As someone who has been constant over the last almost 9 years in my lack of interest in any tango that is choreographed – it really is interesting to start this personal journey now.
The initial lessons for me are really powerful, and I suppose if you have been choreographed before then they are obvious – but I never have been.
Some highlights for me as I make the first hesitant steps on this journey:
It is fundamentally liberating for the follower to actually know what’s coming next. It really changes everything for her.
If we are serious about learning Tango we all want to push boundaries and break down barriers.
In a choreographed world for the follower so many things are now ‘enabled‘ and ‘allowed‘ – she can get the most out of every moment, and move her body in way that would carry an unacceptable risk in social dancing.
I can already sense as a leader that new links to the music are opening up, in a very precise and different way from improvised dancing. This is exciting – some more elaborate, choreographed moments can certainly be brought back to the world of improvised tango that I love so much.
More elaborate footwork – for example – will not disturb her as she quite rightly has little knowledge of what embellishments a leader’s feet are doing.
Thinking about an audience is another perspective – I have cared for a while now about aesthetics – but not in this way.
In a way though it brings back a whole new anxiety – as a leader in a social dancing world I can be in the moment – move from node to node, improvise my way through the dance – and that place took a lot of effort to occupy with some confidence.
Now I am anxious that I might forget what’s next.
And in a way that makes me a follower – in that I have that mindset that I need to push beyond – am I about to make a mistake?
We need to stay in the present to enjoy the magic of Tango.
Follower’s anxiety drags us into the future.
So – I think – does choregraphy.
But it is yet another layer in this unlimited journey – and that of course is just fascinating.
An interesting list for this evenings team discussions of cover versions – which ones we prefer and why – what was the cover trying to improve? Did they succeed?
Jo – Remembranza – De Angelis and D’Arienzo
Nigel – El Recodo – Di Sarli and Biagi
Deb – El Pañuelito – Pugliese and D”Arienzo
Jon – Unfortunately the selection was eaten by Archie
Remembranza is one of Jo’s favourite – and she has in fact chosen 2 cover versions ! Malerba recorded this in 1943 – D’Arienzo was in 1964 and De Angelis in 1954. I have added the iconic Pugliese version from 1956 as well as the ‘original’ from Malerba.
Personally I have played the Malerba version 230 times, D’Arienzo 100, Pugliese 46 times and De Angelis – who I normally love – only 3 times!
I chose El Recodo from Biagi in 1952 as I love playing this in a mixed orchestra 1950s tanda. There were actually 2 previous Di Sarli versions in 1941 and 1951 – this one is from 1951.
Deb chose El Pañuelito from Pugliese 1959 and D’Arienzo in 1963.
In these difficult times we have totally changed the way that we practise. Four sessions a week – and 100% using video.
On day 1 we pick a theme – like colgadas – study our Trello Cards – focussed, labelled and categorised records of our professional teachers teaching us each sequence – and start to practise them.
We video a dance where we feature the sequences we are studying, and later on we select at least 6 things that need improvement. We also are careful to praise each other where things look good – this needs to be sustainable and focussing only on weaker areas can itself cause issues.
On day 2 we work on these identified areas – comparing our efforts to our teachers – all again using video.
We then re-record a dance and compare the first versions with the second.
This is an incredibly focussed practise routine. Here is an annotated example from last weekend.
Before the pandemic we used video only occasionally, and in a very general way. This is a new level completely.
We miss the professional input of our teachers hugely – but we have enough material and have been taught enough times that when we see errors we are confident in our ability to work through them, applying the solid foundation principles that we have been taught by them for so long.
We also practise to the more open modern music so associated with Nuevo – this may seem unusual but I find as the leader that it frees up one side of my brain, that would normally be so in tune with the complex demands of the music.
Four sessions a week is actually more work than when we were attending classes and social practise sessions, as we only practised by ourselves once a week.
The difference is the focus – and the completely different relationship we have now with the camera.
As Tango dancers we always want to be moving forwards – and this certainly is producing great results even after just the first weeks – since the lockdown started.
One either benefit is that the attention to detail and the planned nature of each session makes everything stress free, and hugely rewarding and enjoyable. We often limit each session to just 45 minutes – which flies by as we work rapidly through each area.
We so look forward to being able to dance with our friends in our small practica and to being back under the watchful eye of our experienced professionals – but this has indeed proved an outstanding way to change our learning regime to take advantage of these unexpected and unfortunate times.
All feedback welcomed – on facebook please as your thoughts will reach a wider selection of our community.
Next month it will be 8 years of throwing myself at this thing. Such an enjoyable journey, so many friends met, so many great experiences. Such deep music.
I have travelled many, many times for Tango, pushed myself, studied, studied again and sometimes – in the last year or so – actually danced with some sense of pleasure.
But despite this completely wonderful experience I do feel some disappointment, frustration and ultimately sadness. I want to work to change this.
In many ways I think that what tango is now, how it is presented, how we consume it – is fundamentally flawed.
It is the ultimate elephant in the room – where we all just ignore the presence of so much complete and utter nonsense – perhaps because everyone else does. And because we still want to believe – even though time and time again the real world knocks on our door and tells us that we are mistaken.
Trying to work this out I just want to think of some of the fundamental parts of the tango world, as I have experienced them, just one at a time.
This is an improvised dance but 90% of teachers everywhere prioritise steps with little discussion of the embrace, communication or creativity.
What on earth is the point of this? If we do manage to keep learning for more than a few years then we as students have to fight so hard for even more years to escape from the collateral damage these teachers inflicted on us.
Learning patterns so you can pretend you can get through an improvised dance when a clueless person is watching has nothing to do with the beauty of feeling Tango. Yet that is what we so often get.
So many possibilities – yet the reality for most people is an immensely unoptimised experience. Dire music, miserable environments, beautiful women who have made such an effort sitting on chairs for 90% of the evening praying that there might by a miracle be at least one leader in the room that knows something about the essence, music and beauty of tango.
And that they might possibly ask them – because it is apparently OK that they can’t ask but leaders can.
What on earth is the point of these things? A succession of smiling choreographed professionals show us they can memorise lots of impossible things to do very quickly in 12 minutes.
Of course they can, they don’t have anything else to do and they spend months and months trying.
Who cares? Even if they made a mistake we wouldn’t notice because we have no idea what their predetermined sequence that they just forgot was ..
Choreographed performances, speeches and announcements, and through all of this beautiful women who have made such an effort are now sitting on chairs for 3 days on end rather than just 4 hours
The gender imbalanced world of Tango means that once men know a few meaningless patterns and are not completely torturing followers they can keep getting dances and just stop learning because they don’t need to learn to meet their own limited ambitions.
Although of course this is understandable it is such a disaster for an intelligent, fascinating, difficult and improvised partner dance. But it is the reality. Especially – I think – in England.
This one I just don’t get. And I care about it so much. Because I want to practise.
If we love tango – and we want to work at it – because Tango has no valid shortcuts and we want to be better – why on earth doesn’t everyone I meet talk about how to practise, who you are practising with, where to practise – how to work, how to learn. How to sweat, listen, try, create – to make something. How to create something true to themselves.
How to break down any muscle memory of steps until they have completely gone. How to take yourself to where you have never been before. How to creatively exit in 3 different ways from this node. How to get in a zone but stay with the music. How to converse with each other. How to connect and stay connected and never ever lose it.
But they never do. They might talk about lessons, teachers, other dancers, sometimes Milongas and often festivals. They say they want to be so good at something so challenging – yet they don’t prioritise practise. They don’t work together – helping each other.
This I don’t get and I don’t think I ever will. It as if the Tango world pulled a colossal blanket over all of our eyes. It’s like a perfect conspiracy.
The perfect tango conspiracy
1 It is an improvised dance – ignore that just learn these wholly irrelevant steps instead.
2 It is hard – ignore that and don’t practise
3 It is the world’s most beautiful music – full of so many emotions that you can dance to – ignore that and have no understanding what orchestra this is, who the singer is and have no idea what they are saying – that’s just fine.
I am going to find people who really do want to work at this thing. Great work, effort filled work. Sweat, frustration and joy – as obstacles of communication are overcome..
Practise – the thing we all should be doing but mostly aren’t. From now on I am going to chase this down – somewhere in the world there has just got to be a group of hard working people who see through the tango myth that surrounds them and want to actually work hard and get better at an improvised dance?
I would get on planes to find them. And I suspect that is exactly what I will have to do.
At the Lewes and Tango Revolution Milongas I will each month be featuring an orchestra. As this sounds a bit academic – and it isn’t at all – I wanted to briefly explain this.
Although I play music that often extends past the golden age – because I love to dance to that full orchestral sound and because there is so much amazing music into the 50’s and even beyond – apart from that I am in so many ways a traditionalist.
I follow the time honoured rules – such as always playing at least one Tanda – and almost always more – from each of the big 4 ( D’Arienzo, Troilo, Pugliese and Di Sarli). I follow the established format of TTVTTM. I don’t play Nuevo. Our Milongas are inclusive – welcoming to all, and encourage the Cabaceo.
What the featured orchestra means is simply that I will play two Tango tandas within the 4 hours from that Orchestra. I will chose tandas that show the different sides of their work – because to me that is the interesting part.
A featured orchestra will always be outside of the classic top orchestras – because they will often already be repeated in a 4 hour Milonga – out of respect and more importantly because their music is amazing.
I will normally be illustrating different singers or different decades. If they are strong in Milonga or Vals I may also play one of their tandas in that genre. But only if it is truly great to dance to – the dancers mean everything to me.
Please don’t worry if you are not yet that concerned with the music! There are over 20 tandas in a 4 hour Milonga – you won’t notice and please just enjoy the dance, the Cava, the cake – and the company of your friends.
But if you are interested in learning more about the music – just watch the heads up display – and there will always be a post before the event announcing who the featured orchestra is this month – presenting a side from each of the tandas and adding a bit more context for you.
I hope you enjoy this approach. Increasing our understanding of the music improves our dancing and our respect for the amazing musicians who made this whole thing possible.
I have always been thrilled to watch the great performers being able to improvise and leverage the individual track they are dancing to.
It’s like they know every note.
In one of those moments we all get in Tango I now realise that this is because they actually do. They really do know every note. They aren’t pretending they do. They really do.
And this took a heck of a lot of focussed listening. It isn’t some freaky genetic gift or super hero talent – they put the work in.
They can improvise with such great speed, inspired creativity and heightened enjoyment precisely because they really do know exactly what is coming – their focus is free to emotionally respond to it – and how to express that with their partner.
So I am starting this journey. I guess that I will need to listen to each track 500 times to be anywhere near where I need to be. And to avoid going crazy I decided to work on this with 3 different songs.
Based on the songs I have chosen that is already going to take 8:34 * 500 which is 70 hours of listening. If I can be disciplined I can do this 6 days a week – we all have off days – and on those days I listen to them all 3 times. That is mathematically fairly neat – it is going to take 6 months of effort.
So – now to the songs.
Criteria for selection :
They get played in Milongas. We all want the chance to show off a bit after so much effort – don’t we?
They are emotionally complex.
They vary in rhythmic and melodic sections.
They vary in emphasis between piano, strings, bandoneon and – where there is one – the singer’s voice.
I actually wanted a majority of instrumentals as I thought after a few hundred listens the words might irritate me.
There are frequent pauses and still areas.
They aren’t Pugliese tracks – I couldn’t survive listening to the same Pugliese track 500 times in a row, 6 days a week for 6 months. No one is that strong.
They are tracks I just love to dance to.
So here they are – with – just for interest – the number of times I have listened to each one at home to date ..
El Último Café – Juan D’Arienzo & Jorge Valdez (97)
Pura Clase – Biagi ( 275 )
Felicia – De Angelis ( 223 )
I am going to fall asleep to these songs. I am going to wake up to them. Eat and drink with them. Walk with them. I plan to waft around the room to them pretending to be Carlitos.
I frequently find myself a bit fed up because I finally get something in Tango and then realise that great teachers have been telling me that for years.
Why didn’t I hear them?
The problem – I now realise – is that there is no “finally” in Tango.
Especially with the big concepts – like connection, the embrace, energy, focus and musicality.
I did hear them.
And I am sure I tried to improve. But I was only at the skill level I had, so exactly the same word and even similar sentences of patient explanation – could only be interpreted by my mind according to the experienced and remembered feelings of my body.
It just isn’t possible to understand the depth of these huge concepts using words alone – exactly the same word – “connection” – just has a completely different meaning to a professional than it does for someone like me with not yet 6 years of study.
We think we understand – it is an explainable word – but we don’t. We have to crawl there day by day – and when we make a noticeable improvement we tend to think we have “got it”.