6195  Tango the Religion


Date: Mon, 8 Dec 2008 04:05:39 GMT
From: "larrynla@juno.com" <larrynla@juno.com>
Subject: [Tango-L] Tango the Religion
To: tango-L@mit.edu

Why does the Argentine tango spawn such passionate controversies?
Heel versus toe. Close versus elastic embrace. Nuevo versus
traditional. And dozens of other controversies.

All dance genres spawn passionate differences. I've seen them in
swing, ballroom, and Latin dances. But tango's debates seem even
hotter than the others. Why?

Part of it comes from the fact that tango is a folkdance and so
has no official organization that specifies exactly what is and
is not correct. However, this does not guarantee a strict
definition; tradition can supply that as well as academies. An
example of such strictness is the rumba-like Cuban danzon, which
begins with a (usually) 16-measure stroll-around then continues
in a specific form.

Another reason is the basic rhythm, a steady medium-tempo walking
pace, and the matching basic step, a simple walk. These two
traits have many consequences, some obvious and some quite

One important one is that beginning to dance tango is very easy
and quick. Just embrace your partner and walk around the room to
the music. That is it. No books or videos or teachers needed.
This makes the tango the perfect 15- to 30-minute ice-breaker at
dance parties, needing a teacher only long enough to guide party-
goers through the ice-breaker.

Another consequence of this simplicity, ironically, is that it
leads to tango being the most challenging of all the social
dances. Take just rhythm, for instance. All of us who can walk
learn early to change rhythms in the middle of a walk. We may
take two or several quick steps to catch up to companions who
have outpaced us. We may do those steps in double-, triple-, or
even greater time to our friends' slow steps. So too in tango.

Which leads to other complexities. In tango we (almost) never
abandon the embrace. If the leader does quick steps, he has to
decide whether he wants his partner to keep time with him or keep
to the basic rhythm. If the first choice, he must firm up his
embrace so that she will know to match him. If the second, he
must loosen his embrace just enough so she will know to stay with
the default rhythm. But though his embrace becomes looser it
must not cross the boundary into sloppy, a distinction difficult
to judge and harder to realize.

Another aspect of tango is the complexity of the music. Many
tango beginners think of "the king of rhythm" Juan D'Arienzo as
leading his orchestra with an unvarying rhythm and a heavy beat.
Yet he was one of the first who experimented with changing tempos
within a piece of music.

Some of the most popular tango orchestras from the Golden Age of
Tango might switch which instruments supplied the rhythm and the
melody lines, using the "soprano" instruments to express the
rhythm and bass instruments for the melody. Or they might soften
the rhythm instruments enough where dancers had to infer the
beats of the rhythm rather than hear them. Or they might have
several layers of instruments, not just the usual ones: rhythm,
melody, and lyrics (which could be "sung" by instruments as well
as by the voice).

As the Golden Age progressed and music-makers and audiences grew
more sophisticated tango music increasingly graduated from
rhythmic to rhapsodic (less formal) music. This allows dancers
many ways to interpret the music differently, suitable to the
mood and the skill of one's partners and the reason for the dance
such as pleasure, celebration, or remembrance of someone or
something lost.

Another irony of tango is that sophisticated dancers may return
again and again to the utter basics of the dance (and the music),
each time better appreciating the subtleties underlying the
simple. Such a dancer was famed milonguero Puppy Castello, who
is supposed to have said "Figures are easy; walking is hard."

Another important facet of tango is that it has a long history of
experimentation. Current dancers think of "tango nuevo" as
unusual, yet it is only the latest wave of continuous evolution
pushed by the more creative milongueros and their partners.
If tango continuously evolves why so many hotly argued
controversies? The very nature of tango invites improvisation in
each dance, where the same couple might dance to the same piece
of recorded music in the same evening in very different ways.
This nature also invites each dancer over the years to create
their own style (and sometimes styles), tailoring the style(s) to
their own desires and abilities.

Because they created it, and their style coincides so closely to
their unique soul, each dancer identifies their style with
themselves with religious intensity. Every time someone suggests
they change some aspect of their style it seems as if they are
being attacked. In seeming self-preservation they often counter-
attack. Sometimes their return attack is very sophisticated.
Other times they resort to the old, old argument-to-authority ?
"This is the way they do it in Argentina!"

And over time the verbal violence escalates, widening the gaps
between people who in their hearts may be very much the same.

Larry de Los Angeles

Sleep with security. Protect your family with a home security system today.

Date: Mon, 8 Dec 2008 15:59:40 -0700
From: David Thorn <thorn-inside@hotmail.com>
Subject: Re: [Tango-L] Tango the Religion
To: tango-l <tango-l@mit.edu>

I too have puzzled over this religious fervor. If one looks for example at Lindy Hop, another
street dance with no ruling body, it passed through the "style wars" (Savoy vs. Hollywood vs. West
Coast Swing vs. ..) in a matter of several years. Many of the dancers have preferences, and some
of the Westies will say that the Lindy Hoppers are too bouncy and the Lindy Hoppers will say that
the Westies dance like they have a pole up their b&tt. However, many of the best swing dancers can
do it all and enjoy it all, and nearly all swing dancers are accepting of one another in a way that
I don't see among some of the tango dancers, especially some of those on this list.

I agree with Amaury that it says far more about the defenders of truth and justice than it does about the dance itself.

You live life online. So we put Windows on the web.

Date: Tue, 9 Dec 2008 14:01:54 -0600
From: "Tango Society of Central Illinois" <tango.society@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [Tango-L] Tango the Religion
To: tango-l <tango-l@mit.edu>

On Mon, Dec 8, 2008 at 4:59 PM, David Thorn <thorn-inside@hotmail.com> wrote:

> I too have puzzled over this religious fervor. If one looks for example at Lindy Hop, another
> street dance with no ruling body, it passed through the "style wars" (Savoy vs. Hollywood vs. West
> Coast Swing vs. ..) in a matter of several years.

A 'milonga' is a place or event where tango social dancing occurs. The
origin of the tango and the milonga are in Buenos Aires. The terms
derive their meaning from the culture of their origin. Within the
milongas of Buenos Aires there is a form of tango typically called
'tango de salon', which has some variations, but also has
characteristics in common which differentiate it from other forms or
derivatives of tango de salon such as tango fantasia and nuevo. Common
characteristics of tango de salon are a close embrace, observing the a
line-of-dance, and keeping feet close to the floor. Within Buenos
Aires milongas, a particular kind of music is played for dancing
tango, which consists of almost entirely recorded tango music from
approximately 1930-1955 from about a dozen different tango orchestras.

Those outside Argentina who accurately follow the tango cultural
traditions of manner of dancing and music played at milongas are not
religious zealots. They are just people who are trying to duplicate as
best as is possible in a foreign country the cultural traditions of an
Argentine dance they love. We would like to have a place to dance
tango where we can have an environment of dancing to classic tango
music and codes of behavior where people do not create navigational
hazards on the floor.

Why are we who try to maintain the cultural traditions of tango so
outraged at times?

There may be different reasons for different people, but there are
some common causes of our frustration.

Probably the greatest source of frustration is the inability to
replicate the atmosphere of a Buenos Aires milonga because people who
come to milongas do not respect the line of dance and create other
navigational hazards. Some would say that it is not nuevo or fantasia
that creates navigational hazards, it is people who create hazards.
While this is true to some degree, it reminds me of the argument that
'guns do not kill people; people kill people', so don't outlaw guns. I
guess one could then argue that if nuevo were not widely available to
the tango dancing public, then only outlaws would have nuevo, but I
regret to say the analogy doesn't work. On the other hand, if you take
the tools of nuevo and fantasia away from a tango dancer, you greatly
decrease the threats of collision and near collision on the milonga
dance floor.

Another objection we have to the nuevo-fantasia tango kidnapping
coalition, is that these exhibition forms of tango have hijacked the
terms 'tango' and 'milonga' to subvert for their own purposes. A place
where people dance nuevo or fantasia socially, sometimes even to
non-tango music, is not a 'milonga', Even calling it an 'alternative
milonga' is implying that it has characteristics of a milonga, which
is misleading. Advertising dance courses that teach nuevo-fantasia as
'Argentine tango' is also misleading, unless one specifically states
that these versions or derivatives of tango are designed for
exhibition and are not danced socially in the milongas of Buenos
Aires. To my knowledge, this information has never been provided.
Instead, either by silence or by direct statement, nuevo-fantasia is
represented as social tango.

Because nuevo-fantasia dancing fits the cultural expectations of North
American, European, and Asian dancers as to what constitutes social
dancing (i.e., memorization of sequences, audience directed
conspicuous movements), this transformation of tango, this 'tango for
export' usually receives a better reception in non-Argentine cultures
than does the Tango de Salon of Buenos Aires. Thus, in most tango
communities outside Argentina, nuevo-fantasia is the predominant, if
not exclusive form of tango. As a result, in most 'milongas' outside
Argentina, Tango de Salon is rare and an hospitable environment for it
is not provided. Thus, there is rarely a tango social dancing venue
outside Argentina for which it is justifiable to call it a 'milonga',
yet pages upon pages of psuedo-milongas are advertised throughout the
northern hemisphere.

So, you can call us zealots or say we are intolerant and even
undemocratic or even 'tango fascists'; however, all we are trying to
do is dance Tango de Salon in a Milonga. How absurdly Argentine.

If the nuevo-fantasia coalition were truly democratic, it would
respect the rights of the minority. If it were interested in truth in
advertising, it would refrain from advertising its instruction as
'Argentine tango' and its social dancing events as 'milongas'.


From: tango-l-bounces@mit.edu [mailto:tango-l-bounces@mit.edu] On Behalf Of Tango Society of Central Illinois
Sent: Tuesday, December 09, 2008 3:02 PM
To: tango-l
Subject: Re: [Tango-L] Tango the Religion

On Mon, Dec 8, 2008 at 4:59 PM, David Thorn <thorn-inside@hotmail.com> wrote:

> I too have puzzled over this religious fervor. If one looks for example at Lindy Hop, another
> street dance with no ruling body, it passed through the "style wars" (Savoy vs. Hollywood vs. West
> Coast Swing vs. ..) in a matter of several years.

A 'milonga' is a place or event where tango social dancing occurs. The
origin of the tango and the milonga are in Buenos Aires. The terms
derive their meaning from the culture of their origin. Within the

Continue to Tango -- not a religion... just a blank canvas | ARTICLE INDEX