with Graham and Nathalie
For those of you not familiar with the traditional tango way of doing things, tandas are groups of tracks played together that share a common rhythmic structure, orchestra, or style. It is usual for people to dance together for the duration of a tanda, then swap partners at the end of the tanda which is signified by a 'cortina' (curtain) of so-called "undanceable" music. This is the way that most traditional milongas are organised and the only way that a lot of tango dancers have ever experienced tango. At milongas that follow the rules of tango to the letter, you are supposed to only dance with someone for one tanda per event or else you may be considered to be a fixed couple, and breaking a tanda in the middle to dance with someone else is out of the question.
But there is another way of doing things, and many Neolongas (milongas based around neotango and alternative tango music) are eschewing the concept of tandas altogether and playing track after track without a break.
For dancers who have come to tango from other styles such as Salsa, Kizomba, or LeRoc, this is completely normal. No salsa DJ would consider clearing the floor every three or four tracks just so they can change the tone of the music or play something at a different speed. They seamlessly blend the music together, working with the mood of the dancers to choose tracks that will lift and inspire them throughout the evening, until everyone eventually goes home at the end, exhausted and happy. It makes sense; you come to a dance evening to dance, not to listen to music that exists purely to hurry you off the dance floor . So why not do this in tango too?
There really is no good reason, but for dancers that come from a traditional background this can be confusing. They are so used to basing their dance plans around tandas that they feel out of their depth when faced with a complete evening of music with no breaks and no structure. You hear dancers say that they have no idea how long they should continue to dance with someone, that they don't know when it's okay to ask someone new, and that they can feel 'stuck' on the dance floor as there is no cortina to tell them when to come off.
I do sort of get this, as if you have spent your entire tango life working in one way and then you walk into a venue that does things completely differently it might mess with your mind a bit. But a lot of tango dancers also dance other styles, and yet you rarely hear anyone say that what Salsa (for example) really needs is tandas. They instinctively know that other styles work best with a continuous flow of music throughout the evening. So why can't it be the same for tango?
I came to tango through a very non-traditional route, so tandas were something I discovered a long way into my tango journey and something that never really made sense to me. All I want from a dance evening is for the DJ or band to play a selection of music that I like or that challenges me, and to get as much or as little dancing in as I feel like at the time. I don't want the evening parcelled up into neat little packages, as the chance that the cortinas will happen at the exact time I want breaks is basically zero. I want to dance - or not dance - to my schedule, and to be able to enter and leave the floor whenever I like, and I know that a lot of people who come to tango without all the traditional background feel the same. So that's what I do.
So if you come to one of my events, don't expect to hear any cortinas. Just dance for as much or as little of the evening as you want, and choose the tracks you want to dance to based on whether you and your chosen partner like them individually, not just because they are part of a group of similar stuff that you may or may not like. It's liberating.
With all the #neotango and #tangounderground branding that we are posting these days, a question I keep getting asked is "What is Neotango, and how different is it to traditional tango?" It's a fair question, given that we are trying to encourage people to make the move from traditional events and join us at a neolonga as for all they know it might be as different as salsa or LeRoc to what they know as 'tango'. Have we changed it in any way? Is it a modern version of the dance that had been 'fused' with another style to create something different? Will they even know how to do it?
The first and most important thing to get across to people new to Neotango is that it is exactly the same dance as they would learn at even the most traditional of classes. It follows all the same rules, has the same concepts and ideas as traditional, and is 100% compatible between dancers from all styles. In short, Neotango is just the same as traditional tango.
"So why call it something else? What is 'Neo' about Neotango?"
If what you like about traditional tango and its associated events are the rules and traditions then Neotango is probably not for you. A Neotango event may not have the music in tandas; there will be no cabeceos or miradas; traditional music will be rare or non-existent; anyone will ask anyone to dance. Neotango is as much about breaking down the rules and traditions around tango as it is about dancing in a different way. It's about taking the dance we know and love, and moving it into a world of modern music and modern attitudes to see where it can go next. It is a natural stage in the evolution of a dance style that has followed the changes and twists in popular dance music, from its earliest origins to the point where someone decided that "this is as far as it can go".
"In other words, Neotango is exactly the same as traditional, but with different music?"
Well... yes. And no.
The style of a dance comes as much from the music you are dancing to as it does from the steps and techniques used. Traditional tango music follows a fairly strict set of rhythms and structures, and often features the same group of instruments. The tracks used are all well known and fit under the headings of vals, milonga, or tango, and individual orchestras have known characteristics in the way they play or adapt certain pieces of music.
At a neotango event, however, you could find yourself dancing to anything. From classical to hip-hop, metal to electronica, nothing is off the table. A good neotango DJ will find music from all different genres and create a playlist or mix that will take you on a dance exploration. Tracks will work well for tango without being constrained by the traditional styles and instruments, so rather than taking your cues from the violin and the bandoneon, you may find yourself following the electric guitar and the synthesiser.
This may not sound as though it would make much of a difference to the way you dance, but small changes can have significant effects. Glenn Miller created a unique sound for his band in the 1940s by moving the clarinets to the frontline and backing them up with harmonised saxophones. It was the same instruments that everyone else had been using, but by putting them in a different order he redefined the sound of the big band and paved the way for a new generation of music.
In a similar way, tango danced to modern non-tango music is the same dance as it has always been with the same techniques and the same connection between partners. But the new music gives it something extra, a dynamic approach and flexibility that can often be missing with traditional music. Rhythms are more varied, there are as many different combinations of instruments as you can imagine, and the melody is constrained only by the composer's imagination. Your dancing can become more improvised, more 'of the moment' and less based on familiar patterns, as the musical landscape where you dance is no longer just a small subset of what is available.
So open your mind to new music and see where it takes you.
You may be very pleasantly surprised.
As most people probably know by now, when I started teaching tango at Jivebeat it was almost entirely by accident. A random decision to give the regulars at Sevenoaks a tango taster class one evening (you can read about that here) soon became a regular feature, and pretty soon more people were finding us because of the tango than were finding us for modern jive. This was not a problem for us as we love teaching both, but after a few months we started to realise that people were being confused by the name. Tango at Jivebeat...? Is it really tango? Is it "modern jive in a tango style"? How can modern jive and tango be even slightly compatible?
We hadn't thought of this, as since we knew what we were doing we just assumed everyone else would as well. Jive and tango are two separate classes that happen one after the other, and although the music we play varies from week to week we always try to get at least a few crossover tracks into the playlist so people can choose what they want to dance even in the same track. It made sense to us, but a couple of months ago when we were talking to people who had been actively looking for tango classes but who had skimmed over Jivebeat purely because of the name, we realised it was time to make a few changes.
And so Tango Synthesis was born.
If you already come to Jivebeat for our regular classes or X-Tango Milongas then other than a few logo changes you probably won't notice a lot of difference. Tango Synthesis is made up of all the same people as Jivebeat, with the same class format and no plans to split things up any differently to the way they are organised now. Membership, the loyalty scheme, prepayments, and everything else will continue to be run under the Jivebeat name, but advertising and branding of our tango classes and events will change.
Tango content will start to move onto the Tango Synthesis website, but for now it will continue to be on the Jivebeat site as well so Jivebeat remains the one-stop-shop for everything we do. This may change in a few months though as everyone gets used to the new branding, so if tango interests you then start finding the Tango Synthesis website, our pages on Facebook, and any other social media accounts that we may announce.
Welcome to Tango Synthesis! The new home for Jivebeat Tango.
It has been a long while coming, but we have finally announced our first X-Tango Alternative Milonga, and it's going to be on the 23rd March 2018 in Sevenoaks, in place of our usual weekly class. But what do we mean by X-Tango? What is the difference between that and regular Argentine Tango? And why are we calling the milonga alternative?
The Argentine Tango we dance and teach at Jivebeat is the same Argentine Tango that you will find anywhere else. Yes, if you come to our class you may find that we put the emphasis in different places to where you might expect, and just like everyone else who teaches tango we have developed our own teaching style. But the dance itself is the same dance you will learn in Buenos Aires, Brighton, Bromley, or Bangalore, no matter how traditional or nuevo (modern) your class might be.
The way we teach and promote tango is definitely more 'nuevo' than traditional, and this is reflected in the music we use in our classes. There is a strong tradition in tango that you should primarily dance it to music especially written for that purpose, and preferably music written and released in the Golden Age (from around 1935-1952) by a very select group of orchestras. There is nothing wrong with this at all, and it creates an atmosphere that is highly evocative of the traditional tango clubs that formed in that time. But we believe tango is a dance that also deserves to be enjoyed and experienced with as wide a range of music as possible, so the music we play at our classes and our events leans in a rather different direction.
We play blues, jazz, popular, electronica, metal, and no doubt many other genres too... if the track works for tango then we play it. In fact about the only style we rarely play is traditional tango music from Argentina. This musical mixture means that we sometimes see people dancing other styles at the same time as most people are dancing tango, as some tracks are suitable for more than one flavour of dance. LeRoc, ballroom, traditional jive... we have seen them all in the same room as people dancing tango. And that's more than fine by us!
So welcome to our first X-Tango Alternative Milonga. We could have called it a Neotango or Nuevo Tango event, but as the jury is still out on whether they are general terms or are used to refer to something specific in tango history, we thought we would come up with something a bit different. We tried a few names, and 'X-Tango' seemed the most popular. So it stuck.
If you like tango and want to dance it to something a bit more recent or 'up to date' than usual, then come to Jivebeat on the 23rd!
Whenever you think about dance, you think of footwork. There are basic steps that define the character of every type of dance, from the simple “step back, then in” of LeRoc, to the “forward, side, together” of waltz or the “one, two, three-and-four” of latin. The steps are the first stage in learning a new dance. You begin by learning the timing and how to position your feet in the correct places, then when you’ve got the hang of that you start to concentrate on where to put your body to improve balance, posture, and styling and make the dance begin to flow.
But Argentine Tango doesn’t have any of that. It is that strangest of things, a dance without steps.
When you first start to learn the tango the temptation is to follow the steps that the teacher is doing and try to copy the way his or her feet are moving around the floor. This is a natural way of looking at it especially if you have done any other dancing before, but it is not how tango works. With tango the most important element is the upper body connection, the invisible link between the leader’s and follower’s chests that - if done correctly - means the feet will move in the right direction as a consequence of the movement. It is this chest connection that most new tango dancers find the hardest to master, partly because the isolation or dissociation needed to be able to rotate your upper body independently of your hips is not something we naturally do and needs to be learned, but mostly because they spend all their time trying to work out where the feet should go and try to dance whilst looking down.
Tango is a dance of connection, not of steps. It is a bit of an over-simplification, but you could start by picturing all of the dance happening from the waist-upwards, and the feet just moving around to keep you from falling over. The lead in tango comes not from the feet but from the chest, with the leader moving his or her chest in the direction they want the follower to go, and the follower responding by moving their chest in the same direction whilst maintaining as close a connection to their leader as is physically possible.
This is easy to say, but it can be confusing. When you watch tango danced by experienced dancers, whether on the stage or just at a local social dance event, you will see a lot of footwork. Small detailed rock-steps, sweeps and pushes of all sizes, the famous tango hook or ‘gancho’, and many other classic elements all make an appearance somewhere in the dance, and beginners point and say “See… footwork! I told you there were steps…”
But all of those things happen as a consequence of the chest connection. The leader is not thinking about where his or her partner’s feet are going to be, but where their weight, balance, and chest must be to maintain the connection. Yes, there are rules and styling techniques involved for both leader and follower to make the dance look like a dance rather than just two people wandering around the floor, but the position of the feet and the centre of balance is all controlled by the upper body connection.
So how does this affect you in your class? Tango is usually taught using short sequences of movements that include elements with steps in them, and beginners (and some more experienced dancers) often make the mistake of thinking of them as steps that need to be learned. But these are just ways of teaching you about the chest connection, they are tools for you to learn how weight, connection, and balance all affect you and your partner’s position.
Learn the sequences and practise the routines, but remember that their real purpose is to show you how the chest connection makes the dance, and how the feet are just a consequence of where your bodies are and where your weight is at any moment.
When you’ve got the hang of that, then you can add the styling!
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