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February 18th, 2012
Argentine Tango

The reason why learning to dance Tango requires understanding of the history and context

By Derek Vuong on 18/02/2112

Some History of Tango and Argentina

The Tango is a beautiful fusion dance originating from Argentina and Uruguay. The dance developed from folkloric roots of the traditional indigenous dancers of the tribal people of south america and blending of the waltzes of italian immigrants and french minuets. Over time it evolved and became the form we know today. In order to understand tango we can understand the history of the dance and the style in its purest form of first principles. the argentinians dance without moving their shoulders as a elegant stride, the uraguayans choose to bounce a bit to honour their tribal heritage.

I believe you cannot dance the Tango without the feeling that you get from argentinians and uruguayans. If you love tango you must love the culture of the argentinians and uraguayans. They come part and parcel to learning the feeling of how the Tango should be danced.

Ballroom tango was an attempt to take something with innate beauty and constititution force and  it into the formalised paradigm of structure and competition. The colonial interpretation of the dance was harsh and did the dance no justice. This became the Ballroom tango which was an extension of the waltzes, foxtrot and emphasised the control and power of western powers rather than the elegance and beauty of song and music. There is a warmth in South American culture that they only share with their families, nationality and those who pay love and respect to their culture . This is the feeling of sentiment people must have when dancing the Tango. Alot of foreigners attempt to dance Tango without respecting this feeling and end up dancing a an arrogant way based on egotism and lack in emotion.

When I first started tango, it sounded like haunted house music. but eventually when you listen to the music enough, you start living the golden age of the composers and dancers, of how they people must have felt at the time. It is a strange feeling where the past becomes the present. The only way i can describe it, is that a scene from a old movie with grainy footage becomes clear and you are immersed in clarity and enter the world behind the silver screen. The music is beautiful and invokes happiness and melancholy. The bandeneon has a voice and a soul as do the violins and cellos, The heart beat sits on the timing of the music and the mode changes represent the ebb and the flow of the emotions within the dance.

Originally tango was developed in brothels by prostitutes of the portenas (port city) and the cowboys and silver miners called the gauchos. In the rural districts the women dressed in their long flowing italian style dresses called the pasenas. The men would usually tell the quality of a woman by the intricate patterns she left in the dust as they were still consevative the hemlines were very low on dresses. There were very few women on the frontier and it was the prostitutes that would take turns with many of the working men after a hard days work. She was offered silver for dancing and her her services. the gauchos were rough men and occassionally fights would break out resorting to stabbings and duals. Since the men were waiting for the women to be freed up, they danced with each other to pass time. Argentina, was known for its silver hence the name Argentine (Chemical element AG).

The height of tango was developed during the Golden age in which its development reached its apex. High class and orchestras came in and the development of film and hollywood. Carlos Gardel became a celebrity heartthrob that to this day Argentinians and Uraguayans still constest his nationality. Unfortunately, Carlos died in a plane  crash and everyone was heartbroken. Evita peron is another great person they consider a national treasure as she believed in social reform. When Maddonna played evita in the movie, that really annoyed the argentinians.

They would organise parties called milongas in which they would dance milonga, tango and valse. The women would be very picky about who they dance with and a man would have to be endorsed another man in order for him to be accepted by the women at the milonga. Therefore a man could not have a dance with a woman at a milonga until he mastered Tango and was Initiated. The men developed a tango practice night called Practicas in which gathering of men would share their dance skills and talk politics and self mastery and development. The government did not like large gatherings of men helping each other as they feared revolutions from them. So they altogether banned gatherings, considering it a immoral dance while ironically endorsing "rock and roll" culture while it was breaking ground in america and causing civil disobedience.

The generations of older people loved the tango soo much they blocked their doors with the mattresses to buffer the music and danced tango with their families, and it became a family thing danced on the Patios with their family. The beauty of a tango is that a grandfather can dance with a granddaughter without having raise questions. Tango is a classy elegant dance and was considered too rauchy back in the conservative period. Women would buy dresses and modify them to suit the dance, having to slits on both sides to reveal their legs. the women would sit and wait for cabaceo (invitation to dance by nod of head from a distance). If no men asked them to dance during the night, they would go home and tell then their friends they did the ironing last night to avoid embarassment as as a joke.

In Argentina, the milongas start at before midnight until 4am in the morning. Giving a small amount of time to sleep so they can get ready for their morning asado (BBQ) followed by work, the siesta and then more work, dinner and then a quick sleep before heading out to night out in town again. Argentina was a rich country with nationalised energy and the people benefitted.

After the regime fell there was another golden age of development, Everyone took up classes for everything from yoga to karate, there was a revival of tango. Tango is now considered a international treasure by UNESCO because of it's artistic link with understanding complex musicality, rhythm and phrasing.

In 1999, Argentina's economy collapsed due to corruption and greed, foreign and domestic. People protested the banks by banging pots and pans. They went from super affluent to extremely poor. The working class was destroyed in a number of years and their currency dropped. These days Argentina is still recovering from the economic disaster. Tango tourism has brought people from all over the world to dance in argentina. Many fled the country to escape poverty as many starved and many learned to protect themselves and survive in a lawless society with mob rule. Normal working class people were forced to protect themselves with guns and found ways to survive with little resources and high amounts of crime and kiddnappings.

Fortunately the older generation passed the skills on to the younger generations of argentinians and uruguayans due to their love of the dance. My teachers Alberto and Angelica who treated me like their grandson and  passed the skills to me with unconditional love. My teachers both were widowed, they had met at a milonga in Argentina on a trip back to argentina and returned to australia to share their ability. They were around when the famous traditional composer Juan d'arienzo was around. Angelica danced with him as a young woman. Astor Piazolla was a progressive musician who went to europe to study music and created elongated phrases that was difficult to dance traditionally to.

Tango footwork
Pure Basics and Primitives

The first principle of tango is the connection it has with the circle. Tango is an attempt to connect with the most primal of all shapes built into the universal flow. Planets dance around the sun and the solar systems dances around the galaxy in the orbit of sacred geometric synchronicity. The moon revolves around the earth as the roles are in the masculine and feminine are in tango. In tango, the woman has a role to be a woman, and a man has a role to be a man. There are clearly defined gender roles within the dance and both parties involved must be accepting and respecting of this role in order to dance. The man must be very masculine and respectful whilst the woman takes a passive role with responsibility to show her grace and celebrate her strong divine feminine.

Tango is like two step based dance like merengue,  However is walk based like a waltz. Each step is a stride to match the phrasing of the music. The dancers usually stalk with accuracy of a knife and elegance of a graceful cat. Breathing is part of the dance, Breathing in and out naturally, while strolling in time with the compass. each step represents a heartbeat in the 2/4 timing with a strong beat followed by a soft beat. The soul is represented by the phrase and voice of the bandeneon. Essentially walking to show a analog understanding of the dance. The height of a tango is to be immersed into the dance as a couple until true connective link of hearts occurs. Once this feeling is acomplished two dancers become one. The tango essentially is a a couple dance with a stylised walk on timing, connecting of two people to the point whereby they feel each others emotion and draw people into thier world in a captivating seductive way. When two people connect in this way, the only way to describe it that a knowing that every emotion you felt is the same emotion felt by your dance partner and you are lost in space time vortex with your partner and want the moment to last forever. The music sounds different as the music moves away distant and hollow as you become the only two people in the world at that point in time. And you know that the audience becomes one dimensional shadows that are captivated and drawn into your world. The observers gain a feeling of envy as two dancers on the floor at the time have achieved this connection they desire.

- Derek, Passionata Dance

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