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.

Leading, Following, Musicality – and Connection

Some pretty deep Tango subjects.

So I watched this .. many, many times over – along with about 15 million other people ..

And I thought…

  • Such a sense of rhythm – amazing on all levels
  • It’s all about the music – obviously
  • There is absolutely no lead and follow – they are in harmony creating something wonderful
  • The energy circulates around them, sometimes more on one than the other but always ebbing and flowing backwards and forwards between them
  • They are so on top of everything
  • They can break all the rules because of course they know how to stay within them – they can remake the idea of an acoustic guitar and change our expectations
  • She does watch him – to reference him – but that’s all
  • They aren’t even touching each other

And here’s what really, really matters to me…

  • He isn’t taking her space.
  • She hasn’t got her head stuck on him.
  • They nail the end
  • It’s bloody exciting.

Yay – please can I work so hard day after day, hour after hour – with someone to be as creative, expressive, exciting and balanced as this in Tango?


Drawing Tango – with Jan Rae

In early March I am looking forward to working with Jan Rae –  a visiting Australian artist and tango dancer coming to Brighton to participate in the Dance /Draw Symposium at Fabrica.

Drawing performance is a stream of performance art in which artists create their artwork in front of a live audience while communicating with the viewers.

Mark making in drawing performance is often a result of powerful physical gesture and body movement that connects elements of line, movement, space and time. Drawing Performance is often multi-disciplinary, combining dance, video, photography and sound.

This is an example of the kind of work we will be creating together

A summary drawing performance site is here and Jan Rae’s youtube channel is here.

I really look forward to this new experience and perspective on Tango – and specifically to working with Jan.


Hello 2017 – we haven’t really met yet.

I just wanted to say ‘hi’.

And to let you know that this is my year, so thanks in advance for not being a bitch and arguing about it.

I am going to feel so much that is new for me about Tango – this is the year that I get to first base.

So just give it up OK?

Believe me you are facing a wall of concentrated, focussed energy.  I have friends on my side, I have great teachers. I have put in the effort. I really have. I love the music, I love the people, and more than anything Tango itself.

So just move on over and welcome me – because you are mine and we can do this the easy or the hard way, I have the energy for both.

This is the year I get celebrate in the studio and on the dance floor – so just accept it. Give me a chance to do what I want to do.

It is my turn. You had every year of my life to date. Fair enough.

This one is mine.

I never want to be confident at Tango – NEVER EVER

I am quietly confident in some things. Not many but some. Tango isn’t one of them.

I have lived in many countries. Succeeded – perhaps – a bit – at some things.

I did – however – once earn the unconditional love of a wonderful dog. That was truly amazing. Breathless and mystifying. Absolutely everything else in my life has been in some way explainable.

And so now I wait. I watch, and I seek.

I see people who are quietly confident in Tango. They comfortably execute things without risk. They have a nice time together. They are civil and have tea. And cakes. I turn away.

I watch people who are noisily confident in Tango. I turn away.

I watch people with agendas. I turn away.

Tango is one of the only two things in the world that I never want to be confident in.

True Tango is about exploration and personal risks, and risks  are never comfortable.

I learn as best I can, all of the time. That’s what I do. But I am not chasing confidence, I am chasing an increased understanding and better technique so that I can truly feel the music and the excitement. I am pushing boundaries and those boundaries are the edges of me. They define me. Edges do that.

I am chasing a miracle. The only time I was ever able to touch it was when it was wearing the most beautiful, intelligent, soft brown eyes. And those eyes taught me so much, they helped to define me.

I really, really pray that I never think – even for a heartbeat – that I have caught up with Tango – that I am in any way ‘confident’.

I desperately want to stay terrified. Always. I want to feel him again. I want Tango to feel everything I have to offer and to stare straight back at me – to quietly question me.

To share everything, without words, without agendas.

For the second time in my life.

My changing understanding of Energy in Tango

As I reach 4 years of learning Tango some things at least are becoming clear – perhaps the most consistent lesson is that words are multi-layered – they neatly wrap things in shiny packages that at the time shelter us from our complete lack of understanding of what they really mean.

As we use them to label complex structures they quietly laugh at us.

Words reassure us that “this concept” at least we understand, when in fact Tango lies in wait for us and in another year will wake us up and show us that in fact we knew nothing. Yet again.

Like layers of an onion at any one time everything seems consistent – it makes internal sense – but we are unaware of the reality of just a few levels down. The foundation just beyond us that matters so much.

One such concept that is so close to my learning now is ‘Energy’.

I remember – albeit vaguely – that I have always wanted to dance ‘with energy’ in some way – even though at times to me it just meant ‘not being dull’.

Then I remember many discussions about energy being nothing to do with momentum. Which seemed wholly reasonable. Momentum – of course – has little place in Tango.

I watch some leaders very much dance with energy – and I feel sad. Surely not that.

Again and again now I am asked by teachers to keep the energy. Rotational energy. To not abandon her. She also wants much more from me – she makes this clear. “Pause now – but don’t lose the energy”.

I had been  puzzled with how we can cleanly define each movement – to not slur the steps – without creating a totally unsatisfactory stop/go environment for my partner. We want everything to flow for her – without blurring our precision in what we are asking for.

How can this work? How can I execute each movement clearly without running from one to the other but still enable her to flow freely from axis to axis?

But in this case I just need – I am beginning to understand – to rethink what is meant by ‘energy’ in Tango dancing.

In many cases this is not at all a physical energy. It is often entirely mental – and this is then expressed in our bodies through technique.

This is so important. To me now it means the mental level that we climb up to and we work so hard together to never leave for the duration of our contract.

In fact if it is appropriate we can physically freeze  in the moment. I can actually lead a complete stop that might last several beats. But what we actually freeze is only, only our bodies – our minds and all of our presence must remain totally engaged – totally in the emotion of the music.  We must have energy.

The focus between us should feel very physical in its intensity -it is technique and stillness that allows each of us to continue to dance and yet to be so aware of each other.

And once you have this then to fall – from this mental place – breaks absolutely everything. Your dreams. Her dreams. Everything you have worked so hard for.

Don’t do it. Don’t fall.

Keep the energy.