I missed this when it came out. A doucumentary about the legendary El Corte in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Eric Jørissen and El Corte have had a great influence on the European tango scene in general, and if I am not mistaken, on the tango marathon culture in particular.
–What is the highest technique you hope to achieve?
–To have no technique.
It is impossible not to think of tango, hearing some of the conversations in the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon.
–Kick me (Bruce Lee to one of his students)
–What was that? An exhibition? We need emotional content. Try again.
student kicks again
–I said emotional content. Not anger. Now, try again. With me.
student kicks again
–That’s it, how did it feel to you?
–Let me think…
–Don’t think! Feeeeeeel!
My apologies to TP for ripping off some of his old fb posts (“I was learning tango from Bruce Lee”), but even if I have no clue about martial arts, I find it very intrigueing, and getting lost in procrastination research for this post, I kept finding analogies with tango. There are great differences, of course, but the smooth movement, the groundedness, playing at the limits of balance… If you ever thought of giros and ganchos being metaphors of street fights as far fetched, have a look at the final fight between Bruce Lee and the Big Boss in The Big Boss (yes, I know). Some ganchos!
Martial arts using balance to trip the opponent over, tango challenging balance, only to make sure your partner is perfectly safe and on balance. I would be very surprised if a solid foundation in martial arts was not a great asset when learning tango. Or maybe rather taking up the practice of tango. In many ways tango is better thought of as a practice, rather than something you “learn”.
I’ve been watching several Bruce Lee films over the last months, including several documentaries, and it struck me that his moves seem so fresh, even today, more than forty years later. Indeed a testimony to the greatness of this icon of martial arts. The ballet like choreographies are, somewhat paradoxically very extravagant, in contrast to Bruce Lee’s philosophy of a minimalist martial art. The art of “fighting without fighting” as he says in Enter the Dragon. The screen tests he did before starring in Green Hornet were brilliant, and some of his demos from California likewise.
From the documentaries I learnt that Bruce Lee was actually a capable dancer, and won a Hong Kong Cha Cha competition, and earned some extra pocket money teaching dance at the boat to the US when reclaiming his US citizenship. One of the Kung Fu masters interviewed in one documentary told the story about how he made a deal with Bruce that he showed Bruce his Kung Fu tricks, and Bruce would teach him Cha Cha. –But after three nights, he knew all my tricks, and I never got beyond the basic step…
Bruce Lee was trained in a style of Kung Fu called Wing Chun, and there is a documentary on youtube about Wing Chun that seems authentic to me. Again the tango similarities jump at me. Maintaining center line, groundedness, pivots and relaxed, economic movement, and a technique called “sticky hands” where you keep contact with the opponent all the time with the arms to feel his next movement almost before he does himself.
This 10 year old practicing the Chen style of Taiji is also adorable:
I used to dismiss Taiji as old people moving slowly in the parks of Beijing to keep in shape. But if the old guys in the park are only a bleak shadow of ancient fighters, at the roots are real fighting. And like anyone who’s tried practicing tango in slow motion knows it doesn’t exactly make it any easier. In a completely other context I came over a saying that puts it nicely:
Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.
The break of rhytm is also a very interesting concept. This concept of establishing one rhythm and speed and then deviate from it as a surprise also works wonders in the tango.
The documentary revealed that the idea of making ’The Grandmasters’ started in 1996 when Wong Kar-wai was working on ’Happy Together’ in Argentina. He saw a local magazine with Bruce Lee on its cover and felt that the superstar’s influence on the world. Yet because the Bruce Lee story has already made many times, he wanted to explore Bruce Lee’s master Ip Man more and how he turned Bruce Lee into a legendary figure
Struggle to find the authentic, master of the master, does it sound familiar?
The trailer uses another phrase that resonates with a tango guy like me:
In his practice what I saw wasn’t movement, but essence.
I want to learn tango from Bruce Lee, too. Or rather, from Ip Man. El maestro del maestro.
This is a great idea! Trouvez l’erreur! from Les Pas Parfaits de Montréal. Simple, funny and well executed. Drawings by Véronique Paquette. My French is a bit rusty, but I believe the drawings are free to use for non-commercial purposes, and that it is allowed to translate them and incorporate translations in the images.
Many CTA discs and others are available in Europe through the Austrian DJ Bernhard Gehberger. He recently went to Japan and met with the guys behind CTA, AMP and Audio Park. From his report from that trip, it seems like he is working on facilitating reissues of these out-of-print discs. Which would be of great benefit to the tango community if he pulls it through. Today they are both hard to get and expensive.
I some times muse over the multiple levels of nostalgia in tango. Today we are (at least to some degree) nostalgic about the golden age of tango, peaking in the 1940s. Tango, of course, was already nostalgic about the turn of the century during the golden age.
Now, I always thought of this as layered or maybe even recursive nostalgia, beging nostalgic about the nostalgia of the 1940s. Add the nostalgia being a long way from Buenos Aires and longing back to being nostalgic about how they were nostalgic about the fin de ciecle in the golden age, and you get the picture… Even the nostalgia was better in the old days. It’s all very meta.
The New Yorker provides a different perspective in an article about 40 years nostalgia cycles (also don’t miss the cartoons), and why they occur (people with power are often in their forties). Like many others I tend to link the revival of interest in tango in the 1980s with the fall of the dictatorship in Argentina, but it fits right into the theory because it happened about 40 years after the peak of the golden age.
Forty years past is the potently fascinating time just as we arrived, when our parents were youthful and in love, the Edenic period preceding the fallen state recorded in our actual memories.
Of course it’s not backed by solid evidence, but let’s say that the 40 years cycle applies. Should we expect a wave of nostalgia about the 80s revival of tango argentino in ten years time?
Standing in front of the window, glancing out. The day had long since started, yet it was dark outside. It was pouring down, despite being mid-winter. He saw through the rain. He saw through the house across the street.
What he saw was her smile. Her dancing cumbia in the kitchen. Her explaining the concepts of “cheta” and “negro”. Her expertly preparing a mate. “Her standing on one leg in the Comme il Faut showroom, trying one shoe while putting on a second while asking for third pair. Effortlessly. Her standing in front of a man like a woman standing in front of a man. Her radiating as only a bride on her wedding day.
These memories of happy moments were all so vivid, yet he did not smile. Instead tears found their way across his chin.
Behind his back he heard laughter from his little boy, but he was thinking of a little girl that had lost her mother. Still so young she may not remember her mother when she grows up.
He remembered the message to let him and his wife know that she too, was embarazada, just a few months after she with a teasing smile left the gentlemen alone and went for a girl talk to check out the tummy of his wife where the little unborn boy was growing, still almost invisible. They would become compañero y compañera, that’s only natural, she joked when the babies first met.
He closed his eyes.
It was not the sorrow of a daughter losing her mother. It was not the sorrow of a husband losing his wife. It was not the sorrow of a sibling losing their sister. It was not the sorrow of a parent losing their child. It was not the sorrow of a tango dancer losing his partner.
It was not the sorrow of a student losing his teacher. It was my sorrow. The sorrow of losing a friend.
Of course she changed my tango. I never knew what profound experience walking in an embrace could constitute until I learnt if from her. For these lessons I am grateful. Sometimes people say that young people cannot feel the true tango because they have not experienced the pains that accumulate over a lifetime. They say it like it is something to strive for, something admirable.
With her passing she will again change my tango. I will always bear the sorrow in my heart, and it will come through in my tango. It is a change I cannot withstand.