Tango and Italy .. and another evening gone..

Another evening has just sunk from sight into the all consuming quicksand of Tango.

It all started as I was listening – for the hundredth time – to this absolutely beautiful late Di Sarli tango – Domani – sung by Mario Pomar. I just love this tango so much.

And then for some reason I thought  – why is it called Domani?

The  lyrics are Spanish of course. A bit of google translate shows that the protagonist – as usual crying in the bar – is called Don Giovanni. And once again – the orchestra  is Di Sarli.

And then I just started asking questions about the influence of Italians in the development of Tango. Fortunately I unearthed a wonderful paper by Llaria Serra :  ‘ “Italian Tango” Between Buenos Aires and Paolo Conte ‘ .  This is downloadable from here.

I just wanted to note some of the things from this paper that really interested me. There is much more of course..

  1. To quote Piazzolla himself “Sobre el tango flotan las melodías de los italianos”.
  2. The formative years of tango were 1890 – 1920 .. and Italians comprised 60% of the total immigration to Argentina before 1890.
  3. Italians were the organ grinders who first brought tango’s notes to the streets, and Italian men were among the first tango dancers.
  4. The tango had not yet reached downtown; it lingered in the suburbs, on the sidewalks, in front of the tenements where men danced accompanied by the hand-organs played by their owners, Neapolitan and Calabrese men with shiny black hair.
  5. One of the most beautiful definitions of tango in Argentina belongs to a famous composer and son of an Italian immigrant, Enrique Santos Discépolo: “Il tango è un pensiero triste che si balla” (“Tango is a sad thought that you can dance”).
  6. The harmonic structure of the first tango, according to Ucci, came from Italian opera and the Neapolitan canzonetta, with a preference for melodramatic themes of love and betrayal, and a lyrical style of violin and guitar playing.
  7. Just looking at he surnames Italian origin musicians that played tango throughout the golden age Matteucci lists 231 “bandoneónistas” (from Enrique Alessio to Marcelo Zoppolo); 138 piano players (from Juan Abbondanza to César Zagnoli); 179 violin players (from Juan Abatte to Orestes Zungri); 154 among viola, cello, double bass, guitar, flute and clarinet, and drum players; 57 poets and lyricists (from Santiago Adamini to César Vedani); and 55 singers.
  8. And going beyond their adopted names – who would have thought that Roberto Chanel’s real name was Alfredo Mazzucchi? or that Canaro – of course born in Uruguay – was actually called Canarozzo ? or that Firpo was born into a Italian family? And De Caro.. and Troilo ..

This wonderful paragraph completely intrigues me :

Today, tango in Italy has become a recreational dance. Lessons provide a meeting place for socialization but also a locus of difference in which to escape daily life. Tones of exoticism and positive otherness blend with “mysterious elements of virility, feminine beauty and sentimentality,”  and this “hybrid producer of otherness” has become an “example of a globalized postmodernity that can become an identity.”

I stopped myself – I had actually typed ‘locus of difference’ into a Google Search – but as my hand hovered over the enter key I felt the atypical urge to stay sane.

Another night, perhaps.


The Draw to Perform Experience

This is a composite video of Day 1 – what a wonderful summary of such a diverse series of performances.

This was such an interesting time for me. Meeting Jan, being around such artistic talent – experiencing something new.

Artists are all credited in the video – but from me a special thanks to Jan Rae, Ram Samocha and to Domenico Dominelli for creating such a professional summary video.

Dancing with Art

Meeting Jan Rae and being part of Draw to Perform was such a great experience.

Thank you.

Photo Credits – these are the work of Manja Williams

I learned so much – about Tango, Jan, myself and a small glimpse of what performance art is.

I also saw how really talented some people are in an art form that is not that familiar to me. Confident. Expressive. Creative. Natural. Emotional. Atmospheric. Challenging.

All the things that if we are not careful we can just miss from our own Tango. What a criminal waste that is – given the intensity of the dance and the opportunities for communication and sensuality that it and the music present to us.


I have been thinking about habits a lot recently – so many bad things I do in Tango are habituated – I just do them without thinking. It seems crushingly hard to bring them fully back into my conscious mind so I can break them down, and either change or remove them.

So I was fascinated to read extracts from an interview with  Naval Ravikant, a polymath. Some relevant quotes : 

I think human beings are entirely creatures of habit. Young children are born with no habit loops. They’re essentially born as blank slates. Then they habituate themselves to things and they learn patterns and they get conditioned and they use that to get through everyday life. Habits are good. Habits can allow you to background process certain things so that your neocortex, your frontal lobe, stays available to solve brand new problems.

You absolutely need habits to function. You cannot solve every problem in life as if it is the first time it’s thrown at you. What we do is we accumulate all these habits. We put them in the bundle of identity, ego, ourselves, and then we get attached to that.

I’ve definitely broken habits completely. I think you can uncondition yourself. You can untrain yourself. It’s just hard. It takes work. It takes effort. Usually the big habit changes comes when there’s strong desire-motivators attached to them.

I have often thought if I could just minimise the damage – still be a victim of the habit but just try to force myself as often as possible to override it  – try to be conscious of it and cover it up in some way:

Suppression doesn’t work. When you try to suppress, that’s the mind suppressing the mind. That’s just you playing games with yourself. I think it’s a very hard problem.

So it seems that indeed to break down these habits is really tough – but to improve we have no choice. We have to be aware of them, be motivated to break them and learn new ones at the lower, physical  level of the way we naturally move.

It seems even more challenging in dance because as soon as we start this we replace something that although incorrect at least felt easy and fluid with something that just paralyses us – no-one can dance Tango while solving so many problems intellectually. Precisely why we needed the habits in the first place.

But trying to outsmart our own body is just playing games with ourselves – and fools us with the fake  havens of inorganic Tango, a lack of possibilities and the ultimately unsatisfying landscape of an intermediate dancer.

To move properly we have physically work so hard – there are no clever short cuts – we need an initial understanding from a mentor so we can understand the problem – a lot of motivation – and then a huge amount of repetitive work on solo exercises, posture – and if we are lucky enough  the chance to work with practice partners who already get this..

Then, just maybe, we can change our habits – one at a time – replacing them with new ones that create a whole new level of movement, energy and possibilities.