At yesterday's milonga, a native Spanish-speaker remarked on the huge impact of the lyrics of tango on his dance. Some lyrics enriched his experience beyond description.
It makes sense when you think about it, doesn't it? Consider for a moment those tangos which absolutely summon you to floor. You hear the opening bars of the piece and feel that you have to dance. I'll wager that it's the emotion of that music which plays a huge role in making you look around - almost with a sense of urgency - for a partner. How much stronger is that emotional response when you also know something of the story, or if you understand the lyrics as they are sung?
Tango is a feeling which we share when we dance with our partner. How much richer could that shared experience be, if we understood something of the poetry?
So, if you now suspect that you might be missing out, look up a few of your I've-got-to-dance-to-this tangos. You can read translations while you listen. Here are some of my favourites in Poesia de Gotán and Embrujamiento. One website thoughtfully provides subtitled Youtube videos, too!
Here's one of my favourite Pugliese tangos subtitled by Tango Decoder:
When guests come to your home for the first time, you show them in, you introduce them to other people who are present. You help them to feel at ease.
So, in your experience, do milonga organisers make you feel welcome and show you where there are free seats? Or are you expected to fend for yourself after paying your entry fee? As a newcomer, are you introduced to a few dancers, to help ease you into the local scene?
When going out, I was expected to make an effort with my attire and grooming. It showed respect and appreciation to my hosts and fellow guests.
Isn't it lovely when men and women at the milonga have donned some nice clothes for the event, which also helps them leave their day-to-day lives at home, at least for a little while.
When wanting to engage in conversation with someone, I learned to read the other person's body language first, to see whether they might be interested in talking with me. It's wonderful to see more and more people in milongas confidently using the cabeceo, the "Are you interested in dancing with me?" non-verbal form of invitation.
My mother also taught me to say "No", when I felt uncomfortable.
So, I don't understand why otherwise assertive women put up with some dance partners' behaviour. Are they afraid of hurting his feelings? What about their own feelings and self-respect?
If we bump into someone while walking down the footpath, we automatically apologise, and pay more attention as we walk on.
How many times have you been bumped or kicked while dancing at a milonga, with no acknowledgement from the perpetrator, let alone an apology? Nowadays this is infrequent in Adelaide, but it does shock me when it happens.
Should the milonga be any different to other social situations, when it comes to common courtesy? I think not. Yet, why do some people forget what their mother taught them, when they go to a milonga?
Maybe it's a question of maturing and feeling comfortable in one's tango skin, and realising that tango is not about executing steps. It's about relating to others.
Visiting foreign milongas can be hit and miss. Often, it's more miss than hit! In our experience tango communities can be - shall we say - rather insular when newcomers appear at a milonga. Lack of familiarity with the cabeceo can be a factor. If people aren't using or are not alert to the non-verbal "I'd like to dance with you" signals, they will probably stick with the safe option, and just dance with their friends - despite having observed that the newcomers dance well. That's their choice, of course. But it seems a pity. They'll never know what they missed.
So, it was with no high expectations that we went to The Counting House, Edinburgh Tango Society's Tuesday evening milonga. What a pleasant surprise to be warmly welcomed by their tango community not only on arrival, but throughout the evening. Most dancers used the cabeceo effectively, and we were both kept busy dancing to DJ Mike's good music with lots of lovely Edinburgh people. (Coincidentally, DJ Mike mentioned that he had attended our Comme il faut milonga when visiting Adelaide seven years ago, and remarked several times what a welcoming tango community he had encountered.)
Thanks for the great night, Edinburgh. Hope we can reciprocate your hospitality in Adelaide soon.
If you've learned to dance the man's role in tango, you may have been urged to dance with more intention. Especially as a beginner dancer, any tentativeness or indecision would probably have been identified. You would have been reminded that even a hint of uncertainty is immediately apparent in your partner's response .... or lack of it!
As a consequence, you may have also formed the impression that dancing with intention is only important in the man's role. That the woman simply follows what the man proposes in the dance. And perhaps this is so ... in the early stages.
However, most experienced dancers will confirm that there is much more to the woman's role than "just following".
Dancing well in the woman's role means responding to the music and to the man's proposal without anticipation and haste. When she moves to the music it is with conviction, commitment and confidence.
Perhaps not so different to the intention required in the man's role??
Here are two performance treats, both embodying intention.
Andy highlighted the challenge of the woman's role and the timing of her response to the lead. Indeed the woman must contribute her interpretation of the man's lead and the music to the dance, otherwise she is merely a puppet being dragged around in his arms.
A very good female tango dancer achieves a sensitive balance between the lead and her personal expression, with the outcome being a beautiful unity of music and movement. Two individuals dance as one in the embrace. Lidia Ferrari's article The place of woman in tango (or Is tango macho?) elaborates on what is required of the woman, as well as perhaps challenging some macho men who may see themselves as good tango dancers. Thanks for sharing these articles, Andy!
Just take a look at Adela dancing with Gaston at the start of Dany and Lucy's milonga.
Respect lies at the heart of tango, and it begins with that most respectful of invitations to dance – the cabeceo . It continues with ...
Close-embrace, improvised tango danced socially in traditional milongas of Buenos Aires is the tango we love. We focus on developing musicality, connection, sound technique and confidence with milonga etiquette in our classes.
Robert Youngson & Patricia Petronio
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