Consequences of globalization?

I watched this video last night and, aside from marveling at the beautiful performance, I was particularly struck by the audience reaction at the end. Back in those days, it seems that Javier and Geraldine were the torchbearers for the new generation of dancers who were carrying the traditional ideals of the dance, in particular the dance of Villa Urquiza. You can see it in the way the crowd praises them. That's not merely appreciation for a great performance, that's pride. Pride for a couple who are representing their culture with excellence.

But with their subsequent success, the flavor of Villa Urquiza has now spread throughout the world (thanks, in a large part, to the universal posting of videos such as the one above), and given that it has become more commonly seen I wonder if perhaps the flavor has become less of a treat in a sense. Not that it's become bland or banal, but that it has lost some of its freshness. And it just makes me wonder if it's possible nowadays to sincerely elicit the kind of reaction the Sunderland crowd gave their native son and daughter in this video.

I am just using the Villa Urquiza style as an example, since the video captures it so well in its own neighborhood. I could just as well be speaking of all tango, in its various incarnations. As the globalization of tango marches on, does the idea of tango as representative of the cultures of the various barrios of Buenos Aires, or of Buenos Aires and Argentina itself, become increasingly moot or dated?

To this day, one of the highest compliments I receive is when I am told I dance like a porteño. While that still gives me pride, I wonder about the implications of what is said. As if what is of highest value is to be true to the manner of dance in BsAs. From a personal level, I don't question that. I would not second guess the hundred years of development that the culture underwent in its homeland, and quite frankly it's the approach that makes sense to me and which I like the best. But then, does that somehow limit the possibility for the dance to take on the flavors of some of its adopted places? That there's somehow less value in a tango with a San Francisco flavor, or Berlin, Toronto, Paris, Taipei, or that being tainted by these cultural influences makes it less truly "tango"? Is it traitorous to expand the definition of tango from being an "Argentine" dance to being a "World" dance?

Or is it a matter of degree? For example, no offense to the ballroom dancers but I don't consider what they call "tango" to be anywhere near what I call tango. Though I surmise that their tango is somehow based on it.

Also, I think about the effect that a singularly exceptional dancer or couple has on tango. How, as they develop fame, their style ripples outward and attracts adherents, and soon you see more and more people dancing with their particular signature. Does that somehow make the originators less special? And though understandable, is it ultimately a good thing that people want to emulate an example of excellence rather than trying to come up with their own example?

I feel that when I ponder these things my line of questioning becomes tautological, only feeding on itself as I go on. And on. Perhaps it's best to keep in mind what Geraldine and Javier say in this video at 0:33, which is an observation that I like to fall back on whenever I get too thinky about anything in tango:


Open frame experiment

The past few days I've been experimenting with dancing strictly open embrace (or "open frame" as I think is more accurate). And I mean about as open as you can get, hand under the armpit type thing. There are two reasons for this: first off, the past weekend was particularly warm in the Bay Area and it was a bit more comfortable to refrain from sharing body heat and stickiness. And second, I'm just not very used to it -- haven't much danced this way socially since I was a beginner -- so I thought it would be good practice for me.

I really wasn't sure how well I would be able to pull it off but functionally it was fine. None of my partners had difficulty reading the lead, which was a relief. Anyway, my impressions to date are as follows:

--It was particularly difficult to micromanage the musicality when I wanted to make syncopated movements or play with a shifty melodic passage. Though it worked from time to time my overall percentage was much lower than when dancing close. And in general the dance took on a kind of strictly flowy quality, kind of hazy and soft, legato. It was tricky to give it edges or accents.

--It was, surprisingly to me, far less physically taxing overall than dancing close, although my legs were aching when I got home.

--There was a feeling as if I had less responsibility for my partner, especially regarding her axis, and this provided a sensation of great freedom and autonomy.

--Though enjoyable, there was something distinctly unsatisfying when it was done. Did it feel like dancing? Yes. Did it feel like tango? No. It's the difference between two people dancing with one another vs. two people embodying a dance.

--It seemed as if I had to think through the dance more than I do in close, although that could just be because I'm not as accustomed to this kind of connection.

--I found myself constantly looking down, although again that could be just because I'm not used to it.

These are what I can come up with at the moment. I plan to continue this experiment to where it does begin to feel comfortable and natural for me, and I'll see if I have any added insight then.


Are we talking about the same thing?

A woman meets a tango dancer of some renown at a milonga. She asks him for a dance--he obliges. She is confident, emotive, expressive. They are perfect together. The song ends. She gazes at him dreamily, a little flirtatious.

"How am I dancing?" she coos.

"Like shit," he replies.


This is an anecdote which I heard from the lead in the story, who will remain unnamed. And while I will say his response was fairly brutal, I have to admit I admired his frankness. At any rate, to touch on the last post regarding the difficulty of self-assessment, there is also the difficulty of assessing the quality of the dance that one shares with a partner. It's not uncommon to find oneself in a dance relationship with lopsided perspectives, where one partner loves to dance with someone because "we dance so well together," whereas perhaps the other partner feels as if they are bending over backwards to accommodate the difficulties that the first person brings to the dance. Or perhaps one person hates the musicality of the other but gives them the freedom to interpret it their way, which makes the other feel as if they are completely in sync.

Of course, it's all a matter of degree. Every dance partnership is going to be uneven at some level, but what I refer to in this post are the ones whose perceptions are so markedly different between the participants.

Examples (fictionalized):

He says, "I love the way she feels in my arms."
She says, "I hate his embrace."

She says, "I love all the cool things I can do with him."
He says, "She's not following me at all."

He says, "Volcadas with her are awesome."
She says, "My back is killing me."

She says, "We are at the same level."
He says, "If we weren't friends, I probably wouldn't bother dancing with her."

He says, "She dances with me whenever I ask, so she must be enjoying it."
She says, "I have difficulty saying no to a dance, even when I know I won't like it."

She says, "He never throws me off balance like a lot of other guys do."
He says, "I have to hold her up the whole time. And my back is killing me."

I am one to be neurotic about such things. While I am by no means a selfless dancer, when I dance I always prioritize my partner's enjoyment over my own. I have never, nor would I ever, wanted to dance at someone's expense. To get myself off at the cost of another's comfort or pleasure. Because that is actually working counter to what I enjoy most, which is to bring and share joy. But sometimes it's hard for me to tell, is she really enjoying this? Or is she just being nice?

One thing that I wish I could do is to feel my dance as a follower of myself. Then I could really tell whether or not I was projecting to/through my partner exactly what I intend. How clear my lead is. How accommodating my embrace and posture. How I fit in the fine line between a presence that is focused and nurturing and one which is domineering, or the opposite, one that is scarcely felt at all. The amount of "heads up" that I give in my lead. How well I wait for my follower, and how well I follow her through my lead. How well I breathe...

And so on, and so forth. At least then I'd know that if a follower doesn't like my lead it's not because I'm doing something I'm unaware of. She'd be hating my dance for exactly what I mean it to be--and that's fine. Well, maybe not fine, but given the considerable spectrum of human preference it's only natural that from time to time...

In other words: tastes differ.

But, in wanting this kind of self-awareness, does that make me too much of a control freak? I mean, isn't there something to be said about having some kind of mystery about yourself to yourself that someone else is privy to? Especially when a partner genuinely does love dancing with you; isn't there a kind of affirmation in knowing that they love something about you that even you can't exactly define or consciously replicate? An intangible quality, an x factor that you possess through no intention but being who you are?

And, is it a richer experience when we don't know exactly how our partner feels? Would certainty kill the drive to delight, to surprise, to build anticipation? Is it the search for connection which gives it value when we think we've found it?


Ouch! My ego!

Since it has been a fair amount of time since I began, I can't remember all the nuances of my mindset as an absolute beginner, although I think it is a good thing to try to hold on to. I know I was terribly shy (as I still am to a degree which brings about admonishment from some) and felt very out of place as a stranger not only to tango but to the ballroom environment and social dance in general. And though of course there was a ton of uncertainty--I remember how magical and mysterious certain elements (ganchos, sacadas...) seemed--there was never for me a sense that I would never "get there." There was always a faith that someday I would understand and be able to do the things that eluded me.

While I think I have remained somewhat humble, I can't say that my ego has been unaffected in the course of my development as a dancer and aficionado of tango. I suppose that's not necessarily a bad thing. Pride and ambition are great qualities to push one towards excellence. But I have always been wary of being one of the ones who jump too early, whose ambitions exceed their level of expertise, though in their minds they are likely unaware of the gap between reality and where they think they are.

That being said, it is extraordinarily difficult to reconcile reality with self-perception, and I think this is one of the most frustrating aspects as a serious student of the dance. Speaking for myself, there are times when I get comfortable with the thought that I am at a good place with my dance and that I seem to have a solid grasp on many of the details of things that I do regularly and also of things that I don't utilize but have studied. Then there are times when I seem to discover that all which I thought I had known and/or could do was wrong. In these moments there is obviously a tendency to feel exasperation at the awareness of time wasted practicing misconceptions and the foreknowledge of the difficulty of correction. But I think the real discouragement comes from the realization that I wasn't as good or as knowledgeable as I thought I was. Despite my somewhat meek bearing, in truth there is a raging egomaniac beneath the surface, and when it gets called on its weaknesses I definitely feel a sense of despair.

Perhaps it's fitting that a culture so intimately linked with heartbreak would extend that feeling to the technical aspects of its expression.

But maybe that's where the balance lies. If there was no humility then would there be the ability to admit I was wrong? Certainly there are dancers who seem to stagnate for as long as I can remember, stifled by the unwillingness to change an approach which is limited. Or worse, whose dancing seems to degenerate more and more as they extend branches of poorly executed elements to the rickety base of an unquestioned faulty foundation. I interpret that as ego unchecked, the inability or unwillingness to admit one is wrong or could do better.

On the other hand, without ego would we even try? I don't know that I would continue to practice as hard as I do if I didn't think I could get better. Not just better, but attain a real measure of excellence. That given time and hard work and good direction, I can perhaps stand among the Chichos, Javiers, Pepitos of the world. Why not? Though when my ego takes a blow, that distance between me and them sure seems long.