Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Yet another Tristram Shandy-ish diversion

To Shandy Hall!

I imagine many of you must be asking by now: “When are you ever going to go back to the main story – that being the account of your travels in Buenos Aires in 2008? My goodness, we are in 2010 already and you are not quite half-way done! What happened in Sin Rumbo? Did you ever get to see Osvaldo Centeno again? What about the drink that you promised to buy for Tete? Why is the frustrating process of reading your blog a full-on encounter with the concept of the non-sequitur (or whatever they call these kinds of interruptions)?”

Dear Reader(s): I sincerely apologize for the frustration you must be experiencing, but I am afraid that I am doomed, Tristram Shandy-ish, to constant diversions upon diversions, interruptions upon interruptions, of this "story". I promise to get back on track very soon.... only after (and please be patient) a couple more posts with the video footage we took this year in Buenos Aires…

....But before I get to that, I launch into two more, tiny (and unrelated) little diversions:


A Toronto Tanguero friend of ours told us last Sunday that he has been reading our blog recently. He also paid us a lovely compliment. “I don’t expect to be able to make a trip to Buenos Aires,” he said, “but when I read your blog, you make me feel like I’m there with you!”

We have received a few comments in the past to this effect - and thank you to everyone who have enjoyed our accounts. Our posts, especially our "Buenos Aires" series, were all initially written as a set of emails to a very dear Toronto milonguera friend of ours. She had traveled to Buenos Aires even before we had - and Buenos Aires forever since then has had a hold on her heart. However, due to work, life, family and other commitments, she has not been able to return to the beautiful city as often as we have. Our accounts were born out of our desire to take our friend along with us - so that she could see the wide crystal blue skies that we saw, laugh and dance with the people we met, hear the enchanting music we heard and of course, feel the embrace of tango in Buenos Aires all over again.

If this was an alternative reality and I had superpowers, I bet that my superpowers would be "making lame incomprehensible jokes" and "playing match-3 games for hours" – and not “the ability to write extremely evocative travel writing”. All we have is our sincere desire to share our experiences. So, if we have succeeded in taking some of you to Buenos Aires with us, we are more than happy.


Something weird - it appears that someone here in Toronto is videotaping us and trying to copy our steps! They say "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", so I guess we are really flattered.

Now, we do plenty of this "copying" stuff ourselves - but the dancers we are watching and copying are people like Martha and Manolo and Osvaldo and Coca - I mean, dancers with REAL talent! Why anyone would want to copy our steps when so much great material is on Youtube is beyond us. We fear that the poor tanguero in question (… que pobrecito, as they say…) may be greatly misled. Having one set of “Man Yung and Irene” is already more “dance pollution” than one tango community can stand – do we really want another “copy” of it? And we all know how wonky photocopies can come out sometimes.

Now, as you know, we don’t teach - and as the pobrecito has been dancing for almost twice as long as we have, he may never want to lose face and ask us for advice. But advice we do have – and here it is!:

A. Yes, copy, by all means copy!

Copying is good. That’s how the Argentinian leaders learned – by watching each other on the dance floor, and by practicing and copying each other's steps in practicas. But please, copy the best material available - Youtube has made it so easy, and a ticket to Buenos Aires is within reach of most people.

The only thing standing in your way of "tango copy heaven" is your ability to distinguish between what is “good” dancing, and what is “bad” dancing. Unfortunately, and this is the difficult part - most people still can’t tell.

B. Yes, copy! But know what to copy, and what not to copy.

The Toronto pobrecito has got it all wrong. We have observed him over the years, and he has made the same mistake over and over again.

He copies what he can “see”, and what catches his eye. When he was entranced with Tango Nuevo, he went to every milonga in baggy flappy pants and loose shirts. When he was captivated by Tango Milonguero, he went to every milonga in suit. Perhaps he thought his costumes were going to give him “Tango cred”. But costumes do not “Tango” make.

C. Yes, copy! But know what to copy, and what not to copy. (Part 2)

As we said, the Toronto pobrecito copies what he can “see”, and what catches his eye. Many do the same – and fail to get to the heart of the matter.

Along these lines, leaders just tend to copy the attention-grabbing tricks and the flashy moves. Or they copy the mannerisms of their heroes – constantly tapping toes here, waving elbows there, butts-a-sticking out everywhere! Or – and this is a pet peeve of ours – they copy “elegant walks”. If you look at the so-called “Tango Salon” championships, you will know what we mean – instead of natural “walking”, competitors are stretching out their limbs to the fullest extent possible doing this floaty/giraffy/ostrichy/stick-insecty stride. And then each succeeding copy of a copy exaggerates this movement until all the copycats can apply for jobs at the “Ministry of Funny Walks”.

As a result, you may see this at a typical north america milonga:


- Couples are doing the floaty/giraffy/ostrichy/stick-insecty walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, giro, walk, walk, walk…

- Couples are doing the floaty/giraffy/ostrichy/stick-insecty walk, walk, walk, walk – and then BANG! FLASHY MOVE! And then the floaty/giraffy/ostrichy/stick-insecty walk, walk, walk, walk – and then BANG! FLASHY MOVE!

We’ll let you in on a secret. Sure, copy the tricks, copy the flashy moves. They are part and parcel of the legacy of inventiveness and improvisation in tango, and it’s worth preserving this tradition and replicating “steps” – but only when space and crowd conditions allow on the dance floor. But when you copy the walk, don’t copy the “mannerisms” of the walk. Each person has their own idiosyncratic gait – but the idiosyncrasies are not what makes the walk.

Really copying a “walk” is about copying how a great leader gets from point A to point B. That means how and when the leader pauses and on what step, how the leader double or triple steps and changes weight, how the leader enters and exits a turn, how different leaders execute a “salida”, etc.

Osvaldo’s classes are all about this – the “quality” of movement in getting from point A to point B. Many people have no patience to quietly learn this – either in classes or when copying from a video. “I already know how to walk!” they say. But if you copy, don’t miss out - this is the true essence of a leader’s “style”.

D. Yes, copy! But copy to understand – and not to be clever.

Many people feel a thrill when they successfully copy a step (or a mannerism, or a floaty/ostrichy walk). “I did it!” they say, and merrily execute the said stuff at the milonga.

It’s not always easy to copy someone’s steps, but don’t let it turn into an acquisition game. Copy to understand and not to exhibit your clever ability to acquire steps. We've copied a lot from our teachers, but we have always tried to also learn from them, to understand the why? of their tango whenever possible.

This means spending time with our teachers, observing how they interact with the world and treat others, talking to them and asking questions. The older dancers put all their experience, their entire lives - inside and outside of Tango - into their dance. That's where the genius of their tango comes from.

One last thing: if you really want to dance the tango well, try to copy something that the older dancers possess that goes beyond technique. Learn how they live their lives as gentlemen. Learn how they lives their lives as real men. Learn how they live their lives - as human beings.

Videos to follow - with plenty to copy and learn from!

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