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Why do beginners prefer Tango Nuevo?

Why do beginners prefer Tango Nuevo?

When I taught Tango every weekend, it surprised and even slightly annoyed me that many of my class seemed not to enjoy the classic Tangos I would use. The same people and often asked for Tango Nuevo tracks or even non-Tango to be played at Milongas that I DJ’d for. One other thing I saw left me amazed. The first thing I used to do in a class of raw beginners was to get them, as individuals, to walk round the room to a classic tango track. So many people have a problem walking normally to music. Adults that had been walking perfectly freely for 20 years or more, suddenly appeared to need to check that the floor was not shifting beneath them. It was as if we had suddenly been transported onto the deck of a trawler in the Atlantic.

I think the problem has at its basis, self-consciousness. Instead of listening to the music and reacting naturally to it, the pupils were thinking exclusively of themselves. Walking, an act they had achieved without thought, was now being messed up by self analysis. My pupils seemed quite unable to walk to the beat and they adopted postures that you would never see in pedestrians in the high street. Some of them bounced up and down and quite a few seemed to imagine that walking was done toe first, not heel first. My first challenge was to get them to relax and imagine that they were indeed on their way to the shops and that as they entered the town square, they heard a band playing.

The next step was to get couples to walk hand in hand and in step. Here was a major breakthrough. Each member of the couple now had someone else to think about than themselves. The image I would get them to conjure up was that they were walking on a seaside promenade with a loved one and a band was playing on the bandstand. Side to side cuddle hold worked even better. Of course, when we tried to walk in an embrace, we had to deal with another problem altogether but at least we had established some sort of rhythm awareness. There are some people with no sense of rhythm but in my experience, very few.

I believe that we have changed our minds with a common daily diet of pop music and while there is nothing wrong with that, it makes life harder for us when we start to learn Tango. Pop music is very simplistically rhythmic because of the drums. I’m not just talking about Heavy Metal. Tango is another thing, musically, altogether. Tango bands have no drums. The pulse is created by the ‘chan-chan’ of the bandoneons and the percussiveness of the piano. It can be very subtle. Tango Nuevo, as exemplified by The Gotan Project, is quite crude. You might say that the beat is what makes the band special. I went to one of their live performances and after a while, left the auditorium to listen from the relative safety of the theatre foyer. The tunes were audible there and it made health and safety sense too. When I first heard them on their very first hit CD, I was very excited by them but seeing them live ruined that for me. At home, I had volume control. Live, they were bad enough to cure me for life.

Some of the classic Tango tracks are very rhythmic. Juan D’Arienzo was not known as ‘El Rey de Compas’ (The King of the Beat) for nothing. Even those tracks caused evident problems for my beginners. As for Biagi with his love of the offbeat….well!

One universal finding with beginners was that they often wanted to perform exotic figures, long before they had learned to walk elegantly in the arms of someone else and long, long before they got to really know the music. They seemed to be able to spend hours honing some ridiculous and anti-social act and, presumably fired up by stage Tango performances, seemed to feel their dancing was improved by wearing a hat, even when the rain wasn’t coming through the roof and of course the black and white correspondent shoes. Yes, I did it too! Didn’t improve my dancing either but I felt good. The worst part of all this displacement activity- the ganchos and the bizarre posturing-was that the real thing was not achieved. What is that? The ability to lead and follow competently in the arms of any partner, elegantly and in perfect balance.

At a Milonga, what we need is to relate to the music and concentrate on the man or woman in our embrace. The music is subtle; it is full of nuances that inspire us to dance in a particular way. We cannot do that if we don’t understand the music. Some would say that we really cannot be fully free to improvise unless we know the track we are dancing to intimately. I agree with that sentiment, though there are great similarities in the form of almost all Tangos that allow you to predict how they flow. Because there is so much to absorb in a Tango track, it is not possible for a beginner to combine all that with the intricacies of learning figures. Yet, that is what we expect them to do. It must be a great deal easier for Argentinians, hearing Tangos in the media all their lives.

So many beginners, then, come to Tango for the dance, the socialising and the performance but few have any idea of the structure of the music and the way it can move you. They rarely know the names of the tunes, rarely the meaning of the lyrics. How then can they truly feel Tango at its deepest and most satisfying? So many people I see dancing Tango have merely, at long last, found the beat in the music and could do the same movements to a metronome. They often perform series of learned cliched manoeuvres, irrespective of the musical cues. There is so much more to Tango than that.

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