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.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Festival Flack: Plea for Honest PR to Know Before You Go
When I still lived in the U.S., the phenomenon of tango festivals was relatively new. I attended a few--the first three Denver festivals, Norah's Week, Tango Magia in Amsterdam, but mainly I saved my money to come to Buenos Aires for a couple of weeks whenever I could.
Lately I've heard from lots of disillusioned people about festivals in the U.S. that they used to attend but will no more because they are now over-run with nuevoists who make traditional dancers fear for their lives on the floor.
Recently a good friend of ours, Tony Parkes, attended an event of the Berlin Tango Festival, and was so disappointed that he wrote the following letter to the organizers. Because this is not an isolated case, and because there has been much discussion of late on "festivals unexpectedly turning nuevo," I'm printing it here with his permission.
I think a lot of work has to be done if we want to preserve tango as we know it. I recently attended the Friday night tango festival ball in Berlin and felt compelled to send the following email to the organisers....
My name is Tony Parkes, an Australian dancing tango for 7 years. I have lived the last one and a half years in Buenos Aires, dancing on average 5 nights a weeks. because I am visiting friends here I registered for the 2010 Berlin Tango Festival. The purpose of this email is to convey to you my immense disappointment at the ball last Friday night. Tango friends here in Berlin advised me not to go Thursday night because they expected that it would most likely be an indulgence in nuevo tango, and some who went confirmed this. But we all expected the Saturday ball to be more conventional tango. Three of our group of six have danced in Buenos Aires, and all 6 of us as I said above, were immensely disappointed.
Apart from the music played by the dj, there was nothing else at the ball that anyone who dances traditional tango could enjoy. And that includes the "Buenos Aires Tango Orchestra" who played nuevo music.
Of the several hundred people on the dance floor, 99% were dancing nuevo with no knowledge of the line of dance nor respect for the space of others. There was no tango energy, just couples dancing mindlessly, selfishly, arrogantly - and no dancing with the music. The music could have been jingle bells or happy birthday and they still would have performed their same extravagant, exhibitional gyrations. There were but so few people attempting to dance with feeling, connection with their partner and love for the music.
I am aware that the nuevo phenomenon is happening in North America and in other places in Europe which saddens me. In Buenos Aires I have enjoyed many dances with both north and south American women, and of course European women too, and I expected something similar here in berlin. so now to attend what you have labeled a tango festival hurts me. please answer me ....how can you use the word tango ?
The reality for me is that you have falsely labeled your festival (I have been told that in past years it was traditional tango) so people like myself and my friends who enjoy tango pay money to you in expectation of another enjoyable tango experience. There was no chance of that on saturday night. and for the first time in my 7 years of dancing I walked off the pista during a tanda - to Carlos di Sarli no less. I am not asking for my money to be returned, I just ask that you look at yourselves and have the honesty and dignity to remove the word tango from your marketing.
Yes, once again, we have to face up to the importance of marketing. People should know what to expect when they make expensive travel plans to dance tango. Which only means that festival organizers have to publicize the event correctly--if it's milonguero, if it's nuevo, or if it's let's wait and see who shows up and pays and then the majority rules, which I think is the usual case. Cold cash is hard to turn away--in the same way that milonga organizers here often let anyone in who pays the entrance fee. Ruben says that when he started to dance tango long ago, a man couldn't enter a milonga without a coat and tie, and with his shoes shined! Can you imagine that happening today?
It would take guts and fearlessness and integrity to market a festival as milonguero or nuevo or anything goes, and then stick to it. If it's nuevo, make sure there is plenty of room; if it's milonguero, require that dancers follow the line of dance and don't do large moves. Information should be given out in the publicity for the event as to what style will be danced, on the registration forms, in emails, in handouts, and in oral announcements at the event. Let dancers know what to expect and then follow through.
It will take courage. What if you throw a festival and nobody comes?