Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Avant garde and cultural conflicts: Le tango en France...


Well… I am on my way to Geneva for the 3-day MuSaCa milonga, where I expect to have a really good time, but as I am about to leave France for good, I have to write few things about the tango in France. And this is really a tough task to undertake… I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to do it and where to start from and gradually I gravitated to begin with some words about the (famous) French culture…
And this really is another tough task to undertake! First, because I’ve spent only a year in this country; most likely a lifetime is not enough to understand the way the French people act! Second, because I was living in Marseille which is a city rather irrelevant to France, flooded by people of North African origin and is not at all representative. But I have been moving around a lot… And I feel I got some things correctly… And after all this is a blog and not a scientific publication on sociology.. So I will try!
So to start, the French culture really deserves to be called a culture and what is very important is that the French people …love it! They deeply feel that they have the privilege (and the good-heartiness) to offer to the world the best, the richest culture, guarantying among many others, high standards of living, equal rights and personal freedom, access to the world’s peak moments of artistic creation, literature and philosophy, a beautiful language, an excellent cuisine, etc. It is true that the French culture is very rich, as life in France is very pleasant as well and I wouldn’t say that the French are ignorant when they are so proud about their way of life. But, wanting to make a connection with tango inevitably I will critically refer to some points which affect the quality of the French tango, even though it is a country that I honestly love. So, just to start…
If you are French and you are reading this text I know that it really tears you apart to read negative things about your country. In fact France is the place where I found people more sensitive (and less tolerant) to criticism than anywhere else. (If you want to make a French your enemy, just say that you don’t like the wine, the cheese, the tango, or even just say that the French is a difficult language... That will do!) But, if I was saying that everything is great here it would be apparent that I am lying.
Back to the French, so… One thing to make clear is that the French are not latinos, they are…. FRENCH! Their culture and codes of behaviour don’t include a lot of physical contact, but it is mostly based on the formality and the respect on everybody’s personal space. Letting yourself loose with people you are not familiar will most probably lead to embarrassing situations, as people can be easily offended and demand to be carefully treated, as they also do to the others. In addition and in comparison to the latinos, they have their own perception of style and the role and balance of the sexes.
French women are very beautiful (they are famous for their looks and femininity anyway!) and interesting, but they are ‘classy’ and not ‘sexy’. Light make-up, elegant clothes, mild manners, as well as simple and practical aesthetics in general, respecting the time and the right of the women when they cannot afford to spend hours to look ‘pretty’ or ‘hot’… Nothing of the explosive and provocative sensuality of the latin woman, who tries to light a fire that will burn all men’s hearts. French women walk in low shoes, wearing comfortable clothes and they also count on their spirit, their ability to make an interesting discussion, during a walk or a dinner. In fact, they are not so much into the ‘prey and hunter game’, with several principles of the feminist movement being well ingrained in the French society.
Another important point is the drive for enjoying life as a priority, which is fundamental for the French way of life. The French want to eat well, do excursions in the weekend and enjoy nature, their hobbies and recreational activities and the prevailing mentality is try to discover, or even invent simple and affordable ways to enjoy all these in the most efficient way. A look on the number of holidays and the way they are distributed around the year is enough to understand that. A key factor in this way of life is the ‘post-modern’ French family, as these activities are mostly organised for couples or families…
The French make kids early, independently of their working conditions, as the system offers a lot of support to young parents. This results in a mentality of focus in a closed circle and they are used to spend time and energy only for their own sake and the one of their beloved ones. For the people outside this circle they have their education, their politeness, but honestly they don’t really care and abstain from any serious efforts for communication. (this is of course a generalisation, but I am sure that people who know France a little will get the point..). The mentality of tango on the other hand is the one of a popular dance, of a common social event, which in addition in Argentina is coupled with a series of rules, part of a ‘tango code of practice’. In France the world ‘popular’ almost doesn’t exist, as everybody is equal to the others and this is the first conflict between France and tango. And there are several others…
While tango is a simple and direct language which requires sharing and communication, in order to flourish; most French people feel that they carry a unique personality, which they try to make appear even more inaccessible and incompatible. The context of life in France cultivates this tendency to the people and makes this society so colourful and fun to live. On the other hand the fact that the French people alone draw a line between them and the others requires more time to make a connection and results in characters that I would personally call ‘tense’. It is a frequent impression on my contact with French people that they are always trying to generate, or identify something out of the norm, even when this doesn’t exist. This may be vital for cinema and the arts but it is in contrast to tango which is based in clearly showing intension, as communication should be instant.
This brings us to the issue of the leading and the following. Being a man I can talk mostly about the following… One year here in France, almost every time I had a serious discussion with somebody (mostly for work) I fell on the same situation: I was at the point of feeling that we’d covered the issue and that we should go ahead, while my interlocutor demonstrated his need to discuss further. The French love to talk and analyse things. Even if they have found the answer they would do it all over again, just for the pleasure of discussing and with the excuse that MAYBE something new will occur! So it is really difficult for them to act spontaneously. Same for tango... You listen to the music and you want to do a long step left. And you do it. You partner gets the message but she doesn’t move. She is having the same expression with your college saying ‘Hey wait! Why we should go left? I am not ready for that yet…’. Tango is slow in France…

And for the following another issue is the pleasure one get’s from the contact… The French with their individualistic attitude cannot understand the principle and the pleasure of spending a night along with 200 other people hugging each other. They are used to pay attention to themselves and their very loved ones. The presence of somebody less intimate in a close distance is an issue, even for the average French ‘tangero’. You feel the nervousness, the luck of comfort and also the fact that a French woman will not leave the ‘control’ to anybody so easily, even if it’s in the context of the milonga. It’s very common to see couples that dance all night only with each other, as the ‘social’ perception of the event is weak. On the other hand, for many French tangeras I had the impression that they were dancing together, they were not allowing me to lead them…
For a good milonga (according always to my humble opinion..) there are some essential ‘ingredients’ and those are a) inspiring music; b) proper floor; c) good dancers and d) a correct ‘line of dance’ to enjoy all the above. The importance of the latter is huge and neglected by several people, as apart from dancing in couples, the whole milonga functions as a unity as well. If one couple is not following the milonga, then the line is breaking and the pace is lost; nobody can dance… The latter is a problem in several places but in France it’s absolutely a nightmare! If you stand above of the milonga and notice the trajectories of the couples, it looks more like random chaotic systems, or traffic in the centre of Delhi, rather than something following any rule. In addition, due to the attitude discussed in the previous paragraph, most of the French people dance more open as they prefer to ‘keep’ their intimateness. This creates even more chaos as each couple occupies more space.
I have mentioned in the beginning that the French consider their culture the best and it is true that when they have contact with other cultures they don’t make a real effort to ‘cross the line’. They rather feel that they can adopt everything to the ‘French way’, and even improve by adding ‘essential French touch’, instead of trying to get as closer possible to the ‘real thing’. And they usually won’t take seriously other cultures, music, habits. This results in a ‘sloppiness’ in the organisation of the milongas and the way of dancing as well. The French are attracted mostly by the idea, or the aesthetic hypostasis of tango, rather than the dance itself. Many of the DJs or the organisers of milongas are poor tango dancers… They devote their time and effort in a thing that attracts them in an academic manner, but they don’t actually know in depth. Like the sport casters, or the football club presidents who never played soccer, or the film or music critics who are not musicians. That’s why they don’t mind for the existence of milongas with non danceable music or non slippery floors. They cannot understand that there would be a problem in order to find solutions.
Another feature I felt very intensely is a ‘sloppily introduced feminism’ in tango. Experienced dancers know very well that the role of the woman in tango is extremely important and that she controls in a great extent the dance. But she has to know how to follow and when to ‘take over’ the situation. This requires skill, talent and experience on her behalf, but once she masters the game she can be the ‘real’ leader. Nevertheless she cannot lead and this is perceived falsely by many women as submissiveness. Always a discussion starts by somebody opening it and that doesn’t mean that he is the ruler.
A tango starts always by the man making the first step but still is not dominated by him. And from the male perspective, I adore (and prefer) tangeras who know how to take initiatives, as this makes the dance more challenging, alive and creative. On the other hand, it is extremely unpleasant to dance with somebody who doesn’t follow. My role is to introduce the musicality and primarily control the space in the milonga, respecting my partner and the other people. So dancing with a person who acts on its own is very tiring and transforms tango into a sequence of ‘unfulfilled intensions’ rather that a creative communication.
Back to studying and practicing tango, it was to my surprise that in France very few people really study tango, but rather feel that it’s ok to once in a while to the milonga, among their other activities and priorities. On of my explanations is that they have learned to put themselves above things, instead of letting the passion drive them. Another important feature is that French people are in general ‘sober’. They have their eyes open, they plan their lives carefully and to choose what’s best for them. The passion for tango and the blind thirst and devotion to its learning, so common for the tango addicts cannot grow easily in the French. They have ‘better or other things to do as well’ in general, an attitude which may be correct from one point of view, but on the other hand tango demands time and effort…
So what is the bottomline? The French don’t dance tango well because their culture is quite distant from the spirit of tango and because they don’t want to study and really live into it. And what is good in French tango? The idea of dancing your own ‘Tango in Paris’, where of course you can have some super tantas with some excellent partners. The live orchestras which in France I’ve found superior to every other place in Europe. But most of all, it’s the ‘avant garde’… It’s the French touch! It is true that by analysing everything, taking nothing for granted and trying to make the breakthrough all the time (without often having the necessary base), the French cannot offer you e.g. the consistency and the balanced quality of the Italian tangeros…
But they can generate magic moments! In France I’ve been to several medium to bad milongas, but certainly I have danced some super tangos, that broadened my perception of the dance and took me further ahead. That could be the ‘French touch’! And also there are some people who dance well and study tango a lot. And this is the moment when the free, open, creative spirit is combined with skills and talent that can reach perfection. Like some of the excellent dancers I met in the Milonga de 4 Saisons! Allez! On va danser!

2 comments:

Isabelle said...

As a proud and egocentric French person I’d react to your relevant “French touch analysis” answering : who are you to criticize our “cultural exception”.
Even if I don’t share your point of view of the non so sexy French ladies, quite obviously, tango and France is not a good wedding………
Indeed, French girls in essence claim to their independence, want to manage any situation, don’t want to be in background compared to the man or need to be considered for their professional, intellectual skills which maybe prevail upon the Latino feminine’s trapping : sensuality, expansiveness, seduction at all costs..
Why do we have to wear heels, it’s so uncomfortable………;
Why do we have to be well dressed: men have to love us the way we are.
Why do we need men: we are self sufficient.
We can’t bear to be considered like an easy prey : it’s something that has to be earned to be with a French girl, so let’s keep the distance!
Never causing a stir, analyzing the situation before acting , keeping the control of ourselves…
All this assumptions, partly generated by our judeo christiannism stop for being in an utter abandonment to the other……….

Obviously French girls need to pursuit of their feminity..
Tango is on of the best way to regain what this means :diving into the abandonment, recovering the pleasure to follow, be listening and confident to the men, be more feline, graceful, be in the act of welcoming and in the end of the sex war ……..

michalis said...

Isabelle...

First, I love French women, maybe more than any other... And your comment demonstrates exactly this bright spirit that I adore!

Second, my blog and particularly this post is about tango, so you should read this with this as reference...

Third, I love France, it's a country that I certainly could live all my life. On the other hand, I can criticize it, like anyone has the right to do so for anything...

Fourth, one of the things I enjoyed more in France was that nobody, ever, spoke to me about religion. It doesn't interest me at all and it was absolute pleasure to live among people with similar mentality..

Thank you for reading my blog and especially for posting! It's a big pleasure for me...