I had the good fortune to spend last weekend at Volker Marschhausen’s Neo Tango Rave in Bremen.
This event is unique and beloved for its commitment to creating an environment in which dancers of Argentine Tango can explore a modern aesthetic. To create this environment, a lineup of DJs from all over Europe share their music, without tandas or cortinas, and VJs (Visual Jockeys) bathe the room in imagery, color, and light.
I danced way beyond exhaustion into a trance. And I danced beyond my previous level, in each role. I was exhausted not only by the lack of sleep, but by the concentration required to be fully present in the experience. Sadly, this level of attention is rarely necessary for me any more with most Marks, and rarely elicited by a traditional milonga.
Photos of the Rave are beautiful, but deceptive. Somehow most of the photos capture couples dancing in fairly close, traditional embraces. But if you took a break to sit in the stadium risers and look down on the dance floor, this is not what you saw. At all times and all over the dance floor, people are flying through the air and dancing beyond the embrace.
If we are to believe the claims of the neo-Victorians, such a constant use of jumps, lifts, drags, and soltadas would present a dangerous and unpleasant environment.
Interestingly, there were very few crashes during the weekend, and the dance floor was often very crowded.
How does it work?
I think there are several aspects to the dance floor culture which distinguish this event. The first is that the people attending have a genuine interest in tango being creative. They are more interested in the creative experience unfolding in their own dance to this amazing music that they’ve never heard before, than in giving their attention to judging other people. When couples touched one another, the attitude was generally “please don’t interrupt me with an apology”.
To the extent that couples on the floor emerged from the depths to pay attention to one another, they seemed to feel enriched by other couples’ creativity.
At this event, if you do something extreme, people smile at you. Rather than having a self-centered attitude about dancefloor real estate, the attitude was “Oh, that looks cool. Do you need a little more space? We’ll go over here.”
The loving, gentle attitude between the dancers meant that when there was a touch or a near step, the dancers often paused momentarily to transform it intentionally into a sweet moment with smiling eyes and faces, or with touch, leaning into one another, tapping, or grazing their fingers along another dancer.
Attitude and culture are crucial, but skills played an important role too.
With 10-15% of the women participants being people who dance both roles, the total consciousness about traffic on the dance floor was higher than usual. Experience as a Mark enables you feel where people are around you and how they are moving, and this certainly improves your judgment while Reveling.
All of the women dancers here –those who dare to resist all the bigoted moralistic policing of the tango world– are after something much more than a man’s embrace. So they don’t dance passively. These are self-responsible Revels, dancing with awareness of the space around them, exercising control to modify size and direction of their extension so as to complete movements safely.
One of the most important benefits of Gustavo Naveira and the Cochabamba Investigation Group’s systematization of tango (the “nuevo tango” system) was to develop a way of understanding tango not based on sequences but broken into its most fundamental elements, so that dancers improvise every step. Dancing in this way enables Marks to experience unpredictably changing space as a stimulating factor in the same way that they are stimulated by unknown music unfolding and DJs mixing songs in unexpected moments.
Very many times on the dance floor, I realized that people were simply working with a higher level of control over their transfer of weight than usual, enabling them to modify and reverse their steps fluidly. I spend a lot of time teaching what I call the “control systems for the transfer of weight” as the basis for creating improvisational possibilities in the dynamics of any step, but it also imparts more skill to improvise and adjust fluidly to traffic and space.
Thank you Volker, for starting –”10 years ago with seven couples and one projector”– and continuing so that we have a chance to experience what tango can be.
If you want to dance at the Rave, be sure to sign up on time in January.