Monday, July 5, 2010
The Death of "New Tango"
New Tango (or “Tango Nuevo”) is in its death throes. I knew it when I saw the snippet of the “Milonguero Nuevo” DVD that Cherie posted on her blog a few days ago.
Yes, Tango Nuevo is dying – maybe even dead. I say this cautiously, in sotto voce, like the old wise folk in the olden days as they laid the bodies of the recently deceased out for the wake. There’s always a chance that a cat will jump over the body and the body will get up stiffly, shuffle a few steps over and bite you in the ankle.
“Why, Irene and Man Yung,” you say, “Are you crazy? Just last night I was kicked in the groin by an errant stiletto let loose in careless triple colgada/volcada combo. And aren’t there more and more festivals dedicated to this kind of thing?”
But look at the thing. Look at it closely. And look at who is doing all this “New Tango”.
The only ones still doing it are the idiots. Now, idiocy is one thing never goes out of style. It could be “New Tango” or “Old Tango”, but idiots will still find a way to be dangerous on the dance floor. Even the “professionals” are edging (discretely, quietly) further and further away from the fiasco that is “New Tango”. Or morphing it into something that tells people it’s “Nuevo” but is really “Nuevo-lite”, like “Milonguero Nuevo”.
A few months ago we visited a nearby “important tango community” on a lark. We have been disappointed with the tango scene every time we have gone there. This was supposed to be some “legendary tango centre outside of Buenos Aires” but we have always found the floorcraft to be abysmal and the music horrendous.
We went to two milongas on this trip. More people were dancing New Tango than not.
“This means that New Tango is alive!” I here you exclaim.
But once again, look at the people who are doing it. Older Gentlemen in sneakers with thinning hair and paunches pinched in half at the middle with mercilessly tight belts – shirttails squished in or left messily out. Ladies of “a certain age” trussed up like exotic birds in satin babushkas. These couples “performed” their New Tango and Show Tango moves (badly) with equal enthusiasm. Catch a leg here, whirling vortex of doom there. Jump and dive between the legs; kneel and sweep kick everyone within a two metre radius.
It was a desperate bid be “relevant”. Think of all the middle-aged crisis clichés, like swapping your Honda for a Corvette or your wife for a new girlfriend twenty years younger. I’m dancing New Tango because I want people to look at me – and because I still can.
But for how much longer? A couple of ancient chicas were visiting from out of town. Grabbed by a few of the “New Tango Idiots”, they allowed themselves to be flung around the dance floor with glee. They didn’t mind slipping and falling heavily a couple of times, and laughed it off each time. Perhaps they were lucky on this tango trip, and went home with nothing more than a couple of bruises and vague memories of graceless leaping and giddy spinning.
Next time, the souvenirs will be broken bones and dislocated hips. It’s only a matter of time – New Tango is for the young and flexible, and not for persons over the age of thirty-five with self-esteem issues and an overwhelming desire to draw attention to themselves with movements that their aging bodies simply cannot execute.
“So, the ‘young and flexible’ will carry the torch?” you say.
No, the ‘young and flexible’ will only get older. And creakier. And discover that, short of having enough talent and training for the circus or the Olympics, there is a limit to what a body can do. There’s another problem. How many triple/quadruple volcada/colgada combinations can you invent before it becomes boring and repetitive? Every year “New Tango Professionals” try to come up with contortions that are more difficult and complicated, only to risk crossing the line from dance into pure acrobatics, unfit for normal human consumption (and idiotic regurgitation). What’s next, do we have to climb a rope ladder and swing naked spiral somersaults from a trapeze?
A few years ago, even tried and true traditional tango teachers felt the threat of “New Tango” and tried incorporating some into their curriculum and their performances to gain back market share. But now, the opposite is true. The “New Tango” dancers are turning back to tradition to attract the students back. New Tango is dead (or dying) but you’ll still have some “New Tango” teachers here and there teaching New Tango. Why? It’s hard to relinquish something that you’ve studied for so long and worked so hard for. And it’s theoretically a tango cash cow: a system [a.k.a. "scam"] that provides boundless material – combination upon combination upon soulless combination – that could never be mastered.
That will change: even the young and flexible ones are holding each other tight and embracing to the music.*
In Toronto, the most popular milongas are the ones that have traditional dancers dancing to traditional music. The most hardcore tango devotees are the traditional dancers – they are the ones that pay, week after week, night after night, to dance. It’s not the exercise and the clever stunts but the emotional fulfillment and the connection that keeps them coming back. In addition, recent Toronto Tango Festivals are becoming more traditional than ever – inviting guest teachers of Tango Salon and Milonguero. New Tango “Maestros” - whose idea of tango performance is to moonwalk to cacophony and push against each other like bulls with locked horns - were conspicuously absent.
Tangueras will still dance with “New Tango” tangueros – some women will dance with any man, so long it’s a man. They might laugh and giggle and have a lot of fun being hazards on the floor. But who do they really want to dance with?
In Toronto, it’s the five or so tangueros/milongueros [sorry, Man Yung, this doesn’t include you!] that all the women want to dance with. If they haven’t danced with them already they are all wondering what it would be like to feel the emotion of music in their embrace. If they have danced with them already – everything else pales in comparison.
Show me a community where people don’t want to be held, where people don’t want to feel loved. Or a community of idiots. That’s where New Tango might live, and flourish.
For the rest of us, New Tango is dead.
* Back in March, we attended Osvaldo and Coca's classes at El Tacuari in Buenos Aires and were pleasantly surprised at the number of young Argentinos who were taking the classes. They were very serious about learning what Osvaldo and Coca had to teach, and were very respectful. A good sign.
Martha's Apartment in Buenos Aires
A Non-exhaustive set of Tango links in Toronto
- La Cachila - weekly milonga
- Paradiso -- weekly milonga
- Practica El Beso
- WE Tango
- Tango Sur - classes, shows
- Rhythm and Motion - classes, milonga, practica, annual Toronto Tango Festival
- Tango Obsession - classes, weekly Practica La Coqueta
- Tango Lirico - classes, practica, weekly milonga
- Tango de Oro - classes, shows
- Tango Soul Productions - classes, weekly milonga, shows, El Congreso annual Tango Festival
- Vivatango - classes
- Tango Argentino - classes
- Club Milonga - classes, special events
- Alternatango - classes, weekly milonga
- University of Toronto Tango Club - classes, practica
- El Abrazo - classes
- Tangoloft - twice monthly milonga