Thursday, April 22, 2010

Distinctive Styles - Part 1

Finding videos of great tango dancing by the older generation of dancers on the internet is never easy.

Firstly, there's this whole mish-mash of stuff that a search phrase will turn up. Type in "Milonguero" on Youtube and your search will spew out thousands of clips. Some of them may be of older dancers, but some of them are not. Ever come across the term "So-and-so is from the younger generation of Milongueros?" Marketing gimmick. The videos in question are usually of some young couple bopping half close embrace/half nuevo in sneakers, leggings and untucked shirts. Horrendous and misleading.

Secondly, even if you find your video, there's issues of quality. Some are dark, some are grainy; some extreme close ups of heads with no feet, some are extreme close ups of feet and no heads; in some you glimpse the great, older generation dancers for two seconds - and then they are obscured by a sea of bodies of all the other dancers at the milonga.

Thirdly, not all older generation dancers are great. Some of them can be downright mediocre - or at least not terribly instructive. Sometimes when I show a video of a dancer that someone has labeled "Milonguero" or "Maestro" to Man Yung, he ends up rolling his eyes. One such video made him physically sick - the "Maestro Milonguero" was so adamantly, persistently off the music it made Man Yung's head ache and his stomach churn.

Lastly, you've got to beware of agendas. Some "tango gurus" only post videos of certain styles of dancing for self-promotional purposes. For example, you will have sites only with "Milonguero style" dancing, and other sites with only "Villa Urquiza style" dancing (just an example - these being the styles currently in vogue and in competition with each other). Watching these sites and reading the articles posted on these sites, you would think that only such-and-such a style was authentic - and that all the other stuff was heretical and should go to hell. The self-promoters can sometimes be good dancers, but sometimes they are not good dancers. Nevertheless, their proclamations about the "authenticity" of dancers whom they aspire to dance like (with video proof to boot) have an effect of earning the self-promoters extra "tango world credibility points" for whatever ends they choose - whether it is in order to get more students, get more business, get more attention, increasing their "tango guru" status, etc.

I think we have quoted it here on this blog somewhere, but Maria Nieves once said, "No one owns the truth in Tango." If one cares to look without being blinded by personal "authenticity" agendas, one will find there is an incredible amount of variation and complexity in the styles that exist in Tango. We are lucky to have teachers who all have their own distinct styles - Martha and Manolo, Alberto and Paulina and Osvaldo and Coca definitely do not dance alike! The dancers we met through them all have their own distinct styles too.

(It's interesting: we have been thinking about this post and how to present this material for a couple of weeks now, and just today Tangocommuter has written a post about how difficult it is to find many many good videos of great dancing by the older generation of dancers. Hey Tangocommuter, once again we are thinking about the same thing! Maybe it's something in the (Tango) air...)

We don't have a research grant but we have had the good fortune to have the opportunity to spend some time with some really great, distinctive dancers in Buenos Aires. In 2009, we met Roberto Segarra and his partner Olga:

Roberto Segarra and Olga dance to Di Sarli at Club Fulgor de Villa Crespo, March 2009

Robert is 88 but dances with the energy and enthusiasm of someone half his age. He always has a mischievous twinkle in his eye and a cheeky desire to dance with all the other ladies, even though his partner Olga (who has a beautiful way of stepping when she dances - we told her that her feet looked like flying doves) watches over him with eagle eyes! We first met him during our 2009 trip at Lo de Celia. We told him we admired his dancing and we exchanged a few words - and that could have been the end of that, except that a few days later we bumped into him and Olga at the barrio club, Club Fulgor de Villa Crespo, of all places! There's nothing like a happy coincidence to feel like getting to know a person was just meant to be. We've stayed in touch ever since, Roberto and Olga even gave us a DVD with footage of their performances at the 2009 Milongueando festival when we met this year.

Roberto and Olga dance an energetic, peppy style - but can adapt this to the music no matter whether it is a tango by Troilo, D'Arienzo, Di Sarli or a vals. Styles may vary but musicality is a must for great dancing. Our friends Ruben Dario Lopez and his partner Elena, for example, have this great musicality, but a completely different style:

Ruben Dario Lopez and Elena dancing to Calo at Lo de Celia, March 2009

If you want to look for a definition of "great tango posture", this is it. Ruben and Elena are elegant, calm, playful, musical - but never stiff or tense. Their elegance is a natural, relaxed elegance, and not at all forced or exaggerated like in so-called competition "Tango Salon" styles that is common these days. And Elena's exquisite footwork - que lindo! What is interesting about this video is that Roberto Segarra (in the blue/gray shirt) is dancing just ahead of them on the floor throughout the video. Two completely different styles - but still great examples of Tango.

Here's another video from the same tanda:

Ruben Dario Lopez and Elena dancing to Calo at Lo de Celia, March 2009

We met Ruben and Elena through Martha and Manolo during our first trip to Buenos Aires. They were so friendly and welcoming from the very first instant - we kind of sucked then but they still invited us to dance! We have met them during our trips every year since then. They have this great aura of tranquility, humility and class. They are VIPs wherever they go - Ruben is a DJ and has been a milonga organizer dating way back to the time when Manolo was organizing milonga with some of his best friends Rodolfo and Maria Cieri - but you would never know it because Ruben and Elena never go around promoting themselves. In fact, we didn't even know that Ruben was the first DJ of Lo de Celia (and that's a long time ago) and that he had trained DJ Dany Borelli until someone else who knew him mentioned it to us this year.

Everywhere Ruben and Elena go they are recognized and respected, but they never make a big hoopla about their status. Watching them is educational, because you learn how a gentleman and a lady should behave in a milonga. Perhaps that was part of the reason why they were asked to be the padrinos, or godparents, of the milonga Caricias - having them as padrinos sets the tone for the quality of the milonga. We are quite unruly and we are always joking around - but around Ruben and Elena we sometimes feel that we better restrain ourselves! This year Ruben and Elena became grandparents of their first grandchild - and seeing them so happy and carefree we took a chance and told some jokes (and if you have been around us you know that we have some pretty ridiculous jokes). We shouldn't have been worried - Ruben and Elena have a great sense of humour.

Talking to Ruben and Elena and exchanging emails with them, we learn a lot about tango, tango music and we get all the latest news. We just received an email from them yesterday - they were at Caricias with Martha and Manolo just this week. They were passing around the photos we took when we were at Caricias with them to all their friends. They told us that they were all talking about us (Hopefully positive things! Just kidding.) and they even told us El Chino was very happy when they gave him the photo that we took of us together. We wish would could be there with them, enjoying the joyful and familiar atmosphere of the milonga and dancing to the wonderful music selections of DJ Charli.

More videos to follow....

1 comment:

Tangocommuter said...

Hola, Irene and Man Yung, and many thanks for your comments, and the links, and especially for all the wonderful videos you've been posting. There are wonderful older-generation dancers I'd never heard of, especially Roberto and Olga and Ruben and Elena, and I enjoyed watching the videos so much. I hope you won't do another Tristram Shandy, and that you've got plenty more stories and videos from the City of Soft Breezes for us!

Yes, we are thinking alike about the lack of good video, and as you say there's also the problem of actually finding it on YouTube. I think it would technically be possible to set up a blog just for embedding videos, using the 'Topics' or the 'Blog archive' as an index. But it would be tedious work to set it up, and some people might disagree with the choice of video...

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