Saturday, 26 January 2013

'Coming back from Buenos Aires to dance in …' 1

(… fill it in with wherever you are...) 

It's a familiar sentence. Dancing Soul wrote it recently: Random Tango Bloke said something similar in a comment a few weeks back, and I've written it several times. No doubt the technical abilities of dancers outside Buenos Aires are excellent, even 'comparable with the dancers in Argentina', as Elizabeth (Dancing Soul) puts it. So what do we miss when we come back? 

RTB suggested that it's the actual embrace that is different. Elizabeth describes the Buenos Aires embrace as 'stuck-to-your-sternum', although it varies a bit. It would be great if it was that simple: get the hold right, get your technique together and you're away. But... no. Elizabeth suspects that reluctance to touch is the problem, and this must be a big part of it. Lead/follow perspectives are different: my experience of the Argentine embrace is one of uninhibited, immediate giving. No hesitation. It's the kind of embrace you'd expect from someone you are close to and haven't seen for a while, not from some stranger on the dance floor. (But then that's cultural: strangers in general are welcomed as friends in Argentina.) But there it is. Certainly no reluctance to touch there. Trusting and enjoyable. 

(I'd like to add here how invaluable the experience of women like Elizabeth is, women who have visited BsAs and turned up night after night in milongas available for dance, which means not sitting with a male partner. I know, and know of, a few women who've turned up alone in milongas there over the past ten or so years, yearly visits, for a month or so at a time. They have danced all night long with the dancers whose experience of music and dance is lifelong and goes back to the era of live music, including a number who are no longer with us. Their experience is invaluable to those of us who are trying to get a feel for the tango of the milongas. Guys can get a lot from visits too, but they aren't going to get that close.) 

I think there's one factor that might turn out to be even more difficult than reluctance to touch, and that's musicality. I'm sure this, not the embrace, not the technique, is the defining characteristic of the tango of the milongas. First of all there's the compas, the beat, the emphatic thumping of bass, piano, bandoneon. Musicians practice hard and work hard to make sure they are absolutely at one in their compas, and generally dancers keep meticulously to the beat. But then there are the violins, the piano or bandoneons carrying the melody, and they take more liberty with the beat. So as well as compas there's the melody, and the emphasis and phrasing of melody, and I think it's with melody that we can be all at sea. We're used to dancing more or less with the beat: we simply aren't used to dancing melody, and we aren't used to dance music as complex as this. It's rich in possibilities for dancers but it takes some getting used to. 

Perhaps this is where the dance of the milongas is really unique. Here's an example, Pedro Sanchez dancing with Hsueh-tze Lee, slowed down about 50%. (It's just 20 seconds.)


Beautiful! as Pedro would say. The full video is on Tzetango's channel and the full song and a translation are here.

It seems so clear what is going on. You can see that Pedro is enjoying every note of the melody and it's apparent in the movements of his upper body. The little trill of the bandoneon at the start is reflected in a dip of the shoulders, then that elongated note in a long gliding movement, then there are emphatic movements as the music surges towards the end. He follows the music with his upper body; it looks as if his feet are just there to move his upper body as needed. It looks to me as if he's doing more than dancing with the beat, he's responding to the melody. (A friend who's danced with him a lot says his dance is a constant flow of emotion.) Any one of us could do what he does with his feet, and probably do it just as well, but from a follower's point of view I think it's the upper body they feel, they are in contact with. When you sit and watch dancers of Pedro's generation you begin to see how their torsos move with the melody. On a number of occasions, while some ever-so-familiar number is playing, I've become aware of a line of melody I hadn't noticed before because I've seen how the torsos of a couple were following it.

This might be particularly noticeable with D'Arienzo. Watch even good European dancers dance D'Arienzo, and although their torsos rotate smoothly (their feet are perfectly placed), their dance looks rather lifeless. I became directly aware of this while dancing to D'Arienzo with Enriquetta Kleinmann in one of her classes. Clearly bored by my dull lead, her torso suddenly came to life and in effect she back-led the torso movements she would have expected from a local dancer. Great lesson, that! My feet were doing fine, it was the torso that was boring. Even if I still can't lead like that, I know it should be there. Lively music, and a dance that's full of fun. (& perhaps not for those with reservations about body contact!) 

I found another dance to the start of Amarras. This is Osvaldo Centeno and Ana Maria Schapira dancing in El Beso. The lighting is poor, and the dancers' positions are different, but it's still possible to see the torso movement. The full video is on tangaso's channel. (The sound is dreadful slowed down, but at least you can hear what the dancers are following.) 

Watch the torso movement of any decent bandoneonista! Extravagant gesture is part of the creation of the music. Maybe we should accept that some of it can enter into our expression of the music. 

(PS: I hope Hsueh-tze Lee (Tsetango) and Tangaso will not object to me posting these very brief extracts from their videos as illustrations. I think they show us a lot about the dance of the milongas. Tangaso, incidentally, has an extensive collection of videos, including one of Tete and Silvia dancing Amarras. I prefer Pedro's version.)

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

A young milonguero

Monica Paz has interviewed many of the older dancers at her Practimilongueros events, but a couple of months ago she broke with this and invited a young Argentine, Matías Alberto Trípodi. It's a fascinating glimpse into how a perceptive and engaging young Argentine, with much the sensibility and education of a contemporary European, came to tango. & articulate: it's virtually a monologue. It's full of interest about tango from a perspective we find more familiar than the perspective and background of the older dancers. He found tango attracted him and he started to talk to the older generation. In many ways he was lucky to grow up in that environment; a good friend who knows Buenos Aires well said to me recently, 'They learn fast over there!' Absolutely the environment for it. 

A few points: there's a lot more. He talks about the problems of entering a traditional milonga, encountering a different language and code, and his reactions to this. Many of us will find this familiar. He wonders how far an outsider, even a young Argentine, should adapt to the codigos: he says the older dancers would simply laugh if a young person like him turned up in a suit and tie. He talks about the sensation of attraction and rejection: you want to dance but it's not always easy to get someone to look at you. You have to arrive without expectation, and despite the rejection you stay because you love the activity. The beautiful experience of the moment when eyes do meet; how democratic that moment is.

He's travelled and danced in milongas outside Buenos Aires too. How you find the landscape of another being without knowing them, how this experience, this encounter, is what is common to all tango dancers. The milonga as a refuge for the encounter, for the music, the poetry. He finds milongas outside Buenos Aires lack this context, but function as a focus for other experiences: maybe the context needs to be passed on better, in addition to the technical aspects. 'You have the language but not the circumstances in which to use it.' Which might generate new behaviours and circumstances, but he's confident that the re-encounter of the milonga, the truth of the dance on the floor, will survive.

He dances other forms of tango, but always misses the intimacy, the emotions, the strength of encounters, the subtlety of the 'milonguero', the behaviour at a traditional milonga, the delicacy of the invitation. He sees the milonga as a refuge for all these aspects. 

The translation isn't always clear, but he speaks very fluently and his thoughts are sometimes complex. I think it's worth persevering with it. Incidentally, the next guests of Monica Paz will be the brother of the late Tete and his son, Tete's nephew.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Nostalgia de la luz

Nostalgia for Light, a beautiful and remarkable Chilean film. Astronomy is prominent: the astronomers of the Atacama, that 600-mile strip of high altitude desert, in parts of which there is complete dessication, no plant or animal life, where it might not have rained for 500 years, where the daytime skies are so clear the planets can be visible, where the astronomers look back in time, sorting through the memories of the big bang. & the night skies there are astonishing.

Archaeologists also work in the Atacama. The oldest deliberately embalmed bodies found in Atacama are several thousand years older than the oldest mummies found in Egypt. But within sight of the observatories, groups of women with spades in hand sift painstakingly through the desert, searching for mass graves from the Pinochet era, searching for and sometimes finding the remains of brothers, sisters, husbands, children. In one place they found a concentration of small bone fragments. They alerted the archaeologists, who examined the site with great care and concluded that it had been a mass grave, but that it had been ripped open with a mechanical digger, and the remains loaded onto trucks. The military said the remains of bodies had been tipped into the sea. Searching the site, one woman found the leg of her brother, identified by the shoe.

The women see themselves as the lepers of modern-day Chile for their insistence on remembering, in a society that wants to move on into a prosperity fuelled by the sale of mineral rights to multinationals. But what else can they do? They, and others, see too much willingness to forget. It was similar in Argentina, in Germany after WW2, in Spain after the Civil War. But if you forget your past, you no longer know where you come from, who you are.

An architect was in five of Pinochet's camps. Every night he would draw what he had seen that day, then tear his drawings into fragments in case the room was searched at night, and at dawn he would dispose of the fragments in the latrines. Released, in exile in Denmark, he was able to remember and recreate all his drawings, and make detailed plans of camps the military denied had ever existed, had 'disappeared'. Memory. If I understand the film correctly, the constitutional relation of military to state hasn't changed, while the standard manual still in use by the military was written some years ago – by Augusto Pinochet.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013


To console myself for a trip I couldn't make to Buenos Aires late last year, I watched this several times because it's at a milonga I'm familiar with, and to remind myself how simple and relaxed the dance there can be. (I get complaints if I embed a video of a dance floor with only one couple on it... can you believe it? After all, a milonga starts with just one couple.) This is Lujos in Salon Plaza Bohemia, last Sunday night I guess, since the clip is very recent: there's Oscar making sure all the tables are just right (it's his milonga), and the familiar waitress taking first orders. I should have been there! From Marina2x4's excellent channel. Thanks!

& something I just read. (A long article, scroll down to the end.) We interpret movement by following it unconsciously with our own muscles, even if we aren't actually moving: thus we come out of a cinema feeling we are walking differently, we've absorbed a way of moving, we can mimic it. Watching dance helps us absorb the movement. Sadly, the reverse is true. A French research paper has recently shown that people who have botox lose some of their facial movement, and accordingly they lose some of their ability to interpret emotions on other people's faces.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Feliz año!

Peace, love and tango in 2013!