Tango - A Dance Without Steps.

24 Oct 2017 - by Graham

Whenever you think about dance, you think of footwork. There are basic steps that define the character of every type of dance, from the simple “step back, then in” of LeRoc, to the “forward, side, together” of waltz or the “one, two, three-and-four” of latin. The steps are the first stage in learning a new dance. You begin by learning the timing and how to position your feet in the correct places, then when you’ve got the hang of that you start to concentrate on where to put your body to improve balance, posture, and styling and make the dance begin to flow.

But Argentine Tango doesn’t have any of that. It is that strangest of things, a dance without steps.

When you first start to learn the tango the temptation is to follow the steps that the teacher is doing and try to copy the way his or her feet are moving around the floor. This is a natural way of looking at it especially if you have done any other dancing before, but it is not how tango works. With tango the most important element is the upper body connection, the invisible link between the leader’s and follower’s chests that - if done correctly - means the feet will move in the right direction as a consequence of the movement. It is this chest connection that most new tango dancers find the hardest to master, partly because the isolation or dissociation needed to be able to rotate your upper body independently of your hips is not something we naturally do and needs to be learned, but mostly because they spend all their time trying to work out where the feet should go and try to dance whilst looking down.

Tango is a dance of connection, not of steps. It is a bit of an over-simplification, but you could start by picturing all of the dance happening from the waist-upwards, and the feet just moving around to keep you from falling over. The lead in tango comes not from the feet but from the chest, with the leader moving his or her chest in the direction they want the follower to go, and the follower responding by moving their chest in the same direction whilst maintaining as close a connection to their leader as is physically possible.

This is easy to say, but it can be confusing. When you watch tango danced by experienced dancers, whether on the stage or just at a local social dance event, you will see a lot of footwork. Small detailed rock-steps, sweeps and pushes of all sizes, the famous tango hook or ‘gancho’, and many other classic elements all make an appearance somewhere in the dance, and beginners point and say “See… footwork! I told you there were steps…”

But all of those things happen as a consequence of the chest connection. The leader is not thinking about where his or her partner’s feet are going to be, but where their weight, balance, and chest must be to maintain the connection. Yes, there are rules and styling techniques involved for both leader and follower to make the dance look like a dance rather than just two people wandering around the floor, but the position of the feet and the centre of balance is all controlled by the upper body connection.

So how does this affect you in your class? Tango is usually taught using short sequences of movements that include elements with steps in them, and beginners (and some more experienced dancers) often make the mistake of thinking of them as steps that need to be learned. But these are just ways of teaching you about the chest connection, they are tools for you to learn how weight, connection, and balance all affect you and your partner’s position.

Learn the sequences and practise the routines, but remember that their real purpose is to show you how the chest connection makes the dance, and how the feet are just a consequence of where your bodies are and where your weight is at any moment.

When you’ve got the hang of that, then you can add the styling!

Posted by: Graham   Permalink: link   Keywords: Argentine Tango  Nuevo  Neotango  

Argentine Tango... Traditional or Modern?

23 Aug 2017 - by Graham

Argentine Tango is a dance that is steeped in tradition. From the music played by the great tango orchestras of the 1930s-1950s to the style and conventions of the social dance evenings (or 'milongas'), the argentine tango dance scene remains deeply connected to its roots in south America, and for some dancers this environment is as much a part of the dance as are the embrace and the steps. For these dancers, tango and its music cannot be separated; to dance one is to love the other and tango without the tradition is not really tango at all.

This environment is often the first introduction that people get to the unique and evocative dance of Argentine Tango, and the 'other worldly' atmosphere created by the music and traditional tango culture is what encourages them to stick around. "Golden Age" music is used in the classes, and teachers can trace their roots back to the great tango masters of Buenos Aires, each of whom has a subtly different style though they all follow the same basic principles. Every class feels special.

But musical tastes vary a lot, and for some the traditional tango music and strict tango culture can be a barrier to learning or enjoying this dance. People who love the dance but not the music were turning away from tango in favour of more modern dance environments, and so in recent years there has been an increase in popularity of teaching and dancing tango to non-traditional tango music. Electrotango and pop-tango bands formed to create music that was more up-to-date despite keeping to the basic tango music structure, and then dancers even started turning to music that was not written for tango at all. Blues, jazz, and even rock music are now regularly being played at 'alternative' milongas and this has re-opened tango to a much wider audience.

Traditions in tango however, remain strong, and many of the traditional tango dancers do not acknowledge this new approach to the dance as being 'Argentine Tango' at all. It is a different thing, as different as Modern Jive is to Ballroom, and so it can be difficult for an 'alternative' event to fit into the tango world. Terms like 'nuevo' and 'neotango' are used to distinguish them, but these also mean something specific to traditional dancers so it can be confusing. 'Nuevo Tango', for example, can mean a specific type of orchestral music largely from the 1980s that incorporates new elements, a teaching style whereby more emphasis is placed on the kinesiology of the dance and less to the connection to the traditional music, a style of dance that moves around the floor outside of the traditional line of dance (anti-clockwise around the edge of the room), any tango danced to non-tango music... you see the problem.

Dancers are by nature creative, and are always finding new ways to describe their events and classes to indicate how traditional or avant-garde they are. You see events announced as having "80% traditional, 20% nuevo music" in their advertising, or "No tango music, no tandas, no cortinas, just dancing from beginning to end..." (tandas and cortinas are traditional ways of grouping the music played at a milonga), so you can usually work out what an event will be like before you go. But if not, then just contact the organiser and ask. They will always be happy to talk about the sort of music they play there and what the atmosphere will be like, as that ensures that everyone who comes has a great time.

As with everything else in life, tango dancers are rarely just one thing or the other. Most dancers who prefer nuevo / alternative music also like some of the traditional from time to time, and most traditionalists are happy with the occasional modern track thrown into the mix. My personal preference is to dance tango to everything from jazz and 1940s ballads to modern pop and rock, but that does not stop me sometimes wanting to put on my suit and head down to a traditional milonga, and I continue to learn at traditional-style classes every week. For me the evolution of tango is important, but that only means anything if I stay in touch with its roots.

The tango we dance at Jivebeat is definitely in the nuevo or alternative zone, and no traditionalist would ever refer to the music we play as any sort of 'tango music'! We dance to blues, country, rock, and all sorts of musical styles from all over the world, and every now and again we will include a traditional piece or two just to keep you on your toes! We believe that tango can be danced and enjoyed alongside almost any musical style.

So if nuevo / alternative / neotango is your thing then maybe Jivebeat is your new tango home.

Posted by: Graham   Permalink: link   Keywords: Argentine Tango  Nuevo  Neotango  

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