Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Clapping in all the wrong places

While having lunch with Alberto and Paulina on a sunny Buenos Aires day back in March, we told them that we wanted to go to to one particular barrio milonga on the weekend.

Paulina couldn't help but reminisce about the last time she and Alberto were there. They seemed to have had a nice time. But there was one thing that annoyed her.

"We had to watch a performance," Paulina said. "It was a young couple - very athletic. They spent most of the performance spinning round and round really rapidly and jumping. It had nothing to do with the music! But the spectators - they were clapping when the two of them were spinning their fastest and when they were jumping their highest."

Paulina rolled her eyes, exasperated. "What happened to applauding when a couple is expressing the music beautifully with their movements?"

Alberto knew what Paulina meant. We knew what Paulina meant (or at least Man Yung does; that Double Down KFC sandwich still looks mighty scrumptious to me...). And dear reader, if you are still reading this blog (which means that our constant wisecracking may have amused you rather than insulted you) - you probably know what Paulina meant too.

But would other people understand what Paulina was going on about?

For the lowest consumer of "Tango" - i.e. the general public, it appears that one claps for fast feet, high kicks and........ knickers.

Yes, I know I said "Knickers"

"Ha ha," you might say. "Silly clueless people watching 'Dancing with the Stars! Don't you have anything more original to say about this topic?'"

Unfortunately, it doesn't get much better even if you go up the tango ladder. To clarify this mystery, let us humbly present to you:


1. Because it's only polite to applaud the efforts of your friends

You'll clap if your friends are performing, won't you? Because if you don't, you aren't much of a human being, let alone a friend!

Unfortunately some people take advantage of this normal human social inclination and exploit it to the fullest extent. If your tango community is anything like ours, you may have a bunch of "Tango Professionals" who go around to all the people in all the milongas making sure they "socialize", "hob-nob" and generally keep "bestest buddies" or, at the very least "mutually useful acquaintance-dom" terms with everyone.

Even if they secretly (or overtly) HATE those said people.

For a "Tango Professional" struggling not to succumb to the "Get a Day Job" syndrome, "Making Nice" with everyone is useful and lucrative. You get get get an instant claque!

Said "Tango Professional" can possess the musicality of a block of wood but their "friends" will still applaud their lead-footed robotic interpretation of "Fumando Espero". After all, they are "friends" with a "Tango Professional"! How exotic!*

Which brings us to the next point.

2. Because people are too scared not to.

When Mao or Stalin made speeches, they always did it to "Thunderous Applause". Why? Because anyone who would dare to be the first person to stop applauding would really, really get it. As in, "Worst possible outcome in a Communist Totalitarian state for not only you, but your family, your friends, and your entire village."

That may be extreme, but vestiges of this kind of thing exists in Tango. Does anyone else notice this? In Tango, most dancers are scared of dancers they think dance better than them.

"Huh?" you say. What are they afraid of? That some "Tango Professional" with a meticulously crafted, not entirely forthright resume and a bunch of business cards will kick them black and blue with a couple of ganchos and voleos?

Of course it's not the threat of a beating (notwithstanding, you better be careful around those Milongueros)! It's the nebulous psychological fear that -

- if they don't clap, other dancers (especially The Claque! See #1 above) will think they were ignorant and couldn't tell the good from the bad; and/or
- if they don't clap, the performer - who they believe "may" be slightly more knowledgeable in Tango - will stop, sneer, and give them the damning opinion that they suck.

And that, to some, is the worst tango apocalypse imaginable.

Accordingly, any half-baked "Tango Professional" will get applause for their half-baked dancing -
from people with half-baked phobias of being exposed for the half-baked dancers that they are.

3. Because mediocrity aspires to mediocrity

You can put Ricardo Vidort, Rodolfo Cieri or Portalea (just some examples) on the dance floor and still have many dancers who will fail to appreciate the magnificent dancing in front of them.

That's because instead of recognizing something wonderful, people will gravitate to something they can aspire to be - at a level that they can understand.

So, instead of rightful gawking at great, musical dancing, you will have this kind of thing:

Guys in untucked shirts, sneakers and baggy pants bopping up and down and regurgitating the less innovative moves of the legends of "Nuevo Tango" - staring lustily at other, more advanced guys in untucked shirts, sneakers and baggy pants bopping up and down and regurgitating the less innovative moves of the legends of "Nuevo Tango"

Guys in stiff suits doing Salon-standard "walking" and "giros" entranced and mesmerized by more advanced guys in stiff suits doing Salon-standard "walking" and "giros"

Gals with arsenals of toe taps, foot flicks, knee lifts and unled mule-style kicking astounded by gals with bigger arsenals of toe taps, foot flicks, knee lifts and unled mule-style kicking etc.

Post-performance, love-fests and mutual "ego-stroking" between the said admirer and admiree performer often ensues.

However, the admirer's applause is not only for the moment of the performance. It isn't really even for the admiree. The admirer is actually applauding himself - his present tango-self (where he is right now - his choice of tango style can't be wrong!) AND his future tango-self (the guy whose shoes he will easily step into one day - we are, after all, dealing with mediocrity).

4. Because if there was no applause, there will be awkward silences and the sound of crickets chirping.

Now, we can understand people applauding a performance by Ricardo Vidort - just watch some of his performances on Youtube to see some incredibly musical social tango on display!

However, social tango dancing was not generally created for exhibition - so it's especially difficult to applaud it. It's so much an internal thing - much of it could be just plain, boring - and plain boring.

In addition, not all "Social Tango Performances" by "Social Tango Professionals" are admirable, or musical. Many contemporary adherents of Social Tango styles can only replicate the look of it, but not the spirit. Alas, if you throw away the music and throw away the feeling, you are left with some dry husk of a thing that is not fit for la pista let alone the stage.

It's very hard to find the right place to clap when you are confronted with one of these. Ooops, should I clap here? But they are not doing anything! I should wait a bit.... how about here? No, they aren't doing anything now either. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ...... Oh Gosh, how time flies! It's the end of the show! Have to be polite - you can clap at the end, couldn't you?

Almost makes you miss the fast feet and knickers....

5. "Hey Irene and Man Yung, what makes you such experts on what to applaud and what not to applaud?"

Of course we aren't experts. In fact, the standard is so subjective, who really knows what is worthy or not worthy of applause?

Some show tango can be beautiful and musical, ditto nuevo tango (in theory - although we personally haven't seen it - it all seems like gymnastics and discordant postmodern jerking to-and-fro to us).

Some social tango (milonguero style, villa urquiza style, salon style, "heck let's just dance" style) should be musical, but it isn't.

Tango is full of contradictions. When it comes to subjective standards, your powers of appreciation can only match your level of understanding. Our advice is therefore twofold:

- Take every opportunity you can to learn to be a better dancer. And do your research, ask questions if you can, to appreciate what other great dancers admire.
- Applaud if you see something that pleases and thrills you, honestly and truly, from the bottom of your heart. No matter whether you are a novice or a expert, whether your opinions are "ignorant" or "knowledgeable", your honesty has a mysterious way of connecting to Tango. We promise.

If all else fails, join a claque!

* Imagine, a "Tango Professional" hanging with all the other "Tango Professionals", all of whom enthusiastically clap for each other. It is a formidable force of self-perpetuating "Tango Cred" - never mind good dancing, you won't even need it anymore!


Mark said...

Ouch, sharp!
Dare I laugh?

Anonymous said...

Nice one Irene. I only clap at the end and only if I've seen something worth clapping about.

It's like the Emperor's new clothes syndrome. There was one couple that did a performance at Negracha and they got a very lukewarm welcome. It was really terrible and quite embarrassing. We Londoners are getting tired of performances by people we don't know and having to pay extra for them.

Planet Tango said...

The answer is very simple.

People clap, gasp and wow when the legs leave the floor for the same reason Americans yell their lungs out when little Billy punts the soccer ball way up in the air...

The first one to have the balls to stand up and go out for fresh air when the performance is announced, will be the role model for dedicated tango dancers to follow.

The rest, clueless, cholulos, lazy couch potatoes with delusional ideas about their own talent, will press their asses firmly to their seats and pretend to know what the hell they're looking at.

As much as for Americans soccer is a kick in the grass, tango performances are a pain in the ass.

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Arlene,

You had to pay extra to watch a crapping performance???!!!??

We think next time they should pay YOU - fair compensation for your pain and suffering and having to wash out your eyes after seeing all that ;-)

Thanks for your comment,

Irene and Man Yung

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Mark,

Your comment reminds us of a very interesting concept - laughing INSTEAD of clapping for a particularly agonizing performance. Tango Professionals will be able to launch into another career - that of "Tango Comedy"!

Thanks for your comment!

Irene and Man Yung

Anonymous said...

Well, not only do we Londoners have to pay extra for performances, often after the third performance and the performers disappear off into the backstage, the clapping continues louder until they come back on and we have to watch a fourth dance!

jessiechung said...


You speak with great clearity and humour. A rarity these don't stop...and THANK YOU.

Jessie and Dorian

jessiechung said...


You speak with great clearity and humour. A rarity these don't stop...and THANK YOU.

Jessie and Dorian

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