Monday 31 December 2012

Milongueros - The Next Generation

Remember two years ago? 

My first proper post in 2010 was about age: grown-up men preferring young women to dance with, new young dancers who seem to have other priorities when inviting a woman... It created a lot of discussion: women confirming my observation of men‘s preferences, more mature Milongueros complaining about my ghastly stereotyping... Well, I certainly don‘t want to restart the discussion.

Thing is: the young men whom I had mentioned in the post are still there. And they brought a lot of friends - both male and female. With them, the „Milonguero“ community is undergoing a significant rejuvenation!

In 2012 I‘ve visited eight international Encuentros/Festivalitos and some local events for close embrace dancers - all of the latter and some of the first connected to us teaching there. I danced quite a lot, much more than in recent years and mostly with men who are much younger than me, often in their early 30‘s or even in their 20‘s. Most of them are very talented and eager to experience Tango with all their body and sould. Great, innit?

So, obviously I‘ve got preferences as well, which is not very surprising given my current mid-life crisis. But that‘s not all there is to it: There are just so many more young dancers than when I started. 

In 2002/3, the average age of German Tangueros was around 42. (Based on a survey amongst 180 dancers in connection to my psychological thesis about sex-roles in Tango.) That‘s not so old and I don‘t thing that this number has changed a lot, but this mean referred to the general Tango population. Back then, when you went to a traditional, close-embrace Milonga, the average age was usually much higher and I rarely danced with someone younger than me. Milonguero events were „for the old“. The youngsters went to alternative Milongas with lots of Electrotango and flying legs.*

This has changed: The alternative Milongas have been replaced by Marathons with traditional music. Ok, maybe without the pesky Cortinas. But they are nevertheless social dance events, without (much) kicking, mostly in a close(er) embrace... They might not use Mirada & Cabeceo and will dance more than one Tanda with a given partner - but in general the Marathons don‘t seem to be very different from the Encuentros.

Why do I even mention that? Well, as the differences between the „Nuevo“ and „Milonguero“ communities are lessening, more people cross over between the two worlds. Someone dancing at a Marathon will hear about a cool Encuentro and wants to check that out as well. Being there, he‘ll notice that invitation by Cabeceo makes sense and that he can focus even more on the connection to his partner, if she prefers a snuggly embrace to complex moves. And the respectful attitude of everyone in the ronda will actually make his dance-experience less stressfull. So he‘ll come again and next time, he will bring his friends!

Do not misunderstand me: Those young dancers do not just mutate into imitations of the more mature Milongueros. They actually contribute to the development of close-embrace dance by bringing with them a more organic approach to bodywork and a very good understanding of Tango-music. They are very enthusiastic and many a long-established and set-in-his-ways Milonguero can learn from that - as well as the younger generation still needs to work on floor-craft and other social skills. So both groups could and already do profit from another in order to enrich Tango in a close embrace.

Another factor that is working for the Milonguero-rejuvenation is a new generation of teachers since the turn of the century:
Look at all those young, new or improved teacher-couples who claim to dance Tango de Salon or Tango Milonguero. When you look closer, you‘ll see them moving in a very modern way to the old music, but never breaking the embrace and keeping their legs (mostly) on the floor. Those cool and beautiful people have improved the shop-worn image of traditional Tango a lot! 
In general the focus and methods of teaching have very much changed in the 2000‘s. Before the turn of the millennium, most instructors (including the maestros Milongueros who won‘t admit it) taught patterns, that were more or less adapted to the social dance floor. Now the emphasis is on communication in the couple and the exploration of musical and improvisational possibilities.  That speaks very much to a new and adventurous generation of dancers. 

Let‘s sum it up: Social traditional Tango in a close embrace has become much more accessible and attractive to young people. They already make up a big part of the Encuentro population and they are getting more numerous by the hour. So much more, that several Milonguero/as of the older generation have already asked me to recommend events with LESS young people. 

And seriously: After several conversations with men, I get the feeling that the increased competition is starting to weigh heavily on them.
Women (especially those belonging to the higher age-group) are used to waiting quite a lot because local Milongas and Festivals always had a huge surplus of women. They were also accustomed to work hard on their dance in order to get invitations. Thanks to the gender balance at Encuentros and the young men dancing frequently with women of all age-groups, their situation has improved.
The more mature Milongueros on the contrary, were used to having the free choice amongst all the great female dancers and to feeling comfortable with their own skills. But the gender balance actually worsens their prospects and women are discriminating more carefully nowadays. Many older men get refusals by former regular partners and sit much more as they were used to in the past. (Hell, look at my choices in the last year!)

That‘s good and not good.

Now, I certainly don‘t want to change the gender-balance at Encuentros or inhibit the growing self-confidence of women that actually obliges male dancers to work on their dance. We have to pay attention nevertheless. 

So the young ones are on the rise. Excellent! But let‘s not forget about our former favourite partners and why we loved to dance with them. We don‘t want to miss them, eh?

* A curious observation on the side: Many Tango clubs still suffer from old age and their strategy (especially amongst French associations) is to organise Milongas and classes with Electrotango and huge moves. But they have not understood the sign of the times. It is not the Nuevo that will attract young people and you don‘t have to change all your ideas about social Tango to make them interested in your culture. You just need ONE young, enthusiastic dancer who cares about the close-embrace in a more traditional context and he‘ll get you in touch with the next generation! Go find that person or couple!

Thursday 20 December 2012

Insulting a world heritage

For a couple of months now, I am re-importing my Tangos, Milongas and Valses onto my computer. I started DJing in 2004, when internal hard-drives had only little capacity and external drives were huge, heavy and expensive, so I imported the music as mp3 or AAC files. Nowadays a DJ is expected to use a loss-less audio format, so all my files have to be replaced one by one. That‘s quite a feat!

I also use this opportunity to add missing info - e.g. recording dates - and to re-evaluate my entire library as my musical taste has evolved and changed. (Although I have to say: my general musical preferences are pretty much the same as eight years ago. It is not very likely that I rate a Tango with 5 stars now which I have given only 2 stars earlier.)

So I started this process of re-evaluation early this year with my favourites Di Sarli, Biagi, Canaro... Then I moved on to the orchestras that I find ok, although not very exiting: Tanturi, Demare, Calo, Fresedo... But eventually I also got to the ones that I don‘t like so much like Laurenz, D‘Arienzo, Firpo, Troilo and De Angelis. (Notice how smoothly I blend in a sacrilege: There are classic Tango orchestras that I don‘t like!)

Whatever I worked on, I commented on Facebook, describng the precious gems that I discovered but also the boring or sometimes even annoying part when I have to listen to music that I don‘t like for many hours or even days. This can be quite unnerving. So I vent.

This is the moment, when comments or mails start rolling in. Some agree, some are fun or neutral, just stating another opinion on a specific orchestra but others get very personal or even aggressive:
Some „friends“ actually accuse me of insulting a world heritage or their national pride by stating that I don‘t like a specific orchestra, style or song. They remind me of my duty as a  professional DJ to preserve Tango-culture or they just start calling names and declaring that I am surely a crappy DJ who hasn‘t got a clue. How could I? I am a bloody European! Or - if the writer is not argentine - I obviously have not spend enough time in Buenos Aires.

Oh my! 

Can you please get a grip?

Germany is one of the countries with the largest and most important artistic output over the last few centuries. 
I am half German - well basically full German as I grew up here - but if you tell me that Goethe is boring and Novalis kitsch, I will most likely agree. And although I like Heinrich Mann, I can perfectly understand if someone else will not want to read his novels. I prefer Shakespeare to Schiller and Verdi to Wagner. I‘d rather read a novel by Jane Austen than a poem by Novalis. I won‘t even feel insulted when you call Bach a loser even when I perceive him as a pure genius. But I never watched a choreography by Pina Bausch and hate Schlöndorff and Fassbinder! Ah, yes, not to forget: the greatest singer of all times was Pavarotti and not Fritz Wunderlich. Although that one might be a tie.

So, do you get it?

It‘s not about national pride. It‘s not about not acknowledging the importance of an artist for a certain genre. It is about personal taste: People (dancers, DJs, teachers) are allowed to have different personal tastes and to express them.

As a Tango teacher, it is my pleasure and duty to teach musicality and I can proudly say, that very few others focus as much on it as we do. We work on rhythmical variations in Tango, Milonga and Vals, we examine step dynamics, composition, phrases and cadencia, we introduce select orchestras in detail and we present others as examples for different styles of music.... I am sure, we won‘t forget any of the important musicians who have contributed to the development of Tango.

As a DJ, it is my job to keep a Milonga going and not to preserve a world heritage. That‘s what a foundation is for. 
If you‘ve read my posts, you will have noticed that I‘ve got quite strict but simple rules for dj-ing. I will play music of all mayor epochs - from the late 20‘s to the 50‘s. I will interchange rhythmical and lyrical Tandas and add a little drama at some point. I will surely play one or two Tandas of D‘Arienzo at every Milonga, even though I‘m not his biggest fan. If it fits into the flow of the evening, I might even play a Tanda by Troilo and if the level of dancers is good enough I will play Pugliese instead of a dramatic Biagi! Oh yes, and I will play De Angelis once in a while, his Valses actually quite often.

But: I make choices. Certainly as a dancer and teacher, but particularly as a DJ. 

Like any director of a classical orchestra who determines his programme for the season, I will chose the music that speaks to me or that I (!) feel is appropriate and important for a certain group of dancers. In my not so humble opinion, a lot of Tangos are either not danceable unless you‘ve got classical training, they are inappropriate for the social dancefloor or they are just too cold and academic. Some Tangos or even entire orchestras just don‘t speak to the heart. Not to mine anyway! I will start crying when listening to Nada by Di Sarli but stay totally unmoved by Danzarin of Troilo. So sorry!

The logical result for my work: some orchestras, I will use more often than others and a few, I might not even use at all.
I will definitely never play Varela or Racciatti at a Milonga and I have not used Sassone, De Caro or Firpo for years. I just don‘t like these orchestras, no matter how great artists they have been. (I know that some will already cringe because of me mentioning De Caro in this line-up.)
I will also not play late Fresedo, Troilo, D‘Arienzo, De Angelis or Canaro. These guys have recorded danceable and sometimes even nice music until the end of the 40‘s, but forget about their 50‘s! This is when Tango as a dance was on the decline and the remaining orchestras tried to stay in the game by adapting to a more commercial hollywoodesk style or by evolving into orchestras who played for a concert audience only. Very few orchestras - like Biagi or Di Sarli - managed to keep some integrity AND play danceable music in these difficult years. 
So far, no one EVER came to me after a Milonga and asked, why I did not play this or that particular orchestra. My choice usually guarantees, that needs are fulfilled and people leave the Milonga happy and tired because they have danced all evening. 

So I will keep on doing my job and saying my opinion. If you feel insulted by me having one, that‘s your problem.

Get over it!

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Caló don't live here anymore!

Di Sarli, Fresedo, D'Agostino, Garcia, Malerba and De Angelis have moved out as well. Biagi, Rodriguez and Tipica Victor have decided to limit their repertoire to the purely rhythmical stuff and obviously D'Arienzo will be asking for a pay raise soon. He should do so - having to play all evening long! 

Yep. I am talking of the „Milonguero“ events and traditional Milongas. Not all of them. But a large number are obviously trying to re-enact the Cachirulo (see note below) as close as possible. Now this is a nice Milonga - I‘ve been there a couple of times. Respectful dancing in a closed embrace, nice music with a strong emphasis on the rhythmical Tangos: Tchaka-tchaka-boum most of the night - at least when was there! That‘s fine in Buenos Aires, because even the most passionate Cachirulo fans will go there only once a week. The rest of the week, they‘ll be at other Milongas with a slightly different repertoire.

But what about the habitués of a traditional Milonga in Europe: Do the have any other Milongas of that kind to visit? And what‘s with the visitors of an Encuentro: They have travelled from afar. Do they really want to dance to rhythmical music only at all Milongas of the event? Won‘t they miss something? The nice lyrical Tangos by the afore mentioned orchestras... The soft and extra-cuddly embraces to a romantic Tanda... Is this boring now? Are we now supposed to run and play with rhythmical variation all night long? 

But now earnestly:
In the last 2-3 years there has been a significant shift in DJing style at the traditional events and Milongas. Some years ago, you could always expect to hear a mixture of lyrical and rhythmical music with a more dramatic Tanda once in a while. Nowadays you can be happy, if the is one Tanda by Di Sarli or Calo per evening. The rest will be pure rhythm with a strong emphasis on the late 20s and early 30s. The 40‘s are rarely played anymore and the danceable 50‘s never - except for a late D‘Arienzo or Troilo. That cuts the repertoire of traditional and danceable Tango music in half!

Mind you: when I am speaking of a harmonic mixture of rhythm and romantic, the portion of lyrical music will still be smaller. Why is this?
When I dj, I use the TTMTTV system and alternate rhythmical and more lyrical Tango-tandas methodically. As Milongas and most Valses will be perceived as rhythmical music as well, that makes 4/6 of rhythmical tandas. Leaves maximum 1/3 of Tandas with stronger lyrical components. 
Why do I not only write „lyrical Tandas“? Many of the quasi-lyrical Tangos have strong rhythmical components as well - think of Di Sarli of the 40s, D'Agostino and the likes... I‘d classify them as rhythmical-lyrical. The percentage of pure lyrical music is therefore quite small even in a well-balanced DJ set. So, when I complain about the lack of lyrical music, I only request some more Tandas with stronger lyrical aspects. (See definition of musical style at the end of this article.)
But many of the hardcore Milonguero DJs will only play 1 or 2 more lyrical Tandas in an evening of 5 hours. This is 6,8 %. Not enough.

Now, some of you will say: Sure, that‘s Melina with her weird emphasis on the intimate embrace and her aversion against D‘Arienzo. She‘s just old and does not like to move. 

Only half true: I do like a rhythmical Tango by Biagi, Canaro, Donato or Rodriguez. I like playing with rhythmical variation in Vals and sometimes I even dance a tanda of Milonga - if there‘s an appropriate partner. But I also like to cuddle to romantic music, to interpret a more complex melody with both lyrical and rhythmical components or even to dance a Tango with more dramatic aspects. And so do many others.
And even if I had a preference on lyrical music... There are more dancers with the same bias. The last years have seen a segregation of dancers who prefer close embrace in a traditional setting from those who like a fluid embrace in a setting with less codes of conducts. We have also separated events with traditional Tango music from those who play a mixture of traditional Tangos, Electro-Tangos and Non-Tangos. We have got Festivals with live music and Festivalitos with recordings of the „old“ orchestras only. Do we need to separate the lyricalists from the rhythmicalists as well? Can we not dance at the same Milonga? 

I think that there are some indicators, that my opinion is not freakish:
  • The last encuentro that I visited sported 6 Milongas. Two of the Milongas were pure rhythm and the DJs received almost no applause. The DJs who received the most applause at any event that I‘ve visited in the last years were the ones who presented a well-balanced mixture of lyrical and rhythmical music with a very small choice of dramatic Tangos.
  • At the purely rhythmical Milongas, Vals and Milonga tandas are less appreciated. There will be less dancers on the floor. I guess this is because they all had their share of rhythmical music and need a break. During a well-balanced evening, all Tandas will be equally appreciated and populated.

So please, dear DJs: listen to the dancer‘s rating!

At last, let me focus on some side effects of purely rhythmical DJing at Milongas. As a dancer and teacher I can tell, that the choice of one specific musical style will influence your capacities as a dancer.
  • If you dance to rhythmical music only, you will most likely dance „fast“ most of the time: You will use more normal and double speed to play with rhythmical variation. You will less often slow down to half speed or even make pauses. Slow movements and pauses require a better BALANCE. It‘s like driving a bike slowly. In our classes, we encounter many dancers who are physically not able to slow down. And if they only dance to rhythmical music in Milongas, they will never get the chance to practice this skill.
  • When dancing rhythmically, you will most likely concentrate on very simple moves to interpret the rhythmical variation within the music. That‘s totally fine and we do the same. But lyrical and slower music allows for a more complex repertoire that creates a unique level of suspense in the dance. Some dancers almost never change into crossed system because the speed of their movements makes it impossible for them to cope with the higher COMPLEXITY. Sure, an experienced dancers will also have the ability to dance more complex moves to a rhythmical music, but most beginners won‘t dare. And they will never try, if the music will not allow for it.
  • Last of all, the range of MUSICAL VARIATION in lyrical or rhythmic-lyrical music is immense: a complex lyrical melody will suggest pauses, half speed, normal speed, double speed, different quick-quick-slow patterns, syncopations... Sometimes, a deceleration is followed by a syncopation. What a challenging contrast! And the use of different step dynamics in lyrical-rhythmical or even dramatic music can be such a pleasure! Dancing only to pure rhythmical music will limit your musical interpretation to one kind of step dynamic and only certain rhythmical variations. I have danced with many men who will even stick to their usual normal-speed and quick-quick-slow patterns in the most challenging Tango of Di Sarli with Podesta. They are not used to this kind of music anymore. That is so sad!

So, I think we all agree, that danceable traditional Tango music is very rich. We can chose from a great variety of Tangos from the late 20‘s to the 50‘s ranging from rhythmical, over lyrical to more dramatic music.

And I wanna have it all!


Appendix A: A mini-definition of musical styles

In my Tango world, there are three pure forms of Tango-music: lyrical, rhythmical and dramatic music. In addition to that, there are three kinds of mixed forms: lyrical-rhythmical, dramatic-rhythmical and dramatic-lyrical music. Let me give you our definitions of the styles that I mention in the text.
(This categorization is - as any categorization - a  simplification of reality and the examples are up for discussion as well. A Tango that I perceive as rhythmical, might be perceived as lyrical-rhythmical by someone else. But: different forms of music offer different options for our dance. It makes therefore sense to define some objective factors that influence our movement apart from "el sentimiento".)

Rhythmical music:
Music with an audible basic count (1234) played mostly by the contrabass, the left hand of the piano or a bandoneon. The melody is played in staccato more then legato and emphasises the faster rhythmical variations, e.g. 123 or 134 or syncopations.
Because of more strong or important notes in one measure (13, 123, 134, 1+34, +13 or sometimes even 1234 as in many D‘Arienzo Tangos) the music is perceived as faster - there are more notes that encourage us to make a step.
Examples: Most late 20‘s Tangos, most D‘Arienzo‘s, many Biagi‘s, Rodriguez, Donato, Lomuto, Canaro, Tanturi, lots of Troilo...

Lyrical music:
Music in which the basic count is not always audible because the melody is dominant and legato. The violins will play a stronger role or a singer will have a bigger part. Because of the fact, that there are less strong notes per measure (1 or maybe 13) the music will be perceived a slower.
Examples: most late instrumental Di Sarli, some De Angelis

Lyrical-rhythmical music:
There are two kinds of lyrical-rhythmical music and many, many Tangos can be placed into this category. The first kind is music, in which a legato melody is accompanied by a strong and driving basic count, like many Tangos by Fresedo or Calo. The second kind are Tangos in which rhythmical and lyrical phases interchange like many pieces by Biagi (with Alberto Amor), Demare, Di Sarli with Podesta or Rufino and some Tangos by Rodriguez or OTV.

Dramatic music:
A large part of the Tango is dominated by a dynamic melody with a very strong bass beat. There is an extra strong accent on the 1, as if all instruments of the orchestra played it together at maximum volume. Dramatic contrasts  are used (high/low, loud/soft) and also the speed may change. All in all, this music feels more aggressive or powerful. Because of it's expressive character, this style of music is mostly used for Tango-performances. In a Milonga, it should be played rarely and with consideration as it encourages dancers to do bigger and more energetic moves.
Examples: Most Pugliese, very late Biagi, late Troilo, late De Angelis, very late D'Arrienzo, Varela


Appendix B: A short note on the Cachirulo Milonga in BA

I know that they do not play ONLY rhythmical Tangos in Cachirulo and I surely don't want to criticize this highly respected Milonga. But it seems to be the most prominent example for a more rhythmical musical choice and referred to all the time by many "Milonguero" DJ's and organizers as their model.
As I am told right now, even Cachirulo might have changed it's repertoire to a more balanced style in recent times. So please, tell that to the DJ's, who try to play exactly as they think, the Cachirulo habitués would prefer. ;-)