Monday, July 5, 2010

The Death of "New Tango"

"Hey you, New Tango - you're going thatta way."

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.


Anonymous said...

Hilarious as usual Irene. You are so astute. We have those same silly old neuvo dancers that look ridiculous. Hopefully they will grow out of it.

I guess there is hope for us all yet. ;)

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Arlene,

Just saw some yesterday - apparently the news hasn't spread. They are even trying to be inventive! One dancer showed off and did a sideway colgada knee-lift enganche. Then another - just to be clever, did the same movement, but get this - FIVE enganches in a row.

If New Tango doesn't die, We'd die. From laughing.

Thanks for your comment!

Irene and Man Yung

Chris said...

I've noticed something interesting hereabouts in Berlin. The only nuevo dancers left in milongas are teachers. For about a year now I haven't seen anyone else. Apparently the only students of theirs that have not given up are the few who have themselves become teachers.

Makes sense really. Nuevo was invented by teachers for the purposes of teaching so no surprise people are finding there is no other point to it.

I wonder how long the situtation in milongas can last. How long are teachers prepared to come out to promote their stuff, now that there's no-one left who will buy it?

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Chris,

Thanks for your observation - you are dead on! The Nuevo Tango die-hards do seem to be the teachers or their students (would-be teachers). The rest of the ones doing it are just silly. There aren't many left!

Thanks for your comment,

Irene and Man YUng

Anonymous said...

Nuevo!!!! arggggg...
I am just having a real argy bargy( sorry about that, but I am sure my UK readers will see the funny side of that!! But I do use that phrase very often ) with a teacher in Liverpool and one of her Milonga regulars about the curse of Nuevo. They strongly disagree of course with the view of the sensible ones amongst us. I just hope that the link I gave them to look at for Man chung gets them to all you good folk and your blogs and replies. By the way this is my first attempt at blogging so forgive me if it isnt clear that I am a traditionalist. I even translated Tetes final letter to his colleagues for my friends to read. And by that I mean I tried to get in to his head using the subjunctive conjugations he used( sorry if that goes over some peoples heads its not meant to be smart ass just that others tried to translate using google and it doesnt work. Anyway, I share the view of a friend who runs a Milonga and classes in Shropshire. Conform or have another night for yourselves doing "your" dance style. Seems they just quit going and couldnt even inspire themselves to get something going on their own. Says it all eh???

Anonymous said...

Hi to everyone. I hope you are all able to view my first attempt at blogging and I hope contributing to the Pro " Death of Nuevo" Its 1 30 am and I am now very tired. Hope to be in touch with you all in the near future. Love what I am reading and viewing tks

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Danceposa,

All the best with your new blog and thank you for enjoying this post and commenting. Continue to express your opinions!

Irene and Man Yung

Unknown said...

Why so much hatred towards Tango Nuevo? I am new in Tango and have fallen in love with both, traditional and alternative... I am sure people can find the way to enjoy both. Tango is a form of art, and art evolves. There is no right and wrong, and Irene, not everything is black and white. Some middle age people actually look really good doing Tango Nuevo, which if you knew enough about it, doesn’t necessarily require hard core aerobics. If you can’t do it, and if you don’t want to do it, that’s not reason to hate it. Just admit your inability to cope with change.

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear S,

Please feel free to love it - but I reserve my right to loathe it. Especially if someone is doing it (or any other space-hogging movement - doesn't have to be "nuevo") on a crowded dance floor, right into my shins.

The middle aged tangueros in your community look good doing this stuff? Congratulations! Because here in Toronto they look like a bunch of silly farts.

Good luck with your tango journey, perhaps next year I'll be doing nuevo and you'll be a hardcore traditionalist? Who knows?


Unknown said...

The problem with what you might consider 'Nuevo' in Toronto is that there are not enough people who know how to do it right. It's not a philosophical movement, just a style of dance.

People who don't know how to dance (and there are plenty of 'traditional' dancers who don't either) can be problematic on any dance floor -- but I applaud all of them for trying, because social dancing is only newly reborn in our society -- i.e. we didn't grow up with it.

Also most of the best tango dancers in the world use Nuevo moves and dance and perform to alternative music, even those whose styles are generally conservative, so you'd be missing a great deal of potential artistic growth if you discounted it entirely.

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Hoai,

We're not sure who those "best tango dancers in the world" you refer to are - and we probably wouldn't agree with your opinion anyway. While they and other "Nuevo" practitioners are busy advancing their "artistic potential" on the dance floor, the rest of us are giving them a wide berth...because a kick in the shins is not what we paid the entrada for!

Most "Nuevo" dancers we know actually think they are "doing it right". Why else would they persist?

By the way, bravo to La Cachila milonga in Toronto - last Sunday the organizer stopped the milonga mid-way to make an announcement - no high boleos on the dance floor. Some dancers were starting to get out of hand, hurting themselves and others - and it had to be stopped. You won't get that kind of concern for safety or floorcraft at a "Nuevo" friendly milonga.

Irene and Man Yung

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