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.

4 September 2014

Champagne tango!

“How long have you been dancing?”
“Um… a few years.”

***

At one point, somebody told me that one shouldn’t ask people how long they’ve been dancing tango. I thought this made sense: number of years wasn’t a very good way of measuring and comparing one’s talents, since we don’t all have the same options when it comes to classes and practice opportunities. In the beginning, being asked was fun, though. I’d answer “six months” and people would be like “wow, then you’re really talented”. But then I realised that years were passing and even my base technique STILL wasn’t good enough and I was in fact probably a FANTASTICALLY SLOW learner. And so I became reluctant to answer this simple question - even if the asker was a beginner who would most likely be wildly impressed anyway.


Jekteviken in 2014.


Today is September 4th, and it’s my tango birthday. In fact, it’s a proper anniversary: ten years ago, I made my way to Jekteviken in Bergen to attend my first tango course. As I wrote in the first post on this blog, tango turned out to become the first and only enterprise that I've insisted on sticking to even if it's making me feel more useless than successful.

And I think this is how one should reply to this question: not how many years one has been dancing tango, but how many years one has stuck to dancing tango; how many years one has refused to give up something that turned out to be really, really difficult in many different respects. For me, this question is about our will to take on challenges, and this will is something I think we all should allow ourselves to be proud of. 

Let's drink to tango stubbornness!

Champagne tango: Carlo Di Sarli instrumental 1958 - listen to it here on YouTube.