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Coronavirus and Tango Elegante classes
Due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and the indeterminate nature of when random ‘lock downs’ may fully end, we are foregoing the Summer Season and we seem to be part way through the Autumn season with no immediate prospect of being able to hold classes yet.
Under UK current lock-down rules (as of October) it seems that the best I could offer is to meet two couple somewhere outdoors (possibly now indoors with good ventilation and PPE) while still remaining at a social distance, as long as each couple was part of a household/bubble. For single tango dancers there currently seems to be little opportunity to dance with a partner.
Not really a feasible system yet, especially since we are moving into the Autumn/Winter colds/flu season, which means there are plenty of other bugs out there to try dodge, and we maybe faced with a lot of false alarms, each requiring a suspension of class while we all test and isolate, before we can reconvene.
The UK Government seems to be targeting local lock-downs with the idea of limiting restrictions to only those places in the country needing them, but already, after pubs and restaurants have been reopened in a limited way, the spread of the Covid virus seem to be accelerating again with the immediate prospect of those very venues being shut down again soon.
It may be the case that the tango community may never be able to get back to real live face-to-face tango until either everyone has faced the challenge of the illness and has developed immunity, or a working vaccine has been developed, and who knows how long that will be with some pundits estimating up to 2 years or more.
For now you can continue to review the proposed future schedule by looking at our events page. (Hint:- there currently isn’t one. I was considering doing a few weeks up to Christmas and may yet do so, but when the latest UK Government statistics and proposals for dealing with the situation were presented, I put my plans on hold – again).
In the meantime, with very little opportunity to dance at class or milonga venues, we can at least all improve our musicality by listening to lots more tango, vals, and milonga tunes. Those of you out there who can already tango to some level might also like to explore the subject of ‘visualisation’ which is a technique of imagining yourself performing a task perfectly. Apparently practising with visualisation (even if you don’t have a partner) is about 70% as effective as physically practising… hmm…
You may be aware that I am writing a series of articles (with examples) on the structure of tango music and possible interpretation. I published a few weeks ago, and I’m working on more hopefully to come out soon, so you may wish to study them while waiting for the tango world to start turning again.
All tango articles can be found by following the menu link above.
If you have the space and a decent floor, you may also want to avail yourself of the many online classes and dance ‘events’ which are popping up on the web. It’s not quite the same as ‘in person’, and ideally to gain the maximum benefit you will need a partner, but it maybe enough to keep your tango going to some level or another. The tango community has to try stick together as much as possible until this crisis is over so a big thanks to all those teachers who have managed to move their activities online to keep the community alive.
This is definitely one situation where ‘if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it’, so try practise as much as you can, even if solo.
Please follow the Government advice and stay safe.
Christine and I have been lucky enough to continue dancing tango during lock-down, albeit in a much smaller space, so I thought I’d write this post relating our experience of ‘lounge tango’ (or tango salon), just to show that with a partner, there is tango life after milonga.
What is lounge tango?
Well for us it was modifying and getting used to dancing tango in a space no bigger than 2m x 2.5 m, which doesn’t sound a lot but is enough for many things. In saying that there are of course advantages and disadvantages, with a need to modify a few things.
Advantages vs Disadvantages of Lounge tango
With a partner on tap, there was no sitting out waiting to dance. This is an advantage, of course. Those of you who’ve been unfortunate to be in lock-down without a dance partner will know that technique, styling and conditioning exercises can only get you so far. With a real live partner you can both try swapping roles for a bit of fun. Even without swapping roles, you can learn and discuss how to perform new material until you get it right. However if you have an argument about something, anything, you don’t get any tango for a while until you make up. You learn to be nice to your tango partner, which is always a good thing 🙂 .
We had to learn a different type of floor craft. Normally floor craft is mostly about not damaging yourself, your partner, other dancers or people sitting out at a milonga, and being courteous to others. With loung tango it becomes all about not destroying your possessions (stiletto through the TV screen etc.) 🙂 . Other than that it is very similar in that the leader needs to be very aware of the space available (as does the follower) and probably needs to make more use of pivoting to be able to lead the follower out of the tight corner he’s boxed them into. If we ever get back to ‘normal’ milongas this will be a very useful skill.
We’ve had to more or less give up ‘the tango walk’. Tango walking can almost be a dance in itself with marvellous rhythmical walking patterns to make moving around a dance hall a bit more interesting between tango figures. In a very small space you do maybe two or three steps in a line then have to break it to get around a corner, so not much chance to get a walking rhythm going. This also means that our tango has become more ‘figure’ centric and a lot more circular, with more rebote to bounce us back to the centre of the dance space.
We’ve had to learn how to make linear tango figures circular In a normal milonga space there are certain tango figures which are linear and can cover a lot of space. In our lounge we have either had to forego them, or find ways of cutting them short, or making the linear figure a bit more circular. This will be an advantage if we ever get back to crowded busy milongas, but at the same time we miss having a bit of runway to unleash our linear figures onto. Oh well… 🙂
The leader can now step back more often This is both a blessing and potentially a future curse. Blessing because now I can make full use of the small space and be able to apply my damage limitation floor craft by stepping back a couple of times or more. Potential curse because I may get used to the habit, and do it at my first proper milonga in some months time, to the probable consternation of the couple behind. Hmmm…
Carpet vs lino vs wood floor
We started lock down dancing on a fairly old carpet. Thin enough and hard wearing it was OK so long as I didn’t wear my tango shoes and used some modified indoor shoes with smooth leather soles. The disadvantage was in pivoting – more resistance, so it meant we had to use pivoting technique more often or risk twisted knees and ankles (which thankfully we never experienced). However in some ways this was an advantage too because it made us use our core muscles more, which improved our conditioning. What was do-able with a little effort on a carpet, became very easy on a nice smooth wooden dance floor.
Recently, after doing every other DIY project I could think of, I finally ran out of excuses not to lay a new floor in the lounge. Its only wood effect click-board, but the surface is a lot smoother than the carpet, so now pivoting is nice and straight-forward. Will we start loosing our core strength though?
As for lino, it is better than carpet, but perhaps less good as wooden floor. Most lino tile or sheet is design with a none slip surface, when first laid. If tiles have worn smooth a little that would be better, and if it’s all you have, it’s adequate for home tango.
How your tango changes in a reduced space environment
So to review, yes your tango will change dancing at home, but sometimes in a good way and you may have to learn to be more precise in your floor craft which will stand you in good stead. Your range of ability to use figures in tight spaces, relying on extra rotation in pivots to get you out of tight spaces will should also improve too.
If you are lucky enough to live in a mansion with a large space, none of this matters to you but in any case while we are still in lock down, even if you are not learning much new, I would recommend trying to make what you already know, as precise and elegant, while improving technique as much as possible.
So keep practising, but try not to smash that nice Ming vase stood in the corner, with a wild voleo… 🙂
In the previous post on Musicality in Tango, we looked at the mixed rhythmic/lyrical style of Osvaldo Pugliese. In this post we travel a bit further along the time line to look at Astor Piazolla and his music.
If you find early Piazolla from the 1940’s, then his orchestra will mainly be playing music composed by others, so the tunes although arranged by Piazolla, tend to stay faithful to the standard ABABC pattern and is predictable and danceable.
Take this example from 1947/48 ‘Todo Corazón’ writen by Julio De Caro, (lyrics by José María Ruffet, but no singer on this instrumental version)
Later on as Piazolla starts composing his own music, and Argentina comes under the rule of the military Junta in the 1950’s, by the 1980’s Piazzollas music begins to be less dance music and more concert style. Does this mean it’s not danceable?
Listen to this piece his famous instrumental, ‘Libertango’ first recorded in 1983.
There is drive and urgency in the tune pretty much all the way through, and it does follow a predictable dance pattern. Would you hear it in a traditional milonga? Probably not because this is ‘Nuevo’ tango not ‘Golden Age’. You may hear it at an Alternative/Nuevo milongas, and this tune has definitely been used in many modern tango show dances around the world.
There are other Piazzolla tangos from the 1980’s which do not follow the rhythmic pattern of traditional tangos at all. You would be unlikely to hear ‘Oblivion’, first recorded in 1984, in a traditional milonga. Take a listen now.
It is undoubtedly a hauntingly beautiful piece of music, one of Piazzollas finest works. However, it doesn’t have the rhythm needed to move a mass of dancers around a dance hall. Does that mean it’s not danceable. Well, no, but it probably requires a different approach.
No obvious rhythm does not mean there is not a musical beat. It’s just not emphasised in the music, but the musicians must be counting it in their heads at least.
For me, this tune is telling me to stay on the spot and express the hell out of it. So lots of circular movement, and with a large helping of ‘movement without moving’. For those of us lucky enough to have a partner in the pandemic ‘lock down’ (2020) to dance at home with, this could be an ideal tune to dance to, in a small lounge 🙂
So to finish up, Astor Piazolla undoubtedly kept tango music alive during the 1970’s- 1980’s, but it’s flavour had to change to the concert style and away from traditional dance style. He, and other nuevo musicians that followed him, was reviled by some in the dance community who thought he’d ‘appeased’ the ruling government instead of remaining faithful to traditional tango music. Other people may have thought he was just dealing with reality in order to keep himself and his orchestra in work.
Piazolla is quoted as saying
For me, tango was always for the ear rather than the feet.
so maybe this shift to concert style music was for him simply a natural evolution rather than being politically astute. You can decide…
In the previous post on Musicality in Tango, we looked at the rhythmical style of Juan D’Arienzo, and in this post we look at Osvaldo Pugliese. I finished off the previous post with the perhaps slightly unfair comment that Pugliese chucks in odd extra notes.
This is not quite accurate. He was of course a musician, composer, and arranger so his music was deliberate, but there is something about his style which sometimes confuses dancers. His music has both dramatic rhythm and also some lovely lyrical elements too, but the way he arranges some tunes seems to lead to the odd miss-step.
La Yumba – tango
Have a listen to this tune, the famous ‘La Yumba’ written by the man himself in 1946.
For the first 1 min 15 secs we have this driving rhythm which sticks to the first two sections of a standard ABABC pattern, and in each section we have 2 phrases. So far so good with an ‘AB’. Then the tune starts of with what sounds like a repeat of ‘A’ but which turns into an entirely different ‘new’ lyrical section and we don’t get back to section A until a minute later where we get back to a familiar refrain just before the finale.
However, even then, the last phrase is a mix of lyrical and rhythmical. The pattern is therefore more like A, B, A(phrase 1), C, A(phrase 1 ‘ish’). Why is this a problem? Well it isn’t too bad if you are already familiar with ‘La Yumba’, but if you remember what I said about predictability with the typical ABABC pattern, it means that if you never heard the tune before if would be difficult to dance through the whole tune first time out because of the unpredictability Pugliese throws in with the middle lyrical section where the rhythm disappears, reappears then disappears for a while.
Once you know the tune well enough it’s not a problem in the sense that you can chose to dance the rhythmic bits or the lyrical bit when they overlay, and by knowing the tune you can anticipate the ‘rhythm or lyrical’ sections when they do not overlay.
So Pugliese is not throwing odd note in to his tunes but he defiantly breaks the traditional tune pattern which makes it sound odd and ‘dance tricky’ the first time you hear it.
Ilusión Marina – Vals
So what about Vals? Well, Pugliese didn’t write many Vals so he arranged others for his orchestra such as this one, ‘Ilusión Marina’ written by Antonio Sureda in 1947, lyrics by Gerónimo Sureda, and sung by Alberto Morán.
It has the usual Pugliese drama, but it sticks to the traditional pattern for a tango vals. From the dance point of view it’s predictable if a little brisk.
There are one or two quirks if you listen hard, such as the lovely key change at 40 secs in, just before Alberto Morán begins to sing. Whether these were due to Puglieses arrangement or written into the original tune by the composer is unclear. Someone could find the composers music script and let me know?
Un Baile a Beneficio – Milonga
I love this tune. It’s just so jolly! Have a listen to ‘Un Baile a Beneficio’ written by Juan Carlos Caccaviello recorded in 1950, lyrics by José Alfredo Fernández, and sung by Jorge Vidal.
Typical pattern for a milonga tune so again, it’s predictable and danceable, phew! Not much more to say about the tune or structure other than every milonga should play it.
So my conclusion is that if a tune has been written by Osvaldo Pugliese then there may be a few quirks and he doesn’t always stick to the traditional pattern for tango composing, making it a little more tricky to dance to than usual.
For tunes not written by Pugliese but just arranged by him, he doesn’t seem to mess with the composers tune too much so you should be OK.
A final note: In the late 1950’s, early 1960’s, when the military took over the Argentine Government they cracked down on dancing in public. Osvaldo Pugliese bowed to the pressure and began to write and arrange concert tango which is not really written to dance to. He was joined by musicians like Astor Piazolla (the subject of my next post on musicality) in this ‘pivot’ towards concert music, as the tango dance became politicised. Both Pugliese and Piazolla were criticised by the dance community for ‘selling out’, but of course they wanted to continue earning a living so it was entirely understandable.
So in the next post on Musicality I look at both early Piazolla (danceable in the traditional sense) and later Piazolla (still danceable but missing a lot of typical tango cues, especially for beginners).
In the fifth part of this series I looked at a popular tune ‘Motivo Sentimental’ recorded by the Carlos Di Sarli Orchestra in 1944, and the lyrical style of Di Sarli in his hay day.
As I promised in Part 5 (a long time ago – thanks for the ‘nudge’ to get part 6 written, James 🙂 ), in this part I will look at a couple of tunes by the Juan D’Arienzo’s Orchestra and I will hopefully show you that you need to dance a little differently to the way you might dance to Di Sarli.
If you listen to ‘La Guardia Vieja’ (the Old Guard) style of tango tunes of the late 19th/early 20th Century, typified by orchestras such as Orchestra Tipica Victor, as well as early D’Arienzo, Enrique Rodriguez, and similar style orchestras, they all exhibit a rhythmical approach to their music. It would be difficult to imagine performing sweeping Lapiz, slow Secadas, or Giro movements to these type of tunes. In fact some of these tango movements hadn’t even been developed at that time.
Florida – Tango
Take a listen to this popular D’Arienzo instrumental version of ‘Florida‘ written by Raimundo Petillo. It has a strong beat giving the tune an urgency to ‘get on and walk’. Even when you hear the more lyrical sections indicating a chance for the followers to do something interesting, there is still a strong background beat which leaders often feel compelled to follow.
You have a strong piano sound as the pianist seemed to really plonk down hard on the keys, coupled with the choppy Bandonéon sound, all of which makes you want to walk (march even!). If you ever get chance to see ‘La Juan D’Arienzo Orchestra’ (the longest playing tango orchestra of all time and still touring), take a look at the orchestra make up. That big, strong sound is made up of four Bandonéons, four violins, plus the usual piano and bass. The orchestra has always been like this since the early days, and that is how Juan D’Arienzo got his unique sound. How do they get that strong choppy Bandonéon sound? They bounce the bellows of their instruments on their knees to create a stronger intake of air through the Bandonéon reeds, just at the beat. You have to hear it live to appreciate the power which that technique generates.
You should be able to hear the traditional ABABC pattern in the tune. It’s there and pretty clear, with repeating phrases in each section. Followers just about get something almost lyrical to work with at the end of the B sections and a little bit of a softer tinkly piano phrase in the C section, but otherwise we’re walking with rhythm pretty much the whole time. With D’Arienzo instrumentals you get little respite from this sense of urgency.
So how to dance this type of tune? Well if leaders are going to mostly walk, there is the obvious stepping beat, plus lots of opportunity for contra-beat reboté. Any decorations for followers will have to be swift and they should assume perhaps that their leader is going to walk at any time in the tune, and it is probably safer to limit decorations to foot/heel tapping without crossing the feet. As stated, there are just a couple of phrases at the end of sections B which might give the opportunity for movement on the spot, but they don’t last long.
Now compare that tune to the first part of the 1947 song ‘Lenguas de Fuego‘ with singer Armando Laborde, written by Juan D’Arienzo and Héctor Varela, lyrics by Carlos Waiss.
It starts off in a very ‘un-D’Arienzo’ way (the influence of Héctor Varela’s co-composition perhaps?) and during section A phrase 1 you might be fooled into thinking D’Arienzo had suddenly gone all soft and lyrical – Nope! By the start of section B the D’Arienzo sound makes it’s comeback. However you have a bit more to work with if you’re not too fond of purely rhythmic tunes. You also get chance to dance to Armando Labordes refrain when he starts to sing. That makes this D’Arienzo tune a little less taxing to dance to.
In both cases (and most other recordings) D’Arienzo stays faithful to the typical tango tune patterns and so there are no suprises for the dancers and it’s relatively easy to anticipate the phrase endings and section endings even when you’ve never hear a particular tune before.
On a final note about tangos, D’Arienzo arrangements tend to have very brisk and twiddly Bandonéon phrases stuck in them (especially in the finalé section). How on earth do you dance these? Well, if you are an excellent dancer with ‘fast muscle twitch’, the answer is any way you like. 🙂 For those of us who can’t quite keep up with those eighth/sixteenth notes, my advice is not to try match the rapid melodies. Stick closer to the main stepping beat and contra-beats. I have often seen people try to skip along with fast feet, and although you and your partner may find it fun trying (and often failing mainly due to a poor embrace) to stick to the super fast melody, it don’t look so great as you loose sync and timing. With friends it’s good for a laugh, but otherwise leave it to the show dancers 🙂
Bolada de Aficionado – Milonga
As you would expect given the rhythmical nature of his tangos, D’Arienza has recorded some of the most memorable and popular milonga tunes. A very typical example is the popular 1941 recording of ‘Bolada de Aficionado‘, written by Ángel Villoldo, which is more of a brisk canter than a fast walk.
Again D’Arienzo sticks faithfully to the ABABC pattern and you could use the same rhythmical walking patterns, box steps, change of weight, and reboté as you would with any of his tangos, with a little added traspié. Just need to be a little faster and have more ‘milonguero’ verve maybe… 🙂
Tan sólo tú – Vals
Juan D’Arienzo has a huge back catalogue of recordings over his long career and the vast majority are tango and milonga tunes, but he did record a few vals tunes. Does he stick to his choppy urgent style with a vals? Not really although you can always hear a strong ‘om pa pa’ rhythm supporting the tune. D’Arienzo vals tunes can be interpreted in dance as any other vals. Have a listen to the 1942 version of ‘Tan sólo tú‘ with singer Héctor Mauré, written by Servando Félix Domínguez, lyrics by Héctor Marcó.
Again the typical ABABC pattern is still there, along with the strong underlying beat and the Bandonéon twiddly bits making the tune definitely D’Arienzo. However there is the overlying lyrical feel, along with the singer Héctor Mauré, to base your musicality on as well as the rhythm.
In this part of the series we have introduced the rhythmical tunes of Juan D’Arienzo which need a different approach to dancing than the lyrical Di Sarli we looked at last time.
Next time we’ll examine Osvaldo Pugliese. This is an orchestral arranger and leader who definitely decided to play with the regular tango pattern and go a little ‘off piste’. Some dancers claim that Pugliese is hard to dance to, simply because he throws in extra notes (or misses them out) occasionally. Tricky…