Archive | Argentine Tango

RSS feed for this section

Argentine Tango – The Line of Dance

Argentine tango, dancers following the line of dance

It’s important to honor the line of dance. In fact, it’s the first rule of tango.

by Terence Clark, author,  journalist, and Alma del Tango board member

 

The line of dance seems a reasonable enough idea. A number of couples dancing tango are asked, by custom, to dance in a more or less circular line that borders the edges of the dance floor, all in the same direction. This is done in order to keep collisions between couples at a minimum and to further the promise of dancing gracefully while at the same time cheek by jowl with numbers of other tangueros.

You would be surprised, however, at how often this custom is not observed. As a leader, you’re attempting to circle the floor in the line of dance, and some other leader in front of you is coming the other way. You take evasive action, ruining the moment that you and your partner have set up, and sometimes a bad stumble results, or a graceless, sudden stop, or an actual run-in with either that other leader and his partner, or with the poor people following behind you.

It’s even worse if you are a follower. (I’m speaking here of the traditional female role of the follower. But the same scenario exists no matter what the gender of the leader and follower may be.) If your leader knows what’s happening and is trying to follow custom despite the guy up ahead, or if your leader is a dolt and is taking you in the wrong direction, you may be stepped upon, angered, bruised, or worse. And if the collision includes the sharp heel of a woman’s shoe landing on the side of your foot and bruising or puncturing it, things are even worse.

The injured person is escorted, weeping, to a chair and ministered to. I wouldn’t be surprised if a hospital visit has occasionally been the result.

Why dancing in the middle of the circle is a no-no

As a less experienced dancer than I am now, I thought that the simple solution was to get out of the line of dance and head for the less crowded space in the middle of the circle. Two events relieved me of that opinion.

Bea, my partner, and I were once dancing at the Club Español in Buenos Aires. It was a very crowded night, and anything out of the ordinary or too showy in the dance was next to impossible. There was, however, one person who seemed oblivious of all this. About sixty, with a gut, he was dressed in a T-shirt, Bermuda shorts, and running shoes. His partner was similarly poorly frocked and porcine. He danced up and down in the middle of the floor, all the while instructing his partner on how to do tango. At least, I think that’s what he was saying, although I don’t have enough German to have understood entirely what he was ordering her to do. The search for escape on his partner’s face, however, gave me a direct clue to what she thought of his advice.

Everyone in the line of dance found this fellow foolish and invasive, and there’s nothing to equal the sound of a bunch of Argentines agreeing that someone else is a…well, as they say in Buenos Aires, a boludo.

A few weeks later, when I mentioned to Nora Olivera what I had seen, she nodded and then shook her head. “The worst dancers are always in the middle of the floor,” she said. Since then, I’ve looked out for this, and found it to be true.

It’s important to honor the line of dance. In fact, I think it’s the first rule of tango. Leave the line of dance, and you will be, so to speak, up a creek and, if she has her head on straight, without a partner.

Terence Clarke’s latest novel, The Splendid City, is available in book stores and on Amazon

Read full story · Comments are closed

Students of the Month ~ Marti Sukoski and Scott Adams

by Lanny Udell

Couple dancing tango at Alma del Tango in MarinDancing tango since: Marti started dancing tango in the late 1990’s when the tango craze was just getting under way in the Bay Area. Before that she had danced ballroom and salsa. Scott discovered tango in 2006.

Back story: Scott started studying with Mayumi Fujio. In 2007, he was taking classes with Luz Castiñeiras and as luck would have it, Marti dropped in to a class. She was a more experienced tango dancer than he, but what he lacked in experience he made up for with enthusiasm. He invited her for an evening of dinner and dancing.

At that time, Marti was about to leave for a month in Buenos Aires to study Spanish and tango. When she got back, Scott contacted her and asked, “Do you remember me? Do you want to dance together?” She did. Fast forward—the tangueros got married last year and, of course, danced a tango at their wedding.

Traveling tangueros: “We try to dance wherever we travel,” says Scott. Destinations have included Barcelona, Spain; San Miguel de Allende, Puerta Vallarta and Morelia, Mexico, with a visit to Patzcuaro, a small indigenous town where an Argentine woman had a restaurant and taught tango. “It was very serenpiditous,” recalls Marti. The couple is currently dancing through Europe.

Why tango: For Scott, it’s the music. “It fits my personality,” he says. Piazzola is a favorite. Marti says, “It’s hard to explain, it’s a feeling. The interaction between leader and follower. You can have a tango moment with a complete stranger.” She likes the improvisational aspect of tango, “with your partner, you create something together.”

Marti and Scott at their wedding receptio n

The tango bride and groom

Like Scott, Marti loves Piazzola.  A cello player, she loves both playing the music and dancing to it. Last year she played Oblivion with a small chamber group at College of Marin.

About Debbie & John: “I love their focus on the form of tango and I’m understanding more about myself and my body from studying with them,” says Marti. They give so much of themselves through their teaching, besides being welcoming and warm people.” What Scott likes most about Alma del Tango is the community:  “it’s nice to go there, see people we know and dance with everybody,” he says.

Anything else? To prepare for their Europe trip, Scott researched milongas in every city they’re visiting. “It’s special when you dance in another country with people in another culture, whether it’s in a little village in Mexico or a big city like Barcelona.”

Tango couple sightseeing in Mexico

Marti and Scott on holiday in Mexico.

When asked why they continue taking classes they agree, “Like any art form it’s a constant learning process.”

Last word: “Isn’t it great that in sleepy Marin county there’s a place to go on Friday night where it’s hopping?” muses Marti.

Read full story · Comments are closed

Student of the Month ~ Matthew Plan

by Lanny Udell

 

Tango dancer Matt Plan, Alma del Tango student of the monthDancing tango since: Matt started taking tango classes in the East Bay (he lives in Albany) about 1 ½ years ago. But after a few months, he began looking for another studio. A web search brought up Alma del Tango and he’s been dancing with us ever since.

Why tango: A salsa dancer, Matt was attracted to the music and the sophistication of tango. “It’s deeper, and more artful,” he says. “Salsa has a fun aspect. Tango is not about fun.”

Favorite part: He likes the connection with a partner. “It feels a bit tai chi-like.” He also likes the music, both the classic and the new. He listens to Piazzola every chance he gets.

About Debbie & John: “They’re informative, conscientious, friendly…just what you’d hope for in an ideal teacher,” says Matt. He likes that they have a syllabus, it’s not just whatever. “That’s part of being conscientious, and part of the reason I come here, despite the drive.” Matt appreciates that Debbie and John don’t just focus on steps. “It’s about technique, and the idea of lead and follow.”

Anything else? “Other classes have just one teacher; for me, that’s a drawback. With Debbie and John, you learn about lead and follow. Understanding what the follower does helps me lead. I can execute better if I know what my partner is doing,” says the tanguero. Matt is careful not to get too fancy on the dance floor. “Before I try a figure I ask myself, will this improve my dance? For example, ganchos, they’re like icing on a cake. No need to rush into it.”

Alma del Tango student of the month Matt Plan in the red rock country.

Matt likes to hike in Sedona, AZ red rock country

Last word: “It takes a long time to get proficient at Argentine tango. If you don’t have patience or persistence, you move on. You have to be willing to put in lots of time.”

Eli, 4 year old grandson of Alma del Tango's student of the month

The apple of Matt’s eye, his grandson Eli, going on 4.

 

Read full story · Comments are closed

What I Learned from Gavito

By Terry Clarke, author,  journalist, and Alma del Tango board member

Carlos Gavito, world famous tango dancerI believe it was in the Russian Samovar, a restaurant on West Fifty-second Street in New York City, that Carlos Gavito  placed a hand to his forehead, stared down into his drink (some sort of whisky concoction that was colored red and pink, and perhaps even had a little paper umbrella in it), and offered his opinion.

At first, I thought it was a sad observation, an effort at covering over the comedy of what he had just seen. As it turned out, though, Gavito was in the first moment of an offer to me that changed my understanding of tango and milonga. I would leave New York a year later with knowledge that has stayed with me ever since.

Gavito was one of the best-known tango dancers of his generation. Born in 1942 in Buenos Aires, he was noted for perhaps the most svelte dancing style anyone had ever seen. When he moved, you watched him. He had many wonderful partners throughout his stellar career…extraordinary women all of them. But really, you watched him. He was world famous, the lead dancer among that group of performers who toured the world with Forever Tango in the 1990s.

That evening, we had been sitting together at the bar. It was 1998, and I had been studying tango for four years. I had only a meager understanding of how tango is an expression of the national consciousness of Argentina. As such, if you really want to understand the dance, you have to know the history of that country (and particularly of Buenos Aires.) You must be able to speak Spanish and understand at least to some degree the unusual manner in which the language is spoken in that city.

I had not at that time visited Buenos Aires, although I had a good command of the kind of generic Spanish that is taught in schools. But I knew little of the slang spoken in Buenos Aires and the very unusual accents you hear everywhere on the streets. You should know those things if you wish to understand the color that makes tango lyrics so earthy, humorous and often desperately sad. Also, at the time I did not know the history of tango’s many rhythms and how they had arrived in Buenos Aires. A study of that requires an understanding of the enormous immigration to the port city of peoples from almost everywhere in the world during the nineteenth century. I can think only of New York City for a similar example.

In any case, I was dancing tango at the Russian Samovar (a weekly milonga hosted by the inimitable couple, Carolina Zokalski and Diego Di Falco, with whom I was studying at the time.) All was well, as far as I could tell, especially in view of the fact that Gavito was at the bar, conversing with a woman companion, and occasionally turning away to watch me. I was studying with him, too. So, his opinion of what I was doing was important to me.

The tanda came to an end, and in a moment, a fast milonga came on. I asked the person I was dancing with whether she would like to do some milongas with me. Her answer was “Yes,” and off we went.

After that tanda, I joined Gavito and asked his opinion of what he had observed. He laid his forehead onto the palm of his right hand. Slowly, with kindness and not a little chagrin, he said “Che, the tango was all right. But…” He sighed with despondency. “My God!” he whispered, shaking his head. “My God, the milonga was bad.”

I now know that what I had been dancing was simply a very fast version of the tango that I knew. I did not realize then that the milonga is a different creature altogether and requires way different talents than does tango itself.

But Gavito allowed me to recover from my own unhappiness with his pronouncement:

“Listen, Terry. You give me two hours, and I will give you milonga.”

I took him up on his offer a few weeks later and have never forgotten what he taught me.

Terence Clarke’s story collection, New York, is available in bookstores and on Amazon.

Read full story · Comments are closed