The Beginnings of Couple Dance

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Couple dancing was originally sequence-based where couples dance the same steps at the same time, except maybe the Boston which was a rhythmic dance that was a more difficult form of the Viennese Waltz but never really became popular. Then came Tango and it revolutionised couples dance into something that we all now know.

Tango really set the standard of couple dancing that is widely known in the world today.  It was the first couple dance in Europe that involved improvisation. It came to Europe around the early 20th century and probably began in France when Argentine sailors arrived in the port of Marseille where sailors danced Tango with local girls. There had been evidence that Tango was danced on stage in Montmartre, Paris in 1905 but it wasn’t entirely felt until 1912, when Paris was taken over by the Tango invasion.

Tango Lessons BrisbaneDuring that time, Argentina became one of the richest countries in the world. It was ranked seventh, even higher than Spain or Italy in terms of average per capita income. Although, the overall standard of living in Argentina was high, the poor became poorer whilst the rich became even richer. It became a trend in well-off families to send their children to Europe to either go to university or simply just to tour lavishly.

As expected, young men frequented places they weren’t supposed to visit and dated women their families would prefer they don’t marry. And it so happened that these young men were pretty good Tango dancers despite the fact that Tango was still not acknowledged by Buenos Aires’ elite society. But when these young men danced in Paris, the upper classes fell in love with it and became an instant hit.

1913 was the year Tango invaded the world. It was the couple dance that everyone was dancing throughout many parts of Europe. But of course, like all great things, there were many who disapproved of it. Nonetheless, Tango had already gained a foothold and grew quickly. Victorian corsets and hooped skirts were gradually changed into less constricting clothing to allow women to move freely when dancing Tango. Vertical feathers in women’s hats came into fashion to accommodate a partner’s embrace. Tulip skirts that opened at the front became the new trend as well as Tango shoes, stockings, hats, dresses, and basically anything that would make dancing Tango easier. This also meant that the majority of the outfits were in orange as it was the colour of Tango.

Tango’s popularity in Paris and throughout the rest of Europe has transformed it into an alluring couple dance that roused the interest of Buenos Aires’ upper class, which eventually swayed them into accepting the dance. And because of this, Tango was re-introduced to Buenos Aires, its original home. This has been evidenced by a book published in Buenos Aires around the First World War which says that it was written to teach Tango as it is elegantly danced in Paris. This turned into a total transformation of the dance as opposed to the tasteless, indelicate dance previously danced by the Buenos Aires’ lower class.

Tango Reborn

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The rebirth of tango, or more popularly referred to as The Tango Renaissance, started in 1983 right after the fall of the military junta in Argentina. Suddenly, Buenos Aires basked in a joyful atmosphere and everyone was in the mood to dance as though an actual veil had been lifted off them. All dance and martial arts classes were filling up all over the city. People wanted to learn Tango all of a sudden when they realised that it’s all right to take pride in being Argentine again. And what better way to demonstrate this pride than to take part in Tango, Argentina’s symbol to the world.

Argentine Tango near meHowever, there had been some setbacks at the start. One of which is that there was no tradition of teaching Tango and that there had been no Tango classes for beginners during its Golden Age. There were virtually no teachers and no standard practices being followed. There was an incessant hunger for mentors that needed to be fed.

To address this unrelenting need, dancers started giving tango classes for those wanting to learn the dance. This is the same scenario everywhere in the world since Tango re-emerged in 1983. People taught not because they thought they were gurus and knew everything but because people asked them to. Aspiring dancers learned tango through going to classes and travelling to Europe. Very few were experienced dancers.

At the beginning of the Tango Renaissance, the first teachers in Buenos Aires were young dancers who didn’t know much about tango. Those who were dancing during the Golden Age did not dance anymore and those who did had been suspicious of strangers. So the first people who danced were newbies. Those who haven’t danced tango or haven’t danced with someone in the Golden Age. One problem was that “teachers” weren’t really teaching tango. Most of what they taught were only things that they had made up on their own.

Eventually, people who had danced in the Golden Age started dancing again after 3 decades of not dancing Tango. Thankfully, they re-discovered their passion for Tango and developed a desire to teach Tango to the new generation of dancers. Miguel and Nelly Balmaceda have played a vital role in re-establishing Tango during the renaissance era. For as much as they could, they tried to stick to the traditional way of teaching tango when organising their beginners’ classes. They only allowed students to dance with teachers until they thought they were ready. Even then, they still had to dance the most basic steps only. Many of today’s most prominent tango dancers were trained by Miguel and Nelly or trained by someone trained by them.

Complex dance steps ruled in the Tango Renaissance. There was an astounding excitement to doing these complicated steps especially when combined with the techniques of traditional Tango. It enhanced the emotional connection that defines the true essence of the dance.

Antonio Todaro was one of the most famous teachers of the renaissance period of tango. He was one of the few who danced Tango before the military regime started. He created challenging steps, incorporating it with the technique of the Golden Age. He frequently toured Europe and taught many of the professional tango dancers we know now. Shortly after his death in 1993, young dancers in Buenos Aires began to steer away from the steps he popularised. A few other dancing styles emerged in the following years.

The dancing of the people who were around during the Golden Age remained the same as they could still go to milongas in the outskirts of Buenos Aires and dance the complicated steps in its most authentic manner. However, by 1995, styles such as “Club Tango” or “Milonguero”, “Short Steps” and “Close Hold” dominated the dancing style of the people who were part of the Tango Renaissance in Buenos Aires.

 

Source: http://www.history-of-tango.com/tango-renaissance.html

The Traditional Way Men Learned to Dance Tango

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During the early years up until the 1940’s, young men learned Tango the same way as everybody else did in Buenos Aires. Ask every elderly man in Buenos Aires how they learned to dance Tango and you’ll get the same response over and over again. They would often start with, “I was 12 years old and there was this pretty girl…”. Unlike 12-year-old’s now, 12-year-old’s in the 40’s or earlier were effectively young adults as they were full members of the workforce at such a tender age. Most of them would have left school at 11 and started working in factories like an independent adult.

It was right around this age when they started to feel attracted to the opposite sex. Back then, they did not have many options to meet girls. Tango was basically their only way of meeting young women and this encouraged them to an all-men dance practice to learn Tango. They will watch other men dance and eventually join in, dancing the part of the woman. When he had learned enough of being a follower, he would then be allowed to dance the man’s part with another young man so he can practice dancing the role of the leader.

Argentine Tango Classes BrisbaneThey will continue to learn dancing, alternating the roles of leader and follower until they are good enough or until they learn some more. They will then be asked to don a suit when going to a dance or milonga. The entire process starting from their first Tango practice until when they were allowed to attend milongas took way more time than you would expect. Most elderly men say it took them up to three years or more to be considered good enough for milongas. Back then, women would not dance with men whom they haven’t seen dancing before, so the young men’s first dance with them would have to be arranged. Milongas were filled with so many good dancers that women would not want to waste their time dancing with someone they were not certain could dance well, unless he was especially attractive. The scenario would usually be that one of his friends (who is more experienced in dancing) would ask a woman to dance with the boy as some sort of a favour. If it went well, then he can carry on dancing as other women would no longer hesitate to dance with him as they’ve already seen him dance. If it didn’t go so well, he’d have to go back to the practica and keep on practicing before he’d be given another chance. Nonetheless, men kept going to practicas even when they’ve become more experienced. They’d go for about a couple of hours each night to dance with beginners before going to the milonga. For them, real Tango dancing happens in practicas. The Milonga, to them, is just a way for them to get noticed by women.

Learning Tango could basically be compared to how a child learns language. First, they listen, then, after a few months, they would start to make noises imitating the sound of words. Slowly, they start to speak simple words and short phrases, then gradually learn how to speak sentences and carry a proper conversation in a few more years. The child may grow up to be a linguist or they may stay inarticulate. Nonetheless, the fundamentals of learning the language are just the same.

Source: http://www.history-of- tango.com/learn-to- dance.html

What Makes an Advanced Tango Dancer?

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All tango beginners start at the same level but progress at different rates and in their own ways. They are all novices, often unsure about what to do first, how to walk, and how to embrace a partner. The first time at a milonga can be a harrowing experience for some as they take their first step into the world of dancing tango socially.

Ideally, it would take one to two years for a beginner to reach the intermediate level, another three to four years to reach an advanced level, and five more years to reach a master level. Then again, there isn’t really any standard as to how long it would take a person to progress into another level. It all boils down to their individual pace. Some would only take 3-4 years to reach the master level while others get stuck in the intermediate level for 10 years.

Advanced Tango Classes BrisbaneUnlike learning ballet, there is no prescribed order in progressing from one level to another. It’s just a matter of signing up for a particular class. It’s commonplace to find a variety of different levels of dancer in a single Tango class or workshop. Anybody can learn tango. Whether you’re musical or not, or whether you move easily or not, it doesn’t matter. You could be young or old. There is no right or wrong reason for wanting to learn tango. It may be to meet a potential partner, general exercise or the challenge of learning a new skill. What matters is that you enjoy the dance whilst you’re learning the basics and slowly discovering the wonders of dancing tango.

So how does one become an advanced dancer? Just like in any other domain, one has to have the passion and the drive to learn tango along with religiously following a routine of practice. However, one should not settle on just taking Tango classes or lessons. Going to milongas is also an important part of the learning process. On the other hand, if you keep going to milongas without properly learning the basics, you will only enhance your bad habits. It needs to be a good mixture of both.

Passion without dedication amounts to nothing in becoming an advanced tango dancer. This and, of course, good tango teachers to guide you and teach you what you need to learn are paramount. Unlike traditional professional dance education though, there is no standard way of teaching or a good way of dancing. It’s basically about what you want and what the teacher can offer you. Tango teachers are of every kind, not only in the style with which they dance but also the way in which they teach. There are no good or bad teachers, some are just more suited to different students. You just have to find the one whose style of teaching works best for you.

When can we say that a person is advanced in tango? Well, for starters, an advanced dancer has good posture, feels at ease when dancing, and someone who has a comfortable yet functional embrace. The leader is able to navigate around the floor safely whilst effectively leading their partner and the follower should be able to keep their balance without the leader’s help and complete their movements whilst maintaining connection to their partner.

We can say that a dancer is truly advanced when they know how to adjust their dancing to effectively dance with their partner, no matter what their partner’s level of expertise. No matter how good you are at dancing, you should be able to dance according to your partners ability.

Advanced dancers should also be musical, able to improvise easily, and, of course, someone who has a good understanding of the tango vocabulary. When you consider all of the aspects it takes to be truly an advanced Tango dancer, very few dancers actually can be considered such.

At the end of the day, however, whether you are considered an advanced tango dancer or not, it will always be about the connection that you create with your partner and the enjoyment you derive from dancing tango.