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Friday, 28 May 2010

Que tangazo!

Ever wondered what makes a great tango?

A local ex-porteño ( … mm, I’m not sure if you can ever stop being a porteño) was recently commenting on some tango music. Like many natives of Buenos Aires, he grew up listening to tangos, but he never learned to dance it. Anyway, I digress.

On hearing D’Arienzo’s interpretation of Pensaló bien, he commented, “My mother would have said: Que tangazo!” I got his drift, but didn’t know exactly what he meant by tangazo. So he dutifully emailed me a grammatical explanation of augmentative suffixes in Spanish. Still, a question remained for me: What makes a good tango a tangazo? Does it simply come down to individual preference?

Later I pressed him further. He thought there would be some common denominators of tangazos. But what were they? He consulted a Uruguayan tangophile who lives interstate, and after some lengthy discussion, this is what they came up with:
  1. Lyrics which scratch below the skin because they 'say something'
  2. Music which is good to dance or listen to
  3. Longevity - people listen to those tangos over the years, the 'guardia vieja' and the new generation alike enjoy them. They never die.
  4. A fan of Troilo (bandoneon as the lead instrument) as compared to a fan of D'Arienzo (piano as the lead instrument) would have different lists of tangazos

So that made me wonder whether some instrumental tangos make the grade?

What about great valses and milongas? I’ve only heard the diminuitive term: valsecito, rather than an augmented version. Could there be a reason for this?

Anyway, here are a few pieces (links to lyrics, music and translations) which I consider tangazos. Of course, you may have a different view altogether about whether these could be considered tangazos. Indeed, there may well be other definitions of tangazos. If so, I’d love to hear from you.


Gloria (De Angelis/Dante)

Adiós Arrabal (D’Agostino/Vargas)

El Adiós (Donato/Lagos)

Mandria (D’Arienzo/Echagüe)

Tristezas de la Calle Corrientes (Troilo/Fiorentino)

Poema (Canaro/Maida)

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Dancing in Buenos Aires

If ever I’m asked about what it’s like dancing in the milongas in Buenos Aires, my first response is, "It depends". For a start, it depends on which milongas, and we choose our milongas carefully. But the more important response is, “It depends on whether we go in as a couple or as singles”. The milonga experience is quite different in the two scenarios.

When we go to neighbourhood milongas like Sin Rumbo, La Baldosa, Sunderland, Circulo Trovador, we tend to go as a couple because they are traditional, largely ‘couples’ milongas. That means we dance just with each other, unless we’re attending with friends. Here we can relax, knowing how each other dances, take a few risks, but always respecting the local codes and the local dancers. It’s a nice feeling to be accepted, and to be part of the local tango community at these milongas.

However, Cachirulo, El Beso, Lujos, Canning (Saturdays) are very different – largely for singles, with a high standard of dancing. Immediately, there are elements of tension and uncertainty to deal with. Using the cabeceo to gain dances with partners who we’ve identified we’d like to dance with – that can take time & patience, and can be a bit nerve-wracking. Others need to be aware that we can dance well before they’re going to look in our respective directions – so whenever we dance, it needs to be neat with good connection with partner and music …. and, of course, always respecting the codes!

The first embrace with a new partner is a defining moment – it tells our partner a lot about us as dancers. As a leader, I need to instill confidence in my partner immediately, so that she can relax into the expectation that she’ll have a good dance experience and that she’ll be safe. My dancing needs to be very focussed – on my partner’s ability, her responses, and my musicality …… the range of ‘figures’ is almost irrelevant. She wants to dance tango and I need to accommodate her idiosyncrasies. Within these parameters, the tanda needs to be an enjoyable experience for both of us accompanied by a necessary level of tension to keep us sharp.

Which experience is better? They are simply different …… and it’s gratifying to be able to choose and reap the rewards of both.


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