Argentine Tango dancing with Mimi at Enchanted Tango Home 35
I dance Tango because it provides me a sublime experience of joy and wisdom.
However, this experiential value of Tango cannot be achieved if we know beforehand what we have to do at particular conjunctions during the dance.
Only if we train to be relaxed and comfortable with our bodies, in control by letting it go, without anxieties for what may come, breathing, suspending judgments, open to what is becoming, accepting what had happened, and being joyfully aware, we can dance.
When you like a song, it attracts you in a way from which you cannot break easily. One time you are hooked into the music, it affects you. The music awakes emotions in you. If these emotions make you move, then you are dancing.
There is no need to rationalize your responses to the music.
They are spontaneous. The same song does not affect everybody in the same way, and it does not affect you, in the same way, every time it is played.
When you learn to dance Argentine Tango, you need to incorporate fundamental elements of posture, walking, change of weight, embracing, awareness of your body and your partner’s body, lead and follow, basic patterns like the cross, backward and forward ochos, boleos, etc.
Also, you’ll need to learn to understand the music of Argentine Tango, its rhythm, its phrasing and structure, the different orchestras styles.
However, when through discipline and practice you have internalized all this knowledge, you will need to forget it and let yourself respond to the music’s call, not as a thoughtful answer, but rather as a let go in which the music affects you emotionally, but does not determine what you do concerning your movements.
The music is a friend who dialogs with you, not a boss who orders you.
Let’s take a look at Nestor La Vitola’s dance. He is an excellent milonguero from Buenos Aires, a teacher, and friend of mine:
Isn’t he very musical? I love seeing him dancing to Pugliese’s orchestra. If you know a little about Argentine Tango, you already know that dancing to Pugliese’s orchestra is among the most challenging achievements in this dance.
One time, in a conversation about musicality with other dancers, he stunned us with this affirmation: “Yo no le doy ni cinco de pelota a la música.”
“I do not care even a little about following the music.”
This assertion from him made me laugh because it made me discover the meaning of musicality from an unexpected angle. It is consistent with a general approach to dancing: not using force. This is how I understand his “zen slap” answer: you do not need to make an effort to follow the music. If you are sensitive to the music, if you listen to it, if you –fundamentally– stop judgment, you will allow the music to take over, to awake emotions in you, to move you.
Here is another great milonguero, Blas Catrenau, also a teacher and a friend of mine:
In our lessons, he tells me not to obey the orchestra. Instead, he tells me that I should act like the singer, expressing myself with the orchestra behind me as a backdrop to my performance.
I interpret this as follows: I am like a soloist playing a stellar role in the orchestra. The orchestra is there to be the frame of the work of art, which is my dance.
When I dance, I do not have a precise choreography in mind. What I do have is a structure: first I need to offer and find a connection with my partner; then I have to sense myself in this couple, in this milonga, in this tanda, in this song, at this moment; as I start to move, I need to pay careful attention to my partner and our connection; I will deliver my repertoire of moves gradually, starting with simplicity, breathing, often pausing to access the state of my partner, myself, and our connection as a couple, all in a bodily way, without saying anything; then, when I consider it appropriate, I may take some more risk, to open the game, to make it exciting, alive, playful and joyful; that’s it! I then restrain myself not to get carried away by my emotions. I’ll make a longer pause to prepare for something else, a more complex choreographic idea perhaps. Then, close to the song’s end, I get myself together, providing a relaxing moment for my partner, and “chan-chan!”, the end of the song, sometimes as a grand finale, sometimes as a subtle “tan-go-close” ending.
When I am going to dance the first song of my first tanda at the milonga, I always have to find out how I am.
My dance is very much determined by, for instance, how many hours I slept the night before.
My dance is what I am going to give to my partner.
I like to be generous.
Generosity is essential to connection.
When I visit my friends, I like to bring a present, which I am sure they will enjoy.
Imagine you are my friend and I am coming to visit you. You are happy. Now, I offer you something you were not expecting, something I know you like very much. You are now even happier. Our connection is wonderful!
For a milonguero, the whole day is, in many ways, a preparation for the milonga.
I wouldn’t let myself get stressed, or sad, or sleep-deprived, or hungry, or angry. If I cannot achieve a balance in my life, at least for that day, I wouldn’t go to the milonga. It would be disrespectful to bring negative emotions to my friends at the milonga, with whom I like to dance and share a joyful time.
Friends share joy.
That is why, when I am getting ready to go to the milonga, I am sure that I am neat and clean.
When I drive there, not in a rush because Tango is a party, and I do not have an obligation to be there at a specific time other than when I arrive, I am rolling my shoulders and relaxing my arms and hips.
When I am walking from where I park my car, I am aware of my walk and body.
A good connection in Tango begins with being well connected to yourself.
I like to imagine myself composed of myriad tiny gears that connect my entire body to the floor and my partner and perceive my partner’s presence with fine detailing.
That does not necessarily always happen.
I like to dance with everyone with whom I have something in common, starting with a love for Tango, ending with perhaps the possibility of sharing a shared vision of life.
I love dancing with my friends.
We may not share much more than the time we are together on the dance floor. However, during that time, we are good friends because we share joy.
Many people, including students and colleagues, debate whether Argentine Tango teachers should or should not dance with students.
I dance with my good friends. Sometimes they are also my students, which is not surprising since the same elements of a good teacher/student relationship are very similar to any good relationship. Friendship is, to me, the paradigm of any meaningful relationship.
I wouldn’t dance Argentine Tango without experiencing this meaningfulness.
If I say that “I dance with my students,” then I have an obligation, which contradicts friendship. Friends do not hang together because they are obliged. They do it because they want to be together since it is a joyful and meaningful experience. When the desire to be together ends for any party involved, friendship ceases.
When I work on the theme of connection with my students, I emphasize first the need to feel at home in yourself, comfortable in your body, and with your partner. That is why I only teach couples in small groups (semi-private classes) and private lessons, and individual students in private lessons. The most effective way to work on this fundamental aspect of connection in Argentine Tango is with a regular partner, receiving feedback and corrections, or directly from your teacher as a partner.
Each individual will have different issues to work on, as well as each couple. In addition, each person and couple evolve uniquely. Therefore, there are no general formulas that you can apply to everyone.
As an example of connection in a couple, I would like to share this video of Osvaldo and Coca Cartery dancing for the anniversary of the milonga “Porteño y bailarín” in Buenos Aires. Notice that the people in the audience know each other very well. It is comprised of milongueros who have danced Argentine Tango for many years. You can sense the strong friendship that links all of them, to each other, to Osvaldo and Coca, and the strong friendship that this couple has with each other, with the audience, and with the host of this milonga.
In my next article, I will talk about musicality. For now, I leave you with this concept: