This post was read more often than any other of my other posts. I think that comes from the fact, that it was discussed in a french tango magazine. I did not read the article due to my lack of time and energy to struggle with a long french text, but I fear that the article might have misrepresented my statements - at least many readers have gotten it completely wrong, judging from the reactions that I got in numerous personal conversations. So, I want to rectify: Although I ask some provocative questions, I still think that Encuentros, Festivalitos and (from what I can tell) also Marathons make important contributions to our tango world and have encouraged social dancing all over Europe. Most accusations of elitism are widely exaggerated and the result of individuals, feeling rejected or left behind. So, that's it. For more clarifications, please read my comments on this post.
And of course, read the original text intelligently, trying to understand what I want to say and not what you want to hear:
„Again with the drama, Melina?“, says my imaginary reader.
In this case, I want to ask the question, if we - meaning I and all the people who share a certain philosophy of social tango - have unintentionally hindered the development of tango as an art or creative process. At least in Europe.
I‘ve been around for a while. Not for a super long while, but let‘s look back to the turn of the millennium. In 2000, if you were an organiser, a tango club or a local tango teacher, once or twice a year, you planned a festival. You invited one or two teacher couples and an orchestra, you organised classes and a demo... Depending on the scope of your activities, this could be a small regional event - a festivalito - or a huge international tango festival. From 2003 on, Detlef, I and the Tangokombinat organised quite a few festivalitos. It was a hell of a work and you always risked to be totally broke after it... but it was also fun and we created some lasting memories.
And today? Everyone who‘s someone will organise a marathon or an encuentro: no demos, no classes, no orchestra. I myself have contributed to this development by promoting these events on my blog, in my classes, through my mailing list or just by talking to people. And I do think sincerely and proudly, that the European tangueros have created a unique form of tango culture, focussed on the social encounter and the embrace.
The encuentros and marathons have not only been added to the variety of tango events, they have replaced festivalitos and festivals, even regular workshop weekends: many big traditional tango festivals are getting smaller (in numbers of participants) or are dying, festivalitos milongueros are transformed into encuentros and instead of a workshop weekend, you organise a marathon. There is even the notion that the „good“ dancers will not go to festivals anymore. Those are only for the „show-offs“ and „beginners“. A result being, that these events (festivals and workshop weekends) get less frequent.
In these last 10-15 years, I have seen so many people develop into fine dancers with a nice embrace and an interesting musicality. One of my chief reasons to teach, was to help form more dancers with whom I would want to dance. I can be very happy with the results and I enjoy the tandas with my favourite partners from all over the world, many of them having taken our classes.
But in the last two years, I have also also noticed stagnation and in cases fall-backs. Many dancers „of a certain level“ have stopped taking local classes. Organisers do tell me, that people stop even booking workshops with travelling teachers, which is why they are reluctant to organise them. No problem, comments the experienced dancer, we don‘t need to learn more, we do just fine with what we know.
Sure, but we all agree, that Milongas are not the place to practise. There are many skills, that you will only improve at a Milonga, e.g. navigation on the dancefloor, but there will be others that might even deteriorate, if you "only" dance and never practise. At a Milonga, you will only rarely go out of your comfort zone. You might be inspired by other dancers at an encuentro, but you only rarely develop new forms of movement or work on your skills of communication. As a teacher and social dancer who prefers to dance with her students and can therefore compare, I have to say, that most of my partners lead better in the learning context. That makes sense, as the environment of the milonga will distract even the most experienced dancer. There are other couples to take care of, there are people watching, there is the wish to „entertain“ the partner... Very often this leads to rather „sloppy“ leading and to constant repetition of „safe“ and preferred patterns. The level of true improvisation is very low at a social dance event.
In class or at a practice you will hopefully have the space to move without the fear of walking into another couple. You will to be able to stop and think, to explore things slowly or to just listen to the music. You have the freedom to make mistakes. You can concentrate on special aspects of your dance and focus your attention on one thing only. And you get the feedback of a partner or a teacher. At an encuentro or milonga, you‘ll only get the praises of your preferred milongueros. That‘s a nice self-affirmation, but we‘re not that vain, aren‘t we?
Let‘s not forget: You also learn by teaching. Out of the need to develop new workshops, I had to explore all kinds of musical and movement-related questions. This widened my horizon as a dancer and as a teacher. Everyone who teaches seriously, will experience the same I guess.
The innovators of the dance (and I am not just speaking of tango nuevo, but of all who developed the dance over the past 100 years) did not just go to Milongas, they learned from other dancers, they practiced, they explored, they passed on their experience...
Tango classes and practicas help us improve our dance and to refine tango as a dance itself. I always say, that tango is lifelong learning. And we all still want to learn, don‘t we?
Experienced dancers don‘t like demos, they prefer dancing themselves. This is why there are less and less demos at events. Even workshop weekends nowadays refrain from having them. One of my favourite partners told me that he hated demos - right after we had done one. So that was not very polite, but I had to agree, as I am mostly bored by them as well, especially if they are choreographed. Plus: We all know the disastrous effects that a show can have for the social dance floor at a festival.
But demos also inspire people, they inspire them to dance, to develop their dance or to try out new things. My capacities as a performer are quite limited, but even we got so much warm and heartfelt feedback after demos or concerning our videos on the net. I believe them, when they tell me, that they were touched or inspired, because I can feel the same sometimes.
Additionally: the performers learn by performing. First of all by watching their own video later! You cannot imagine this constant reminder of your own weaknesses and the effect it may have on your development. And the fact that others are watching, will force you to concentrate, to really give your best. Ok, sometimes this can go terribly wrong, but you know what I am getting at.
And even choreographies can make sense. I remember a discussion with Eduardo Capussi, who was offended by our (rather insensitive) remark, that we prefer improvised demos at our events. He told us, that choreographies not only can be a work of art, but they force the artist to connect with the music on a higher lever, to invent new forms of movement, to become a better dancer... Tango, also social tango, has been pushed on by performers, not only by social dancers. Let us not forget that.
Actually, as an encuentro-organiser, this is the only festivalito-feature that I have held onto in the last years: at our „Festivalito con amigos“ (that is nowadays a private encuentro without classes or orchestra) we always empty the dance floor for a couple of minutes to watch two couples perform. These are friends whom we want to introduce to our community, whose dance we like to present. It is always an inspiration. I honestly think, that every dancer can give something, if you take the time to watch him or her with respect for the effort. And you may even learn something of a performance that you don‘t like - and if it is only how you don‘t want to dance. ;-)
Back in the day - if you wanted to attract good dancers - a band was a must. I still remember Alfredo Marcucci playing at our soiree in St. Wendel and the orchestra „Sabor a Tango“ as well as a gifted soloist playing a Milonga for us on the organ in St. John‘s church in Saarbruecken. Those where memorable moments. I have to admit, that even then, I preferred dancing to the „old orchestras“ presented by a good DJ, but I still enjoyed sitting, listening and watching the musicians, those artists who put all their emotion and experience into one tango. Who kept up a tradition, who played and travelled for very little money and even less recognition - at least by the modern milongueros or maratonistas. Because those don‘t go to events with live music any more. Neither do I.
Something to be proud of? I guess not. I have lost contact to musician friends, I never hear new compositions... Are there even new compositions? Will there be less new tango music because we only want to listen to the orchestras of the epoca d‘oro? Yeah, I know (and have used) all arguments why those orchestras played better and more danceable than today‘s formations. But let us not forget, that the golden age was not only about the dance. It was a time of great musical development. How can there be growth in that field, if no-one will pay the musicians to play, study and perform? Is it ok, that tango music is more of a nostalgic remembrance and less of a living art? Does this affect us dancers?
Tango festivals were always the place to present tango-related art. Not only musicians, but also painters, media artists, photographers and other creatives were given an opportunity to show their work. We used to co-operate with a local photographer and media-artist for our FCA and created some very interesting projects in years past. Not today. Don‘t we want to encourage the fine arts to deal with tango?
I‘m not talking about the separation between milongueros and maratonistas. In my penultimate post, I pointed out that these borders are starting to vanish. I am writing about a division into „the normal dancers“ and the „elites“. Those who go to local milongas or festivals, those who „still take classes“, who enjoy the distractions of demos, orchestras and art and the others who don‘t need that kind of stuff any more because they „just want to dance amongst other good dancers“. The elite complains, if there are too many „beginners“ or „non-encuentro-experienced dancers“ at one of „their“ (OUR) events. Even those few still existing „festivalitos“ have turned into international events, where only dancers with a reputation as advanced social dancers will be admitted. No beginners please, they might disturb the ronda!
We all surely agree, that albeit being convenient for the experienced milongueros and maratonistas, such a kind of separation will have negative side effects, especially when it comes to the development of tango communities or beginners. That makes me think of a local milonga in our vicinity. The organisers and teachers discouraged their beginning students to participate at the milonga, because this was supposed to be an event for experienced milongueros. So the beginners did not dare to show up, quite a few of them stopped dancing again... Also many experienced Milongueros stopped dancing or rather went to new Milongas in the region... there were less and less people.. and the Milonga had to close. It used to be one of the best Milonga in Germany, one of the first with tandas and cortinas, with close embrace and cabeceo... and it died. Because there was no „next generation“, that was allowed to be inspired by the experienced dancers at the milonga. You might say, that this will never be the case with the marathons or encuentros, because there are still so many new people wanting to be there and so many new events of this sort. Yes, for the moment, there are. But if you look closely, all those events are often populated by the same few people who‘ve been touring the community for the past few years. What if they get tired of the tango circus? Will there be new blood?
I am convinced, that the recent development of social tango in Europe was and still is a remarkable one and I am proud to have contributed even a little. The general level of dancing and the quality of events have certainly reached a peak. But I think we cannot stand still and replicate old ideas over and over. We cannot just pat each others backs and keep on organising more and more encuentros or marathons. We have to reflect the present situation critically. I think, tango needs constant development in order to not become stale. Tango needs musical exploration, mingling of levels, room for practising and exploring the dance... Tango is not only a social phenomenon. I am also looking to the USA, where so many tango teachers are musicians or to Buenos Aires, where almost every Milonga presents a demo to inspire the other dancers... Maybe we need to think of other forms of events. Tango congresses, events with the opportunity to explore tango as a means of expression, a method of communication, a living art…
Please don't misunderstand me. I don't want to promote our classes or encourage more organisers to invite Detlef and me. As of now, we have cut down work deliberately and I don‘t even know, how much I am going to contribute to all this in the future. Also I am no artist and therefore my means and knowledge are limited to only a few aspects of tango. But there are others, who should and surely will be more active in the future. The next generation?
Disclaimer: I will of course continue promoting and going to encuentros because of the the high quality of social and respectful dancing that I can find only in this environment. Also our FCA will stay an event, to which we invite on a personal basis - although I have to state, that a good dance-level is only ONE of our reasons to invite someone and we always try to integrate "new" Milongueros. But still, it IS an encuentro and therefore per se prone to a certain elitism. I will also not start choreographing demos or invite stage-dancers to teach or perform at my events. I will always prefer dancing at a milonga over watching or doing a demo. And most likely, I will always prefer dancing to Di Sarli instead of any modern orchestra. But this post is not about my personal preferences. It is about Tango.
Thank you for this post, Melina! I didn't think much about festivalitos, demos, classes and tango art. But I've been noticing the growing elitism in tango, the tendency to separate according to ability to dance and a sense of competitiveness, and I regret them very much. Never been to an encuentro myself yet and when I registered for one the other day I felt ambivalent. I love tango for several reasons and one of these is that it creates a space for real community, for meeting people as equals and making the differences between us unimportant. This is so valuable, and rare. But if the elitist trend continues I worry this main reason to love tango will disappear.
Milena, I agree with your thoughts and thank you for sharing them. For me Tango is about passing the fire not the ashes. Hope to meet you some day.
bonjour Mélina ,
ton article nous a intéressé car , avec notre modeste expérience du tango milonguero , nous partageons déjà les mêmes sentiments que toi sur le tango et ses orientations. Nous aimons le tango milonguero , et nous participons dès que cela est possible à des encuentros milongueros. Nous avons même eu la chance de venir danser cette année au FCA ( merci encore !)
mais avec nos amis de Clermont-Ferrand , nous avons décidé de créer une association locale ' Clermont Tango' pour transmettre le style milonguero , pour l'enseigner et le faire partager au plus grand nombre. C'est aussi là que nous faisons venir des enseignants de haut niveau pour continuer à apprendre et pour pratiquer chaque semaine.
ce qui nous paraît important c'est d'agir simultanément dans les deux directions : se faire plaisir en encuentros et aussi transmettre localement notre amour du tango milonguero à ceux qui nous entourent dans une association locale.
ceci est possible car parmi nous ,les meilleurs danseurs milongueros de Clermont Ferrand , donnent du temps chaque semaine pour enseigner et former de nouveaux danseurs et danseuses.
Celà demande beaucoup d'énergie et de temps , mais c'est un plaisir immense de voir ces apprentis progresser de jour en jour en cours , en pratique et dans les milongas locales.
c'est aussi une belle aventure entre amis et ça c'est très important aussi.
on t'embrasse , et merci pour tes textes sur le tango.
agnès et philippe
Dear Melina, a well studied and true statement about changes in the Tango-"Community". I would like to meet you - hopefully in near future.
Klaus Wendel | www.tango-sencillo.de
Dear Melina, a well studied and true statement about changes in the Tango-"Community". I would like to meet you very soon if possible.
Saludos y abrazo
Klaus Wendel | www.tango-sencillo.de | firstname.lastname@example.org
I agree that a lot of these things are happening, but not necessarily that one of them causes another. There are natural evolutions in preferences based on the information that people have, there are actually numerous overlapping communities, and I think all of these developments are temporary. For example, I personally feel that the encuentro/marathon approach, or at least its Northern incarnation, reached its peak one or two years ago, people have already learned from it, and they're already experimenting with new approaches, mostly locally and therefore less visibly. Space for practice and mentoring (rather than teaching, necessarily) is a significant part of that. Some experiments fail, of course, but failures are important.
The question of live music is extremely interesting. All we actually *need* to make that happen is Postmodern Jukebox with bandoneons. I'm not sure that enough of those are available just yet.
Hi Melina! It was refreshing to read your post! Thank you! For people who started tango 20 years ago like myself it is quite incredible to reflect on the changes that have occurred! It was so special to have visiting teachers do workshops on a week-end! And during their demonstrations everybody stood still and started breathing again only after their tango-walz-milonga set was over : ) More recently, during demonstrations many dancers surely do not express the same behaviour. I was quite shocked recently when during a Milena Plebs demo dance a dancer (and teacher) was critical of her footwork, embrace, etc.... I reminded him that if he was dancing tango at all now he should thank her .... and many people like her..... Perhaps I am just very fond of her because I started dancing tango after watching her show (the first one TangoxDos did). But as you say, we need to keep evolving and be in touch with the present times. Certainly the emergence of practicas had a big impact on the tango scene worldwide, and if i am not mistaken the practicas emerged with the tango nuevo dancers -although perhaps Los Dinzels and others had been proposing a similar format from earlier on-. I would like to introduce you and your readers/follower to another type of event that brings tango to a different .... space: the contacTango classes, workshops, research weeks and festivals. it is still in its infancy although some of us had been working at it for many many years, hopping from milongas to jams (contact improvisation social dances) and back again. The fusion of tango and contact improvisation provides a space for somatic explorations in relation to a partner and/or a group of dancers. This is my 2 cent's - hope to meet you and dance with you! best wishes for 2015 : )
you were "writing about a division into „the normal dancers“ and the „elites“". I am a "normal dancer". I really don't care when elite-minded dancers do their own antiquated stuff in their ghettos. They call it "social" (!) tango. I would rather call it antisocial.
"Are we (the elite) killing tango?" What hubris shows this question! This elite has a very limited understanding of tango. May be they kill this... So what. Tango is and will be alive!
Enjoy the tango in 2015!
I hope everyone understands that I am using the means of exaggeration and irony, especially in using such a title and polarising certain aspects of the tango development.
It is of course impossible for a sub-group of organisers and dancers to really kill tango. But their actions may indeed have an influence. For the good and bad. This is what I wanted to point out.
Great post ! Thank you Melina !
Anca, I agree 100% with your opinion!! Thanks for posting!
Thanks alot for your post! You speak from my heart! I am myself a tangoteacher in Zürich since 12 years and have had exactly the same thoughts, therefor agree 100% with what you posted ! Let's hope more people start to realise the problem and things will change.... because I truely believe that most of the tango dancers don't really want this "two-class" tango community anymore...!! I will definitly share your post with as many dancers I can to start the change in peoples mind...! Thanks again for posting, hope to get to know you personally ! I wish you a Happy New Year ! With a big hug, Elisa Niederer Gutierrez
thmas kroeter says: dear melina, we all are full of contradictions. you are moaning: theres not enough modern music. but you write: I will always prefer dancing to Di Sarli instead of any modern orchestra. you coulde have wirtten, for instancenot: di s is the greatest for me, but the other day i heard some young musianse i can recommend... but you didn't. so your moaning too me seems not very helpfull. as long as advanced dancers (teachers, djs, organizers) like you dont feel the reponsibilty to lead the tango community beyound the comfortable"jail" of the golden age, as long as even troilo/grela, salgan, sexteto mayor (not to mention piazzolla) are kind of taboo in classic and even fusion milongas - as long the tangosecne will tend so be an oldie one in more than one sense. nevertheless i like it. but we should avoid to much illusions.
I have been dancing tango for over 11 years and I still take classes (with Elisa who posted above :-) ) because I know that you can always learn more. But maybe that's because I also do other dance forms where constant learning is encouraged.
And I am not above dancing with a beginner from time to time because I still remember how grateful I was in my early days when experienced leaders would dance with me.
But then, tango is different for all the different people who practice it. Not everybody gets the same out of it. And I also have observed that many dance scenes have "waves" of trends and developments. Who knows, in 10 years we might be looking back at the way things are today from a very different perspective...
Thank you for this thought-provoking post, Melina, and for your years of wonderful classes and sympathetic teaching. I would like to add another perspective from someone who lives in a city where there are workshops and classes offered at least two week-ends out of four by teachers from all over the globe. Sometimes this great abundance leads to diminishing returns for travelling teachers -- no one minds missing a class when another teacher is going to turn up in just 14 days, and so classes become smaller and smaller. What is lost in this experience is the failure to develop a relationship with the gifted dancer who will visit us once every 14 months, stay for just two or three days and perhaps even teach the same class all over again during the next visit. The festival with its frantic and exhausting schedule is not necessarily the best place to address this challenge. The encuentro, which may seem an exclusive or cliquish offering to those who cannot attend, has been one response to providing an opportunity for dancers from a wider community to meet, explore and grow together. With a balanced lead/follow structure it can be a wonderful experience.
One thing we know for certain as this discussion reveals is that we are blessed with both committed and dedicated dancers and thoughtful and resourceful organizers. Thanks for being, both, Darling Melina.
" The level of true improvisation is very low at a social dance event."
And yet what if people started dancing tango by improvising? Not everyone starts with classes. Or regrets doing it that way. In fact, plenty prefer it. But I understand you lament the slowdown in classes etc if that's your line of work.
"But demos also inspire people"
Shows do inspire people - to become tango performers - or rather, to try and do performance tango in a social context and what a distasteful disaster that is. The things you see in shows are almost never suitable or desirable for social dancing. That is the trick, the sleight of hand, the misnomer...."do what we do - and become a social dancer". But the two things are just not connected. Good social dancers inspire other good social dancers.
"Tango, also social tango, has been pushed on by performers",
True. And you say yourself, to what point that is - the point where many people are coming to value social tango above show tango, that they see it as two different things and prefer the former.
"These are friends whom we want to introduce to our community, whose dance we like to present. It is always an inspiration."
Social dancing isn't presented. It's danced, by a couple, for each other. How strange then, that the way those people are introduced to a community is by doing a show, rather than dancing with the people in that community.
Encuentros are where elite dancers shut the doors and dance among themselves. I like local milongas. They're open, democratic, they're about pleasure, not aspiration and it's where social learning, from watching and feeling, flourishes. The future, as I see it, is simply healthy, local milongas where experienced dancers dance with new people and this is repeated in turn.
You have obviously not read my blog properly AND you don't know me or else you wiuld not publish such a comment.
Iona: please do ask other non-european first-timers about their experiences at encuentros. I am sure that most if them did not regret coming and got lots of dances. In fact, I know quite a few of tgem personalky cause I invited them to join.
As for those who would like to join, but are not admitted: sure, they exist. But they get fewer every say as more and more encuentros are created.
Signing up with a partner is indeed tricky as there is alawys a long female waiting list. But that is the same at marathons or regular workshops. There are just more female dancers than male ones. As long as organisers keep on accepting more new women than men to beginners classes just to fill their classes and don't come up wirh alternatives like having everyone learn both roles from the beginnibg, this problem will just go on getting bigger. but this is another problem.
By the way: at our encuentro, we book by leaders and followers and don't counterbalance women who dance both roles. ;-)
Iona: I've no doubt at all that people have great experiences at encuentros and that first-timers get plenty of dances. The fact that encuentro experiences are usually so blissful is the whole reason why people get upset when they are excluded from those events.
PS As I posted on the other thread, I'm not in the slightest doubt that first-timers have great experiences at encuentros, do not regret coming and get plenty of dances. If encuentros *weren't* such blissful experiences, people would not mind being excluded from them. But, as it is, they mind precisely because those events seem so appealing. Love the idea of booking by leaders and followers and allowing ambitangueras to join!
Oh, my Iona! I got mixed up with the comments on my post. No wonder, I did not find my comment from yesterday. I posted it here. Gosh… Normally, I've got only one active conversation, as I don't post that often. Stupid me! ;-)
Please support the use of live musicians for Milongas. We have a new group in Wiltshire and had two Milongas so far-both with live music and that makes a huge difference to the atmosphere.
Maybe ,as we are mostly still learning there is not the pressure to be perfect. Joe Powers was the first act and he was great- playing with his mobile mic and moving on the floor with the dancers.
Not a huge number attended- but it's the quality of the interaction that counts- as with each dance.
I saw your blog and I like your idea that the performers can also learn by watching their own video later.
I like the idea of emptying the dance floor for just a couple of minutes, to watch two couples perform, presenting their personal way of dancing. I can imagine this is always an inspiration.
I share your awareness about a division into „the normal dancers“ and the „elites“.
Those who go to local milongas or festivals, „still take classes“, who enjoy the distractions of demos, orchestras and art and the others who don‘t need that kind of stuff any more because they „just want to dance amongst other good dancers“. The elite complains, if there are too many „beginners“at one of „their“ (OUR) events.
Dancers with a reputation as advanced social dancers, that say they are focussed on not disturbing the ronda.
More words than actions, if you ask me :-)
I believe that people who just keep on patting each others backs will sooner or later lose confidence in themselves.
That’s why I specially like your idea that we should not stand still and replicate old ideas over and over.
Maybe we need to think of other forms of events.
You mentioned Tango congresses, events with the opportunity to explore tango as a means of expression, a method of communication, a living art…
I like the part where you explain about your personal preferences, maintaining the awareness that your post is not about personal preferences. It is about how we can all enjoy Tango, right?
This is where I would like to share my personal feelings about enjoying tango.
You wrote, people rarely develop new forms of movement. About the wish to „entertain“ the partner... and how this leads to rather „sloppy“ leading and to constant repetition of „safe“ and preferred patterns.
I believe this is the result of “standing still and replicate old ideas”.
I believe the reason for the fear of walking into another couple, the lack of time and space to stop and think, to explore things slowly or to just listen to the music, has to do with the traditional way of teaching tango and the rules that support that.
I see most teachers teaching the followers to literally follow by learning basic steps first and to wait for the indication of the leader to start moving, executing this steps themselves at the right moment.
Perfectly understandable for me if I think about the expression “follower”.
But as soon as this “follower” is following the step indicated by the leader, moving away from him, the connection will be broken unless this leader will follow her movement.
Now you might think: “But of course, you have to support each other’s tasks”
That might sound nice, but in my perception it doesn’t work to support each other that way.
I believe the leader would be seen as a “motor” and the “follower” would be able to connect to this motor, like a “frame”, the frame would be in charge of the way how the motor moves her, leaving the motor in charge of navigation.
As soon as the frame would move her legs herself, helping the motor with navigation, the connection would be lost. As soon as the motor would hold the frame, helping her to keep the connection, this connection would also be lost as the frame would not be able to keep balance anymore.
This way there wouldn’t be a reason for the fear of walking into another couple, as the man behind the wheel is the one in charge of navigation. There wouldn’t be any lack of time and space to stop and think, to explore things slowly or to just listen to the music, as all these other men in charge of navigation would be able to navigate around us without disturbing the ronda.
How do you like this new idea of moving?
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