My foes are absolutely certain that I am one of those nuevo dancers, toes grazing my shoulders, back turned to my partner, dancing to ambient music in strange shoes. Actually it’s beyond nuevo, it’s not even tango anymore.
My fans, who yearn for self-expression and are often berated for that, cluster around hoping that I will protect and expand the territory of freedom.
For three years I have been trying to convince the German KünstlerSozialKasse (artist’s insurance fund) that Argentine Tango is more than a folk dance, that it can be art, and that my work linking it with contemporary culture demonstrates this promising possibility. Roberto translates the letters. Then we go dancing and we are told night after night by our peers: don’t you dare do it differently!: “It’s a milonga, not a sports hall.”
We are proud of our comprehensive knowledge and skill. Distracted by the height of our voleos (his are higher than mine), everyone conveniently refuses to notice that I am a superlative close embrace milonga dancer, that our musicality to traditional music is sharp as it can only be if you know every note, and that when we do the cross on the uncommon side we are expressing more loyalty to the tango tradition than people who reduce tango to some caricature.
I am not going to cede one millimeter of the murky mess to which I have devoted years to giving sense and order. While other teachers continue to enchant and mystify their students with sequences and metaphors, I have distilled the vocabulary and the technique to accessible, objective instructions. While other performers hide their limitations (and their partners’) behind “elegance” I challenge myself and my partners to do the hardest variations of every element and to prove tango’s technology by implementing it with only two fingers of contact.
For more than five years, I have been patiently explaining to friends and foes at alike that ‘nuevo’ is an analytic scheme developed in the mid-1990s which makes it easier to improvise. It is not a different dance.
The fact that Roberto and I are athletes, with very strong legs and very flexible hips and shoulders, cannot be construed to conclude that we are no longer dancing tango.
No expert I have ever danced with has completed an entire song without adjusting the embrace to the movements. “Close embrace” is part of a continuum of intimacy and functionality which we all depend on, not a political party.
The idea that the extremely sophisticated technology of connected communication and consequence which distinguishes Argentine Tango from all other dances is applicable solely to a single genre of music is patently absurd. It can only be interpreted as some form of obsolete bigotry forgivable solely to doddering elders. Furthermore, it is a pathological approach to marketing which is hazardous to the future economic security of local and global tango communities.
Argentina must be disabused of its contemptuous attitude toward the global rhizome on which the industry depends.
I am very, very tired of fighting, but it seems to be my job in this world to tell people what I see. It’s my day job. My night job is to survive the hostility and loneliness that ensue.
Last July, 18 of my closest tango colleagues gave their time and energy to fulfill another of my visions: a music video designed to popularize tango with new audiences. And yet, even in this tremendous accomplishment, two of them balked when I dared to print the words “This is Argentine Tango” across the screen. They felt it was a very controversial statement to make in conjunction with images of Cédric y Jessica, Roberto and myself, and others in our team dancing.
I refuse to retract this statement. I refuse to be bullied away from what I paid for, trained, and analyzed better than many of my teachers. I have invested nearly every day of 14 years into understanding and mastering this dance. Not any other dance. Not some derivative version of it. The dance. One I learned first in the arms of old men in Los Angeles who could afford to study in Buenos Aires, and then in the arms of younger men, the local elite Porteño dancers of the time. The dance which causes every one of my partners and advanced students to become very desired in their communities.
We dance Argentine Tango. And I need to ask both my friends and my enemies to respect that.