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Background on Argentine Tango

Sensibility and Practice of Tango

Part of tango's fascination is surely its reputation for sensuality and passion — qualities which emerged early on, first as a creation of marginalized immigrants and laborers in the rough dance halls and clubs of the Río de la Plata in the late 19th Century, and later as an exotic import to the salons of Europe in the early 20th Century.

Today, that legacy continues in the intimate mind / body / spirit connection between partners that's still the foundation of a successful dance. As the Argentines are fond of saying,


"Tango is a dance with four legs, two heads, and one heart ..."


In the land of its origin, tango is also widely seen as an evocative synthesis of feeling, philosophy and culture that comes very close to expressing the collective soul and imagination of its people.

Non-Argentines who embrace the possibility of tango quickly discover a river that not only runs deep and strong with tradition, but one that is still defining its banks — and still adding new branches and fresh tributaries — all as it contributes a rich current to the wider sea where many forms of dance share and blend their waters.

 

Improvisation and Creativity in Tango

The other aspect that dancers find both compelling and challenging is tango's improvisational nature, which has several implications:

  • There are no "steps" or patterns to memorize or execute — dancing tango is more like having a conversation or taking a journey ... the outcome is always in doubt, dancers work without a script or net, and no one ever dances the same tango twice.
  • Dancers interact with the music, but are not "married" to the music — dancers are free to use and respond to any aspect, sound or idea they hear — including the music's main pulse and softer interbeats; its rhythm and melody; its various dynamics and moods, shifts and silences — and to play their steps and movements with, between, around, or against any of these ... changing what they do at any time, exploring and creating afresh from one moment the next.
  • The partners do not "do the same thing" — they don't (necessarily) "mirror" or echo each other, or any other dancer or couple in the room ... instead the individual partners in tango create what are essentially two different but nevertheless highly integrated and coordinated dances, then offer these to each other in order to blend and create a third, more elusive entity:  Our dance.
  • And the partners somehow manage to do all of this together, at the same time, in the same moment — something which demands a kind of trust, openness, awareness, curiosity and courage that goes well beyond the basics of good technique.

Add all this up, and you have the basis for a very provocative and challenging mode of expression and discovery — a rich "kinetic language" with pronunciation, vocabulary, syntax, grammar — which blossoms into an art form as the dancers begin to access, share and explore ever deeper layers of feeling and imagination through ever greater levels of skill, experience, sensitivity and insight.


 


More Perspective on Argentine Tango

New to Argentine Tango:

For more on Tango's history, culture and aesthetic, as well as some advice on getting started as a beginning dancer in tango, try "Beginner's Guide to Argentine Tango" by Susan Brown ...


Philosophy & Aesthetic of Tango:

For a cut at some of the deeper and more elusive issues at play in Tango — philosophical, spiritual and otherwise — try these articles by Sharna Fabiano, The Essential Tango, Tango: A Deeper Look and Passion Container ...


Learning Tango & Other Forms of Dance:

For some incisive discussion about creative improvisation, effective partnering, how the human brain learns a thing like Tango, language and the "lateral thinking" used in this and other "freestyle" forms of dance, see these interlocking essays by Richard Powers of Stanford ...


20th Century Tango Music & History:

To hear classic Tango music, and for more insight into its history and culture, try this excellent three-part radio documentary, "This Is the Tango." Originally from the CBC, it's now available only on this archive site ... where it can be better to download the zip file of the whole program, and then play the individual .mp3 files locally from iTunes.

For additional background, including more on the political, geographic and social issues at play, take a look at Christine Denniston's site on the History of Tango ...

And for a deeper exploration into the sounds of Tango both past and present, including links to more than 90 representative songs spanning a range of styles, visit our new page featuring More Music Resources ...


Tango's Deeper History & West African Roots:

For an overview on some of the many currents, influences, traditions and cultures that have blended together to help inform and create Tango, check out this interview with Robert Farris Thompson of Yale, who wrote "Tango: The Art History of Love" ...


Studying Tango on Video:

Tango video is all over the web these days, with thousands of examples available on youtube. Among our favorites are the didactic class demos offered by Homer + Cristina Ladas (and other dancers in the Bay Area) via Homer + Cristina's Organic Tango School.

Also worth checking out, the many demo + review videos available from Oscar Casas + Ana Miguel, two dancers who teach regularly at El Beso in Buenos Aires and travel widely.

(At this writing tango pioneer Daniel Trenner seems to be retooling his iTangoCafe project, where he started to re-release some of the learning videos he produced back in the 1990s and early 2000s, many with legendary older dancers who are no longer with us. In the meantime, you can find a number of excerpts and demos from this initiative on youtube ...)


Tango on Film:

You can see some enticing Tango in several forms -- lessons, social dancing in Argentina and Paris, stage performance, fantasy, etc. -- in THE TANGO LESSON, a 1997 feature film by Sally Potter. Although it can be difficult to locate as a rental, several scenes with dancing are available on youtube ...

Also online, you can find "La Confiteria Ideal: The Tango Salon," a 2005 documentary from the BBC. Centered around a famous tango venue in Buenos Aires, it features interviews with several well known dancers, and helps sketch the bridge between Tango's fabled past and evolving present.

And you can catch a little bit of the flavor, passion and devotion that Tango often inspires in the amusing TANGHI ARGENTINI from Belgium, nominated for an Academy Award in 2008 as "Best Live Action Short."


Wide World of Tango:

To get a small taste of the ever-expanding reach and vibrancy of Tango as a worldwide phenomenon, try browsing a few of the many thousands of international links available at Cyber-Tango ...


Tango in Santa Barbara:

Closer to home, one of the best places to explore Tango is Milonga Cambiante in Santa Barbara on 3rd Fridays.

The collaborative creation of local tangueros, these gatherings are the latest expression of a local tradition that goes back to 1997, making it one of the longest-running evenings of Tango on the West Coast.

Since Milonga Cambiante is hosted in private residences around town, it changes location each month, so be sure to check the latest schedule and details on Tango Mango - or - look for announcements on the Yahoo Group for Tango Santa Barbara.

Dancers in Santa Barbara also host the monthly 1st Saturday Milonga Principal, which often draws tangueros from throughout the wider region. And more recently they've added a Monday Night Práctica — find out more about these and other Santa Barbara happenings on TangoMango.

Dancers — at various Milonga Cambiantes in Santa Barbara...
... and at Milonga Principal on 1st Saturdays

(Milonga Cambiante fills a void left by the March 2011 sale of the beloved Cafe Buenos Aires —
for nearly 14 years, both the heart and epicenter of social dancing in Santa Barbara.)


More Tango in Southern California & Elsewhere:

For an overview on Tango in and around Southern California, two of the best resources are:

  • Ministry of Tango, an initiative master-minded by South Coast dancer, DJ and organizer Emmet O'Conlon.

  • Tango Afficionado, the creation of Los Angeles-based tanguero, teacher and aficionado, Vladimir Estrin ...

Both of these websites offer Online Calendars which cover most of the Tango activity in and around greater Los Angeles and the region.

And for Tango in the Bay Area, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, and other cities, Tango Mango lets you sift local listings by geography, date, and type of event, and offers handy links to Google maps to help you find your way ...


 
     
     
 

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