What is the Zamba? According to Wikipedia, it's this. Which doesn't tell you very much. All we know from our experience in Buenos Aires milongas is that the solemn beat of the Bombo Legüero will start to play, a few couples staring passionately at each other will slowly take to the dance floor, and then the dancers will whip out their hankies and twirl them while revolving slowly around each other clockwise and counterclockwise.
"Yeech!" said Irene and Man Yung circa 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. "This is pretty boring! When are they going to finish this and play the next tanda? What, this is going to last for the next fifteen minutes???!? We're going home!"
Yep, Irene and Man Yung are totally Tango Tourists too!
Our attitude to Zamba gradually changed when we started to go to milongas with Osvaldo and Coca. Now, they are really hardcore tango dancers - they really like their tango tandas, and Osvaldo doesn't have much patience for things that would keep him waiting for the next tango. We predicted that when it was late, late in the evening and time for Zamba, Osvaldo and Coca would want to leave - but no, they stayed. And not only that, the WANTED to watch the Zamba - and they were staying that extra little bit later just to watch it.
And one evening during our last visit, a folklore/tango dancer came to visit Osvaldo and Coca in their class at El Tacuari. Why, we asked? It was because Osvaldo had a gaucho costume somewhere at home that he wasn't using (huh?) and he was going to give/lend it to this guy for his Zamba performances.
"From Osvaldo and Coca's reactions, the Zamba must be something we should look into!" we thought.
So we asked the folklore dancer working at our hotel (he gave us all this material on the Zamba including its history and detailed instructions and drawings with the patterns and steps danced - thanks, Juan!), did a little research on the internet and discovered that -
The Zamba can be kind of like the Tango!
If you don't know anything about the Zamba, you want to see the Zamba equivalent of daredevils being shot out of a cannon while riding a monster truck rigged with explosives through a hoop suspended over the Grand Canyon loaded with 10,000 tons of fireworks. In a nutshell, you want to see Zamba-Ballet, or Show Zamba. Like this:
A very stylized Zamba
We are not experts at Zamba but what we can tell is that these are very talented, expert, classically trained dancers and their choreography is exciting and beautiful and awe-inspiring - you know, "The Whole Story of Love and Loss in Three and a Half Minutes" kind of thing.
"It's too bad that they don't dance Zamba like that in the milongas! If they did, we wouldn't find it boring!" we might say - and that's because we know jack-s*** about the Zamba. We used to be all excited about Show Tango too and would try to duplicate all the dangerous jumps, kicks and spins ON THE DANCE FLOOR. Ah, wonderful memories!
There's also competition Zamba - each year major folklore festivals in Argentina will select a pair of champions from the thousands of similarly dressed competitors dancing almost the exactly the same routines in almost exactly the same way and name them "Winners of such-and-such town/city/county/province/the whole nation"!:
Competitors in a Zamba competition - including the "Pareja Nacional 2011" (National winners of 2011). If we didn't tell you that there was a pair of winners in there, would you be able to tell?
Irene really enjoyed this video and watched it endlessly for about a week. "Man Yung, you should study this! They dance so smoothly, so spot-on in sync, so flawlessly! Their costumes, their hair, their steps, their handkerchief waving - it's all so professional, so perfect. And they are totally ONE HUNDRED PERCENT TRADITIONAL!"
They are all really good dancers. It's just when you put the constraints of competition rules onto a dance form, slap a tasty label like "Traditional" to it....what does it do to the dance?
The Zamba examples above are very skillful and impressive - but from our experience and knowledge of Tango after traveling to Buenos Aires and learning from Martha and Manolo, Osvaldo and Coca and Alberto and Paulina and watching the milongueros dance, we know that as perfect as the Zambas might be, they are lacking that certain something....
Conversely, the following Zamba will always put a smile to our faces:
Vitillo Ábalos and his wife Elvira dance a Zamba (and they change partners mid-way)! Vitillo Ábalos is a musician, one of the brothers in the Argentinian folklore supergroup "Los Hermanos Ábalos"
"Where are the costumes? Where are the leaps and spins and dramatic facial expressions? How about, in the very least, the rigorous step patterns and choreographic sequences? The guy doesn't do anything but shuffle in the same spot and the other guy who takes over his role mid-way is all hunched over!"
It's not perfect by any rule - but this Zamba feels so right. We wrote this when we wrote about the Chacarera:
I think that there are parallels to be made between a good tango and a good chacarera. Both dances have a structure, but should not be danced "academia" - by some academically set rule. Both the tango and the chacarera have to be danced from a feeling that comes from inside [...] The chacarera has something to do with joy, freedom, spontaneity, personality, and passion for life - and the natural expression of this feeling.
The Zamba between Vitillo Ábalos and Elvira has this feeling - with the added bonus of this connection between them arising from their many years of being a couple and living the life of the music together. Their Zamba is natural, joyful, passionate and full of life - and honest in its expression of these things. They've achieved this in their Zamba - we hope that one day everyone will be able to achieve this in their Tango.