Monday, May 19, 2008

What Toronto can learn from Detroit

We were at Martha and Manolo's workshops this past weekend in Lori Burton's studio in Utica, Michigan. We had a wonderful time. I will post about our experiences a little later, but for now, here's what we observed about tango dancing in Utica that Toronto dancers would be advised to pay attention to:

1. In Utica, the majority of the dancers dance to the music.

In fact, Lori has taught her students to distinguish between merely "dancing to the beat" and "dancing to the music". I found that out from a comment made by one of Lori's female students who was leading me in class - she said "Oops, I was just dancing to the beat just now - I wasn't dancing to the music!"

Yes, there is a difference between dancing just "to the beat" and dancing "to the music". In Toronto, quite a lot of dancers can't even dance to the beat, let alone the music - they are too busy trying to complete figures or show off movements. Leaders who could dance to the beat here are considered "Advanced Leaders"!

We noticed that Lori only plays traditional music at her milongas, and it is important to her for her students to know how to dance traditional tango to traditional music. I danced with several of the leaders in Utica, and they were a pleasure to dance with because the music was in their dance. Coincidence? To all of you tango gurus and milonga organizers in Toronto who think there's no harm in a big dose of alternative music for newbies and intermediates in Tango - did you ever notice that your events have the worst non-musical dancing per capita?

2. In Utica, the followers actually follow.

Yes, we saw that the followers in Utica were not anticipating, not in their own little fantasy world of "adornment making", not face-dancing, not listening and interpreting the music themselves instead of listening to the man's lead and interpretation of the music! Yes, they were actually FOLLOWING! In Toronto, except for the "face-dancing" (that's more a Buenos Aires phenomenon as far as I know), we have followers who are not really following because they have fallen into all of the aforementioned traps. We even have followers who are so used to "Standard Argentine Tango" leading (did you ever notice that a lot of dancers outside of Buenos Aires lead and follow a certain standard way - looks like improvisation, but it is not really improvisation because you know exactly what is coming next) - that they would look absolutely fabulous dancing with other "Standard Argentine Tango" dancers, but then trip all over their feet when they are dancing with a "non-Standard" leader.

In Utica, the majority of the followers are not getting ahead of the leaders, and they have good posture and frames to be able to follow right and/or left handed and chest leading from the leaders. Sorry Toronto - most of the followers here are still working on not anticipating. Don't even get me started on posture and frames and the mega-adorning.

3. In Utica, dancers actually respect each other on the dance floor.

Except for one couple who were channeling the essence of the entire cast of Cosmotango at once (They weren't Lori's students. And there's a Toronto connection - I don't know where the man came from but the woman said she used to live in Toronto) and bumped into us not once but twice during the Friday night milonga (and didn't even stop to apologize) - the dancers in Utica actually respect the other dancers on the dance floor. They were all mostly dancing open embrace too, but we didn't see or experience the same kind of ridiculous collisions we have sometimes here in Toronto.

Pay attention, all you wannabe "Forever Tango" auditionee leaders - you are not the only person on the dance floor, and you are quite deluded if you think you have the god-given right to complete the fancy step combination you appropriated from Youtube while you are on a crowded dance floor. Especially if it means that you are going to decapitate all the people within a 2 metre radius with your partner's stiletto.

Close embrace leaders - don't think that you aren't guilty of dance floor atrocities just because you are hugging your partner real tight and you are making yourself as teeny-tiny as possible. If you love to surprise the people behind and next to you with unexpected "Crazy Ivans" (anyone who has watched "The Hunt for Red October" will know what I'm talking about), or if you are not looking where you are going because you have closed your eyes to better "become one with the music" - you too are a hazard. No matter if you are in a boa-constrictor embrace, there's still enough of you left to feel like a Mack truck upon collision. Please, please learn how to navigate - trust me, navigation is a much more handy skill than learning how to apologize every twenty seconds.

4. In Utica, people can actually learn something new in tango

We've gone to Martha and Manolo's workshops here when they were in Toronto in 2006. We saw lots of struggling here by Toronto dancers to learn what Martha and Manolo were teaching - and that included us - simply because the level of basics here is not the greatest. For example, most of the leaders here can't lead more than one rotation for a giro, let along do sacadas during the said rotation. Changing directions during a giro? Forget about it.

Utica dancers were learning the same steps from Martha and Manolo at least twice or three times as fast as Toronto dancers - and why? Because they are really leading and really following for one, and because they have the basics to be able do and absorb more. This has a lot to do with what Lori has taught her students, and with the quality of teachers she has been able to bring to Detroit over the past decade - Osvaldo Zotto, Rudolfo and Maria Cieri, Facundo and Kelly Posadas, Fabian Salas, etc. etc. Yes, the types of teachers and guest teachers we can get here is a question of economics - however, whether a student can actually learn something also goes to a question of attitude.

The students taking Martha and Manolo's workshops in Utica were respectful, patient, and willing to learn and practice the steps. There were beginners, intermediates and advanced dancers in the classes, but none of them thought it was beneath them to learn how to do a 50's style salida. Yes, Utica dancers may have studied with the "greats" like Zotto, Cieri, Posadas, but that doesn't mean that they approach learning with a super-sized ego.

A lot of Toronto dancers would be asking for their money back if the guest instructors taught anything that looked or smelled like a "basic" - e.g. lots of leaders in Toronto can't walk but they feel they are too good for walking because obviously, Tango should be all about flashy moves and dramatic posing.

One other thing - I'm usually not a big fan of women leading, but in Utica, lots of women can actually lead. That double turn giro with sacada combination that would tie most leaders here in knots? For the women leaders in Utica - NOT A PROBLEM.

5. In Utica, they dance Tango.

I'm not saying that Utica has the best tango dancers in the tango universe, but what we observed is that most of the dancers in Utica are actually dancing Tango - that means leading, following, connecting with the music and each other during the dance, dancing for yourself and your partner and dancing for the pleasure of dancing. Simple things.

Dear Toronto dancers, if you are: Trolling for compliments with your fancy steps and adornments while in a milonga/Trying to prove that you exist by doing attention-grabbing moves/Obsessing over doing everything ABSOLUTELY CORRECTLY while you are dancing because you want to prove that you are the proponent of the "true" Tango - please ask yourself, what are you dancing for? If you are dancing mainly so that people will look at you, admire you, believe you - I don't know what you think you are "dancing", but in our books, you are no longer dancing Tango.


Tango Padawan said...


If the 50's salida is the same I know by the 40's salida, then it is not a beginner's move. It involves having a body perception. It's very challenging for followers...

What you mean about the moves is true. I've found that a lot of followers can't even walk forward without wanting to immediatly do a front ocho or something...

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Tango Padawan,

Thanks for your perceptive comment! It is true, 50's Salida is in many ways "not a beginner's move" - in order to do it properly, the couple must have a very good sense of the music, timing, posture, walk, leading and following abilities, among other things - we are still practicing it. However, many people here in Toronto will hear the word "salida" and immediately think it is beneath them, they already know how to "do" a salida.

Thank you also for bringing up the 40's salida. Most people are not aware that there are different salidas from different eras. Martha and Manolo has taught us salidas from several different decades, and each have their special characteristics that "unlocks" our understanding of various tango steps and styles. There are also different salidas for different persons. We once spent an amazing afternoon with Alberto Dassieu in which he showed us the difference between "his" salida, the salida of Fino Rivera,and the salida of Portalea. The individual ways of doing a "salida" are all slightly different and knowing this immediately takes you to the core of that person's style.

It is too bad that people are so ignorant about the importance of details of basics like the salida. Our teachers Martha and Manolo and Alberto and others of their generation have such wealth of knowledge regarding these matters, but people in general aren't interested in "basics" - they think "I've been dancing for X number of years and I'm am an advanced dancer, I want to learn something fancy!"

It's not the number of show or nuevo moves you know that gives your tango flavour, it's how well you do the basics.

Thanks for your comment!

Irene and Man Yung

ladytango8 said...

Hi Irene and Man!
How nice to come across your blog. Thank you for the kind and observant comments. I hope you are doing well, and will come visit us again sometime soon. It was a pleasure to have you at our event!
Lori Burton

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Lori,

Thank you for your hospitality when we were in Detroit. We think about Rocco often - what a sweetheart! We hope you are all doing well, hope to see you all soon,

Irene and Man Yung

Dieudonne Dang said...

I love reading your blog. Your observations about tango are so right on. It is frustrating for some of us who are trying to understand Tango (this dance that some men and women have been enjoying for so many years and have dedicated their lives to)to dance with people who don't care, and seem to be interested in milongas as entertainment opportunity.
Your observations give me hope, I think that the essence of Tango will eventually prevail. Thanks again.

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Dieudonne,

Thanks for enjoying our posts here on our blog! We love to dance Tango, but looking out onto the dance floor... there's good days, when people are actually dancing to the music in harmony - and bad days, when a couple of bad apples can precipitate an attack of "Tango Hell". It helps to write about it!

Thanks for your comment!

Irene and Man Yung

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