Want to be able to dance confidently and feel comfortable in traditional milongas of Buenos Aires?
Our bootcamp-style social tango classes develop your musicality, connection, technique & improvisation, as well as your confidence with milonga etiquette.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Creative contradictions

Life seems to be full of interesting contradictions and paradoxes. Have you noticed that tango is no exception?

Music and lyrics
The music suggests one thing, and the lyrics often say another

Looking into the music and lyrics of tango, you might be rather surprised by the apparently contradictory elements. The lyrics of tango are highly emotive, frequently melancholy and sometimes simply tragic. On the other hand, the accompanying music is physically engaging, often surprisingly upbeat - thus beckoning us onto the dance-floor (at least with a good DJ at the helm).

Originally, of course, these lyrics were written to tell human stories that the everyday person could relate to. Perhaps the music's contribution is there to enable us to experience universal human emotions through dance - also allowing us to dance away our cares for a while?

Expressing of emotions and personal space
Publicly we experience and express emotions in the arms of another person - possibly not our life partner

It comes as no surprise that social tango brings with it seemingly conflicting demands. At the root of this, perhaps is the expression of emotion in a public place. There is also the intimate physical contact with, at times, a stranger.  When two people connect through the feeling in the music, their passing, shared intimate experience may be exposed to observation and to potential comment.

So, it makes sense that the following codes (etiquette) evolved, and still have merit:
  • Despite the intense and emotive nature of some tango music, the expression of it through dance is contained. Dancers are led by the music, so the couple may experience  a powerful response. But this is not overtly demonstrated for all to see.
  • When a tango comes to an end, the couple does not maintain the embrace in any way. It is no more than a three minute romance, with no further implications. At the end of even the most romantic tanda, the lady is escorted back to her table, the man returns to his - and that is that.
Some might reject the codigos as having no place in our modern tango world, far the Buenos Aires of old. But I find that these elegant strategies allow us to enjoy the dynamics of the milonga. We are not hampered by any expectation that the three minute romance will continue beyond the dance-floor. Nor are we concerned with any speculation by onlookers about actual or imagined romantic liaisons.

The couple and the others in the ronda
A couple dance together, but they also dance with the other couples

Social tango allows each dancer to surrender to their partner and to the music. The dance is not primarily for the benefit of onlookers, but rather for the couple's enjoyment. Abandoning oneself like this can lead to a profound sense of satisfaction and joy.

Yet, a dance-floor full of couples giving unbridled expression to the music sounds downright dangerous! To avoid chaos, a couple dances with other couples in the ronda. They enter the ronda with care, the leader navigates, they move in harmony with the music, and both dancers contain their movements out of consideration for those around them. How else would it be possible for everyone on the dance-floor to enjoy themselves - without distraction and without fear of injury? When these competing demands are managed well, the ronda is blissfully harmonious. And being a part of that can feel almost magical.

Other 'contradictions' come to mind, such as:
  • the benefits of disciplined technique, in order to improvise spontaneously 
  • how a good 'leader' actually follows the 'follower'
Perhaps you can think of others ...

It seems to me that the resolution of these competing demands has actually created (rather than limited) the possibility of rich experiences for dancers. Perhaps, this could in part, explain the deep attraction of social tango.


By the way, I've been reading Jordan Peterson's thoughts on Life, and reckon that what he has to say about finding a balance between chaos and order is relevant to these ' Creative contradictions' in tango. I particularly like his example of surfing in Hawaiian culture: "When a surfer mastered a wave, he was physically embodying the balance between order and chaos".
Does the relevance to social tango seem a bit far-fetched? I'm not so sure.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Spot the beginner

A: "There she is. She's a beginner - she needs some advice. I'll give her the benefit of my expertise. After all, she'll feel grateful that someone with my experience is getting her up to dance."
(Why do some people feel the need to do this??)

B: "I was pushed and pulled all over the place. He was showing off, trying to get me to do his tricks. I had no idea what he wanted me to do, and I was made to feel like an idiot with everyone watching. He was in my ear all the time, telling me what to do - I couldn't focus on the music. Then, he used the breaks in the tanda to demonstrate figures to me. I'm new to tango and simply didn't know how to deal with the situation. I love the music, the dance, the connection, but after that, I just felt like going home."

Of course, there's an equivalent scenario with the roles reversed.

The fundamental element missing above is RESPECT. A good tango dancer (not necessarily one with lots of years of experience) will respect his/her partner - won't give unsolicited advice in the milonga, and will dance in a manner that is appropriate to the partner's current ability. The good dancer will, in fact, be able to enhance his/her partner's dancing as the tanda progresses. Yes, we may want to give our partner the benefit of our expertise, but that can be achieved through HOW we dance with them.

A good male dancer, for example, will start the tanda with a new partner by walking with sensitivity to the music - monitoring his partner's responses and accommodating, in order to instil confidence. Then maybe some small backward ochos, taking time to ensure that she completes her pivot before the next step, and being very explicit with the leads. The focus is on his partner, ensuring that she is comfortable and that the communication is working. Above all, a good dancer will respond to the music so she FEELS it through his body and his movements. During the tanda he'll check that she's feeling OK. You may ask: What about him? Well, this tanda is all about HER, as he does his best to convince her that tango is a dance of love - in many aspects.

So, how could a beginner deal with the humiliating treatment described earlier? She doesn't want to be labelled a snob by turning men away, thereby possibly reducing the chances of men inviting her to dance. On the other hand, she doesn't want to feel like someone's plaything.

Think of it this way: when it comes to unwelcome behaviours, tango is no different to other social situations. If she doesn't like what's happening to her, she doesn't have to put up with it. She could say something like:
  • "I'm sorry, but I don't feel comfortable with this right now. I'd rather sit down."
  • "I'm really not able to talk and dance at the same time."
  • "Thanks, but I need to sit down."
And in future, it's best to avoid the situation by actively using the cabeceo, and avoiding the gaze of certain people. It also pays to be armed with a response for unwelcome direct approaches - commonly used on beginners. If you'd rather not dance with someone, try something simple like: "Thanks, but not right now."

BTW. What do I mean by a 'good tango dancer'?
Someone who respects his/her partner and strives to make the tanda a positive experience; understands and practises the codes of the milonga; feels, connects with, and expresses the music in his/her dancing, and has the skills to execute tango movements which are appropriate in the social, sometimes crowded, context.

So, in the opening scenario, could you spot the real beginner?


Friday, 3 November 2017

Women's choice

Do you leave the milonga feeling dissatisfied?
Would you like to dance more? Or with other partners?
When it comes to choosing partners, do you feel powerless?
Do you feel that the milonga is a man's world?

Well, I'll let you into a little secret:
Women can be very influential in this situation, if they play their cards right. Here are a few handy tips:

If you want to dance ...

... look like you want to dance when the new tanda starts

... look at prospective partners, so they know you are interested in dancing with them (cabeceo). You could smile, too

... make an extra effort and invite a friend to the milonga to improve the gender-balance (rather than relying solely on men who came alone or with their own partners)

... approach potential partners directly (rather than looking). They may not want to dance with you or to that music. And did you realise that many ladies become annoyed with this behaviour, and see it as a form of queue-jumping or partner-poaching?

... spend precious time checking messages, etc. on your phone

... remain engrossed in a conversation when the music starts, and later complain that you didn't dance much!

Follow these tips consistently, be patient, and things will improve!  You may not get to dance with everyone you'd like to (most men don't, either), but your milonga satisfaction will certainly grow.


Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Éste es tu tango

My wonderful porteña teacher of Spanish, who grew up listening to tango, once challenged me to name a tango which wasn't melancholic, sad or downright tragic. Considering the common tango themes of loss, nostalgia, betrayal, and heartbreak, Gabriela had a point.

Yet, one of my current favourite tangos is an exception.  Have you listened to the intensely romantic and danceable Éste es tu tango? It's so full of hope.

Imagine this scene in a milonga: a nervous young man smitten with a special young woman.  Her eyes show her interest. But he's too shy to look her way.  All this is observed by the singer, who urges him to take this precious opportunity for happiness.

Listen to this gem of a tango, while reading the lyrics, kindly translated by El tango te espera


And how would you dance to this?

Friday, 20 October 2017

Ten years of Comme il faut!

Heartfelt thanks to the Adelaide tango community for your support of Comme il faut over the past ten years.  Yes, this lovely milonga has been running for that long!  Of course, that would not have been possible without your active participation, and the warmth & generosity of spirit which you all bring.

Congratulations to award-winners: Gerda, Raphael and Roger, who scored the highest attendances over the decade.  Hope you enjoy your liquid prizes  😄

To the bearers of flowers, gifts and well-wishers (including those unable to attend), thank you for your very kind words and support.

Here are some photos of this special celebratory milonga held 8 October.  And if you weren't able to attend, we'd be delighted to welcome you to La Esquina (Sunday 29 October) and the next Comme il faut  (Sunday 19 November).

Popular posts