Monday, 30 December 2019

The reasons why I lead + resolutions for 2020

2019 was a very exciting tango-year: After 25 years of dancing tango and 18 years of teaching it, I found myself as a student.

Ok, this is not really new, because I constantly research and develop my tango-knowledge as well as my teaching and organising skills. I constantly initiate new projects, that "force" me to go out of my comfort zone and explore new fields: developing a teacher-training, learning more and more about website building and hosting, offering new forms of events, researching tango music in great detail, exploring various forms of bodywork and much more. I am an eternal student.

But when it came to dancing, I felt a bit stuck. Sure, over the past years, the dance with Detlef has become much better connected to the music. This was mostly a result of the musical work for and in our classes. But as we dance what we teach and nowadays almost never teach patterns, our repertoire has been streamlined to the basics. This is good, because we've eliminated all the superfluous and become even more puristic. But it does not feel like a great challenge. It is just what we do.

But this year, I practised my leading skills.

Although I had always been leading in classes. I almost never did it in milongas. In the first years as a teacher, I would still lead sometimes, but later it completely stopped. Mostly because of the shoes (not wanting to change them) and because of the Encuentros (more interesting leaders).

But it always bugged me that I was not capable of applying all that I lead in class in the ronda. The few times that I was leading in the past years, I just walked rhythmically. That was nice, but not interesting enough to want to do it more often. So finally I started practising consequently with one of our teacher-training-graduates in Saarbrücken. Over the first half of the year we managed to meet regularly, sometimes twice a week. Unfortunately this was not possible in the second half of the year, but I am going to take up practising again in January. Here's a resolution!

But the most important change was: I consequently started leading at milongas and encuentros. From the 520 tandas that I have danced socially this year, I have lead 184.
Yes, I count tandas. And yes, I know it is crazy. but craziness aside: Yay! I lead 35%!

But then recently I was asked: why do you lead?

My first impulse was to say: "Why not?" But that sounded lame.


So here are my reasons:

1. It is fun. It is different from dancing the followers role, but as much fun. (It could even be funner, if it weren't for the incompatibilities.)

2. It is a challenge. As stated above, I like learning and the sense of achievement that comes from successfully doing something new. Luckily I am no perfectionist but forgiving towards my own mistakes. I'm fine to know that I am "on the right way". So, most challenges don't frighten me. They inspire.

3. It is the right moment. This year was my year with women in tango, the preparation of the Tango Queens Congress, so many talks with women, bonding.... It was the right moment to also spend more time with women at milongas. Yesterday at the milonga, I sat and chatted with women and I danced with them. I only danced one tanda with one guy: Detlef. No, I've not had a sudden coming out. I just enjoy the company of women.

4. It is the right thing to do. I cannot preach that dancing both roles is good for the understanding of the dance and absolutely necessary from a practical point of view and then not lead myself.

5. Independence and peace of conscience. If I manage to up my game to 50% leading, I will have less problems getting into events. Ok, I don't have any problems getting into events now, because I often register with Detlef and most Encuentro organisers know me and want to be admitted to my evens as well. But when registering as single follower, I just feel super bad for the organisers. They will have to balance me with one of the rare leaders and that is so hard nowadays. For my conscience and karma, it is much better to register as double-role dancer.

6. The music. After so many years of musical work, I often suffer from unmusical dancing or diverging musical interpretations when being in the follower's role.
Sure, I can and will of course influence the dance actively. But depending on the receptive skills of the leader, this can be a bit of a struggle and I don't want to fight.
My considerable musical demands do not apply to every orchestra. To some orchestras, I am totally fine with some nice hugging, to other with dynamic moves, depending on what the leader's core skills are. Musicality is not always my first priority.
But there are quite a few orchestras that I can only dance to when I know that the musical interpretation of my partner goes conform with mine: D'Arienzo, Biagi, Pugliese, Troilo, even Canaro, all milongas and most valses... and some more. Di Sarli (formerly a hugging orchestra) has now transformed into a musical-priority orchestra. So... actually, my musical standards apply most of the time. ARGH!
I am lucky, because at many Encuentros I will often dance with our students who know what I like and mostly have the skills to put it into action. But at other events, I will more frequently prefer to not follow.
I might be exaggerating a bit, because there are now many more musical leaders than 10 years ago. Just recently I danced a Biagi tanda with someone I had never seen before. It was lovely!
Maybe I should take more risks, but I am not that brave. What if someone runs over the end of a musical phrase? My system might go into shock! Yes, I know, drama queen!
Long story short: Very often, I prefer to lead. Then I am on the safe side. ;-)

7. I am a leader. I always was. I am making decisions, taking action and "showing the way" to others. This is what I do. I can also follow and it is super nice to hand over responsibility. I can even perfectly overlook "mistakes" and compromise when someone else "leads the way", but not always. I lead. This is who I am. So my initial answer "why not?" to the question why I lead, was actually the most authentic.
I ask myself: Why have I not done it more consequently from the beginning? Maybe out of the same reasons, why so many women in tango want to follow: It is nice to not always be responsible for everything. But the more you understand, that both partners shape the dance, that both are responsible, the more "active" you become as a follower, the less you will ever feel that you can "just follow". So the whole concept gets reversed and restricting myself to the follower's role does not make any sense.
I am glad that I finally got it, but sad that it took my so long. Because I wasted 25 years in which I could have enjoyed both roles. Stupid me!

To all ladies out there: If you feel that leading would be the right thing to do, don't wait 25 years. Please read this post to be reminded that leading is no rocket-science.
And to all guys out there: if you feel, that following would be right for you, please don't renounce it out of misunderstood masculinity. Men can be super followers. They often just don't dare.

I am now looking forward to my last milonga of the year where I am going to dj and will therefore not be dancing a lot.

And next year?

That will be full of new experiences. I wish myself and you lots of fun and success!







Saturday, 21 December 2019

Festivalitos & Encuentros Milongueros 2020 + Historical Notes

I really did not want to do this again, but so many people keep asking for my recommendations for milonguero events.

First, let me (again) summarise my criteria for festivalitos or encuentros milongueros.

These events
1. require participants to pre-register for the whole event,
2. use role- or gender-balance to ensure that everyone gets to dance, 
3. have a duration of 3+ days and separate milongas,
4. use traditional music in tandas & with cortinas,
5. encourage cabeceo & mirada,
6. encourage dancers to leave the dance-floor after one tanda to find a new partner,
7. encourage the use of close embrace,
8. encourage a civilised ronda, by supporting the "codigos milongueros para la pista",
9. Festivalitos will offer some classes that focus on social tango and there might be a short demo. There will nevertheless be no live-music or extended shows. We could called them Encuentros+. 
Please note that neither separate seating nor exclusivity (personal invitation) are necessary requirements of milonguero events. Some have it, others not.

These days, I am facing numerous problems when trying to put together my list of recommendations:

- The number of milonguero-events has multiplied and I have no chance of visiting even a fraction of them. (Please remember that my weekends are mostly reserved for work.)
- Quite a few of the new events do not guarantee the same quality standards that I am used to. 
- Because of the huge competition, even established organisers start admitting dancers who do not have the necessary skills to participate at such events. Often the floor craft is far from ideal.
- It is getting harder and harder to motivate men to commit. Very often this results in a large "surplus" of following women. One solution to this problem is to abandon the gender-based booking format and have dancers register by leader, follower and double-role dancers. We and some other organisers do so and by that achieve a perfect balance of leaders and followers. But at many encuentros, women are frustrated because they have to sit much more than anticipated.
- Some of my favourite or long-lasting events have died: Abrazos in Devon, the Festivalito Rural in Slovenia and Yo Soy Milonguero in Crema are no more. Ex-St.Julien will make its last appearance in 2020. 
- In general, the "milonguero" events are changing its character. There is a e.g. tendency to not visit all milongas of an event and the borders between marathons and encuentros are getting blurry. 

All in all: I feel that an era is coming to its end. Change is good, but I am a little sad and disoriented. Where will I meet my friends in future? In earlier years, such encounters could even get a little boring, because you would always meet the same people. But because there is such a huge choice of potentially nice parties, it is now hard to gather them all in one place. 

And there is another issue that has presented itself to me in 2019:

This year, I have visited 10 Encuentros/Festivalitos Milongueros and danced more than 500 tandas (not all at encuentros), approximately 1/3 of them leading. My experiences with changing roles differed a lot. At some events, I managed to lead almost 50% of the tandas, at others only very few. Whether I get dances as a leader, depends on a complex set of factors: seating arrangements, lighting, size of the event, openness leading women and many more. Also: Because I have for many years only lead in classes, I am not yet "on the radar" of followers, who love dancing with the (quite numerous) leading ladies in the milonguero community. 
For me, the events that work best are smaller encuentros or festivalitos that actively encourage double-role dancing and that do not have separate seating. For all who are interested in dancing both roles or the gender-atypical role at milonguero events, please contact me for for recommendations.

The following overview is far from complete. I will exclusively present events, that are either well-established or organised by milongueros who have regularly been participating in encuentros for many years. You need street-cred to fill up such a meeting with committed milongueros and experience to create the right ambiance! 
Private events will not have a link. I nevertheless list them because the information is valuable for the coordination amongst organisers. But also because you always could contact the hosts and express interest. Just because you do not have an invite now, does not mean that you won't receive one in the future. Be bold!

So, here goes:



EVENTS, that I will definitely attend:


  • Encuentro +, Newport News VA, USA, June 9-14 / Although I've often been to the USA, I have so far never visited an encuentro as they are not yet as established. I am looking forward to gathering new info, so that next year's list can include some of the US-American milonguero events. 
  • Pequeña - Festivalito Milonguero (Tangokombinat), Saarbrücken, Germany, June 19-21
  • Clermontito, near Clermont-Ferrand, France, June 26-28 
  • Embrace Norway - Festivalito Milonguero, Lillehammer, Norway - July 3-5
  • FCA (Tangokombinat), Saarbrücken, Germany, Oktober 9-11 


NEW EVENTS:

  • Garua, Ireland, June 26-28 / I would have loved to go, but unfortunately, cloning does not yet work properly and Clermontito was faster with their info.
  • JusTango, Bruxelles, Belgium, August 7-9 
  • There might be a new edition of our friends Armin + Elena's Festivalito Milonguero New Year Tango in Saarbrücken, Germany. This event has already taken place in 2019, so it is actually not new, but because it was planned very late and people could register for single milongas, it had not been added to last year's list. Let's see how they handle it next year.


EVENTS that I have visited in the past:

  • La Colmena, Copenhagen, Denmark - April 17-19
  • Rendez-Vous Milonguero, (formerly SJMM), France, May 1-3 / This will be the last edition of a lovely event.
  • Whisky.Tango.Foxtrott?!, Linlithgow, Scotland, May 22-24 / My favourite event in 2018. Unfortunately we cannot go in 2020.
  • Les Cigales, France, May 21-24 
  • Ensueños, Porto, Lisbon, October
  • TangoAGoGo, Lago di maggiore, Italy, October 
  • Tres Besos, Basel, Switzerland, November 5-8
  • Te quiero Lisboa, Lisbon. Portugal, November
  • Roma Milonguera, near Rome, Italy, November
  • Abrazame, Barcelona, Spain, December (marathon-encuentro mixer) / At this year's edition, I danced incredible 47 tandas. Next year, we won't go, because of our USA tour.

I might to go to 1-2 of those towards the end of the year. I am hoping for Tres Besos that I had to cancel because of illness in 2019. Or maybe Roma Milonguera. 

EVENTS that I have not yet visited, but that get good feedback:  



I would like to add a few historical notes:
The were of course always (well, from the 80s on) milongas and tango festivals and shortly after the turn of the century the first tango marathons were initiated. But the idea of full-weekend events for milongueros is quite new, because it took many years for the so-called "traditional" communities outside of Argentina to develop. (Read this post.) 
The first encuentro-like event was the Raduno Milonguero in Impruneta, Italy. In the beginning, the attendees were purely Italian and I actually don't know if it was always over an entire weekend. In its later course, the event grew to be very international. This meeting gave inspiration to encuentros, but ended in 2013 after 9 editions.
Our FCA (Festivalito con Amigos) is now the longest running international weekender for milongueros in Europe. It started as a festivalito milonguero with workshops and a demo in 2008, but has been an encuentro since 2011. We nevertheless preserved a short demo of two milonguero couples until recently, because we believe that social tango needs inspiration and engagement for the community should be honoured. 2020 will be its 13th edition.
Les Cigales in France and Yo Soy Milonguero in Italy (the latter discontinued) started in 2009, one year after the FCA. These two events were pure encuentros from the beginning without classes or a demo.
But please note, that all the events mentioned above in their early years looked quite different from what we are used today. Neither event had a balanced number of participants and YSM still admitted dancers per single milonga, like we also did until 2010. Even the original Raduno Milonguero opened the Sunday milonga for the general public without balance or having to book the full event. 
It took some years until the above listed criteria were well established. 


So. This is it for today. I might add the exact dates for some events later, but only if I am actively informed about them. 

I wish you lots of fine dances in 2020.



Wednesday, 18 December 2019

European Milongueros: Les Anglais

Although I had planned on writing this article for months, I actually started it on the day after the general election in the UK and now fear that it might be overshadowed by the sad news of a conservative majority and certain Brexit. But even such a disaster cannot break the bonds that have formed across the channel!


What is this article about?

In 2011, I published a series of articles to introduce some friends who have contributed to the early development of milonguero culture in Europe by promoting and living social tango, the "codigos milongueros" and a culture of the embrace as teachers, organisers, djs and dancers. 

Today, I would like continue by presenting a few of my British friends, who were not so much "on the map" when I wrote the original series. Back then, the UK had not yet developed a distinct milonguero culture, but that changed after the first edition of Abrazos - Encuentro Milonguero, organised by our Tangokombinat colleagues Andreas and Lynn in Devon. Today, a large number of Brits are not only amongst the most popular dancers at any European meeting of close embrace dancers, they also shape tango culture by organising events, teaching, djing and spreading milonguero culture through their tireless travels. As our French friends say: "Sans les Anglais - ça va pas du tout!"

I find it super hard to make a choice, but the ones that I am going to introduce share not only their milongueroness, but also two other important properties: All of them have repeatedly taken classes with us and/or visited our events, so that I had plenty opportunities to get to know them better. In addition to that, they are dedicated Europeans who have fought actively for the UK to stay in the EU by going to and organising rallies, by posting about it on the internet and by trying to reason with those who want to bring us apart. 

In the photo below, you can see Matthew, Nikki, Dawn, Eleanor, Krissy, Nick and many other tangueros during a march against Brexit. The others are not on it, but believe me, they've also done their part.




























But let's look back to 2009.

This was the year when Detlef and I were for the first time invited to teach in the UK. The SuperTangk in Bramshaw exceeded our expectations. We had been told to be prepared for a bunch of lazy open-embrace dancers but what we got were enthusiastic students, eager to immerse themselves into close-embrace social dance. This was when we first met:


Nikki Mellor + Matthew Cooper
These talented dancers don't teach or organise but an encuentro without them is like a picknick without sun. Matthew is one of my favourite partners and the most positive person. When being nervous before a demo, I just have to look at him to know that everything is fine and that what we do is appreciated. Matthew's presence lights up my mood every time. Apart from being a remarkably musical dancer, Matthew also has an incredible eye for the small things around him. Have a look at his short film of loss and hope. It is one of the many moments that he captured with his camera.
Nikki is less visible on the internet, but she is one of the preferred partners of Detlef and many other leaders. She also leads, but not as regularly as Dawn and Eleanor. I unfortunately only got to dance with her very few times, but always enjoyed her embrace immensely, no matter in which role. I think you will get to know this strong woman best, when you see her through the eyes of her beloved. And by the way, I lied: Nikki has started teaching women's leading classes with her friend Krissy. 
This video shows Nikki and Matthew dancing the last tanda of Matthew's "40th spectac-EU-lar birthday" party- an occasion on which all his European friends united to celebrate tango, friendship and the EU. By the way: Dawn and Eleanor, whom I will introduce below, can both also be seen dancing in the video.
The cool photo below was made in Berlin where Matthew works in software development. Hopefully, he'll be able to continue this employment after Brexit. 





Eleanor Durrant
Eleanor has not taken many classes with us, but she is a dear friend, whose opinion I highly value and a fabulous dancer in both roles.
I first met Eleanor in 2009 on occasion of our Festivalito de los Angeles in St. Wendel, the next year at Les Cigales and at the FCA when it was still a festivalito. She reviewed all of these and many more events on her blog as Ms.Hedgehog and by that immensely contributed to the popularity of encuentros and festivalitos milongueros in Europe. Her writing is witty and always to the point, whether it is about tango, film, books, needle work or whatever she deems worthy writing about. 
In real life she's a freelance business analyst specialising in difficult business situations. As a tango dancer, you will often see which role she is dancing by her marked clothing: dress and high heels when she's planning on following or trousers and flats when she is leading. That makes her very visible when signing up as a double-role dancer and is one of the many precious tips for tango-dancers on her blog. She has taken up teaching in London, specialising on basics and floorcraft and I am confident that even the most advanced dancers will get useful advice from her how to dance better in a crowded ronda. Eleanor is also an active dj.
Here you can see her dancing with Andreas during the last edition of Abrazos in Devon. The picture below is by Markus Schüller. 



A year later - in 2010 - we first met:

Marion Greenwood + David Thomas
David told me that they used to watch our videos on Youtube thinking "that looks like it might be interesting to try". Well, they got to try a lot.
Marion and David not only visited numerous of our classes and tango-holidays, but also took part in our first Tango-Teacher-Training in 2013. I will always remember David's enigmatic introduction and Marion's ever encouraging smile, even when the classes took much longer than planned. This first TTT was very exciting and by working with each other, we forged everlasting memories as well as pedagogical concepts and musical ideas. It was on this occasion that David and Marion presented the orchestra of Francisco Lomuto in such a creative way: "Imagine an elephant running through a jungle." After the TTT, David carried on his research, resulting in the book Getting to know - 20 Tango Orchestras. I recommend it as an excellent resource for every tanguero. 
Because they are elegant dancers and great in any form of communication, we invited them (and Saso + Alja from Slovenia) to participate in the film to our book Caminar Abrazados. It was David who magically made an apple appear during one of the exercises and thereby initiated a running gag. Here you can see us all in action.
David and Marion are not only the most friendly and beautiful couple, but also very active in spreading the word. They teach and organise milongas as well as tango-holidays and David regularly works as a dj in the UK and all over Europe. The only thing that I regret is that we nowadays don't meet so often anymore because we fequent different Encuentros.
Fun fact: Marion and David live in the same village as Matthew and Nikki. How can such a small place turn out so many dedicated dancers?
The photo below by Thorsten Janes shows them on the film set. 




Dawn Porter
I first met Dawn in 2010 only three months after she had started dancing. It was on occasion of workshops in Bristol and two months later she already visited our Encuentro in Germany. I have seldom met someone so eager to absorb tango. In our teacher trainings I present her as an example for the ideal student. No wonder she made such great progress in short time. In the beginning she concentrated on the traditional follower's role, but soon asked me, whether I thought that learning the leading role would be a good idea. I encouraged her and never regretted it, because today Dawn is one of my favourite leaders for Biagi. I am lucky that this feeling seems to be mutual, because once a tanda starts, our miradas find each other across the biggest rooms. Needless to state that she's an excellent follower as well!
Apropos mirada: Dawn - who is also djing on a regular basis - was the creator of Una Mirada, which was the second Encuentro Milonguero in the UK from 2014-16. In recent years, she has hosted me and my partner Ramona for Ladies Only weekends and I hope we'll go on working together after Brexit. I would not want to miss the hours around her kitchen table. 
Another thing that comes to mind when I think of Dawn are her t-shirts. Since 2017, I have frequently seen her in EU-blue with stars, but the coolest was her "Made by Tangokombinat" shirt. As she has not only worked intensively with Detlef and me, but also with by Andreas, our Tangokombinat colleague, the inscription made us all proud!
Here you can watch her perform with Eleanor at a milonga in London. The video is old but you can already see Dawn's typical dynamic and Eleanor's relaxed footwork. And by the way: the person giggling so audibly is Matthew who made the video. 
The photo of Dawn and me dancing was made by the French milonguero Xavier Delalle.




Mike + Patricia Barrow
Mike recollects based on his diary entry: "We first met on 31st July 2010 at the Milonga del Angel in Nimes. You were running your Mas de Mestre workshops, we were on holiday in the area and visited the milonga.  ...  We danced...  Patricia apparently had two dances with Detlef... The diary records: Memo to self: we should sign up next time they come to a Tangk in Bramshaw. The rest is history."
Indeed. In the following years, we would have the pleasure of working and dancing with this interesting couple several times in and outside of the UK. I not only enjoyed the shared tango experiences, but also our vivid discussions about life outside the bubble. Mike is an academic economist, Patricia - originally French - was a school teacher. So far, the two have not ventured into organising or teaching, but given their background I would not be surprised. 
An interesting fact: Since this year, these smart milongueros both have British and French citizenship. They will therefore be amongst the lucky ones to be able to travel and work freely in both worlds after Brexit. I am very happy for them and hope we'll meet even more often in the future. The most recent encounter was at our Festivalito Pequeña in June, where Patricia won a ticket to the 2020 edition. So there are good chances to dance with them next year!
The picture below is from an Italian milonguero Christina Campagna.




Jeff Allen + Caro Millet
In my original post, I did not include Jeff and Caro, because they are actually not "Anglais" and new to the milonguero scene. But I have decided to add them, because things are constantly changing.
The fist time that Jeff and Caro took classes with us was in Bristol 2012 and 2013, so we know them quite some time, but it took a few years until we bonded. In 2013, I saw them at Abrazos in Devon, but there was not much of a personal contact. 
Caro and Jeff are another very European couple. They live in Glasgow, Scotland. He is Scot and she is from France, but has been living in the UK for many years. Both are very much affected by the political situation, but who knows, Scotland might remain in the EU. 
A fun fact about Jeff: although coming from another line of work, he is now building violins. I find that very impressive! 
Since 2002, Jeff has been teaching with the Finnish dancer Sari, but as you can see from (quite old) pictures on their website, their school does not have a definite milonguero orientation. Jeff has nevertheless changed his personal approach to tango a lot: In 2016/17 he registered for our TTT and since then been integrated into the milonguero community. He and Caro have also participated in a few of our tango holidays in France and regularly go to milonguero events in the UK and on the continent. Here you can see them dancing at an encuentro. Jeff has also participated in my dj-seminar and is djing in Glasgow.
Caro has not only started to lead but is now also giving classes with Jeff. They are actively helping to boost social close embrace tango in this rather remote part of the UK. I wish them lots of luck and hope that we'll soon return to Glasgow to support this great development.
The picture below is by Thorsten Janes and shows them dancing at our Pequeña.



Nick + Krissy King
These lovely people are the last to be presented here because we met them relatively late, in 2014 during workshops in Cambridge. But since then we've danced frequently at encuentros all over Europe and many milongas in the UK.
Nick is one of my favourite Di Sarli partners and I always try to catch his mirada when I hear the first notes of any song. Krissy is just wonderful and like mine, one of her favourite orchestras is Biagi. Such a warm person and great hugger. Both of them actually. Abrazadores par excellence!
Krissy and Nick teach and organise milongas in the Hertfordshire area and Krissy offers classes for leading ladies - sometimes with her friend Nicky Mellor. Nick, a TV film editor in real life, is also a committed dj.
There is another thing I particularly like about Nick: his outspokenness when it comes to British politics. After reading his Facebook posts, I feel entirely free to say "Bollocks to Brexit"!
In this video on Eleanor's blog, you can watch Nick dancing, but unfortunately there is no film that shows him with Krissy. That's a shame, because I love watching them move ever so smoothly. Can someone please film them at an event, so that I can post a link?
The photo below is also by Cristina Campagna.


So, it seems that I am done for the moment. I won't apologise for the length of the article, because I already had to restrict myself to not introduce even more British milongueros or continue my love letter to the few I chose. 

Let me finish with yet another video by Matthew. It features most protagonists of this article and many more of our friends. I'm also in it, leading the "Git Up" at the FCA. Apart from showing the friendship and love that binds us, this film proves once more that milongueros are first and foremost great fun!

I wish everyone a Happy New Year and a much better 2020. 





Monday, 2 December 2019

Tango Traditions

Tradition.

Such a common word in our tango world: traditional milongas, traditional dance, traditional music... The milongueros promote the traditions, the neos break-up with them up, the dancers from Villa Urquiza abide by them and others seem to hate them because they limit their freedom. Ok, I am polarising, but how often was I called a tango-nazi, because I suggest the use certain guidelines at tango events! This post is to demonstrate how fluid the concept of traditions in tango actually is and how careful one has to be with these expressions.

What's that?

Wikipedia says: "A tradition is a belief or behaviour passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past."

I find traditions quite neat, because they provide guidelines about how to behave and put things into a larger (historical) context. Conservatives have their traditions, as have communists or anarchists. My group of friends has its traditions, e.g. meeting every year for dinner on X-Mas eve. Whenever a couple of people stay connected for a longer period, some form of tradition will appear.

The "codigos" represent an important part of tradition for a large population in tango.

But here's the problem: Tango as a dance had basically disappeared after the 50s. Milongas and dance halls closed or turned to playing new styles of music like Rock’n Roll. Only few people continued dancing tango and this was either in the sheltered environment of their families or as stage dancers. So when tango-dancing had its revival in the late 70s one could not just take up where it had stopped. There was no "unbroken tradition" of the dance and its rules of behaviour.

To specify: Over 20 years, the dance had mostly been preserved by the stage dancers who promoted a glamour version, upgraded with elements of classical and ballroom dance. So what the world was presented as tango argentino was far removed from the original social dance. Only in the late 80s and 90s, the "old milongueros" finally felt encouraged to tell their story about “the real” tango. Hurrah! Yes, but... actually most dancers of the golden era had passed and tango-culture had been suppressed in the years of dictatorship. Many of those who now emerged as connoisseurs had still been very young in the golden era and experienced it second-hand via their elders. Yes, there were also older dancers with very specific memories, but we all know the process of retroactive glorification and how little valid information actually is preserved in our minds over a stretch of 20-40 years. Right? So everyone told a different story. A lot of knowledge about how tango was danced and celebrated had been lost. Some of that is being re-discovered by serious research until day.

So, let’s be honest: the reanimation of tango culture was also a very complex re-invention and a lot of what we think we know is pure myth.

I discovered tango in 1995 and started taking it more seriously in 2000. I was lucky because my most influential german teachers (Just + Christel Kuhl) back then visited Buenos Aires on a very regular basis. They were seriously trying to grasp the real thing and felt a strong need to distinct their milongas from the many places where tango escenario or the free forms of tango nuevo were cultivated. “Authentic” milongas were still rare and ours was one of the first in Germany. If one can call it that...

Because every time my teachers visited BA, they came back with new, sometimes wild stories that painted a diverse pictures of tango culture - all of them authentic. You think that invitations in BA were always and everywhere done by mirada + cabeceo? Nope. At some milongas it was totally fine for men to ask a women directly. At others you had to get permission from her mother or husband. In other places they used early variations of mirada and cabeceo. I remember that one story when Christel had rejected a mirada of an elder milonguero and he came to their table, started jerking it up and down until he had intimidated poor Christel into dancing with him. The same goes for musical set-ups. You believe that tango was always presented in tandas and with cortinas? Far from it! One of the most renowned Argentinean djs who toured Europe in the early 2000s was Felix Picherna. As far as I remember, he did not use any cortinas, he changed the amount of tangos, milongas and valses randomly and he sometimes even mixed all three styles in one tanda. So in these years, when the authentic social dance of the porteños was being spread all around the world, it was in no way clear, what authentic actually meant.

You notice that I am still not using the term “traditional”, because back then, I did not not hear it that often. It might not even have been used in BA, because it had always been obvious, that in milongas one danced tango de salón, social tango. This differentiation from stage tango seemed to be enough to define the "what and how". The rest of the "rules" varied depending on the milonga or was vague. There was not ONE tango tradition. There were as many as milongas or at least as barrios.

This means, that when our tango community organised their first “Milongas como en Buenos Aires” to promote the “authentic tango of the porteños”,we had to make a choice about what this implied.

From what I can tell from conversations with Argentinians the same process happened in Buenos Aires, where the big influx of tango tourists and young people created a need for civilisation and specification. Unsaid guidelines had to be transferred into “reglas” and “codigos”. A common denominator had to be defined. And to implement these codigos, it helped to base them (at least virtually) on tradition. This is where the term “traditional” became important: “This is how we always did it, these are our traditions”, helped to make people respect the guidelines. Back then, I was not so much aware of this creative process, but looking back I find it amazing, how everyone helped to actually shape a common set of traditions.



So these are the "traditional" codigos that I have witnessed being implemented over the last 25 years:

Dancing in an unbroken embrace: The actual form of the embrace (parallel close, v-form, a little open...) always depended on the pre-dominant style of the alpha-dancers in a community. At encuentros milongueros, we now often find a more or less parallel close embrace, but no one will be expelled for loosening the embrace a bit once in a while.

Use of “classical” music: Around the turn of the millennium, this would include non-argentine old tangos or contemporary orchestras. In the early years of encuentros (2008-14), contemporary orchestras were pretty much undesirable and musical choices were limited to extended golden era: the late 20s to the late 50s. In recent years, the custom of using newer and contemporary orchestras has made a revival. Some djs now play exclusively 40s-60s + contemporary. This is totally a matter of personal taste and the directions that the organisers of specific events give.

Presentation of music in tandas and with cortinas: Tandas seemed to used quite early, at least as far as I can think back. It also makes sense to imagine them in golden age milongas, where the orchestras played shorts sets of similar music, but this is pure speculation. The introduction of short cortinas took definitely longer. See below.

Constant movement in the ronda and certain guidelines on how to do so: It took many years to fine tune the system. When I started teaching in 2001, it was e.g, still ok to overtake other couples in the ronda and we practised it in classes. Nowadays you won't see anyone doing it. If it is a good ronda.

Invitation by mirada and cabeceo: The concept of mirada and cabeceo itself developed hugely from “guy getting up and instead of asking verbally, just nodding from a short distance” over “guy looking and nodding, but staying seated” to a bidirectional process in which partners choose actively. And to take advantage of this form of invitation you needed a specific set-up of the location. In our home milonga e.g. the dance floor was on one side of the room and everyone was seated at tables on the other facing in all directions. To allow for better m+c, we changed the seating so that a central dance floor with tables around it was created. Now everyone could potentially make eye-contact with everyone else without having to get up or break their necks. As you can see, I don't see this specific seating arrangement as a tradition, more a necessity to allow for one.

Leaving the pista after a tanda to be free to dance with another person and to allow for mirada and cabeceo: At some moment, it became more common to change partners frequently and not to stick too long with one partner. This was also when cortinas had to implemented, because the organisers had to make sure, that everyone cleared the floor at the same time. A
mongst porteños, a cortina might not have been necessary, because everyone knew the orchestras and therefore knew when to sit down again. That is, when the dj even played tandas. 


Apart from the quite common codigos, other "traditions" where typical for certain sub-groups amongst the social dancers or certain milongas:

Separate seating: This set-up is used in some milongas in BA, only very few outside of BA and some more - but by far not all - encuentros milongueros. Please note that the first encuentros (Raduno Milonguero in Impruneta, YSM in Crema, Les Cigales, then the FCA) were very social gatherings where no-one would have thought of separating men and women. This developed later, when fans of milongas like the Cachirulo in BA started organising encuentros. It is in now way universal in the "traditional" tango world.

Elegant attire: I guess that was always very much depending on where and when you lived. A lot of milongueros in BA will be proud to dress very neatly as do most Italians dancers. But just go to an encuentro or so-called "traditional milonga" anywhere else and you'll find all kinds of clothing styles, including jeans and flat shoes for women. Sometimes there will be one "elegant milonga" during an encuentro, but even then the term will be interpreted very individually. We stopped announcing the gala milonga on Saturday evening of our FCA after several people complained about Detlef's too casual outfit. Yup...


There is one other "tradition" that for me actually is a non-tradition, but that I need to discuss here, because it has become relevant in recent discussions on social media:

Mandatory gender-typical dance roles:
Myth has it that tango in the olden days was danced among men and you can also find vintage pictures with women dancing together. But as far as I can tell, dancing the non-gender-typical role was never very common, so one could call the dance of men with women a tradition in most couple dances.
Yet in my tango-world, this vague tradition never resulted in the declaration of a codigo.
My first teacher in 1995 was a leading women as well as the second. It did not strike me in any way weird, because it was obvious that women would be more interested in dancing and become engaged in it. When I discovered “authentic” tango, I for the first time met a few people who opposed the idea of leading women, but even my conservative teachers would not forbid it at their milongas. As long as only a small number of women would lead and almost no men follow, it was never a big deal. I soon started leading a bit - it was the logical thing to do, in particular as I started teaching in 2001. Why would one only want to see one side of the medal? And I was not the only one, wherever I went in the next 19 years - at every festival, milonga (traditional or not) or encuentro milonguero - I met leading ladies and - much more seldom - following men.
The same goes for BA. Yes, dancing the unconventional roles seems still to be frowned upon in a majority of the conventional milongas, but it still exists and always did. I remember one special occasion: Detlef and I had given a demo in the conservative “A Puro Tango” milonga in Salon Canning. I think it was in 2007. In spite of the intimidating setting, I decided to lead a young lady. Coming from the dance floor we got stopped by an older women. Instead of criticising, she complimented us and next invited my friend for the a tanda - by the way verbally. I then went on dancing with male milongueros who did not shun me for having lead. I had expected problems - there were none.
But that has changed in recent years: A strong need to restrict dancers to the gender-typical roles has developed alongside and because of the fact, that more and more people started changing roles. The increased role-fluidity applies not only to "non-traditional" queer-tango or open-role-events. Many of the "traditional" events like encuentros milongueros invite dancers to register as followers, leaders and double-rolers to create a role- rather than a gender-balance. You can now even see men dancing together at the oldest existing encuentro in Italy. This would not have been imaginable when it started in 2008.
But this is starting to bug a part of the community. I think that what we are experiencing is a formerly marginal phenomenon that expands into mainstream and thereby causes a radicalisation of those who had before just mildly rejected it. They become hyper-traditional and react accordingly, e.g. by organising events in which the dance in a gender-a-typical role is not only frowned upon but actually forbidden. I find this regrettable but also understand it as a natural course of human behaviour as we can see in all other fields of society and politics. I hope it will - after a period of friction - dissolve in a new, freer handling of this specific question.

So... traditions... a difficult concept in tango!

As a dancer, organiser, teacher and even blogger I have not only seen them evolve, put into a logical context and specified, I have actually consciously participated in this process of "traditionalisation". This is why I am also critical towards the over-usage of the word. It could be understood in a broader sense, because there have always been guidelines to bring order into the chaos of our tango world. But they have not been carved in stone by some tango god in the epoca d'oro and were never universal. They always varied in different communities and are constantly being adapted to the needs of each new generation of dancers. Some codigos are very recent developments.

I am now using mirada and cabeceo for invitations. But who knows, what the future will bring? Most likely a special app for the phone. I will surely be amongst the first who try it out.

Because tango is no anachronistic role-playing game. It is real life. 



A more personal note:
People always assume that we are very old fashioned aka "traditional" because we dance a rather unspectacular social dance in a close embrace and promote the usage of the main codigos at our events. But already from what I've written above, you can see, that you have to be careful with labels. If you then take into consideration, that we use tango nuevo as a teaching method, that I dance both roles, that we teach beginners both roles consequently from the beginning, that we change roles as teachers constantly, that at our events, there is always a large number of double-rolers... well? And there is no separate seating at our events. Won't be before hell freezes over! So... yup traditional... One does not need to do high voleos and open the embrace or cut the ronda to live in the modern world!