Sunday, September 7

Learning Argentine Tango: The dance

So far in this series, my attention has been almost completely focused upon the music of tango. I find this odd. Though I can better pursue the music on my own since it requires neither studio nor partner, it is the dance which introduced me to the genre and remains foremost in my affections. I only came to listening to tango for itself recently, yet when someone mentions 'tango,' my first thought still goes to the dance. It was in the spring of sophomore year during Beginning Social Dance that the instructor decided that we ought to know the Ballroom Tango. I think it was the dance's drama that first caught my attention. The swift, powerful steps and drastic dips stirred something within me such that once the semester ended and summer began, I kept my eyes open for other lessons and even actively searched for options.

It was in this way I came upon the now-defunct CenterStage's Thursday Tango and was introduced to the Argentine style. By the end of that first night the rigidity of the Ballroom Tango's slow-slow-quick-quick-slow became obvious. By the end of the second Thursday, the Argentine Tango had become my favorite of the social dances, easily overcoming the Salsa and East Coast Swing with which I was far more familiar.

No single reason can be pinpointed for this initial wave of attraction. The fact that it is one of the less popular social dances in the Spokane area no doubt played a part. I call it the devilstick process. Pick something esoteric which few are familiar with. Learn to do it marginally competently and any audience will be blown away because they have no standard to hold your own skills against. No doubt a friend who studied the dance in Buenos Aires for a month will disagree with the next point, but I also found the dance easier. The basic step was a slide, little different from a typical walk, and the dance itself was more improvisational the others I knew. The moves followed one another more organically and did not require the same mental preparation and planning that the more advanced Salsa and East Coast moves demanded.

But appreciation evolves. Turns out, there is a pretty solid Argentine Tango community in Spokane, but it remains small, never attracting the numbers of Salsa in dancers or regular venues. The dance still seems easy to me, too, but now I mark that up to the fact I have never practiced it under the eye of a personal teacher who could point out all the mistakes but a group instructor who is more interested in getting the idea of the basics down than getting them right.

The greatest attraction the Argentine Tango has for me now is its intimacy. Far and away, I believe it to be the most intimate of the social dances. Not outright sexual like so many of the Latin dances or so carefully restrained as the Ballroom dances, Argentine Tango puts the dancers closer to one another than any other dance and does not easily allow them to separate. Open turns, a common enough move in every other dance I know are near non-existent in Argentine Tango.  It is adamantly not flashy.  The dancers' only concern is their partner.  The two are constantly in contact physically and emotionally.  That is where the strength of tango comes from.

One instructor described the ideal of the tango dance as creating a dream and drawing your partner into it. You listen to the music, capture its essence in movement and share that with your partner.  It is not a bad goal for most dance to aspire to, but the emotional range of the tango music and the fluidity of the movements makes it the best suited to actually attempt this.

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