Style Vs Substance in Tango

#1
Hi, first time poster here :). I’m in my late twenties and started dancing tango roughly 2 years ago. I’m an avid fan of dance and performance art. What drew me to tango in particular was its strong identifiable aesthetic. I love the suave elegance, the complicated footwork, the expressive pauses, the sensuality and of course, the close connection. This video of tango superstars Miriam Larici and Leonardo Barrionuevo was what really spurred me on to start learning: Youtube /watch?v=7U91i5hDWYk. I think it perfectly encapsulates the visual elements of tango that are so captivating to an audience.

It is, however, entirely choreographed and I have learned that many tango dancers don’t look fondly upon choreographed tango, due to the lack of ‘real connection’ that is required to improvise a dance harmoniously with your partner. Some dismiss it to the point of being snobbish. While I understand that tango isn’t just about flashy footwork, the performance artist in me is still really impressed when I see a couple dancing complex escenario routines (using the correct technique of course). I personally love when tango looks a bit ‘dangerous’ , with sharp, precise feet, ganchos, kicks...all the cheeky stuff. Miriam and Leonardo, for me at least, demonstrate superb musicality and technique in both their choreographed and improvised dances, and always manage to make the show stuff seem organic and spontaneous, which I think is the trick many escenario dancers haven’t mastered, and that makes them look fake.

Where am I going with all this, you ask? Well, to cut right to it: I think here are too many boring dancers out there. Safe, conservative, gentile; but oh so boring. I recently went to a monthly milonga held under a bandstand in a public park. The weather was lovely and the grass was thronged with people lying down and having picnics, some observing the dancing. I stood and watched trying to get a feel for the place before joining in myself. What I witnessed was so watery and basic I found it hard to get any inspiration. It honestly just looked like a bunch of people in elegant clothes walking around, holding hands to music.
Most of the leaders were not beginners or even improvers either. They were some of the more advanced dancers on the scene. I was surprised to see how static and unexciting their dancing was. They had a strong connection for sure, but the musicality and variation in their patterns was barely there. During the 50 minutes I watched, I think I saw maybe 2 small volcadas, a few rigid ganchos and basic boleos. One guy stood still for about 20 seconds inflating his chest and melting into the embrace, his expression attempting to evoke a sort of transcendental bliss. I almost had to stifle a laugh. Maybe it was transcendental for him (his partner looked kind of nonplussed), but from a spectator’s point of view it was snooze-worthy. I could even see people on the grass giggling and imitating the pompous movements. If this was their first introduction to tango, than in my opinion it didn’t set a very good example. There was no pizzazz, nothing to make people say “wow, that’s so cool and beautiful, I’d love to do that”. I was so uninspired, I left without dancing at all.

So here’s my question: Is it not true that flash/appeal/showing off is as much an important part of dancing as connecting with your partner? If your dancing is full of furious, tricky steps, but your partner feels like a show pony being made to jump through hoops, then obviously that is not a balanced attitude. However, you can be the most connected, charming partner at a milonga and still be considered a dull dancer if your movement does not show contrast, flair, personality and a handful of ‘tricks’ to surprise your partner and interest onlookers.


I’m not talking about dips and lifts, but shouldn’t there be some elements that show case the technical tenacity and dynamism of tango as an art form, as much as the ‘feeling’ between both partners? Does anyone share my views on show tango? Please discuss, and tell me if I’m not being clear enough.
 

Steve Pastor

Moderator
Staff member
#2
Well, I appreciate "show tango" for what it is. In fact I'm looking forward to something AT that White Bird dance here in Portland is bringing to town in November. I love watching videos of some of the street dancers in Buenos Aires.

But, I'd much rather go somewhere like Lo de Celia in Buenos Aires and be delighed to walk into a room where everyone looks like the music. And I'd rather dance there than a place where there are a bunch of whirring dervishes and flying feet.

You would probably be surprised by how little deviation from same old same old it takes to surprise a partner.
And I will always rather watch someone who dances simply, but to the music, than someone doing show offy stuff with no relation to the music (or even someone dancing simply but not to the music.

As far as onlookers... they are completely irrelevant to me - with the possible exception that woman maybe looking at me and evaluating my dancing. If they are looking for a flashy guy to dance with, and doesn;t appreciate my musicality, etc, she won't be interested in dancing me, and I probably wouldn't be happy with her, either.

Other people on the floor, my partner, and the music are what are important when I am dancing, whether it's AT or any social dancing I do (and that includes line dancing!).

But, if flash/appeal/showing off is important to you, that's ok, too. Really, that's what brought a whole lot of us to AT in the first place. Lots of us found something else though, that we appreciate even more.

And, welcome to DF.
 

bookish

Active Member
#3
Some moves are simply not appropriate outside of performances, for safety reasons. This generally includes lifts as well as "big" moves that could impinge on others' space.

Many social dancers are really boring. I have to agree with you there. They may or may not care that they are boring.

Good basic dancing *can* look very good. Rhythm and musicality are very important here, which are lacking in social dancing at least as often as they are lacking in performance dancing, probably more.

Newer dancers are inspired by how dancing looks, not how it feels, because they don't know how it feels yet. If an entire dance scene is visually boring it may not attract new dancers.

Some people, not saying anyone in particular, make NOT looking good a point of pride in their social dancing because it makes it not "show" dancing.

On the other hand, some social dancers get justifiably peeved when people expect their dancing to look like show dancing, when there are very good reasons why it doesn't (see paragraph 1).

Tango, at least in the U.S. (can't speak to elsewhere) seems to attract a certain sort of pretension. You mentioned the guy spending 20 seconds getting into embrace. If spectators were actually imitating him it must have been pretty bad :p I hear people talking a lot about how deep, profound, Zen, etc., AT is, which generally sets off my pretension-o-meter.

Combine anti-show sentiment with a bit of artistic pretension and you get aggressive minimalism (our dancing is better than your dancing, because we hardly do anything at all, ever. Oh, and we are emotionally deeper than you, too.)
 

Gssh

Well-Known Member
#4
Well, I think the question is really who one thinks the "audience" is:

1) The partner
2) The other dancers on the same dancefloor
3) Other tango dancers (with similar aesthetic preferences)
4) Other dancers
5) Others

and to some extent we are also our own audience - I think we have all have danced with people who were bit too much into themselves, but on the other we are not dancing as a sacrifice for other people, we want to enjoy ourselves, too.

Everytime we prioritize one of these audiences we will loose appeal to the others. For example one of the things I have been noticing in the world championship enscenario division is that I feel that there is a trend towards performances that clearly designed towards appealing to tango dancers, but that are sacrificing appeal to a general audience to do that - what kind of "flash" is appealing for one of the crowds might not be appealing to the others. Or take tete's airplane move - it is exceedingly flashy for the audience it is intended for, and completely nonsensical to others. Synchronizing your breathing with your partner and the music and then your steps is something that is clearly designed to show off specific skills to the person you are dancing with, but falls flat for anybody else (and might fall flat for your partner too if they are not looking for that kind of technique).

So, "boring" is somewhat relative - the question is "for whom?".

However, you can be the most connected, charming partner at a milonga and still be considered a dull dancer if your movement does not show contrast, flair, personality and a handful of ‘tricks’ to surprise your partner and interest onlookers.
I am pretty sure that different things are surprising to your partner and interesting to onlooker - and it also depends on who the onlookers are. A while ago there was a huge interest by salsa dancers in tango because it won championships, and part what they thought were the most interesting parts of tango were long chains of tight, circular forward and backward boleos - something that is actually not that exciting to either lead or follow, and that almost no tango dancer considers to be the backbone of dancing showy.

In the end the people who want to walk around hand in hand to the music (and I am one of them) will do that, and impressing spectators by using techniques don't fit into the technical framework I use and vocabulary that I don't enjoy is pretty low on my list of things to do to have an enjoyable milonga. I know that a cat would is a pretty bad dog (doesn't bark at intruders, is hopeless at playing fetch, doesn't come when I call), and that a dog is a much better dog, but I actually wanted a cat, and not a dog, so it is ok :) - though I can see how this would be a real disappointment to somebody who wanted a dog and got a cat instead.

Gssh
 
#5
Yes, I agree, there are lots of "boring dancers" out there, but "basics vs flashy" has little to do with it. They are boring precisely because they lack substance. Feeling, musicality, cadence, spontaneity, sincerity, playfulness, all that makes a dance a dance. No matter that they are "not beginners" or "improvers", they still have not reached the point where they can dance.
That is, alas, a very sad state of affairs in many tango communities: a lot of people are either confused about what dancing really is or cannot learn to dance, or both.
Style has virtually nothing to do with that.
 
#6
I wish to add, that a lot of things in tango require excellent technical skills and a lot of practice, but they may not be a showcase thereof to an innocent bystander, just because when it is done with mastery, it looks so easy! I get that a lot from the students in beginners classes: "That thing you showed, it looks so easy to do! Why in the world when we try that it does not come out the same way??"
 

sixela

Well-Known Member
#7
Is it not true that flash/appeal/showing off is as much an important part of dancing as connecting with your partner?
No. I also noticed that you didn't talk about the music at all in that question.

Next question?

However, you can be the most connected, charming partner at a milonga and still be considered a dull dancer if your movement does not show contrast, flair, personality
Indeed...

and a handful of ‘tricks’ to surprise your partner and interest onlookers.
No.

Next question?

Much to learn you have, young padawan. Listen to Lilly, you must.

Just to show you what I consider mastery of the art and 'definitely not boring', and in fact much less than the example you posted at the beginning:

 

sixela

Well-Known Member
#8
Which doesn't mean escenario is to be frowned upon. Your question, though, implied that you _had_ to show off to dance well, and you don't.

As for 'visual elements', there are many in Carlitos&Noelia's performance that are there and are _not_ in the performance you posted. Visual does not mean flashy. A leg that lingers just a moment or a note that is followed by a triplet that is perfectly marked (despite the unusual rhythm) are very visual, but they're an expression of something the couple _and_ you feel in the music, and such a visual element that connects you and the couple through the music is much more pleasing to me than many acts of bravado.
 

dchester

Moderator
Staff member
#9
So here’s my question: Is it not true that flash/appeal/showing off is as much an important part of dancing as connecting with your partner? If your dancing is full of furious, tricky steps, but your partner feels like a show pony being made to jump through hoops, then obviously that is not a balanced attitude. However, you can be the most connected, charming partner at a milonga and still be considered a dull dancer if your movement does not show contrast, flair, personality and a handful of ‘tricks’ to surprise your partner and interest onlookers.

I’m not talking about dips and lifts, but shouldn’t there be some elements that show case the technical tenacity and dynamism of tango as an art form, as much as the ‘feeling’ between both partners? Does anyone share my views on show tango? Please discuss, and tell me if I’m not being clear enough.
The quick answer: It depends.

Some of the variables that it depends on: The preferences and skill levels of the two people, the local codes of the place you are dancing at, how crowded the milonga is, how concerned you are with how the dance looks to others vs how concerned you are with how it feels to each other, etc.

What I'm about to say is a bit of an oversimplification, but after a while, tango people tend to fall into one of two camps: dancing for the steps (visual aspects), and dancing for the connection (or embrace).

FWIW, it's my opinion that some people have never experienced the mystical "connection" thing that some of us crave. If you ever experience that, you'll understand why the flash, fancy steps, etc. isn't as important to some people as it is to others.

Now it is certainly possible to try to put some of both aspects into a dance, and it's also possible to want to dance one way to some songs, and another way to other songs (which is more or less what I try to do). However, I definitely understand why someone would feel that the "steps" (visual aspects) are not important, as when a tanda starts that I perceive as a "connection" tanda, the only attribute I'm concerned with a prospective follower is how good her embrace is.

One aspect of mastery, is the ability to make the difficult stuff look easy, but another aspect of mastery is to make the basic stuff special. Can you make a few steps so special, that you don't need to do anything else for the couple to have a big smile after the tanda, (and looking forward to the next one)?
 

bookish

Active Member
#10
Connection is an odd word because it sounds technical and means completely different things in different contexts.

It sounds like when AT dancers use the word "connection" they are sometimes trying to describe what is basically the pleasure of a nice hug. Hugging people for a few minutes at a time is nice, I guess :)

For others, there is perhaps more pleasure in doing dance movement together than in the hugging part per se. And I don't think that implies liking "flash."
 

jantango

Active Member
#11
"However, you can be the most connected, charming partner at a milonga and still be considered a dull dancer if your movement does not show contrast, flair, personality and a handful of ‘tricks’ to surprise your partner and interest onlookers."

Senor Gancho, you have an idea about tango, but give it time and you'll discover more. This post by Tango Voice is worth reading.

A man who embraces me and connects with the music is never dull.
 

Subliminal

Well-Known Member
#12
To answer the OP:

There is a huge difference between complicated tango movements and outright show tango. When performing, the goal is to create a certain visual appeal. You might over-point a leg, slightly sacrificing balance for a more perfect line for example. This is what I think of as style over substance.

Social dancing on the other hand should always have substance, and can sometimes contain style. It should always contain musicality and improvisation, and should always be comfortable to your partner. This doesn't mean that it has to be simple or have no flashy moves. But any movements should be appropriate to the dance floor and considerate of the dancers around you.

It's true, some people want to dance and look good. *shrug* If you want to dance and look good, then you find partners that want the same thing.
 
#13
...I think here are too many boring dancers out there. Safe, conservative, gentile; but oh so boring.
I'm sure there are many boring, safe, liberal, Jewish dancers too....:) Sorry, that's entirely in jest - I constantly make typos and misconstrue my meaning.


I enjoy watching a flashy, well done, performance matched to the music. When I dance I only care about the music and my partner. Much transpires between us that is not at all obvious to those without some years experience on the dance floor.
 

opendoor

Well-Known Member
#14
Hi SG, welcome to DF.

I find it futile to discuss styles. But I find it valid to discuss purpose.

So what is your aim, what is challenging you, what is your goal? And also, what frightens you, what leaves you cold, what lets you stay aloof from other dancers?

Miriam and Leonardo f.i. climbed the greasy pole. Not for fun, only to get along. Have you seen them dancing at home or at a local milonga? Of course not. Nor have I, but I´ve danced with members of their former companies, socially.

Escenario is kind of body control par excellence. Is this what infected you, what makes you dance tango? Exclusiveness, invulnerability, mastery (in the sense of chinese martial arts)?

If you don´t like social tango, you must not dance socially. If you do not like to improvise, no one will force you. If you fail to dance to never-before heard music, let it be. If you hate to convey the expression twenty times in a row you would desire this woman in bed, don´t dance socially.

I only criticize your one-sideness, but I also critisize dancers that only dance to rhythmic club style from the 30s, those who never tried Piazzolla, those who shudder with disgust when they discover a couple dancing neotango on the floor...

...Is it not true that flash/appeal/showing off is as much an important part of dancing as connecting with your partner?....
Of course it is. I for one, also when I´m dancing socially, dance basically for other men. If it´s possible, I take the opportunity and show those flashy gimmicks and stunts. But dosed and only if another dancer is questioning my rank. Understatement rules on the floor.
 

sixela

Well-Known Member
#15
"Of course it is."

Uhm -- there's nothing obvious in that.

Perhaps _you_ dance socially 'for other men', but I don't. I dance for my current dance partner, and the only onlookers who are important are the _other_ followers who might refuse to dance with me if they see me manhandle a colleague. But the way to handle that is to dance as well as possible with my current partner, so there's no conflict.

"But dosed and only if another dancer is questioning my rank"

How very beta of you, dear. I must say that I was on the receiving end of such behaviour once, in a German city and a milonga that shall remain nameless. After _one_ good tanda all the beta males were determined to trut their stuff in front of me while I was sitting tandas out (to the detriment of their hapless followers). The really good dancers felt no such urge.
 

dchester

Moderator
Staff member
#17
Connection is an odd word because it sounds technical and means completely different things in different contexts.

It sounds like when AT dancers use the word "connection" they are sometimes trying to describe what is basically the pleasure of a nice hug. Hugging people for a few minutes at a time is nice, I guess :)

For others, there is perhaps more pleasure in doing dance movement together than in the hugging part per se. And I don't think that implies liking "flash."
That's a fair point. It does have (at least) two different meanings when various tango people use it.

One meaning for "connection" relates to the feeling (or emotional aspect, zen state, trance state, whatever you want to call it), of the embrace, while moving together to the music (but it's more than just a nice hug). More often, social dancers use the term in this way.

Another meaning for connection, refers to the contact points, or physical connection (frame). More often, performers use the term in this way.
 

Steve Pastor

Moderator
Staff member
#19
Señor Gancho said:
...I think here are too many boring dancers out there. Safe, conservative, gentile; but oh so boring.​
I'm sure there are many boring, safe, liberal, Jewish dancers too....:) Sorry, that's entirely in jest...
LOL. I missed this one.
 

Gssh

Well-Known Member
#20
...and the first is an emergent property of the second.
and the second is a consequence of the working really hard to find a geometry that supports the first.

(well, only if you consider creating the first as the prime goal of the dance, i.e. if you think that your audience is your partner, and that this is what you want to convey with your art)

Again, we are running up against the question of what we want to achieve - a F1 car not a good choice for off roading, neither is a hummer for the race track - but i don't think it is easy to determine which is the better car, and very few people would try. We only run into problems when we have people taking their hummer on the racetrack, and then complain how bad all the other drivers are, and how boring their driving is because they just stay on the track, and don't take detours through the stand, and how they are clearly not able to deal with even the smallest brooks and the slightest inclines and the smallest bit of rubble.

Gssh
 

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