Extraordinary dancing, thoughts about tango

2010 August 23
by Simba

This extraordinary video gave me some food for thought and made me finish a line of reasoning that started after noticing a youtube comment. Complaining that the dancing was all acrobatics, but had no feeling for the music. Sounded very familiar, only this time it was not tango dancers, but b-boys they were complaining about.

Hip hop and tango have quite some things in common (and obvious differences, of course). Both span several cultural expressions in being essentially urban subcultures. Different times, different places, both have a reputation for somewhat old fashioned gender roles and have grown from local fenomenon to global activity with a strong pop culture image.

Now, in addition to being fascinating in its own artistic right, a few things got me thinking about tango about this video.

  1. Dancer’s statements
  2. The choice of music
  3. The role of the internet

The internet: As more and more material gets posted on youtube and other places, ideas on how to dance tango spreads much faster around the globe than before. Now even old footage of several of the old milongueros begin to become available. While we often had to rely on someone’s teacher’s teacher’s teacher, often we can see for ourselves. People always watched and learned from each other, now it is more available than before. Some see this development as a problem, to me it is mainly a positive force. The dedicated beginner can learn a lot from a few hours before the computer that took years of traveling not many years ago.

Dancing to the ‘wrong’ music: All the dance numbers in this video are performed to music not associated with this kind of dancing. It is music from a different culture. It is not music from the streets, it is “art music”. Besides the effect of the unexpected, I assume the connotations of the more respected art form are very much intended for, demonstrating the artistic value of the dance.

But at the same time betraying the very culture that fostered these talented dancers. It is a powerful effect, but it could wear off soon. That is what I think happened  with the electrotango in the wake of the first Gotan Project and Bajofondo albums. It first sounded very refreshing and promising, but after a while the classics proved why they were classics, once again.

What works well in a show does not always work in the social dancing setting. Some people think electrotango is a way of building a bridge between familiar pop music and the real tango. Lately, I have found that I believe it is counter productive in building musical awareness, as people tend to end up thinking tango is danced to any music, and even after dancing for years, they can’t tell tango from other rhythms. At one point I played a short tanda of cumbia at a milonga (requested by several dancers), and some people started dancing milonga. The visiting teacher was shaking his head…. –This is cumbia, not milonga!

Memorable quotes:

It’s all about details — everything I move has purpose.
–J Smooth

when I’m dancing… ’cause at that point it’s just my body and the music, it’s not really a conscious decision, I’m gonna do this next, I’m gonna do this.  It’s kind of like this other level where you can’t make choices anymore, and it’s just your body reacting to certain sounds, and the music
–Kid David

it’s never what you do, it’s how it’s done.
–Kid David

you create power, then you tame it.
–Lil “C”


2 Responses leave one →
  1. 2010 August 23

    Another thing that tango and hip hop have in common is their African roots. The 3/3/2 driving beat behind canyenge and later tango are “hidden” in hip hop. The obvious connection with tango and hip hop can seen in kizomba (Angola), which has this same rhythm and is a very close cousin to tango as a dance. I suggest a treating yourself to a great surprise by doing an internet search on kizomba. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRw62Ouq-0A is a good start! The 3/3/2 rhythm can be slow or fast — mostly it is fast and most don’t even realize it is the foundation of tango/canyenge/milonga/kizomba/hip hop. We just dance and smile — and that is the way it is supposed to be!

  2. 2010 September 14

    Thanks, I’ll make sure to check it out. Though I was under the impression that the 3-3-2 in tango is a relatively new invention (De Caro, Pugliese, Piazzolla) even if it is similar to the habanera rhythm.

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