimí Santapá looking over my shoulder and checking that the transfer of weight leads me into the right position, at the right moment, alongside my partner. Those long explanations in voluble castellano! It was for this that I went to the city, this is what I came back with, my trip was a success. Or will have been, once it all becomes second nature.

Not only that, but also the nature of London dancing has to be contended with. For a month I've watched almost every day, and danced most days, even briefly, amongst people who can dance precisely, musically and often beautifully in small spaces. A few people do this well in London, but most people charge around, trying to practice what they learned, often from stage dancers, because of course tango means charging around doing extravagant steps. They are so intent on these 'steps' that they can hardly look where they're going, and don't care too much if they bump into someone else or dash into the space immediately in front of them. Getting the step right is what matters! & to get the step right they have to watch their feet! But there's nothing malevolent about it, it's all tremendously good-natured and happy: the music alone would see to that. It's wonderful that people enjoy dancing to it, and that's the best starting point.

So I worry about how I put my feet on the floor but after five or six evenings it's all started to settle down again. You get used to the unpredictable use of space around you again. Without thinking, the leading leg starts to go straight forwards with that little push you see in the videos of the best dancers. The body straightens, and everything starts to feel a lot better.

When I started tango I was always impressed by mysterious tales of old milongueros who would spend hours making sure you walked right, and I was told that even experienced dancers would spend time getting their peers to check their walking. Whatever could that mean? Unfortunately, in London, apart from telling stories and emphasising the importance of walking, little time was spent on the activity itself. There is a way of walking in tango, but it probably seems too basic, and teachers worry that if they spend time on it their students will drift off to someone teaching back voleos and side saccadas. But if you get the walk right it emphasises the beat, and I think that makes your lead a lot clearer to your partner, which makes you an easier person to dance with. Mimí Santapá in particular emphasises how attention to walking facilitates everything else. Walk right and the saccadas will come of their own accord: try to learn a saccada and you might struggle to lead it, and your partner might struggle to follow gracefully. Mimí Santapá, Pedro Sanchez and Cacho Dante have an awful lot of experience between them.

Friday, 19 February 2010

En la huella del dolor

I discovered this in late December when I still watched Tete often in one milonga or another, and it's stayed with me. I'm not quite sure why it seemed so special then, or now that he's no longer there. The music, well, it's an amazing piece of Fresedo from 1934, En la huella del dolor ('in the path of sorrow', I think): it's achingly familiar although I can't find it on any current CD. The video quality isn't great, although the colour is saturated and the orange dress shines, and the automatic exposure does a wonderful job of losing the dancers in dramatic darkness and a few moments later obliterating them in a blaze of light, which seems much more expressive than a more regular exposure could ever be, a marvelous technological accident. There are three YouTube videos from this demonstration, but this is the one that grabs me. Why tango? Just watch this.

& the dancing... Well, first off, of course, that's not Sylvia, Tete's regular partner. Rosanna Remon is Argentine, and has taught for many years in Italy, and often accompanied Tete on his yearly visits there. I gather she studied with him in Buenos Aires – although perhaps 'studied' isn't the right word. I met a young dancer at Salon Canning last December who seized every opportunity to dance with Tete, respected him very highly and would ask his advice whenever possible, which he was always happy to give, and I can imagine that Rosanna Remon was like that 20 years ago. Several women who learned from him then are well-known teachers now. It's partly her dancing that makes this video special; she's supple and quick and totally musical, and elegant in this functional milonguero style. & it seems to be a very passionate and intense dance, right from the very start. I don't know about Tete and Rosanna, and I don't know about you, but it gives me goose-pimples. Every time. There again, that music on its own could do that.

I'm not sure how far Tete's exhibitions are a good model for leaders: his musicality, passion and quickfootedness can be admired but hardly copied. But I find a lot I can learn. Since I first watched his videos I've admired the fluency and inventiveness with which he changes from one 'step' into another: there are no distinct steps, just a fluid movement that follows the music. A hard lesson!

North Italy seems a great place for tango: Rosanna Remon, Mirta Tiseyra and Luis Ferraris all moved there from Buenos Aires to teach and dance. & there are other videos of Tete with Rosanna in Italy, but not quite like this one.

&... I can't help adding another Tete video, with a different partner again, and unexpectedly sweet, too. Now that's a word I never thought I'd use of Tete dancing.

Videos thanks to Susheta and turckgrisleda

PS. Jantango informs me that Rosanna Remon did not learn with Tete. However, my point is that there are three reliable teachers of 'milonguero' not so far away in northern Italy.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Why tango?

The question gets asked frequently enough. I think my reasons are obvious enough, but it's interesting to think over them once in a while. Incidentally, I always insist that I dance 'Argentine social tango', which seems to suggest something a bit more straightforward than what's generally seen on TV or the stage. 'Social tango', that is, as against 'unsociable tango'...

Because there's always something awesome about holding an other close, even for the duration of a dance, about that physical proximity, so close that you might just feel the other's heartbeat. The late Ricardo Vidort joked, to reassure reluctant close-embracers, 'Hold your partner close! It is not for life, it's just for a dance!' - suggesting that you don't have to take too seriously what you do in a dance, that a dance is of no real consequence. But perhaps he was being just a little disingenuous. Are life and dance really so remote and opposite as he suggests? '...just for a dance!' As if!

I've heard he also said that 'Tango es una terapia que hace liberar el alma'. So, why tango? Because 'tango is a therapy that liberates the soul'.

The fact is that tango 'allows' us to be close to an other and to enjoy that closeness, and I've come to believe that it's one of the really good human creations. Absorbed into the music 'self' and 'other' cease to mean much for a while, as we move into the unknown, joyfully stepping out without the slightest idea what comes next, or where we're going, or how it will end. This temporary abandoning of the daily need to be a 'self' is where tango can be so liberating. One of the consequences might be that little laugh of pleasure at the end of a good tango: what was that about, where were we? Was that a dance or... was that life?

Being close to someone else is a responsibility too. You shouldn't step carelessly into that intimacy. If you get the balance between dance and life right, you can be carried away and brought back renewed. If you get it wrong, you step into a mess. We need a bit of control to keep life and dance in a balance that we can trust. To be that close means that perhaps we need to be able to rely on a certain distance, a slight restraint. That restraint is partly created by social convention, by the setup of the milonga, and it's also partly internal: yes, we need to remember that this is a dance, it isn't life. In part it's that social formality that gives us the freedom to lose ourselves in an other, and in the music.

I hope I can quote something Tango en el Cielo wrote recently as a comment to my post on 'Dreaming again...' It seems very passionate and clear, and it seems too good to leave at the end of a series of comments. 'I like the formality of the traditional BsAs milongas. The cabeceo system is the best one I know for getting to dance with the partners you want to dance with. I like music to be arranged in tandas so I can choose the right partner for the right music. I like to be in the company of people who respect the music, who care about it, and dance with attention to it. I like to share the floor with people who are respectful of my space and are trying not to bump and kick me. I like to dance with men who have taken care over their grooming and personal hygiene. I like a bit of decorum, a sense of occasion.'

There's always debate about how far we copy the customs of Buenos Aires, customs that grew up far away, and way before any of us were born, and we need to think about these things. But in the end it might just be that those customs still work best to give us the best experience we can have from that balance of life and dance we call tango. Perhaps, after all, we're not really so different from those people far away, and way before we were born.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Tomás Eloy Martínez (July 16, 1934 – January 31, 2010)

I know of Martinez, journalist, novelist and university lecturer, only through his novel The Tango Singer. The narrator, trying to follow a mythic singer whose performances in unexpected places in the city may or may not relate to the stories of Borges, finds himself passing through some of the stories and landscapes, many of them violent, of the history of Argentina from its founding, through the military period and into the 2002 financial crisis, stories upon stories within stories.

He lived through the worst years of Latin American history in exile. There's an interview with him by Maya Jaggi here.

PS. There's a Guardian obituary here.

Friday, 5 February 2010


Antichrist has been widely reviewed and gossiped about, so even people who haven't seen it have probably made their own mental film of it. 'Antichrist' is a medieval theological view of women, a view the woman in the film is researching, but the research starts to take form in the present. It's the debate about nature: good or bad? On that topic the talking fox, disembowelling itself, has the last word(s): 'Chaos reigns'.

Von Trier aimed to make a 'horror' film, but unlike most horror films, which are made for laughs, Antichrist seems seriously intended. Von Trier is author and director: if you ask an author why a character behaves in a certain way the answer is usually that it's because that's what that character did. We accept that authors don't always control their characters, and authors who write scripts are no different.

At the end you discover that it's dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky. At first it seems an unlikely pairing, but the similarities become increasingly apparent. The landscape is wild and overgrown, with water running through it. On another level, Tarkovsky's book on film-making is called Sculpting in Time, and Antichrist is marvellously well put together, sequence by sequence, in time, but although Tarkovsky put his characters into extreme situations, he never made a horror film. Antichrist has a soundtrack that's a work of art in itself, and Von Trier remarks that if you put a soundtrack like that to a Tarkovsky film, it could make it seem to be a horror film.

In ancient Greek drama violence was described but never shown, which seems an intelligent choice. Wonders can be done with silicone, but life-like simulation of violence seems more insidious than the real thing as it's a confusing blurring of the boundaries between real and fantasy. In any case we are perfectly aware that the violence isn't real, so why go to great lengths to make it look literally real? It's a dream-like, visionary film, beautifully filmed, beautifully acted, and violence has its place in it, and it's fitted well into the flow of the whole film. But years ago censorship meant that violence could only be suggested, and imaginatively suggested horror can be more uncertain and more unsettling than silicone reality.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Dreaming again...

I've been dreaming again, about a London milonga this time. A smaller, more intimate venue, big enough for 15 to 20 couples maximum, since fewer than 12 couples probably wouldn't make for a varied and interesting evening. The aim would be a concentration on dance and music, and rather quieter socialising. Sort of a dance club, a dance evening; friends, acquaintances and guests getting together to dance. Probably no class: just turn up and dance.

Preferably there would be space around the dance floor for tables and chairs and it would be great to have a venue with sufficient chairs and tables so everyone has a place for the evening. The floor needn't be big, just big enough to make a line-of-dance possible: several people have observed recently that the quality of dance tends to improve when there's less space available. I know a couple of small milongas in central London, but there's not much space around the floor.

One BsAs custom that probably can't be replicated here is waiter service to all tables, which changes the group dynamic a lot. Bars are a focus for meeting and talking, and when the bar is in the actual hall it can become a place where people gather and therefore group and talk, and consequently become noisier. Without that grouping together within the dance hall, milonga evenings tend to be quieter, more dance-focused. In my ideal London milonga, waiter service could be replaced by bring-your-own, or by a bar in another room. & the lighting should be reasonably good; certainly no dark areas on the dance floor.

Not that I'm against socialising: a milonga at which no one talks to anyone else would be plain daft. I'd just like to see a change of emphasis. It's a cooler, calmer, quieter, more intimate atmosphere I'd like to see, both socially and in the dance, and I think it's something worth aiming for. If anyone's already organising something like that but keeping quiet about it (and why not?) I'd be delighted to be on your guest list at some stage!