Friday, June 17, 2016

Why We Should Dance With Beginners - It's Not What You Think.

We all know that encouraging beginners is necessary to grow a Tango community. A Tango community that is not constantly growing eventually dies. And the best way to encourage beginners is to make sure the experience is rewarding - by dancing with them.

 Beginners need to dance with good dancers in order to get better. Beginner leaders need to dance with followers who actually DO what they lead, so they know when they are leading correctly. And beginner followers need to learn how to follow - best done by following a competent lead.

 But there is another reason advanced dancers should dance with beginners - - to improve their own dancing. Think about it. What better way to improve your lead than to dance with someone who only follows the clearest of leads? What better way to improve balance than to dance with someone who not only does not compensate for balance errors, but has their own balance issues? And what better way to increase your improvisational ability than to constantly deal with the unexpected?

 Dancing with a beginner lets you practice making the simplest moves interesting. It gives you the chance to find opportunities for musical interpretation in unexpected places. Leaders get the opportunity to practice adapting a follower's misstep into a lovely expression of musicality. Followers can take the opportunity to adorn the long pauses while a new leader is deciding where to go next. 

There is also the occasional emotional vacation you get when dancing with a partner who assumes you never make mistakes. You can just relax, and enjoy the music, knowing that no one expects you to do an amazing Tango with a beginner.

 So the next time you are at a Milonga, take the time to dance with a beginner or two. It is good for them. It is good for you. And if you get out of the mindset that it is some kind of sacrifice, you may even find you enjoy it.

Friday, June 10, 2016

What is Real Tango Music?

Tango is a style of music, based on a specific rhythm known as the Habanera rhythm - "duuum da-dum dum" or "dum-dum da-dum dum", often simplified to just "One - THREE Four". These rhythms are primarily what makes a tango, just like the syncopated "1 & A 2" is what defines a swing rhythm. It is generally found, not in the melody, but in the bass line.

 The Tango rhythm is found in many songs that we do not often think of as Tango - Tom Waits' "Little Drop of Poison" is a good example. So is "In the Deathcar" by Goran Bregovic with Iggy Pop, or "Dance with Me" by Deborah Morgan (which is actually based upon a famous tango). And "The Phantom of the Opera". If a song has that specific rhythm, then it is a Tango. And you can dance Tango to it.

 But these are not Argentine Tangos. Argentine Tangos are not just songs which contain the tango rhythm - they are songs performed by, or in the style of, the great Tango orchestras of Argentina.

 Can you dance Argentine Tango to other forms of tango? Of course. And it can be a lot of fun. But the dance grew and developed around the specific music, and for me at least, is most naturally satisfying when danced to that music.

 Can you dance Argentine Tango to completely nonTango music? Again, of course. You can dance Tango to just about any 4/4 music of the right tempo. I have a few favorite songs I will happily dance Argentine Tango to that are not tangos at all - "Turn of the Card" by Sting, "Dance Me To The End of Love" by Leonard Cohen, "My Immortal" by Evanescence, for example. But these are not Alternative Tangos because they are not Tangos at all, just songs you can dance Tango to.

 Some of the so-called Neo Tango is not real Tango either - it is Disco. But if you like it, you can Tango to it.

 There are also some lovely waltzes that work well - "Vals de Amalie", "Hallelujah" by Rufus Wainright", "A Thousand Years" by Christina Perri. Alternative valses are actually easier to find - anything in a fast enough waltz tempo will work.

 You CAN dance Tango to these songs. But should you?

 I think you should dance whatever you enjoy dancing, to whatever music you enjoy dancing it to. You can dance Lindy Hop to Rock and Roll, or Swing to Cha Cha. And you can dance Argentine Tango to any type of music you want. My husband and I will throw in an occasional Tango at a Swing Dance. But that is in the nature of a one night stand. The true, long-lasting relationship with Tango is found in the wedding between the beautiful music of Argentina and the wonderful dance that grew out of it and with it.

 When I DJ I will usually include one set of Alternative Tangos - actual tangos which are not Argentine in origin. They may be Turkish, or Klezmer, or Russian, or Finnish, or American, or French, or Australian. Sometimes, depending on my mood and audience, I may include a tanda of alternative nontango music that you can dance Tango to. Make no mistake, these are not real Argentine Tangos. They are a different type of Tango experience. And that 's OK.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Can We Please Stop Talking About "Advanced" Dancers?

We have all had this familiar experience: We go to a workshop or a festival, and there are classes listed "For Advanced Dancers Only".

Then there is usually a codicil - often in parentheses (for dancers with 3 - or 4 - or 5 - years experience).

And the class usually consists of a complex choreography, with fancy footwork, that no one would ever use anywhere except on the stage.

The problem with talking about "advanced" dancers is that there is no one standard for the definition of "advanced" , so the phrase is really meaningless. Someone who has danced more than 5 years? I don't know about you, but I know a LOT of longtime dancers who dance 
Iike crap. Someone who can execute the perfect planeo or colgada? I know a lot of superb dancers who do not use either figure. 

I personally do not care if a dancer is "advanced", if the experience of dancing with him is one of unadulterated bliss. I have had that experience with dancers who have been dancing less than one year, as well as with dancers who have been dancing over 40 years. I have also had dances with local "tango gods" that were nothing short of disastrous - all over the floor, running into other couples, insisting on leading inappropriate steps. Yet they considered themselves "advanced".

The problem with talking about "advanced" dancers is that we start to put benchmarks around Tango. To get past "Beginner" you need to know these figures. As an  "Intermediate" dancer you should know these figures. And an "Advanced" dancer should know these. Rather than focusing on cherishing our partner, and dancing to the music, we focus on what our feet are doing. Now, I admit that a knowledge of where the feet can go is part of learning to Tango. But when we start labeling dancers based upon how many "steps" they know, we are putting Tango into a very limiting box.

I would prefer to see such labels as "For dancers who are comfortable with most partners", or "For dancers who can relax and enjoy themselves at a milonga". Or at the other extreme "For Dancers who need practice at navigation", or "For Dancers who want to improve their connection". That is assuming we need labels at all. Most of my classes are a mix of dancers, with different skill sets and areas of competence,  the classes focus more on "how" we dance,  and "why" we do things in a certain way than on "what" we are doing. The "what" is only one of the tools we use to explore the "how" and "why".

By dropping the labels we can focus on what is really important - "Why do people enjoy dancing with certain partners?" And "How can I become a more enjoyable person to dance with?"