A few weekends ago now, ASU Argentine Tango Club hosted their annual fall tango retreat. They invited Meng Wang (pronounced “mung”) as a guest instructor and we all went to Sedona for a weekend of tango fun! It is a great way for the ASU students to immerse themselves into the dance and also to get to know the tango community in a different context.
I was along for the ride and to assist Meng in the classes. And I performed with him, not just once but several times over the weekend. I even was exposed to a little Meng choreography!
This brought up a few tango questions that I have yet to address and they pertain to performing.
It appears that there are several levels of performing in the tango world: socially at a milonga as an informal demonstration, performing at a festival could be improvised or choreographed and then tango for stage. I have always thought and this has been discussed amongst my colleagues that performances by tango couples at a festival is sometimes arbitrary or even boring! Some festivals don’t have any performances and some have MANY performances! I think it is a part of my job as a tango teacher, advocate, coach, educator to perform. My dance background was really about performing and choreographing so how is that different in tango. Well, here’s the glitch. Some dancers are better teachers than performers and visa versa. I personally think that there should be some ‘coaching’ for those teachers who are “obliged” or asked to perform often at milongas or during festivals. And who sets the bar for what makes us “like” or enjoy a performance?
We can argue a few points. From my theatre and dance background I have learned certain criteria for “better” choreography and better performing, better positions of the body relative to the audience (ie: no crotch shots or butts to an audience), also positions of a performance space in relation to the audience (ie: drama happens in the center). There is also the point about how to “bring in” the audience to a dance form that looks a little strange from the outside. I mean, there are 2 people dancing usually very close (as some of my students observe) and they don’t look at each other. They sometimes intertwine their legs sometimes they move fast or slowly. Sometimes there is dramatic tension through the movement itself and sometimes it just looks like you’re watching something intimate through a window, like a peeping tom. I think dancers don’t always know any of this. But again I ask the question – what makes 1 couple interesting to watch perform and the other look like just another improvised tango performance at a festival?
I think choreography sometimes helps some of these situations. A couple can plan certain movements in advance to certain parts of the music to bring in a sense of tension or release or playfulness. Maybe a couple who practices a lot together helps with this and if they are choreographing they must be dancing and practicing a lot together! Maybe the dancers’ relationship to the music? Maybe just technique? Maybe a combination of all of these elements. And I will let this idea sit with you.
I post here several videos of Meng and I performing at the milongas of the Retreat weekend. They are improvised. He and I practiced a little bit. He showed me a little bit of choreography. He had a plan! And my goal was to dance with him as beautifully and comfortably as possible!
Due to technical difficulties – the following post includes videos of Meng Wang and I performing at Relics Restaurant in Sedona, AZ
I’m on my way to another Tango Festival and I am excited to visit with old tango friends and to create new ones.
It is usually during a weekend like this that followers will commiserate and share the hopes and desires for their evening milongas. Their desire to dance all night long, to connect, to have that amazing tanda or 2 that keeps us all coming back for more. And unfortunately, sometimes this doesn’t work out as perfectly as we had hoped. Taxi dancing might be a solution.
I first came across taxi dancing on my trips to Buenos Aires. Dancers, usually female, hire a male dancer to partner them at milongas. Then when I started my tours to Buenos Aires I hired taxi dancers to assist in milongas and in the classes. I have always had mixed feelings about taxi dancing but found it absolutely essential and beneficial on my tours.
My partner Rommel Oramas is a taxi dancer and he speaks passionately about taxi dancing. I was struck by his articulateness and dedication to being a taxi dancer and asked him to shares his thoughts with me here.
“It’s a paid profession for me,” says Rommel. He started taxi dancing in Phoenix, AZ to enhance the confidence of some of his female students in dancing socially. “My intention and purpose varies with each partner. Most dancers just want to have a nice dance, a tanda or 2 without having to wait 2 or 3 hours or all night to dance. Sometimes it is about mismatched skill levels and therefore, taxi dancing becomes a solution for that dancer. Sometimes partners want to be shown off at the milonga so other dancers can look for them.”
“Taxi dancing has a code of conduct,” Rommel continues, “knowing that a tango dancer flirts with sensuality and sexuality the code of conduct is necessary. To be come a good taxi dancer, I have to be respectful of my partner, kind, and professional.”
“R.A.P,” he says, smiling.
“RAP?” I ask him.
“Yes, Respectful Amicable and Professional! Respectful – because I understand that the dance is for my client, for the compañera de baile. I have to put my effort and attention into that person so that they look good and so that they feel comfortable and confident and safe. It’s not about me in that moment. I wear my smile, I introduce her to other dancers – this is important. Professional – I’m doing a job – I’m there to dance, it’s not a lesson, I’m not there to teach or criticize”.
I asked Rommel how he handles a follow who might feel heavy or who is squeezing his hand too tightly and he admitted that every once in awhile he might give slight feedback especially if he feels that it is physically hurting him, like his back or his shoulder. And that would be given after a song or even the tanda is finished. He usually already has a good rapport with that dancer and knows that they are open to it. He continues, “I know as a skillful dancer that I can adjust myself in order to continue to make her look good. So for example – I relax my arm if she is pushing too strongly or if she feels heavy I open the embrace slightly. Usually she notices through this silent communication and adjusts as well, ie: she relaxes that arm. If she asks for feedback I tell her that it’s a milonga and we’re here to dance. If she has a good time and has good dances and doesn’t ask for feedback then I’ve done my job. And this encourages the referral system – they speak highly of me and will tell their friends. Most of my business is done by word of mouth”.
I ask him if he ever says “no”? “I am always open and available. I start with 2 or 3 tandas. If there’s a good rapport we can take it from there. I try to spread out my time of tandas with a single person over the course of the milonga – to change the energy – to dance with others. Sometimes there are musical preferences – ie: she likes vals tandas or milonga or a tanda of Di Sarli. This allows me to share that tanda with that person and then go dance with others. I can have several paid tandas in a milonga”.
Rommel feels strongly that taxi dancers need to be trained. “Not all great dancers can be a good taxi dancer. You have to be able to morph to your partners’ needs and to their level of dancing. You have to have the tools necessary to make the dancer the most important part of the dance. A taxi dancer is good if his intentions are to serve the partner and to serve the art form of tango”.
“Taxi dancing has made me a better dancer. It has helped me to better understand my partners and their needs in the dance. In reality they aren’t far from my own. I want to connect, have a good time, enjoy the dance, and maybe learn about my partner a little bit more”.
“Everybody has a right to pursue happiness, to get their needs met. Taxi dancing offers this possibility”.
I am always fascinated to watch Rommel in action at a milonga. He moves from 1 tanda to another from 1 partner to another pretty seamlessly. You might never know if he is “working” or just dancing. But the ladies always seem pleased with him and they hire him for the events they know he will be attending.
I know that taxi dancing can be very controversial and often brings out strong opinions in people, like most tango-things! But options are a good thing and if having a taxi dancer improves your quality of life and brings a smile to your face, then why not.
Ben Brann & Kathleen Gordon are your hosts for
MILONGA EL BESO DEL DESIERTO
SATURDAY, MAY 8TH
8:00pm – 9:00pm INTRODUCTION TO ARGENTINE TANGO CLASS
INSTRUCTORS: BEN AND KATHLEEN
9:00pm – 1:00am MILONGA
Class + Milonga $10
ART OF DANCE STUDIO
7077 East Main Street, Suite 11-12
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
(Located in Marshall Square, behind Occasions by Design)
For more information: 928.301.5215 or 480.626.0090