Monday, July 28

Learning Argentine Tango: The beginning

Something curious happened to me the spring of freshman year. While perusing the class catalog and planning my schedule for the coming fall, I discovered that Gonzaga offered a Dance minor. That is not the curious part. Unexpected, maybe, but not curious. The curious part is that I wanted it. There was absolutely nothing in my history to predict this choice. I am still amazed by it. For what little they count, I attended maybe six dances total in high school and stayed far from the dance floor during each of them. In physical education, the square dance units were far from my favorites. This was not some long process of a niggle of interest leading to full-blown desire following intense consideration of how this might benefit my future plans and impact my studies in college. Quite honestly, I thought This looks like fun. I should do it. and began making room in my schedule. Thus, having never before seen a ballet nor holding a clear conception of what sacred dance was (unless the movements to "Our God is an Awesome God" count), I took Ballet I and Sacred Dance in the fall of 2006.

Later that same semester, I realized it was impossible to complete a major in Journalism and minors in Philosophy and Religious Studies and study abroad and still have time for a Dance minor. Still, I discovered over that single semester an enjoyment of dance serious enough to keep up with it, both in and out of class. Last summer I came into contact with Argentine Tango through free Thursday night classes offered by a local club. By this time I had some familiarity with most social dances, but the Tango captured me in a way none of the others had. Not so flashy as Salsa or genteel as Waltz or sensual as Bachata, Tango (and not its bastard ballroom child) was intimate and smooth and did not require you to plan eight steps ahead to pull off a move.

I began to dabble in it outside of formal class. I bought a few compilation albums, listened to the Tango station on AccuRadio, and picked up The Basics of Tango, an iTunes Essentials. It was not long before I discovered Astor Piazzolla. That was the turning point. The man and his works were a revelation. The emotion of his music was palpable. Not so grand and overwhelming as Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and the like, Piazzolla's music was personal. It did not carry you away so much as give voice to your own feelings. No question, his compositions are beautiful. Perhaps more importantly still, they made me want to learn more about music, his and the art in general. I want the vocabulary to better express what I find in his music, to know his influences and descendants.

Thus I finally come to the point of this post. I want to learn more about Tango. This is a conscious decision. I also have no real idea of how to proceed. I am starting from almost nothing. I played the French Horn in the school band for four years and can read music well enough but have never studied musical theory. I can dance a little Argentine Tango, but that is it. The best advice I have received in this endeavor is to start with what you like and move out from there. For me, it is Piazzolla and the dance. I begin by ordering Leonard Bernstein's The Joy of Music, suggested to me by a professor I respect very much, for the basic music background, and Christine Denniston's The Meaning of Tango for the history of the dance. On iTunes, I buy Piazzolla's "Tango: Zero Hour," Hugo Díaz's "Tangos" and Gotan Project's "Lunático." And I go to the dance class on Thursday. I could do worse for a start.

This project is something new for me, and I want a record of it, to capture my earliest thoughts and impressions, to follow their development. Thus I begin the "Learning Argentine Tango" series. Posts to it will, obviously, focus on my growing relationship and understanding of the music and dance.

For a taste of what I have found so captivating, I offer three takes on Piazzolla's "Libertango." The first is a studio recording of Yo-Yo Ma and his band. The second is a music video with clips of dancing from the film The Tango Lesson cut with Yo-Yo Ma, again, playing the cello. Finally, set against a fan-generated slide show, Rodrigo and Gabriela take it on with their guitars.

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