Monday 27 December 2010

The Tango Free Zone

As you know, my partner Detlef and I are travelling all over Europe, the USA and to Buenos Aires to teach and dance Tango. And wherever we go, from the Big Apple to the smallest French village, people ask us: „So, you‘re from Berlin, right? How‘s Tango in your town?“ And those, who like us: „That must be so nice for your students at home, to have you as resident teachers.“

And as these questions are asked so frequently, I will answer them on my blog. 

This will be a very personal post, in which I cannot avoid to critizise circumstances and people whom I have known personally. But the bizarre fact of being an internationally active Tango teacher whilst living in a Tango free zone, amazes quite a lot of people. So, I‘m gonna take the risk, to alienate a few individuals. If you‘re not interested, better stop reading here!

Since the end of the 80‘s, I‘m living in Saarbrücken, a German town with about 200.000 inhabitants, the capital of the Saar region. There‘s quite some culture going on, but the city really awakens in the warm season, when everybody‘s outside, sitting in the street cafes or at the riverside. There‘s lots of students and an alternative ambiance. It‘s the place where I moved to study Psychology and somehow I got stuck here. Most of my non-Tango friends live here and I try to meet them as much as my crazy schedule allows.

And: this is the place, where I discovered Tango in 1995. A dancer from Berlin had moved here and started hosting a Practica, that I and Andreas Wichter attended. I am sure, she had the best intentions, but it was exactly what you would have expected in the provinces in this era: Every two weeks, she would show us a new step, that we‘d practice without any idea of technique or communication. There was no Ronda, no connection to the music and of course no place, where you would have danced Tango. From what I know now, we might have found a Milonga in Frankfurt or Karlsruhe, about two hours drive away. But by then, we had no clue. We did not even know that Milongas existed. It was kinda pointless. So, after a year, we abandoned this pastime for more interesting things like our role-playing games. Nevertheless it left us with the feeling, that there might have been more to it.

A couple of years later Andreas and I discovered, that one of the former participants of the Practica had started teaching Tango and we decided to give it another try. And although we still remembered most of our steps, we went to the beginner‘s class in January 2000.

In the meanwhile, a small Tango community had developed. There were regular classes and a weekly Milonga. People met in a little Tango studio to dance and apply the argentine customs like greeting everyone with a kiss, which we found very weird. ;-)

This is where we met Detlef, who had started to dance 3 years earlier. And when dancing with me, he tried out all the complex steps, that he had learned in workshops. Although he already danced real Tango de Salon in other places, he was also still into the big moves - at least in our home town. So, in my years of absence, the general Tango-philosophy had not changed so much in Saarbrücken: it was about steps in a mostly open embrace, inspired by the classic Tango shows. 

Again, I was underwhelmed, especially after discovering close embrace by accident, after a couple of glasses Likor 43! But the people where nice, and sometimes dancers from other places would visit, so we started looking around. And although our Tango teacher would not tell us the directions, Andreas and I found a Milonga in Kaiserslautern (K-town for the large American population), less than an hours drive away.

Now this was something different: Here we discovered Tango de Salon, as it was danced in the traditional Milongas of Buenos Aires. The local teachers focused on the embrace, basic technique and “sentimiento“. This was quite avant-garde in an era, when most of Europe was still doing Fantasia on the dancefloor. In this environment, also Detlef danced more close-embrace. The Milonga at the „Cotton Club“ became our Tango home and we owe a lot to it‘s organisers, who invited quality teachers, some of them still relatively unknown by then. Not all of them were Milongueros, but they taught social Tango with an approach to quality and musicality. The rest was up to us. We began travelling to Milongas in other towns and Tango evens. In late 2000, when I started partnering Detlef, him and I drove as far as Hamburg or Basel, to visit the famous Festivals of this era. Many of you have experienced that part of widening the horizon.

But this is where the problems started and our home town developed into a Tango free zone for us. Already in early 2001, I had stopped taking classes in Saarbrücken, as I was looking for a deeper understanding, than the local teacher would offer. In the same year, Detlef and I were asked to run a Practica in Karlsruhe. This seemed to threaten our former teacher, and all kinds of bad stuff ensued. Hey, I was doing a monthly Practica in a town 140 km away! Why did she even bother? Nowadays I understand, that this kind of reactions are not uncommon in the Tango context, but by then I was deeply hurt and stopped going to the local events altogether.

So there we were: all revved up, and no place to go. We visited the weekly Milonga in K-Town an hour away, but when we wanted to go to another Milonga, we had to drive at least two hours. And we still had our regular jobs, so dancing more than two times a week was usually out of question.

But still we managed to develop our Tango: We danced and travelled as much as we could. Over the next two years, we were asked to teach in several other cities and to organise a monthly Milonga in a small town in our region. And then Andreas took up teaching as well, very soon in co-operation with us. So we met to prepare classes, to develop a common technique and pedagogy. We did learn a lot by thinking, discussing and exchanging ideas in this period.

In the meanwhile, two local Argentines, who had discovered Tango with the same German teacher, had started organising Milongas and giving classes in Saarbrücken. In the beginning, I thought this would be a good idea: maybe there would be some Tango for me after all in Saarbrücken. But when I looked at the results of their work, I was frustrated and stopped attending their events. So still no Milonga for me in my hometown!

Should I not do something! But what? Although I had vowed, never to teach in my hometown, I was tempted by the idea to help develop the local and regional Tango community. So in 2005 we founded the Tangokombinat with our friends Andreas, Anne-Cecile and (by then) Damian Lobato and Ina. Our comrades commenced teaching, and together we rented a small studio and started organising a Practica libre. But unluckily, none of our friends managed to attract enough local dancers to hold up regular classes and soon gave it up. We never even tried.

But since then, we‘ve been organising events in our hometown: Our first ball in the „Johanneskirche“ was a great success and the ancestor of our „Festivalito con Amigos“. In the same year, we initiated a monthly Milonga, that ran for over 4 years and attracted people from a perimeter of 250 km, but almost no locals. 

And today? What‘s the situation in 2010?

The Tangokombinat spread out: Damian teaches in the USA and Andreas is successfully spreading the word in the UK. We gave up our regular jobs, the weekly classes in the greater region and our monthly Milonga in order to teach abroad. Our „Festivalito con Amigos“ grew into an international event, that attracts Tangueros from all around the world, but almost no locals. The small community of less than 50 dancers in Saarbrücken never got to know us, most of them would not even know we exist. No wonder, because we have not visited one of the local Milongas for over five years and they usually do not travel. They are living in their small Tango-bubble, where our former teacher and the two Argentines created some kind of a cult around their personae. 

So what about the local Tango community? I only know it by the descriptions of others: Just a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine visited one of the two local Milongas. She was shocked by the lack of connection to the music and by the dangerously big and uncoordinated movements. So now they have gone from a half-open, fantasia-inspired thing to a chaotic-nuevoesk style. This is not the Tango we know and love.

That‘s it: I am living in a Tango free zone!

Do I bother? Usually not, as we are basically never here. We discovered a world of Tango and made great friends. We would never have experienced this by staying in our hometown. So it is actually a good thing, that I had to travel.

But in a way it is bothering me. The Tango free zone also results in me almost never dancing casually at a Milonga, without having to perform or teach. We are teaching almost every weekend, and thus are only rarely free to choose the Milongas we visit. Although our former Tango-home in K-Town died a couple of years ago, there are some nice Milongas in the greater region, in Frankfurt, Wiesbaden or Koblenz. We‘d love to go there, but they happen on weekends. There are no acceptable Milongas during the week in a perimeter of less than 250 km. When we are at home for two or three days, there‘s lots of work to do and I am too tired to stay up late. So going to a Milonga in a distance of more than 2 hours drive is really out of question! If there was a nice Milonga during the week in my hometown...

And sometimes, I wonder if things could change, if the local dancers had access to another kind of Tango philosophy...

So, as we are going to have a free weekend come January, we decided to give an intensive workshop on basics and musicality in Saarbrücken. Apart from one class in 2005 during one of our Festivals, this will be our first and only workshop in our hometown. The rest of the year, we‘ll be travelling again. So far, one local couple registered, the rest are dancers from other cities. 

I presume, my hometown will remain a Tango free zone for me. At least until our next Festivalito con Amigos! :-)


Appendix on January, 17 2011:

I've received some private messages asking for more info on the Tango community in my hometown. Obviously, my readers want to judge for themselves, if my comments are appropriate. I can very well understand and this is why I'm attaching the following links to my colleagues in Saarbrücken:

Eva Perez (formerly Eva Magyar)


Jamesy said...

All I can say is what a f'ng waste by the Tango dancers in Saarbruken... Please keep doing what you do so well and look forward to doing it with you in May at the Milonguero Project
(Andreas please note} Have a happy New Year luv JB

Anonymous said...

What a shame for Saarbrücken. I hope you manage to plant a small seed of tango salon there in January.

How very strange to think of Detlef as a move monster in his early days !


Melina Sedo said...

Thanks guys, we're gonna try our very best.
And yes, Detlef liked the big moves a lot! ;-)

Melina Sedo said...

Hey all!

I somehow think, that I left a wrong impression:

I was never was bothered by the fact, that we do not have students in Saarbrücken! It was a free choice, not to give classes there. And also the fact, that only very few of the local dancers come to our Festivals, is not very lamentable. These events are filled with lots of people coming from all over the world. We really do not need the locals.
I just state the facts and find it rather bizarre to be kind of a celebrity in New York, but totally unknown in my hometown.

The only thing that really bothers me is, that there is no place in my hometown where I could dance. That's just annoying, as I'm actually not a person, who likes to travel all the time.

Good day to all,


Justin said...

Its refreshing to have such insight into the beginnings of such a great couple... you've both been a big inspiration for me!

Melina Sedo said...

Thanks, dear Justin!

Anonymous said...

OMG.......... just looked at your new links thankfully when I watched the last one there was a video link to Gavito dancing Di Sarle so I managed to click out of the Chinese Tango and into Gavito doing what he does best...Phew it was a close call though