I have discovered that I have a lot to say about the labels that are used in Argentine Tango.
Essentially one of the main reasons why I have never given myself, or my dancing, a label except for social dancer, is twofold – too often I find myself dealing with an uneducated public and more importantly a public that doesn’t dance or hasn’t ever moved, let alone social danced. This isn’t always true but often is the case.
The label doesn’t get me any further with the general populace than with someone who has just started dancing. After all what do your non-tango friends ask you when you tell them you’re taking tango classes? Just this weekend prior to a performance a woman was confusing what she thought was tango with flamenco. Isn’t it amazing that we all become educators of dance when we have to explain what we’re doing? And in turn I consider most teachers not just dance teachers but educators of culture in this dance form. Would it make a difference to a newbie if I called myself a milonguero teacher, a tango salon teacher? It might encourage someone to do more research or it might turn them off.
Times are changing and the dance form is evolving. We are living in remarkable times for many reasons. Technology has globalized us. How amazing that dance of any kind gets air time and that on youtube you can see all kinds of dances with correct labels or not!
Another way that times are different in the culture of Argentine Tango is that there are so many more women than men dancing this dance. Not like how it was in the 40’s with so many men and not as many women. Times were different. Men had to be skillful and inventive in order to be popular at the milongas of their day.
But with this change – the competition is now “stiff” for women. We are competing for relatively few skilled dancers. And the number of women who are highly skilled is high. So often women dance with anyone just to dance regardless of skill level. (And those who know me well know that I am not speaking about how many laps around the dance floor he does or how many cool figures he does.) And this is a shame but it is a reality. A reality I do understand.
But what would it be like if the tables started to turn. If women only danced with those men who were good dancers. And what I’m talking about now is about labels – watching the dance floor. Knowing who we are as dancers, individually.
What is your label? What do you like?
And why would you dance with anything but a good dancer? A good dancer for you?
There was a time and often still in Buenos Aires, a man will not dance with you unless he has seen you dance. And the same is true, that a woman will not dance with you unless she has seen you dance. Like is looking for Like. I want to be sure that I dance with someone who likes what I like.
I check out the embrace
I check out their musicality
Their floor craft
And assuming at this point that I do not know them – I take a chance and dance. (But remember that more often than not, people dance with those they know first.)
I hear the arguments coming – that sometimes you still can’t tell. A leader or a follower might dance one way with one person and then a tanda later dance completely differently with another. So is this globalization on a micro level? A milonga filled with variation and diversity of embrace? Like maybe it once was in Buenos Aires where those who danced a certain way in one neighborhood would be noticed in a milonga in downtown (El Centro) Buenos Aires where their tango was a little different or possibly forbidden to dance a certain way at a milonga.
Labels are our identifiers – a way to create connection – the – hey you may be like me because we are from the same city, town, village, tribe.
And in tango – if the label helps you to find more of those like you who need and want the music, the embrace, the connection, then let the labels work for you. But aren’t we all still dancing? (And this is an important point.)
In a recent wonderful interview with Javier Rodriguez, which can be seen on youtube in Spanish, he says we are dancing Today’s Tango, Tango de Hoy. Isn’t this true?
Our society, our culture, is reflected in our dances. Argentine tango is reflecting all of its cultures. All those cultures that have embraced it regardless of what you want to call it.
So to that dear follower who struggles with all the information that is being tossed at her, I encourage her to continue to understand her technique as a follower, as a woman in this dance, as there are certain skills to know. And again “follow what you feel, not what you think”.
(I would like to mention and acknowledge that I think Europe and the US took a huge interest in pedagogy and gave rise to many teachers who were indeed and who still are very much interested in teaching, not just steps and figures but how the body executes them. And with this interest there has been a slow rise in Teacher Training Seminars, Workshops Labs, etc. Even an interview on youtube that I recently saw with a famous Argentine teacher, a woman, mentioned the current desire for teachers to teach the how.)