Monday, 9 March 2015

How to dance and how not to dance Argentine tango

If you have not already tried to dance Argentine tango, you are probably reading this to get some tips. If you consider yourself a tanguero, you will be here most likely to examine the audacity of a writer and 'some-time dancer' to opine on the subject of tango.

Argentine tango was once the preserve of those few porteƱos that kept the dance alive through nearly three decades of challenge - when dancing tango was difficult to sustain here in Buenos Aires, and elsewhere neglected. The 'Golden Age' had been and gone, and tango awaited a new injection of artistic energy.

Now, teachers from Buenos Aires have been joined by those in the provinces, and flood across North America, Europe, the Far East, the former Soviet Union and up into China. Each teacher has spawned their own family of dancers and teachers, and tango has become 'world property'. Visit every city in Europe, and most towns, and you will find a tanguero or two dancing some derivative of tango.

So, what is the point of this blog?

Returning as I have for my fifth visit to Buenos Aires, involving over fifteen months of life here, I am still no tango expert - more of a keen observer where aspiration exceeds ability. But I have come to realise one important point: to understand the real implications of tango, you need to experience it here.

The actual mechanism of experience is less important than the fact. Whether with a handful of ancient milongueros at El Arranque on a Tuesday afternoon, or amongst the beautiful and magnificent at De Querusa Practica or Zum at Club Malcolm - the experience informs you about a feeling, one rarely recreated elsewhere.

Here, I am not focussing on that moment of connection experienced by the fortunate and able during a milonga. Nor do I include the point when what has been taught comes seamlessly together within a tanda. For me, the feeling arrives from being amongst those that are not first generation tangueros, who have grown up with the language and music of tango, and in whose soul it has 'genetically' lodged.

Buenos Aires tangueros do not, by any means, deliver the best of tango method. Look carefully at the technique and lightening responses of some of the world's professionals, and you will see technical and aesthetic brilliance. But here, tango represents simply a dance that people dance, and through which they express over a century of collective experience. Tango is certainly different from cooking or football - yes it can be exported, but it owes an essential part of its character to the bario from whence it came, in which it grew, and to the milongueros that danced it.

Young tangueros here in Buenos Aires understand this only too well. Picture the milonga glistening with youth and talent - where technique and energy combine. Enter then, a pair of ancient milongueros that take to the floor to exhibit. A silence falls, and the most talented of the best watches with hunger. It is because they, like us, know that they are to experience a part of their history that will inform their present.

So, how to dance - and how not to dance tango? For that, you will simply have to tell the boss that you are away for at least a month, buy the flight, book the tango hostel or apartment, and come. Until you do so, and feel the spirit of tango in Buenos Aires, this posting will remain an intractable mystery, and you will be missing out on a fundamental point of connection of true Argentine tango.

To learn from the milongueros' favourite tanguera, 'La flaca Lucia': "She lives and feels the moment" - Pocho y Alito at 6.15 time elapsed; go to