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.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Travel enlightment

Most if not all people have the tendency to relate to things, situations and places. This tendency is vital for our emotional world as it helps us become involved to our environment and drives our desire to share, create, know and protect. On the other hand, mentally this has a drawback as it often leads us to take things for granted, with the repetition weakening our ability to judge and evaluate new situations. It partially puts our tendency to search and explore into sleep mode.
This is among the reasons that make people who travel more interesting in a spiritual sense, as they lack this fixed frame of mind, imposed by a stationary environment and frame of life. When you encounter new places, societies and ethics, inevitably you are forced to critically evaluate your own experiences and reset beliefs and attitudes. This vital for your effort to integrate and adapt to a new reality, comprising a very entertaining and educational process.
But the main topic of this small post is not the merits from travelling but the mode of being on the move itself… This situation when you are hanging thousands of meters in the sky inside a plane, or you are watching fast-forward changing cross-country sceneries in a train, car or whatever. At that moment you don’t belong anywhere, you are only committed to a destination, while slowly you are detaching your own experiences from your point of origin. There are some musicians who transmit this feeling very well, JJ Cale is for me probably number one. I listen to his music and I feel that I am alone wandering in this big world, without a home, with a constantly changing personality and living environment. Only feelings and thoughts which are being evaluated through time by the frequency that they occur. The desires and thoughts that come to me more often are the ones who define my truth…

During the last years almost all the decisions or ideas that made a difference in my life came while I was travelling. While looking down to earth from the window of an airplane and suddenly identifying a high peak, one the ones that matter more to me. In a state which I was physically and mentally detached and I was able to choose which domain of my life or person I wanted to bring close. Just like that and out of a sudden while being in a ‘vacuum’ and free.