The Impossibility of Re-Creating the Tango of Times Gone By

2014 March 27
by Simba
First Impressionism by OldOnliner, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  OldOnliner 

There is a paradox concerning my relationship with tango, and maybe with tango itself. On one hand, I want to learn from the sources, learn the ‘true’ tango.  If that even exists. On the other hand, I want to see progress, to move on, and to find or invent ‘my own’ tango. Which may not exist, either. This tension between a certain nostalgia and  the Sisyphean quest for the authentic, and the longing for progress, a rational approach, the tension between being controlled by the tango and taking control over the tango is at once frustrating and tantalizing.

We are, inescapably, products of our time. The way we dress, the way we talk and the way we move has changed in numerous ways over the years, not to mention growing up on a different continent. How the times we live in manifest themselves in people was beautifully captured by this interesting reflection upon the remake of the classic movie ‘Psycho’  in an article in The NewYorker:

The way that people carry themselves—their posture, their gestures, and even the micro-gestures, the sense of sharpness or tremulousness, the brusqueness or smoothness of movements, the pointedness or curves of joints, the decisive rapidity or easy offhandedness with which they move, and the precision or meander of speech—conveys more about their personality and their times than the overt signifiers of fashion or vocabulary.

I mentioned once before how I was fascinated by the refined, elegant movements  of’El Flaco’ Dany when he lit a cigarette. This fascination is despite me generally finding the the habit of smoking despicable. Still there was something about about his way, the micro-gestures, the way he carried himself that stays with me. I would never be able to make his way of lighting a cigarette my own, even if I tried. Even if I worked hard, the best I could hope to achieve would be a superficial resemblance, a bleak copy. A fraud.

We may learn from the best, the ones that lived during the golden age of tango, or at least from those few who remain.  We may keep trying, but we will never dance their tango. We are left to find our own.

3 Responses leave one →
  1. 2014 March 27

    Simba wrote: On one hand, I want to learn from the sources, learn the ‘true’ tango. If that even exists. On the other hand, I want to see progress, to move on, and to find or invent ‘my own’ tango

    The true tango is the music.

    Then a true tango dance exists in every dancer that dances true to that music and to him/herself.

  2. 2014 March 27

    We all need to find our own tango within ourselves. It doesn’t matter with whom or how many years one studies tango. Too many professional teachers are name droppers; they use their teachers’ names believing that gives them more credibility in the teaching world. Each dancer has to prove himself/herself by dancing. Teaching is a high calling that too many take lightly.

    Those called the “best” are not always the best dancers or teachers. I can name many who had fame, and at the same time never danced the beat of the music. Their students are the same.

    I feel the best tango dancers were made in the downtown confiterias bailables during the 1950s. They’re the ones who are still around to show us how tango should be danced — simply and in an embrace.

    It’s been a long time since you posted. I hope you’re back more regularly.

  3. 2014 March 31

    @Chris: While I certainly agree that the music is very important, I don’t think playing with in/definite articles is very enlightening. I wonder if you missed my point? Both music and dance may be true tango as far as I’m concerned. The impossibility of recreating the tango of yesterday applies to music too, of course.

    @Jantango: Apply “best” however you like, that was not my point. Tango of the confiterias of the fifties or practicas in the barrios of the forties, they are both gone forever.

    I’ve been busy. There might be some more room for writing in the time to come. Or dancing 🙂

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