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Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Peeling the tango onion

Tango means different things to different people: music, a dance, performance art, social club, business, culture, fun. And this may determine how each person approaches it.

When it comes to social tango, there appears to be a series of layers that dancers may or may not progress through - depending on their personal pursuit. Something like peeling an onion (tears and all!). Here's one way of looking at it:
  • The outer layer - the thin veneer that coats the onion. It's the initial discovery of tango - often through being dazzled by seeing others dance and thinking "I want to do that"

  • Then comes the time to take the plunge - wanting to emulate what was observed.  Numerous layers involve learning skills - posture, walk, a range of simple movement combinations useful in the milonga.  It can take years to achieve true competence.
    Can dancers be content to remain here?

  • Along with this comes further cultivation of the embrace, clear body communication, navigation, subtle leads and unhurried responses, as well as milonga etiquette.
    This begs the question: How established does the previous foundation need to be in order to progress more deeply into these layers?

  • Beneath this we have an even sweeter layer: Musicality, which means using the body memory, not the head, responding intuitively to the nuances of the music; navigation that flows and is immediately responsive to any change encountered.  The earlier layers are essential for success here, because this heralds the growth of improvisation, varied dynamics and pauses. What was once familiar now starts appearing in different forms.
    Is this the layer that many dancers see as their final goal?

  • Perhaps the core has yet to be reached.  We get closer to it when we start dancing the feeling.  Moving from the external to the internal seems a good description of where this layer takes us: where we rely on the emotions evoked by the music.
    How much better is this if we also understand the lyrics?

  • I'd suggest that there's perhaps one last layer - or the core - which involves embodying the culture of tango whenever we step into a milonga.
    Is it possible to achieve this without immersing oneself in the traditional milongas of Buenos Aires?


It's not difficult to imagine the unpacking of matryoshka (Russian dolls) as another metaphor for tango's challenging journey of discovery.



  1. Tango Salon Adelaide wrote "Tango means different things to different people: a dance, performance art, social club, business, culture, fun."

    Interesting to see this list omits the one thing tango means above all else to people in e.g. Argentina.


  2. Quite right, Chris. Let's add it to the list.

    All the taxi drivers in BsAs talk about it. Many people we speak to there were brought up listening to it, even if they never danced.


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