Saturday, August 30, 2014

Good or Bad?

Come on, admit it....this kind of thing in Tango used to make you cry (and not because you thought it was bad, but because you thought it was good!)

We were asked by a beginner of Tango recently - how can we tell who is a good dancer, and who is a bad dancer?

Our beginner friend pointed to a couple on the floor she felt were good dancers.  "What about them?  They look very good on the dance floor."

"They only look good because they are young, tall, athletic, good looking and skinny and they do a lot of movements, but in my opinion, they aren't really 'good' at Tango.  Look at how the girl is kicking up her heels and how the guy is occupying enough space for ten couples with his movements and how what they are doing has nothing to do with the music and there is absolutely no emotion in their dancing....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz."

In the middle of pointing out why this couple "looks good, but isn't really that good," I fell asleep out of sheer boredom of having to explain again what is good or bad in Tango. And as I slept, I had dreamy (nightmarish?) flashbacks of Tango we once thought was good....

The elegant local couple who moved Man Yung to tears with their rendition of "Nochero Soy".  The interpretation of "Recuerdo" by Juan Carlos Copes in the movie "Tango" that sent shivers down my spine.  The summer all the Toronto Tangueras fought tooth and nail to dance with the visiting Fabio because we thought that he and his "Tango" was the best thing since sliced bread.  The year we watched every one of our Cosmotango DVDs at least once a week because, gosh golly, what a treasure trove of REAL tango they were!

Of course, now we are all experienced and cynical and we can see all the faults of the things we once admired:

"Lacks music and emotion!"
"Completely choreographed and unsuitable for the dance floor!"
"Dressed like a bum and instead of leading, he shoved!"
"Lacks music and emotion, completely choreographed, lots of shoving instead of leading, and if anyone danced like that on the dance floor, they are looking for a thrashing (or at least, a lot of evil eye)."

Sometimes (and only sometimes), we wish were still caught in our little time warp of naivete.  We may be embarrassed now about the things in Tango we used to adore, but Tango dancers should have a time in their Tango lives when Tango is all wonderful, like a world made up totally of unicorns and rainbows.  Hardened veterans can give little snippets of crucial advice (like, "Tangueras, keep your heels on the floor so you don't kick anyone on purpose or by mistake!" and "Tangueros, don't tailgate and take up all the lanes in the line of dance!"), but on the whole, it is best to let the newcomers enjoy the process of their evolution.  Otherwise how else can you blackmail them with the sordid details of their past Tango preferences when finally, they inevitably blossom into expert international Tango Professionals/Luminaries?

I woke up from my refreshing nap.  Our beginner friend had just returned to the table grimacing and nursing a big bruise on her shin.

"What happened?" I asked.

"I got kicked on the dance floor by those guys!" She pointed to a couple on the dance floor still bouncing backwards and forwards frenetically and knocking into bystanders like they were the ping-pong ball and it was 999th level of Pong.

The perfect illustration.  "Now you know for sure what is good and what is bad in Tango.  Couples who have kicked you or may potentially kick you while you are dancing:  Definitely Bad.  Couples who have not kicked you and don't look like they are doing anything that may kick anyone: Good!"

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tango dancing with the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young

Recently, there has been a deluge of fresh, young(ish) followers in Toronto with long legs, sky-high stilettos and high-slit skirts.  The Bimbangueros/Tangorimbos have been piling one on top of another as they trip in haste to dance with these beauties...

"Delightful!" you say.  "Toronto Tango is definitely in need of fresh blood.  You are lucky to have such heavenly creatures in your Tango community. They look so SMASHING together!"

Ha ha, "Smashing" is the right word to describe what they are doing - the Bimbangueros charge recklessly up and down the dance floor while their wonderful partners use every opportunity to foot flick, knee lift, back kick and heel gouge in all directions.

"Once, I was sitting in the corner of the room at a milonga minding my own business (and surfing the 'net on my smartphone) when one of these dangerous seething masses torpedoed down the line of dance.  I thought, 'No way they are going to hit me, I'm huddled in the corner here with all my legs and arms tucked in' but I was wrong.  She kicked me with a back boleo - and didn't even say sorry!  Well, she didn't say sorry at first - until I kicked her back with a pissed off look on my face."

"Good job, Irene!" said Man Yung.  "If more people spoke up - or in your case, kicked back - when they are assaulted on the dance floor by people dancing dangerously, maybe these dancers will become more self-aware, less reckless and more considerate."

"Hey Man Yung, sometimes you ask ladies to dance before you see how they are dancing (you crazy man you!).  Have you ever danced with someone who looked perfectly normal and civilized when you cabeceo'd her but who turned into the 'Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young' once you embraced her in your arms?"

Where are these high-kicking gals from?  From Europe?  From Outer Space?  Mais non!  
They are the product of your local Tango School of the money-grubbing inconsiderate and reckless instructors.  Rather than curbing the rash enthusiasm of their numerous prodigy, they say nothing so these gals will continue to attend their classes and milongas.  They may even teach by example and kick quite a few people on the dance floor themselves!

"Oh, do you mean Shub-Niggurath, the perverse Cthulhu-mythos Outer God with the menacing tentacles and the explosion of countless writhing goat legs?"

"Yep, that's it.  I know you are too much of a gentleman to dump her mid-Tango or mid-tanda.  What do you do to minimize the damage she may inflict on the couples around you?  Do you just keep your distance from the other couples?"

"Keeping a good distance so her back boleos won't dig into any one's flesh is a good idea, but it may not always be possible if the floor is crowded.  What I try to do is not to lead anything that would give her the opportunity to lift her heels off the floor.  No boleos.  No ganchos.  No enganches.  Any leader who has been dancing for a while can feel when they've picked one of these ladies who can't keep their heels on the floor.  The lady would be all jittery and twitchy and just itching to launch a big high kick if you give her half a chance.   The unruly stuff you see on the dance floor isn't done just by the follower alone - their partners have encouraged them to execute dangerous movements by leading those movements."

"But Man Yung, you underestimate the power of a determined (rabid) adornista.  I have seen leaders leading perfectly innocuous back ochos and giros - but have them converted into weapons of destruction by ladies who hook their feet up behind them before stepping down.  If they are anywhere near a person that uplifted stiletto heel won't be slicing air - it would be slicing someone's shin!"

Man Yung shrugged.  "In that case, the leader could do nothing but walk.  And pause.  And pause even more.  It's funny, but the more you try to tire an zealous adornista out with more movements, the more energetic and ebullient they become.  Do exactly the opposite, don't move very much or at all, and they may even fall asleep!"*

* Man Yung says, "I still think it is the leader's fault, maybe they should observe first and not dance with a follower who is dangerous on the dance floor.  However, I understand that some ladies are irresistible to some leaders due to their looks or their sexy attire, and leaders will want to dance with them even at the risk of hurting others on the dance floor.  You know what, I STILL THINK it is the leader's fault - what can be so irresistible that you will cooperate in assault?  Haven't you guys seen a woman before? So immature!"

Thursday, August 7, 2014


We celebrated our ten year anniversary in Tango at the beginning of this year.  Actually, we didn't really "celebrate" - it was more like an observation, "My goodness, how time flies!" kind of thing.  And then we went out and danced as usual. 

Nevertheless, ten years is milestone and we have been thinking about what it means for ten years to pass in Tango.  We've certainly come a long way since our fledgling steps in the group class held in a basement studio at Mad for Dance deep downtown.  Our first salida, our first giro, our first milonga, attending our first tango event, the different instructors we took classes with, our first time in Buenos Aires, our first performance in Buenos Aires, and on and on....

There's always been a sense that we are moving forward.  We practice every week for an hour and every two or three months we have some kind of breakthrough, either internally, externally, or internally manifesting itself externally.  Conversations with our teachers, conversations with each other, snippets of video on Youtube, things that we experience, books that we have read, flashes of inspiration - all contribute to the momentum and the endless change in the way we dance.  We look at us now, we look back to where we used to be, and we can't help but think about the future - where will we be ten years from now?

We hope that our Tango will continue to become better, deeper, more expressive, more enjoyable - a year from now, five years from now, ten years from now.  Barring some surprise or catastrophic event, it is a pretty safe prediction that we would achieve this goal to some degree. 

We wouldn't say unfortunately, because it has nothing to do with good fortune or misfortune and more to do with human nature - many dancers do not have such modest aspirations.  Some want more attention - they high kick and spin recklessly to show off in crowded milongas now and hope one day to receive an invitation to perform for real.  Some want more recognition - they become "authorities" to any one who would listen and teach on the dance floor instead of following or leading properly and hope one day to become instructors.  Yet others use Tango as a way to increase their sense of superiority, but they go about it the wrong way - by becoming snobbishly what they think is more "authentic", by maintaining their "clique" and dancing only with members within it, to the extent that they hide at milongas only catering to "their people" and never come out to dance with anyone else.

We predict that these people will achieve what they have set out to do. What they won't achieve is Tango that is better, deeper, more expressive or more enjoyable.  Some dancers who had been veterans when we started dancing ten years ago are still dancing in exactly the same way or worse ten years later.  They may be instructors now, or have performed, or consider themselves some kind of Tango "Elite", but the quality of their dancing has either stayed the same or deteriorated.  And the Magic 8-ball says than ten years after, it will be pretty much the same.

We shake our heads but none of this really matters.  It doesn't matter what we want to achieve in Tango, it doesn't matter what the others want to achieve in Tango.  It doesn't matter even if Tango lives, or if Tango dies.  We go out to dance, if we are lucky we will enjoy ourselves and all our worries are suspended for a few hours.  If we are not lucky the music will suck, the floor will be a disaster zone and/or we will get kicked in the shins and/or we want to fight with the guy/gal who is dancing like an asshole in all lanes with their spiky heels up in the air.  Who cares where we will be, or where the others will be tomorrow or ten years from now?  It is only a dance.

We received bad news today that a good friend from our martial arts days has been diagnosed with leukemia. Only forty years old, and with a young child!  We saw her just a year ago, when she came with her husband and daughter to visit Toronto to see whether they wanted to move back here for the sake of her daughter's education.  She was full of dreams and hopes for the future of her family and her child.  Her illness is something no one could have predicted.  We told her to be strong, to stay optimistic and we told her that we would pray for her recovery. 

For now we will keep on dancing and keep on writing. Whatever the future may bring, we have to live one day at a time, and make the most of it.

We started Tango at Mad for Dance studios ten years ago, and we have been practicing there all these years.  The studio is closing at the end of August.  Thank you Michael and Raija for renting your beautiful space to us, our Tango would not be where it is today without the opportunity to practice in your studio.  Mad for Dance will always be a cherished part of our Tango memories. 

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