After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Tango Gringo Part III -- The Music

Many beginning Argentine tango students in the U.S. complain, But there is no beat! American dancers are used to drums and percussion telling them how to move their bodies. There are no drums in tango, only the wail of the bandoneon and the cry of the strings. But the rhythm is strong -— one only has to listen for it. Beginners learn to hear the pulse of the bandoneon, and when they become more sophisticated to the tango sound, they dance to the melody, perhaps of the violin or the piano.

I grew up with the tango, only I never understood what it was, only that it spoke to me. When I was very young there were a few popular songs which I loved that almost were played as parodies—Hernando’s Hideaway, Jealousy, Kiss of Fire, La Cumparsita. The pianist at my ballet school chose to play tangos for the grand battements at the barre, inspiring me to kick higher and with more passion.

I love all kinds of music but prefer to dance differently to each genre -- blues, latin, rock, classical, country, zydeco, and Arabic music. I have no interest in dancing tango to “alternative” music, other than as a lark. But if others want to, fine with me. I'll just carry on boogying to the boogie-woogie. And dance the tango to tango music.

Buenos Aires DJ’s take their job seriously; the dancers know the music and what they want. The music spinners become stars in their own right, as without the proper music, there can be no perfect tango. (That's Damian Boggio to the left.)

People in the U.S. don’t know it’s bad luck to dance to Adios Muchachos and they certainly don’t grab their crotches or breasts when it is played to ward off the yeta. Dancers in the U.S. don’t know (or care) that other Carlos Gardel songs aren’t danced to either at milongas, or women singers, or Piazzola. At American milongas the DJ’s don’t usually play tandas or cortinas.

There is no strict American Code of Tango where we know the rules and follow them. We’re like energetic kids, throwing ourselves into whatever we try, without a clue as to the history, culture, code of conduct, whys or wherefores of something with a past, with tradition. All over the world, wherever we go and whatever we do, Americans feel they can do what they want.

Several years ago, I saw Margaret Spore in Denver performing a one-woman tango show, TangoNova, and there is a company of women in New York who perform Tango Mujer. Why do these women do it, perform tango without men? Is it because they don’t want to follow, or because there aren’t enough men?

They do it because they can. This is America.


Natalia said...

American dancers only *think* they can dance to a beat!

Egyptian style bellydance is danced to the rhythm first, melody second. And the rhythm of the music is not subtle, we're talking heavy north-African drumming! And yet - beginning dancers can't find the beat, and plenty of even more seasoned American dancers dance solely to the melody, seemingly ignoring the rhythm entirely.

I think it comes more from the fact that people who have not studied any kind of dance or music don't really know how to listen. Learning to listen is as much a part of learning to dance as learning the movements.

There is a big movement right now to perform "fusion" - of bellydance and western music. Honestly, I find it a cop-out. Middle Eastern rhythms are complex, often syncopated, and most are much harder to dance to than a driving 4/4 rock-and-roll beat. I'm not going to tell other people not to do it, but I don't feel like they are actually being as creative as they think they are.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that the same issues turn up elsewhere in the dance world as well.

Cherie said...

Hi Natalia,
Gee I love this cross-ever that we've got going on! (Stay tuned for my upcoming post, The Bellydancing Librarian.)

But when you write about the new "fusion" movement in BD, of course it brings to mind tango neuvo.

I think young people want to bring something new to the floor and not repeat the dance of their parents. I think it's great to create new ideas and ways of dancing, but I think that after all of the fireworks, what will be left will be the classical stuff--not the fusion, not the nuevo, because nuevo in a generation will be viejo.

That said, I do admit that I love everything about the Urban Tribal style.

Ya Habeebi!

Anonymous said...

You should include in your list of ladies the group based in San Francisco:

I've seen them perform and passion for the dance comes through clearly.


Gayle said...

Hi Tangocherie,
I'm really enjoying your blog. I just wanted to say that there are a few places and people that know some of these codes and who know the music. I was enlightened by Lexa Rosean here in NYC about Adios Muchachos. It is rarely played (once by an Argentine dj by the way) and when it was, Lexa made everyone grab their breasts and crotches and educated us about why it is bad luck. All the good milongas here have cortinas and tandas and we have several very good dj's. The thing I really miss though is the cabaceo. I feel like tango isn't really tango without the cabaceo as it is the very beginning of the dance. The dance starts with the eyes catching across the room and drawing the couple together. I have only been to BA once and this impression was made on me. It is very sad that none of our milongas have organizers that take the amount of care that the ones in BA do to make this experience possible. I know it is a lot of work for them, much more than just sitting and taking money, but I think it is very important and very missed.