Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tango in Buenos Aires: some useful tips

This is a follow up post on Buenos Aires tango after the ‘What I saw in Buenos Aires’ one. I will try to focus more in practical issues, as many of my impressions are there. I will only repeat the rough classification of the two tango waves, as this is an important reference… There are certainly subcategories, but those two may not make it for an essay on the subject, but I think are enough to help you find your way around. Names and places are partially important as you may be probably going to the same 3-4 venues every night, but the ‘milonga’ is different. There are historical milonga names though (e.g. El Beso), as there are standard place (e.g. Salon Canning), which are not a guaranty for every night. Once you are there it will be straight forward to understand what is what.

On one hand you have tango ‘milongero’ where things are more formal in all senses; dress code, attitude, dance style, etc. In many of these milongas you may have to adapt to the eye contact code, which can be roughly explained like this: men and women sited and glances start to cross all over the room as the cortina is about to finish. The thing is quite simple. If you want to dance with someone you look at him/her and she/he does the same. Then eye contact, nod for an invitation and then dance, as eye contact implies approval… Usually the dance floor is packed, so take it easy and protect yourself from wrong steps, as people anticipate to watch and evaluate. Similarly don’t try to ask someone to dance if you don’t think that he/she will accept as this will result probably in a ‘no for life’. Patience is important… This is the tango in its traditional form here in Buenos Aires and places can be El Beso, Salon Canning, Nino Bien, etc.

Second group is the ‘practikas’ ring, which is an initiative of different groups with a more fresh approach on tango. Within this you will have a place to dance every night, among younger people and the vibe is very similar to the one you find in most good European milongas. The level of tango is extremely good, or at least it often can be, as you may have more that 50% of professional dancers on the dance floor.

Separation in geographical terms is also rather straight forward. If you prefer classic style most of the milongas are located in the center, mostly San Telmo, Monserat. If you go for the practikas you will be 99% moving in the area of Palermo, Palermo Soho and some names are Practika X, Tango lab, Tango Cool, etc. If this is your choice you should arrange accommodation in Palermo close to Scalabrini Ortiz and you may even be able to do everything on foot! For the ‘milongeros’ walking several blocks in the center at night is not recommended in general.

After the milonga/practika, ‘all the roads lead to Rome’ which in that case is ‘La Viruta’ lasting at least until 4 in the morning and gathering all the die hards. For me this is the most characteristic place of Buenos Aires tango… Early in the night, before 1:00, things can be ‘strange’ the least.. Bad dancers (feels like they were passing by), a mess on the dance floor, long tantas of cumbia and rock and roll, even competitions, but once you know what to expect, you may end up loving even this! And once the other milongas are over, everybody comes there and the place can be transformed into an all star milonga! You can see any professional dance there and sometimes sensational things happen. For me this is where you see what tango is in the city. From the 100% popular (in good and bad sense) situation early till the extreme quality late in the morning. Plus the free classes and the amazing ‘show’ at 20:00 every Sunday! Don’t miss it!

So to cut a long story short, when you arrive, you have to meet some people, e.g. a good way is by taking some classes and get some names and addresses. Or go to la Viruta at 3:oo in the morning and ask the people you dance with! There are also several free tango guides distributed in schools and milongas and they provide from partial to too much information (tangauta is good for example). Once you start, then it’s easy; every night you will be able to spot the main milongero and Nuevo place and then it’s up to you. After spending a couple of weeks trying places, you will eventually settle on your preferences, but it’s likely that you will be also preparing bags to go back home! No problem… Next time you know that you will be prepared!!

What I saw in Buenos Aires

It is 00:30 and I just arrive in El Beso… I take my place in the table and I order a whiskey… In the raw of tables in front of me and beyond the dancefloor, women are only sited, while I am surrounded by men; glances start to cross all over the room as the cortina is over. This is the code to start dancing in the traditional Buenos Aires milongas; eye contact, a nod for an invitation and then dance, as eye contact implies approval… After an if you are a new face, people anticipate to see you move and evaluate. Higher ages mostly, some but not many good dancers and strictly close embrace. In Buenos Aires I realized that I dance tango Nuevo! That’s the word for the ones which like to dance more freely and separate from the traditional walking, ‘severely’ embraced tango. But in this milonga there are rules and if we let yourself free, you will receive strange looks by the ‘milongeros’.

So this is the tango in its traditional form here in Buenos Aires. In El Beso, Salon Canning, Nino Bien, etc. I travelled so far away and I settled here for a month, because I wanted to feel the tango in its cradle and it is true that there is some magic in those places. You vaguely feel the roots of tango, even though you understand that there was a reset during the military regime period. The popular aspect, the joy of the abrazo, class, elegance, people seem to enjoy it more in general. On the other hand, it is a nostalgic, fanatic approach, trying to preserve tango in its ‘original’ form, even though people’s current lifestyles are not expressed by such an attitude. Older people feel like home, while younger ‘milongeros’ and ‘tango tourists’ are just playing a role. Just like heavy metal funs dress with tight black trousers and t-shirts. And let’s face it… This tango cannot be supported in a wider scale for long, as the only thing that makes it attractive is that it is technically easier for milonga standards. Anyway, the older generation of milongeros still considers rock and roll something ‘revolutionary’…

After, there are the ‘practikas’, an initiative of different group of people to create a ring of places to dance, in order to separate them from the traditional tangeros and do something different (but also to be more efficient in ‘catching’ the ‘tango tourists’ who add a lot of momentum in both activities and budgets). Those are younger people and the vibe is very similar to the one you find in most good European milongas. There is one striking difference though… The level of tango is extremely good, or at least it often can be! Since all the teachers, organizers of the practikas of the ring support them every night, you end up having more that 50% of professional dancers on the dance floor. As a result, there are times that …scary things may be happening there! This is the ‘other’ tango, the one that will probably dominate in the future, despite the fact that it makes couples argue during tango classes and leaves many ‘unfulfilled’ souls in the milongas…

While the traditional tango, or ‘tango milongero’ is based on simple marks, given the tight abrazo, the ‘new tango’ being more 3 dimensional has resulted in the development of new ‘codes’. Legs and bodies move to all possible directions and ways, and different dancers and teachers develop their own marks, building a new language… And this is when tango becomes very elaborate, creative, but also more elitist and loses some of the social character. Of course the more experienced you are, the more ‘polyglot’ you become and you built up your repertoire of ‘signs’. But one could argue that despite the strict rules of the ‘traditional’ milongas, people look more relaxed and maybe even happier…

There is a very important point in all those observations… Tango is miles away from being popular or mainstream in Buenos Aires. In fact average Argentinian’s idea of a tango dancer is someone professional dancing in shows; and this is what many people have on the back of their heads when they start. Even though it is part of the tradition, it is considered like an ‘old’ obsolete thing, like folk dances in Europe. Argentineans don’t dance and are not interested in tango and you find yourself again inside a closed circle, looking at the same faces every night at the milonga. And since they are relatively few and in their majority professionals, the social aspect of the milonga is sometimes lost. Unless you are skilled enough to please the ‘spoiled’ Argentinean dancers, or you have already a sufficiently large network of tourist ‘friends’. Third solution is if you have already spent enough on private classes to become their ‘friend’.

If you come back from Cuba, or other places in Latin America you are full of salsa, cumbia and reggeaeton sounds because you hear them everywhere… In the bars, taxis, on the street.. If you come back from Buenos Aires with the same effect on tango, it’s just because you were at the milonga every night, plus at 2-3 classes per day. Apparently, there is no big difference compared to other cities with developed tango scene… The wave of tango tourism, either in the form of attending tango shows, or of people like me coming to intensely study tango has triggered some local interest, but apparently the tango scene is like a small village, inside a big metropolis! This can be very nice as it is like a non stop festival!

Back to dancing in the milongas, this is even more difficult to describe as everything is related to you, the tango you like, your level and the places you will choose. In the closed Buenos Aires tango circle you have either the ‘forgotten’ milongeros, or the modern dancers who are trying honestly to integrate tango dancing in their current reality. If you go to the ‘milongeros’ you will get to be dancing more easily, maybe not from the first night, but after a while. This will immerse you into the nostalgic worlds of classic tango and it can be good enough. It is up to you as this atmosphere can be also a drawback as also the fact that may not have the opportunity to do some moves that you may fancy…

If you go to the ‘practika tribe’, keep in mind that sometimes you may have embarrassing moments as you will be surrounded by the professionals. There will always be other foreigners though and in general it will be also ok in its own way. As a man I have to say that I have more fun dancing in Europe than Buenos Aires, as in the latter, access in the good dancers can be very limited. For women and especially good looking ones, I would definitely recommend it. There is this long tradition of men competing for the women (see history of tango in general), plus the Italian ‘thing’ (see my post for Italy) that has resulted in an army of good male dancers, that can make almost every woman dance, or most likely feel well. Still any very good female dancers had the same complaint as me…

But why the Argentineans don’t want to dance with us? (ok it is not that bad…) One problem is that in this small community, people are struggling to get some status to the eyes of the others. This makes them very selective in their dancing preferences and rather reluctant to experiment with the ‘new faces’. Second is because they have the reputation of being ‘complecados’, meaning things like snob, arrogant and other similar words that has made some compare them with Parisians. Third, because especially Nuevo tango is something very personal and more elitist, making people more reluctant to accept to try, adapt to the other’s style and most important enjoy… Finally, because some of these people there are really good! They teach, they give demonstrations, they are full of it and consequently have a higher threshold. They will not spend their everyday reality with ‘tango tourists’… Sounds fair!

I cannot say if this is more intense in the ‘Milongeros’ or the ‘nuevo’ group (probably the second), but as a foreigner I had my best tantas with other people like me. The Argentineans I danced with were mostly ‘passers by’ and when at times I managed to have a good dancer dance with me, it was obvious to me that she wasn’t so much into it. So instead of feeling the vibe of tango in its birthplace from the local people, I rather experienced its reflection upon other foreigners! (a very mild way to express my disappointment for not dancing well in many milongas!)

So what’s the bottom line… Come to see for yourself! Even though I am a big fun of travelling alone for tango (and this is what I did), I would suggest that you bring with you as many friends as possible to have a comfort zone. Anyway the subject is inexhaustible and you can come back alone, after you do the first reconnaicance mission! Take advantage of the many, varied and usually affordable classes, don’t do Naveira’s workshops (better spend the money on private lessons) and try as much as you can the various approaches on tango. Just make sure that you will leave some time to meet this interesting city, with its big contrasts and attractions, which has its own character far beyond tango…

PS. More posts on ‘practical’ issues to follow

Monday, September 7, 2009

The new world...

The plane is taking off from Santiago, Chile. I am surrounded by loads of Canadian people, tanned in a funny way after their ski holidays. Right in the moment of take off a guy in his thirties next to me plugs his earphones on the ipod and starts to listen to his favorite music. Me, already tired of listening to the security instructions in English, Spanish and French for the second time today, I start to heat up. The thing is that if there are still morons that will use phones, cameras or whatever, why do we have to listen to that boring shit every time we travel?


The thirty year old moron is now drumming on the air and finally clapping his legs to a rhythm that a washing machine could certainly outbeat. (He is wearing his sunglasses in the plane) One part of the story is that this ‘new’ generation of human beings can often lack any sense of social consciousness and a psychologist could make a 5 page list of problems that such an attitude may reflect. On the other hand, if you let each of these guys touch you, you are going to have a real hard time living in this world.

Solution: You detach…. You assume that you and this guy have nothing in common and you have solved the problem. After you may even start chatting with him and you may even have fun, at the most extreme scenario start to like him somehow (and in a detached way… now he is drumming on the back of the sit, while half of the people in the plane are asleep, including the user of the seat…).

Old fashioned societies were full of codes of behavior oppressing peoples’ personalities towards ‘what was the right thing’ and this could be very boring. Everybody would turn out to be similar; while good and bad are not so easily defined anyway. Then came the 60s and people made this breakthrough and managed to establish a more liberated way of seeing life. In my soul the feeling of rock and roll is the one of freedom and this is part of the heritage from this era. Being as you want in order to feel the moment, open, not taking anything for granted and aggressive in some sort. But there is some big misunderstanding while this guy tries to carry exactly the same breeze of ‘I am what I am and I don’t give a shit..’ He totally neglects the fact that the people who showed him that way had actually read Guevara’s political speeches; while he has his picture in his underwear. They were seeking everywhere around them for inspiration to do the change, while he is downloading the inspiration form itunes. Style and manners came long after a change inside, while in our era style is hopeless to pass any message through, being so exhaustively sold…

Anyway we are supposed to have passed this phase on sociological evolution and now assume that everyone is capable and thus responsible to figure out right or wrong. Another question is on which criteria this will be done and education is supposed to also ensure some standards. Education is what we learn at school, but more important is what we experience in our lives and there for me lies a big growing problem.

2 hours ago the plane was landing in Santiago and one of the most amazing sceneries I have ever seen in my life was unveiling itself through the window. A golden band of setting sun, under purple, gray, magenda painted clouds, were filling the sky. In the meantime, granite, steep, rocky mountains, were standing right in front of me with their tops all white with snow and all these colours were reflected at small ponds scattered around the grass fields of the arid Chilean landscape. At the same time, in the plane we were all watching the documentary on Flying saucers which was apparently beating Planet Earth’s unrepeated beauty. And that’s a serious part of the problem… The sun is setting in Santiago, you are hanging hundreds of meters above the earth and you are concerned about whether Flying saucers were extraterrestrial means of transport or military test models. The link with reality has broken as a screen is sucking your existence…

And this is happening with increasing frequency and intensity to all of us. First was TV, then computers, after internet, iphone, ipod, blackberries and who knows what follows next. This is why everywhere in the world people listen to music composed several (TV-free) decades ago, or at least this music remixed. If you look carefully it feels like we are not living in this world anymore in order to be inspired and create out of it… There is absolutely no problem, since life will never stop and we are always acting somehow... Even though we are not sure if many things that are defining us and the others are actually happening, or not… This is not something new; David Bowie came up with the Ziggy Stardust persona decades ago. A possible problem is that our current virtual reality may not be so cool or in style, while at the same time Ziggy actually selected space while we think we are still here!

I left home (currently Portugal) to visit New York, Buenos Aires and now Tokyo, under the terror of the swine flu. Listening to the media I was aware that I was doing something REALLY dangerous, but I decided not to change my plans… What I saw wasn’t at all what I expected… EVERYTHING WAS ABSOLUTELY NORMAL! (I don’t need to describe more, as normal is the probably what we know better… no change at all!) But this flu mania will affect our minds, attitudes and life like so many things that do not really exist. And we will continue to live even though we will be far from real world again. How, why and with what purpose they are trying to spread to flu terror is another big discussion, I have to say only one thing… There is something fishy and we have to start to seriously turning out back to mainstream media. That was too sloppy to pass unnoticed.

Anyway, I do not intend to write the perfect essay, neither to come up with any solutions. I am reviewing this text after having landed in Tokyo and I can tell that here people wear masks! They are also thin and many (too many) on every square meter… I had my visa taking instructions in 3 languages from a screen, while the girl on the desk was looking with dreamy eyes in my passport and visa declaration. I guy behind me on the queue was watching cartoons on his ipod, while I was counting how many girls had mentioned something about their lesbian ex-girlfriend the past 45 days. Flying saucers were finally man made, the Big Lebowski soundtrack is almost as cool as the movie, while trains in Tokyo are definitely fast. Japanese people look detached staring either at their iphones or on the empty space; they seem prepared for the future whatever that may be. As far as I am concerned, I think I will need some extra time!

Besos tangeros a todos!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Lust for life

I am sitting in my living room listening to online Greek radio, playing music from the 80s… I am really mesmerised by a singer called ‘Arphoditi Manou’ and a song about the night. This tendency of re-visiting the simple things in life is what I really like in music from past decades, among several other characteristics that I will mention below…

One is the ‘out of breath’ vibe in the voice (Springsteen did that a lot, see ‘Dancing in the dark’) which now would sound passé, but is so fresh in fact. It immediately wakes up the feeling of a young person running, searching, experimenting; full of life and emotions in a rush to try, taste, feel, discover things. Nobody seems to be able to stop him… isn’t that nice? And isn't that the way it should be?

Another feature that I find charming is having the melodic and lyrical elements stripped without the stylistic garments of modern music, the image making, the pretention, the lifestyle or whatever.

And this is the point where it is necessary to clarify that this post is not an elegy to the ‘good old times’, there will always be good music created and the same applies for all forms of arts, science, or whatever. On top of that, I am the first who doesn’t want to go back to the past, since my life is much better now, I am a happy man! It’s just that this happy man is feeling like talking about what he observes around him, from time to time!

So, back to the past decades poetry… Art can never be separated by aesthetics and style, but it is my humble opinion that at least music is better supported by ideas, feelings, attitudes, rather than style. Everybody is using it and plays with it, but ‘big’ music was always something more than painted guitars, tattoos, dyed hair and cozy cd covers. Particularly if the guy who’s designing all that, is a bloody manager, fighting for his new roadster. Bob Marley’s music will probably be around for much longer, because it is overwhelmed by this rastafari vibe, it is the reflection of major events like the Jamaican independence to a whole society and is so much about the simple and essential ingredients of happiness. Freedom, love, hope, change…

I was born in the second biggest city of Greece in 1975. At that time, LP records were still considered ‘technology’ and even 15 years later blue jeans, would be just a 15 euro of fake Levis. No shopping centres, no credit cards, one car per family, free camping in the summer and some naked hippies 100 m away. After, I moved to Lesbos Island for my PhD where I found my self living even further in the past. Students hitchhiking to go to university, open houses and always the key under the flowerpot. Fish fished yesterday was not fresh anymore and women bringing in their lovers from the back door, to hide them from the vigilant neighbours.

Then I went to work in Denmark and after in Italy and after in France, and then I realised that in their most modern version, my previous life experiences were corresponding to the reality that those people had been living a couple of decades ago. I was travelling in space, but what was even nicer was that I was also travelling in time. And, in those new environments, many things were different… No folk music playing, the greengrocer and the butcher was in the shopping centre, as was the restaurant, the cinema, and life in general. Rules about everything, lives organised in electronic agendas several weeks before, three times more bills in the mailbox and tasteless meat and vegetables.

The world cannot stop changing and Europe is Americanized… Our cars became bigger, our clothes fancier and we are still around, alive and kicking! And we are happy as it is obvious that everything around us is improving every day, the world is changing! In some undefined way and for unspecified reasons, those are the times when progress, prosperity and life in general are seen from the perspective of getting the best from the material things. Improve them, discover new, appreciate them as much as possible; then possess in the first place and secondly enjoy. Things become old very quickly and are changed or upgraded, since everything has to be up to date. An interesting thing on this new spirit is that the people want to upgrade themselves as well, we cannot remain the same in this constantly updated environment. We start to evaluate our lives, our selves, and the people around us from a shorter term perspective, as change is in the air and inside us.

In 1969, Jimmy Hendrix was well established as one of the best guitarists in the world and he happened to be left handed. As usual when he gave the concert in Royal Albert Hall in 1969 he was playing with a right hand Fender Stratocaster, and similarly was doing Albert King and many others; surprisingly… the guitar industry didn’t have the right product for them! Since then, the world has changed a lot and now there are so many standard, special, custom, specialised, or whatever versions for any kind of guitar, car, underwear, or lighter, that everyone can find the piece one wants, or at least one thinks one wants.

I mention this example for two reasons… One, because I find it very interesting as a simple fact; second, because it fascinates me to think that somebody grabbed a guitar, any guitar could do[1] and he became one of the best players in the world. For sure he wasn’t the only one doing those things. Today, after a first week everybody would be telling him ‘you cannot play with a right-hand guitar you are left handed, why don’t you buy the right one?’, he would end up feeling uncomfortable to play in front of his friends and he would even quit for that. Nowadays, everybody, in order to have the right to stand up and say anything in any field, has to be perfect in terms of skills, equipment and most of all …style. Few decades ago people opened their mouth and just improvised, while the others were enjoying it; today if you are not perfect, nobody pays attention to what you say, they won’t even listen if you are… And this is not only about music… Our world is full of talented, hard working people who nobody bothers to meet or listen to, because we are used to only meeting interesting personalities on TV… If he is not on TV, he isn’t that good!

The TV, on the other hand, has the responsibility of finding the discovering people we want to meet and since this has to be done on a weekly, or daily basis, it doesn’t always succeed in the quality test. We are exposed to huge amounts of trash, because somebody has to be the star of the day, something has to always be on the headlines. And the people are tired from that, they are saturated of nonsense stimulation, they became numb… There is a huge difference in the amount of information we nowadays have access to, but the opposite happens to the things that penetrate us. You can understand how big the change is if you consider that 40 years ago a lunatic like Charles Manson convinced people to follow him into the mansion, make love to him and kill others. Even he could find his audience!

I am in danger of being accused for rambling in this post and even for being boring and referring to clichés. Of course, manipulation through the media and consumerism are clichés, and I am concerned about that as well as about the environment, the injustice in the world, peace, and how all the above are interlinked… But the post is not about that … it’s about …living life! About the poetic lyrics of the song I was listening to, about the emotional reading that fascinated me… the pure lust for life. The biggest problem I find in the present approach on the ‘art of living’, is that we are so overwhelmed by the presence of products, that we inevitably begin to think that happiness is also one…

So, going back to the example of the guitar: of course, buying one will definitely make me happy, but it will not make me play. I have to play, I have to find the music inside me and release it! From my point of view, everything in life ends up to the same simple bottom line, (which if you are a Buddhist you may find it pure bullshit…): We are born and, from the very first moment, time is running against us, our cells may degenerate and reform, but there is always a deficit, we are slowly fading. Life is a gift, is a loan from something beyond us, which I even don’t want to waste time to define… Creation is the rebellion of the spirit against the slavery of time and death. It is the only hope to transform the amazing occasion of being here in this world into something more, the only possibility to go beyond the level of existence.

Man creates art, enterprises, feelings, love stories, world records and spaceships, because he doesn’t want to die. Because every time he is achieving something that he feels important and challenging, he feels connected to another dimension, another universe not governed by the notions of time and death, a domain which liberates him. In the meantime, with each step he takes on our Earth, he is slowly and physically wearing himself out; we are consuming our energy, because that way we forget the simple fact that we are consumable… Meanwhile, materials are our tools; the more efficiently we use them, the more we can go further. So, if you want to hide inside your Prada, Ipods and Levis, do it, but don’t forget that all those beautiful little things are the means and not the goal. A Ferrari doesn’t make you Schumacher, neither a Gibson Jimmy Page. Better buy a Fiat 500 and go all over Europe with it…

I started with music and I want to finish with it… Music captivates me as one of the few divine human creations. A song is the holistic reflection of a single moment; all the instant thoughts and emotions, bursting through the prism of a personality that came all the way, from his birth to the very moment of inspiration. Music can capture the magic of the moment, as well as all the background and that’s why it’s so much more than entertainment and showbiz. It can carry you into the heart of the situation and make you happy, sad, rebellious, anxious, free, in other words …it transmits life… All that can be said in one word… ’Magic’!

So, tonight I am listening to those songs that make me wish that I was there, in a period that I haven’t experienced, I wasn’t even alive. And this is because they trigger a feeling that fits into me, that makes me want to be part of and live it. People can fall in love with musicians, painters or authors, because their art exposes them to a new fascinating world, one that they would fit. And me, I am intrigued by the art that exhales lust for life! So, the dreamy closing is with me being at the Royal Albert Hall watching Jimmy play his guitar the opposite side, and being together with all those people; who at that specific moment believed that the world can change into a fair, peaceful, open-minded place. I would rather be with those naïve creatures than all than with CNN, AIDS, War on Terror, sponsored media and that unnecessary buzz.



[1] Jimmy Hendrix used right hand guitars but he was changing the string order, so the main problem was the limited access to the lower frets. Albert King didn’t even do that, he learned to play with the strings upside down. He developed his own unique technique, adjusted the tuning to his style, creating a very characteristic sound.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tango from Brussels to Iberia

I am writing this post in the train, travelling from Marseille to Granada, aiming to finally reach home at Faro. This is the final part of a trip that started from the Brussels tango festival. It was the first time I was visiting the city and thus dancing there, while the festival was completely international confirming some old, well known theories… (which are..)
• short people dance better! (even though I am medium height!)
• people from northern countries have difficulties touching each other.
• however, some of them can dance very well!
• Parisiens can be extremely snob…
• people from the Netherlands can be crazy in a very interesting way!
• Tango is becoming really international with so many different interpretations and approaches, a fact that makes it even more interesting! (and addictive.. mmmm!)

Starting with the comment regarding short people, this goes to the Argentinean professional dancers which are as fabulous, as … short! I am talking about the couples that impressed me in this festival, the perfect Pablo Vilarraza and Dana Frigolli and the playful Oracio Godoy and Cecilia Garcia. All short, flexible, musical and so charismatic! I wonder if we have any chance to become so smooth, if it is a matter of hard work or there is a limit there!
About the northerners, well, having danced REEEEALLY close embrace most of my tango years, I always find difficulty in the beginning to dance with people who don’t enjoy and feel comfort by hugging others! I understand that for cultures where contact is completely out of everyday life this is can be an issue, especially when people pour sweat on others (!!), but well… we do it in the south and it doesn’t hurt! What happens is that at first you ‘invite’ your partner to come close (I never grab anyone but I leave him ‘space’) and you feel her uncomfortness. This is already a bad starting point.... You try to dance more open but then you are under-qualifying yourself as this is not your tango, not the way you want to express it… Anyway, given that at such festivals people in general dance well (which is the most important) this can be overpassed. On the other hand some adaptation is necessary as posture, definition of axes, interpretation and several others when the bodies break up….

Continuing commenting on my remarks, I have to admit on the other hand that in that ‘family’ of tango dancers from the North (I say family as it is the same ‘tribe’ of French, Belgians, Swiss, Dutch, Germans, etc going to one tango gathering to the other..) there is a style developed which is very elaborate, light, technical and creative. There is less passion according to my humble opinion, but a lot of musicality, technique and improvisation; it is a more mental rather than emotional way to do it. And on top of that everything remains ‘fresh and clean’!!!
And that brings us to the famous world wide snobbism of the people from Paris. Guys, it is true that some of you dance very well, but RELAAAX! You are not even the best to act like that… I have been around a lot, as an unknown tango traveller and I have seen and danced with many excellent dancers (thank goodness…). Nobody ever made me feel as intensely as some tangeras from Paris that I am giving some kind of harsh exams, that I am not good enough and I shouldn’t be there at the first place. Even girls dancing tango one year have this attitude of tango divas, sitting in the milongas and saying no to the people they don’t know, in order to ‘protect’ themselves from the ‘bad guys’ who will ruin their perfect technique.
As I have written above, I have danced with several ‘super’ tangeras and inevitably some ‘super’ tantas have occurred several times, with better and worst dancers than me. When the first was the case, what made the tango great was not the technique, but the presence of the partner, just feeling all the energy, soul and attention to this awkward but so creative addiction we are subject to. My (again humble) opinion is that tango in the milonga should always be popular and not elitist, a social gathering as anyway good or bad is relative and to go to the extremes, even people you don’t consider good dancers can often surprise you. For all those of you who feel so lonely at the top, why don’t you start giving tango shows and let us common living beings enjoy getting together?

In the other extreme (in the good way) have been several Dutch girls (or at least girls living in the Netherlands) I have met in several milongas. These people have something that completely liberates them from clichés, dos and don’ts and makes interaction with them a very relaxing and at the same time dynamic and creative process. In Brussels I had one really amazing tanta (if not the best of the 5 days) with a Dutch girl which was so present and so communicative that I was sure she was Argentinean. In fact it was really funny as between the fantastic tangos (I was starting to lose it and getting dizzy..) we were trying to define the language in which we would talk. As her French was not good she was trying to speak to me in Spanish, with her thinking I was Belgian or French probably and me confirming that she was a super tangera from Buenos Aires!. In the end we realized that none had any ‘exotic’ origin and that English was the best choice… Tango was great though!
Finally, about the internationality there are many things already mentioned above. Different styles, interpretations, all this orgasm of workshops and festivals make the tango scene very dynamic. In this festival I saw for the first time (in my life) coloured people dance very good tango, while I am looking forward to meet again the very funny and creative 2 m tangero (so interesting to watch him dance…) and the so charismatic (and polite indeed) young dancer from Russia!
All the above make Brussels festival a good choice for international tango experiences. In general the festival was very well organized with good quality professional dancers, courses and demonstrations. On top of that, the venues for the milongas were really fabulous, extremely cosy and elegant and the only drawback is the same that applies for all the festivals of this scale… They are too big and rather cold… Meeting people and making ‘friends’ is a little bit difficult as there are too many people in such a big space and the ambience hardly ever warms up. On the other hand the feeling of being part of something so big and well organised has a charm on its own…
The train is arriving in Granada in few minutes and my trip to Faro continues by motorbike!! Hope to see you all my friends at the Lisbon festival end of May!

Ate logo!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tango to sell-Tango to gift....

Well most of you are probably familiar with the situation already. An Argentinian ‘tango dancer’ giving his ‘special workshop’ in some festival or event somewhere on Earth (Lisbon in my case). With his big mouth, telling stories about his country and its big traditions, showing how macho he is. When he starts dancing you realize that there better dancers among the students, but everybody is mesmerized as he is …Argentinean! In the meantime you did 200 km for the ‘special’ event, you ruined your weekend and on top of that you paid several euros!

Tango is a growing passion for an increasing number of people globally and apparently it has become a product from which others make profits. Those people are trying to do their job as well as they can which apparently is to …sell; and as a vendor is interested in increasing his productivity, rather than provide useful products, a ‘professional’ tango teacher wants to sell more steps. It doesn’t matter if they are of any use to you, if you are capable of doing them, or there is enough space for them in the milongas; they have to be fancy and complicated. Schools are into a race of who is going to teach the ‘sakada’ or the ‘ganzo’ first, neglecting if their students can take it. This has lead to a tango community having discussions about their good friends ‘Cicho’ or ‘Sebastian’, before or after going to the milonga to execute non-musical, un-balanced complicated steps, trying to imitate them.

Tango dancing on the other hand is a combination of skills and cannot be purchased. It is a language that requires time, experience and talent to be spoken fluently, so inevitably some of the customers have to be disappointed. Of course this is not acceptable from the commercial aspect and as a result tango classes have to change orientation in order not to fail. So often there is a clear effort to by-pass the problem, which is that the students are not learning! Several ‘special workshops’ are flooded by jokes and ‘funny stories’, turning out to be more entertainment, rather than learning. Furthermore it is not acceptable behaviour from a teacher to tell his students that they should try to learn to equilibrate, instead of learning the ‘soltada’, as this will harm the present system which brings profits. Some do however, like Javier Rodriguez, but this guy is a different story, as he has nothing to prove. Like his demonstrations are pure tango, without any choreography and theatrical elements, similarly in the class he doesn’t have problems to express himself in a non politically correct manner.

There is no doubt that there are many magnificent Argentinean dancers but definitely the equation Argentinean=tango dancer is not correct. The many mediocre or bad ones, as good professionals, have to find efficient ways to cover their weaknesses and become the good product they have to be. So they are preparing complicated choreographic demonstrations to distract the spectators who shouldn’t notice the lack of musicality, finesse, and flow in their dancing. And this adds a lot of distortion to the beauty and simplicity of tango, which is made to be danced between the couple and not to be watched. Excuse me if I sound crude, but if I want to watch a choreographed dance I’ll prefer going to the theatre to watch real dancers perform perfect steps after years of exhausting efforts. In the tango demonstrations I want to see true communication, musicality and desire to share.

Tango classes on the other hand are becoming extremely profitable with the prices increasing exponentially with the reputation of the professional dancers. This is a vicious circle putting pressure on them to become even more spectacular on their dancing and the steps they teach as they have to be ‘among the few who know these things’. Even famous couples of more milongero style are starting to make efforts add more ‘modern’ elements in their dancing, with often negative results. In the meantime tango dancing and consequently learning is a recreational activity and consequently the lesson has to be fun. Of course this is an important element of any pedagogic effort, but it cannot be the main goal. But often in tango classes it is.. Latin American people with their vivid and pleasant character are ideal to entertain people and tango teachers often abuse that skill. You may find yourself into a class where you learned nothing but had many good laughs, paying a little bit more than going to the movies though…

The extent to which all the above take place depend on the level of tango on the area and the cultural level of the people. I have noticed that Italian people who dance well and know what they want, will not be ‘bullshited’ so easily as the French for example who are fascinated by avant garde and ‘crazy stuff’. But still all those festivals, workshops and special events take tango in a very superficial direction and this is becoming visible almost everywhere.

What I believe is that all us tangeros should stay close to our partner, go deep into the music and what we carry inside and try to make something with all those things, first of all. After, as a musician who realizes that another instrument is necessary to enrich a specific melodic part, we have to look for other moves. But as a melody badly played is worse than no melody, similarly a fancy step without balance and musicality is not preferable to walking smoothly in the rhythm.