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Growing up Tango in Berlin, interview with Max Power, Tanguito Potsdam

Max is a beautiful young dancer who has helped to organize the tango scene in nearby Potsdam with weekly classes, milongas, and their first festival. He is also a DJ and has been invited to DJ in Berlin and at the Taboe Tango Camp in the Netherlands.

What words do you use to identify/describe yourself?

Balance as a dancer and a DJ, between the different styles and types of what tango dance and music can be. I like the difference between traditional and neotango dancing, and the balance of traditional and “new” music, whatever that means, neotango or nontango music. On the floor, I like to be a patient and attentive dancer.
How do you see yourself among the various tango scenes here in Berlin?

I think, I am an important part in the tango scene in Potsdam, so I bring youth and playfulness with me. And for the Berlin scene, I’m one of the more patient dancers, and I’m someone you can rely on with the dancing and with music and being part of the milongas. Where I am at the milongas, I try to be nice, I try to have an eye on anybody who is there, and not dancing with only the ones I like to dance, but also dancing with people who are sitting alone. I like the idea of social dancing, but without giving myself up on it. I try to stand by myself, what I like, what I want to do, with who I want to dance, but I do not forget that this is a social event for us all, and I like the idea to connect with the people who are there, and to invite people who maybe are shy or who hesitate taking their steps on the floor.

Are there places that you don’t go?

There are not really places where I don’t go, but places I don’t like. This depends on the music, first, so if the music is bad or boring I don’t like going there. Bad music is closed, not open to the various qualities of music. So, only playing one area all the time and nothing else, this is somehow boring for me. Even only playing non-tango is boring for me at some point. The other thing is if the music itself sounds boring, has no dynamics in it. No difference between high power and low power, no path through the evening. I like, when there is a structure within the event, so as dancer you can imagine, what is coming next. This can be a tanda-structure with cortinas but a good DJ can create a different structure as well. Music can destroy or create moods.

The second thing is the room. So if the room is not inviting me to stay there, to feel comfortable then I don’t really like going to this milonga. A room which is cold, this is the best description. Cold can be the walls only blank concrete, only gloomy red light, blank cold stone floor, could be marble, small and sweaty. Sweaty is sometimes ok, but small and sweaty is uncomfortable. Also columns, that are not in the middle of the floor, but in the corners, so the cut the lines of dancing, are a problem, too.

Another thing I don’t like is if there’s a room where people can smoke and this room is not separated from the dancing room. If there’s an open door, this is really disturbing. I don’t mind the smell in general, but the air at a milonga is often thick and sweaty and it is getting more worse with smoke. This is something I could not accept. I can be flexible about smoking in other situations, like at a bar. But at a milonga where it’s thick, and you really need fresh air, then smoke is really unacceptable 
How do you see the issue of age here?

When I compare with 6-7 years ago, the Berlin tango scene is more young than that time. Younger dancers and younger teachers. Which is nice. I feel comfortable with that mixture of young people, growing up people, and old people, in Berlin it’s a really good mixture of people from every age. Depending on where you are going, in which milonga. There are quite old milongas, and quite young milongas, but you can have anything you want.

And what do you prefer?

I can say that because at this point there’s the balance again. I like the mixture of it. Sometimes I prefer going to the youngest and hippest milonga in Berlin, and sometimes I prefer going to Potsdam where I am nearly always the youngest dancer. Sometimes I prefer going to La Berlinesa, which is surely not the oldest, but there are less young people like me. But it’s nice as well. For me, it’s appealing that older people, by which I mean people who are much older than me, are much more thankful for the dancing, and they enjoy the whole event. Young people are sometimes erratic or bigheaded. Older people are much more responsible to you as a dancer, to you as a DJ, for you being around.

I see you participating in Queer Tango scene? Can you talk about your relationship to that?

The Queer Tango scene is interesting to me. This is a place where I can explore the relationship between human beings across the societal norms. So this is a place where I can follow most of the time. And I like to follow. It’s interesting for me to experience the different attraction between dancers, and the different feelings you have while dancing with men and women or other people, in every role. So it’s emotionally much more open in comparison to traditional-role dancing, where I’m always the leader and I’m only dancing with women. And what I discovered about all the queer tango places in Berlin is, that most people are really friendly. 

Your main teaching partner is a man? Can you talk about that decision?

I decided to teach with a man because dancing together was fun, and was experimental for us. One step was that I wanted to teach from the following role. This was new for me, and an adventure. And I like to push the idea of a dance where we have roles, but these roles can be inhabited by anyone. Anyone can be the leader, anyone can be the follower, you only have to decide which you want to be for this dance, or it can even change during the dance. It’s a challenge.

Many people might watch you dance and label you a nuevo tango dancer. How would you respond to that?

But not only a nuevo tango dancer. I like dancing nuevo in wide, colorful, flittering trousers as well as dancing milonguero style in a suit and with professional shoes. I like dancing with a man as a follower as much as I like as a male leader with a beautiful woman. It’s about being open to anything what tango can be. 

Do you feel you are in a struggle with any of these issues (as a male follower, or a DJ playing mixed music, or liking to dance nuevo and milonguero)?

Not really, no. Most of the time I feel very comfortable, I can be myself. I don’t have to justify myself. The only thing I don’t like, are exaggerated rules that exist only because people think, that something would be the “traditional” or “right” way. So this could be about which role I’m dancing, that I can’t change lanes or that I shouldn’t make big movements. Sure, rules are important to create a nice flow at the dancefloor and it’s important for me to show respect to other dancers. But it is definitely possible to dance your personal style without being heedless.

Are there any specific events you think are significant to the development of Tango in Berlin

I can not date one special event, that changed Berlin completely. It’s a process, that goes with the pulse of the city. One thing I would mention, was the coming up of these Solo Una Vez events, dancing at unique places in Berlin. The young people here like to do unique things, only once in a lifetime. You can have a critic view about this, but I think this is somehow the spirit that people have here in Berlin, craving for unique events. I recognized these events starting about four years ago. Included dancing in an old swimming pool, a factory or even a swinger club. This opens the image of “ok we can leave our traditional milonga places, our studios, and we can dance anywhere if we want”. So I think this gives the berlin tango crowd the possibility to create more on their own. Dancing tango is not connected –or doesn’t have to be connected– to a fixed milonga place. Tango doesn’t always have to take place in a dancing studio, a bar or a ballroom. It’s nice to go there, and to have something regular, but as a tango dancer, and with your friends you can create your own tango place and your own tango event anywhere you like.”

You are headed to Buenos Aires next week. I’m interested in how Berlin dancers see the authority of Buenos Aires over authentic tango.

In German if we are talking about history and accuracy, we would not use the word ‘authentic’. We would use the word ‘original’ in German. We might say that something is “good, but this is not the original way.” We wouldn’t use the word ‘authentic’ in that sense. For me authenticity is really important, but it’s authenticity for me, my logic, what I am doing. What I am teaching about tango makes sense. So that a student afterwards feels comfortable, feels logical, that they can use it, that they can understand it, practice it, get better. It’s not like it has to be Argentine or because an Argentine is doing it that is original and authentic. This is not the meaning of authenticity for me. For me “Authentizität” is connected to the adjective “authentisch sein”. I would translate it as being yourself. It’s connected to a person. If a person is trying to live a role where he is not his or herself, then it’s not authentic. Or if a person is trying to teach something how it has to be, but he is not dancing that way Teaching based on an image of what it should be, but not doing it is not authentic for me.

Berlin has a really big tango scene and really good teachers. I’ve met teachers who are in business for 15 or nearly 20 years now, and who ave lots of experience. I learned many things from them, and I could learn the next years from them, without being in Buenos Aires. When I go there next week I’m interested in the history, how the tango was formed in history and transformed itself over the years. But I see tango as a dance that has its origins in Buenos Aires, so not even in entire Argentina, but only in Buenos Aires and the area of Rio de la Plata, so the word ‘Argentine Tango’ is somehow wrong. It’s ‘Buenos Aires Tango’.

I think we in Berlin have our own style, our own tango. So I don’t have to be in Buenos Aires to dare teaching it, because I learned from lots of teachers here in Berlin, and not only from Berlin, but from anywhere in the world. And I feel comfortable with it. And people want to learn something from me. They are asking me. This is the main reason why I dare to teach.

The interest of going to Buenos Aires is a cultural thing, not that I have permission to call myself a professional tango dancer or teacher.

What do you want to see in the future of Berlin Tango?

Berlin Tango is growing, expanding, improving and gets more open minded with every year. Sometimes I would wish for a little more floor craft on the dancefloor and a little less arrogance, but I think Berlin is on a very good way to this.

Max dancing with Roberto L'Ange at the TangoForge ICC Sessions, January 2015. Camera Thomas Conte //
Max dancing with Roberto L’Ange at the TangoForge ICC Sessions, January 2015. Camera Thomas Conte //
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