I’ve reached the the tipping point, turning point, pivot. Here we go.
The Last Night
I’ve felt it coming for a while, turning away from the milonga as a site of pleasure. I remember the days when I’d drag myself through my closet and out of the house, dead tired, but worried that if I took a night off I might “miss” someone new, or someone special. I saw the end of the addiction. I realized I was drinking more than I was dancing. Now I find myself thinking “hmm, I’d rather spend this €10 on something else.”
I don’t mean this in a literal way. I’ll keep dancing tango, and I’ll keep drinking at milongas that serve good wine in nice glasses. I mean that I am finished with the milonga as the destination, source, and arbiter of my tango dancing.
I was in San Francisco, at the only milonga with any ambiance at all (see my review/guide). He was definitely an “advanced” dancer. There was not one problem with his technique and his musicality was good. But his idea of what it means to dance tango made me count the seconds until the end of the tanda. His embrace was a straightjacket. He did not give me the chance to move my own body at all. He did not give me a chance to make a mistake. Which means that he did not give me a chance to do anything well. He didn’t give himself a chance to know me, to dance with me. All he cared about was doing a good job, not creating something precious with each person. If you don’t need me to be a unique human being, then I definitely don’t need to dance with you.
If it had been a verbal conversation, I would have described it as a breathless monologue by a braggart with no space or interest in anyone else. As a dancer, he didn’t even show sufficient interest in tango itself to investigate it, take a risk, or use my trained body to express something new.
Unfortunately, it was not my first dance like this. And I had noticed the breathlessness, the lack of contrast, the absence of virtuosity before. But his dance distilled my past observations to a pure formula, one in which the Revel is not a variable.
Meanwhile my phone was ringing.
“I tried to call you last night.”
“I was at my last milonga.”
“You should have come to meet and dance with me, the music was great.”
David had been to a bar, with a DJ, and plenty of space to dance. Over pancakes, he delivered his two-point manifesto for the future of tango.
1. “We have to stop going to milongas. The only thing happening there is male ego and women’s suffering. There’s no creativity, no fun. We need to go out dancing to real music in real places.” He added “this means you need to teach people to dance without circulating. Their isn’t going to be line of dance at a concert.”
He finished that pancake, took a gulp of coffee, looked at me, and started on the next one.
2. “We have to stop using the name ‘Argentine Tango’. I know that’s what we’re doing, and we’re doing it more authentically and precisely than most people, but that name is counterproductive to the dance we want to do. It conjures an image of a culture that we don’t really want anything to do with, and that the athletic people we’d like to be dancing with, are not attracted to. ‘Argentine Tango’ means high heels, suits, red dresses with sleazy slits, heterocentrism, egoistic abusive men, retrograde gender relations – and that weird old music! As a culture that’s what it is. We can love this dance and stop associating ourselves with all of that.”
I gave him a lecture on how hard it would be to name and market a new dance.
“I know it’s going to be hard, but look at the costs. ‘Argentine Tango’ is a total turnoff. It drives most people away immediately. Then you spend all your time with people who are attracted to all that shit, trying to convince them to want something more.”
“And you go to milongas to have disappointing dances with people who are not really interested in using their bodies or expressing themselves.”
Get off the Plancha
One of the mantras of Milonga Popular‘s organizers Sven Else & Pedram Shayyar is “get off the posh”. They want to make tango popular by doing it in a context that feels like a youngster’s party – dark, dirty, and drunken. It’s working. Unfortunately, it’s still a milonga, and they still play the same old music.
‘The plancha’ is a Porteñoism for the waiting women in the milonga. Getting off the setup of the milonga, is about getting away from the traditionalisms that violate contemporary culture and ethics. (It doesn’t mean getting off the cabeceo! – Consent is ever-more vital to contemporary culture.) For Homer Ladas it means that women need a relation to the dance other than “victim.”
The victimhood has to do with dancers’ expectations when we enter the room, how we relate to each other, how we learn and grow in the dance, how we dress. It has to do with how tango communities relate to the history of tango. Are we obsequious to a fantasy of authenticity originating somewhere else? Are we subservient to self-proclaimed authorities?
It’s not only waiting woman-revels who are victims. Most tangueros I know are habitual, voluntary victims of teachers who are either unable or unwilling (it doesn’t really matter which) to empower their students. Most tango teachers are mainly showing off and they do not hold themselves accountable for their student’s progress. They refuse to notice that 95% of their students cannot learn by the pedagogy of memorizing sequences and they do not manage to explain in any useful way how they use their bodies.
If we want our teachers to have enough work, if we want our milongas to have enough patrons, and if we want to have great dance partners for the next decades we need to be concerned with marketing. And it’s not just the professionals who need to be concerned with good marketing, it’s every dancer who wants to build our community for the future.
Marketing is nothing else than this question:
Who is with you and why?
My future dance partners are athletic, in fashion, and have wide-ranging musical taste.
How will I find them?
They are people who have been training their bodies, in gyms, yoga studios, pilates studios, ballet and contemporary dance, and through martial arts.
They are people who wear sneakers.
They are people who are into music and would love to have a way to share their experience of their favorite music with a partner.
And they are not necessarily intending to end up at a milonga… I have known for a long time that many of my students do not enjoy milongas, and yet I was always focused on preparing them to dance –virtuosically– in that environment. I’ve known that milongas are a den of suffering addicts, desperate posers with nowhere else to go anymore. (I’m not throwing stones here, I’m describing my own entrapment.)
I’ve known that private lessons, practicas, and spontaneous dances with street musicians and hotel tea pianists are where most of the pleasure is to be had, but I haven’t acted on this recognition. For people whose interest is learning, training, exploring, and expressing themselves, a milonga’s presumption of primped and proper perfect performance, is not even interesting.
My marketing resolutions:
- I will advertise, promote, and demonstrate tango with consideration to resonating with the cultural context, instead of arbitrary and fixed images.
- I will study tango movements in application to different kinds of popular music.
- I will avoid reproducing obsolete clichés of of clothing, music, and gender relations.
- I will learn and teach skills for dancing in diverse environments.
If we want tango to be popular, empowering, and fun we have to throw out our ideas about “the basics”. The two hardest things to do in tango are the ones we pummel the beginners with: walking and crosses. We only need to walk if we are committed to an environment with line of dance. Crosses are only important if the goal is to portray a classical image. These two can wait.
As I’ve been explaining for years, we should start with movements that are physically larger, because they require less precise muscle control. We should progress to “advanced” moves which are more subtle, like the crosses. (Every beginner finds the cross the most difficult thing to perceive.)
Beginning/large movements which help students to see and feel connected motion: rebotes, sacadas, voleos, ganchos, volcadas, and colgadas.
Intermediate movements requiring more muscle control and understanding of tango: parada, barrida, molinete lineal, giros, soltada.
Advanced movements requiring very complex muscle control and/or very subtle perception: changes of foot, cross, ocho, patada, rebote cadera, adorno (including enrosque, lapiz, pencil – which are taught way too early by cruel teachers who must either like to show off or to watch their students fail).
If we want to train people effectively, the strategy needs to be to empower them to understand their bodies and the structure of tango technique and elements. To get them to improvise from the beginning. To create effective practice environments. And to encourage them to express themselves, not conform to “elegance“, “style“, or “authenticity“.
Tango music is music that gives a dancer feelings to dance tango. Full stop.
Here’s a song I just discovered who gives me very serious tango feelings.
So, what’s it called?
As I do outreach to new communities, and as I invite my friends to come out dancing with me at bars and clubs, I know that what TangoForge does is the purest technique of Argentine Tango. And I know that I am the only one who cares about this.
Neither the milonga people who no longer bother to learn the whole lexicon of our inheritance, nor the observers/future dancers who live in a world of cultural fusion, extreme sports, and personal hybridity care about this point.
I’m going to call this dance, ‘Altertango’.