15 September 2014

Image is everything: interpretation and identity in tango

Friend: “Did you dance with the guy who just walks all the time? I was like COME ON!!! DO something!”


As should probably be evident by now: I’m dancing tango because I love the music. So I’m thinking a lot about what we define as “musical dancing”, and lately also what we define as “dynamic dancing”. In classical music interpretation, a central part of what we call dynamics is volume levels and the variation of these. It’s immensely important. And it’s the changes and nuances that make it interesting.

In tango, I don’t necessarily see this so much. Yes, musicality is becoming a popular topic, but it feels like it’s intertwined with something else: personality - not only who we are, but also who we’d like to be. I think many of us try to identify with something, like a technique or interpretation style, or a professional we admire. Sometimes, we’ll even identify with a lifestyle, an image - for instance the milonguero, representing the history and the códigos and the floorcraft; or the marathoner, young and vital and in opposition to rules.

One variation of this could be trying to be something by not being something else:

“That guy who stands still all the time, trying to be interesting? Pffft, his dancing looks really boring! I don’t want to be boring, so I’ll just do lots of big stuff all the time.” “That guy who does all that big stuff all the time, trying to be cool? He looks really violent and dangerous on the pista… I don’t want to be violent, so I’ll just walk. But only with small steps. Or even better, just stand still.”

Do we actually use musical interpretation to define our tango identity? And if so, what happens to the dynamic opportunities that lie in the music itself? Do we choose the dance dynamics we think look best, but forgetting the musical dynamics?

We’re dancing in a goody bag of musical possibilities: from the lightest, most delicate Fresedo to the most solid, reliably grounded Canaro, from the sweepingly romantic Caló to the energetically playful D’Arienzo. The fast dryness of Di Sarli anno 1929 is totally different from the broad royalty of Di Sarli anno 1958. So why not explore a bigger range of dynamic qualities to interpret the different orchestras and their periods more differently?

In my opinion, minimalist shouldn’t mean absence of energy or lack of expression. And, oppositely: fast and big doesn’t equal dynamic. To be truly dynamic dancers, we need to use more than one gear on our tango car.