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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tango, For My Non-Tango Dancing Friends

This post is for my friends, new and old, who do not dance tango. (Those of you who do dance tango are welcome to read this anyway.)

When I started this blog (ostensibly so my mother could find out what I was up to in the Big City), I chose the name tangobaby because I had to think of something so I could get my gmail account. And then as I got used to blogging, I wrote a lot about tango because it's a big part of who I am, even when I'm not dancing. That quickly chosen name was well-chosen after all.

I was, and am, in love with the dance called tango. Even though I've obviously branched out to write about other things that excite, delight and interest me, I am still tangobaby at my core.

The name tangobaby: Tango, because to me that is the only real dance for me--despite what else I might say, and Baby, because this dance is so intricate, so involved, so enigmatic and unfathomly beautiful when the moment is right that I will always be a baby in tango. Always learning and growing, but never growing up.

I am happy to admit that tango is something I will never master (although as someone with a dilettante's nature, that is a rare thing: mastery), and because of that I will always keep dancing it, as much as I am able.

A little while ago I was trying to describe what tango really is to my sweet friend Relyn, who was delightfully curious. (What I was trying to explain is that tango is not what the mainstream culture thinks it is: as seen in Dancing With the Stars, over-edited Hollywood films, glitzy Forever Tango shows, ballroom tango (ugh), the rose in the teeth, and that hokey, smarmy pablum that is a total anathema to most tango devotees (and only uttered by those who don't dance): "Tango is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire." Blech.)

This is part of what I wrote to her in an email:

Imagine this: you are surrounded by people from all over the world, nice people, charming people. But you cannot speak their language and they cannot speak yours. And then the music starts, the lights lower, and a man takes your hand and you dance with him. You dance with him as though you have known him for your entire life, and you've only just met him. He smiles and you smile because you communicate perfectly.

That is tango. And that is true.

Tango is that lovely fantasy, a shared moment of pleasure and connection that might only last a few minutes, but is the nicest way I know to transcend, share and communicate with another person.

And then I saw this video that Sallycat posted on her blog. (For those of you who remember Sallycat from the last wonderful post...)

When I watched this, I got the chills. I watched this video in silent amazement and joy. This video, of Sallycat and her teacher Ariel, explains more about what tango really means--to dance it with your heart--than I ever could in a thousand-word essay. When you watch this, you are watching tango.

If you want to read more about Sallycat's video, click here.

Beautiful tango image by Métempsycose.


Mary-Laure May 14, 2008 at 8:41 AM  

I love how you explained tango to your friend. It's so expressive and so true.
What I love about tango is also the music - Carlos Gardel's whiny voice, the magical tunes of Astor Piazzolla, the melancholy bandoneon...

Elizabeth Brinton May 14, 2008 at 9:49 AM  

Tangobaby, You write so well, so clearly about tango. I especially like what you say about how mistaken people are about the nature of tango. I guess we were both inspired by Sally! Are we twins???

tangobaby May 14, 2008 at 10:14 AM  

Hi Mary-Laure,

As a dancer yourself, I'm sure you've tried to explain your passion for dance to those friends who don't dance. It's very hard to put words to something that is so experiential.

And yes, the music is so important to create that moment, too. Even though I don't understand most of the lyrics of tango songs, I can *feel* them.

Hi Elizabeth,

Thank you so much for the compliment! And I really liked how you used the video to describe your feelings about tango, too.

Yes, I have decided that we are indeed twins, but with different mothers and different birthdays. Now how in the world did THAT happen?! I am going to ask my mom.


Phyllis Hunt McGowan May 14, 2008 at 10:18 AM  

What an expose of dance! This is so well written. I'm going to check out that video...
Are there any movies you would recommend about dance or tango?
The only dance film I have is 'Shall We Dance' (the Japanese one) but it focuses more on the cultural aspect, I think, than the dancing itself. Still, while I think it's better than most I'd like to hear if you have a recommended movie. If there are any!

tangobaby May 14, 2008 at 1:54 PM  

Hi TheElementary,

Oh, good! Just the reply I was hoping for...I'm glad you liked the post and I hope you've watched Sallycat's video. After all of this exposition below, I hope you'll let me know what you think if you delve a little more into tango.

I love Shall We Dance (the original version is the one I own and I will never see the remake on principle) but that is not really a movie about tango, either.

As far as suggesting videos, that's a tough one for me. I have to admit that the reason I even dance tango is because I saw Sally Potter's movie The Tango Lesson years ago. Something in that movie really called out to me. But now that I watch it again, I just cringe. Same with the scene in Scent of a Woman, with Al Pacino. When I first saw it, I thought it was so romantic. But they are horrible dancers.

It's like when you don't know about something, you can't see the flaws. And now that I dance proficiently, when I see movies with tango I am very critical of the technique or the way it is presented.

The only movie I can half-heartedly recommend is Carlos Saura's "Tango," but mostly for one or two key scenes. But it is much better than any Hollywood movie, if you want to see tango (don't even waste your time with the J.Lo crap). And please don't watch that movie with Robert Duvall, Assasination Tango. That film is dismally bad, except for the credits.

What you might want to do is see my tango videos tagged here. Most dancers watch stuff on youtube to get their tango fixes, because television and movies just don't give us the tango we love and admire.


Holden May 14, 2008 at 2:48 PM  

I'm not a tango dancer, but I've seen it done "right". I love the achingly slow beauty and development of the legs' extensions. Full disclosure: I'm a ballet dancer.

Loved this post. Especially your humble comment about your art. I think we all (artists) are babies...and any artist who thinks they're "grown" is a fool whose work will suffer.

Girl in SF

tangobaby May 14, 2008 at 3:49 PM  

Bienvenue Girl in SF,

It's lovely to have your ballerina's perspective, although I am sure at heart all dancers must feel the same way about their particular means of expression.

I wish I knew more about ballet to be able to add something wise to your comment, but my fantasies of ballet are all that I have. But perhaps someday you will be enticed to visit the world of tango...I think you would enjoy it very much.

Relyn Lawson May 14, 2008 at 6:23 PM  

If I remember correctly from Sally's blog, she has been dancing less than a year. Amazing. I love to see what people can do when they are dedicated to something and follow their passions. I love how you follow your passions.

Annie Jeffries May 14, 2008 at 10:23 PM  

What an enchanting video. I will NEVER look at DWTS again in quite the same way. I had no idea of the intimacy and intricacy of the patterned steps. A beautiful introduction to the real thing.

tangobaby May 15, 2008 at 11:26 AM  

Dear Relyn,

As with Sallycat and a lot of other people, tango grabs you and doesn't let you go.

Hi Annie,

Since the torch has been passed, you can educate other people who think that show is really dancing.

Now, I'll tell you something even better. I bet you that what you just watched was NOT choreographed. A lot of "real" tango isn't. It's improvised! How cool is that?!

Anonymous May 15, 2008 at 5:29 PM  

Great post! I always imagined the name was more a reference to a situation where a sexy man approached you and said: 'Hey, Wanna Tango, Baby?'.

That's hot, right? :)

tangobaby May 16, 2008 at 10:13 AM  

Hi Christie,

You are very funny. If someone really said that to me, I would probably laugh at him, thus killing the moment.

But now you know the truth behind tangobaby. Shhh!

Sallycat May 16, 2008 at 12:32 PM  

Hi my dear tangobaby.
It is so wonderful that you posted my video and wrote so beautifully in your post.
You are indeed right too that there is no choregraphy here. It was improvised.
I am so happy that you wanted to share with your friends.
This is a precious moment in time on my tango journey, recorded so intimately by Catrin, and I will treasure it always.
Un abrazo fuerte, SC

koolricky May 17, 2008 at 4:37 PM  

Hi tangobaby!
Thanks very much for the text and for the link to the video. I think we're in phase with our idea of tango. Just much more than a dance.
As for the video, really nice. The first song that they dance to is actually my favourite vals, "Pedacito de Cielo" by Caló with my tango-idol, Alberto Podestá giving us the lyrics...
Thanks again. Coming to your blog is like breathing fresh air - you never get enough of it!

tangobaby May 18, 2008 at 12:05 PM  

Dear Sallycat,

Please thank Catrin for all of us, because through her vision, she was able to share a dear faraway friend with us (you!).

You are very inspiring to many people, just by you being you.


Dear Koolricky,

Thank you for bringing your knowledge to this post! As a tango lover but not a musically informed dancer (my bad, I know), it's great to have your input on the details.

Every time I go to the Lower Haight, I think of you now. ;-)
And I hope all of your hard work at school went well and you are back to dancing again!

Phyllis Hunt McGowan May 19, 2008 at 11:30 AM  

You made me laugh with your response to my comment- the part about certain films and what I should avoid. I certainly will.
Thanks for the lengthy and thoughtful answer. I knew too, that you would be honest in your opinions;
"It's like when you don't know about something, you can't see the flaws."
So true. It makes ignorance more blissful but we can't learn from it.

tangobaby May 19, 2008 at 11:59 AM  

Hi TheElementary,

Could you feel that I was restraining myself? I could have written a lot more.

All of us here in tangoland just want to make sure you get off on the right foot. Who knows, you may end up even taking a class someday just to see what all of the obsession is about...


koolricky May 20, 2008 at 4:08 PM  

Hi tangobaby:
exams aren't over yet... but I have been dancing! ;o)

tangobaby May 20, 2008 at 4:10 PM  

Hi koolricky,

All things in moderation, right? I'm glad you're dancing...just don't flunk out of school.