I wrote a lengthy piece about lessons from Buenos Aires, but I realised there’s another, slightly more amorphous, one.
It’s about role models …
If you think of the ‘ideals’ to which we’re exposed as tango students, there are really two. First, demonstration dances by our own teachers. Second, performances in the videos we watch on YouTube.
Both have little in common with social dancing. I mean, sure, some people dance in milongas like they think they’re giving a performance, but those aren’t generally the people you want to emulate. Most often, they are the couple dancing with no regard for anyone around them, and the looks they attract are not admiring ones.
Even teachers whose style I love dance very differently in performances and demos than they do in milongas. My fellow Tango Space students will be familiar with Pablo and Anne’s performances, for example. I love their dancing. It’s mostly very simple and slow. But, when giving a demo, it’s also very big. Lots of walking. Big side-steps. Things you simply can’t do in most milongas.
Watch them dance in a milonga, and it’s very different. Much smaller. Much more contained. Yet it’s that former image which had long stuck in my mind as the ideal to which I aspired.
That changed in BsAs.
What I wanted to emulate were not the showy dancers – who were very much in a minority – but the locals who were dancing simply but with fantastic musicality. Half of it was that they knew the music incredibly well. There was no element in the music that went unacknowledged in the dance.
The other half was the effortlessness with which they could move in any direction and at any scale, as the ronda permitted. Time and time again, I saw them begin a movement in one direction, then simply change it when it was blocked, without any loss of musical expression. I saw larger steps become smaller ones, small steps become tiny ones, tiny ones become almost imperceptible ones, as things got more crowded.
As I said before:
I didn’t once see anything in a BsAs milonga that looked like any kind of step sequence beyond giros and (usually very small) ocho cortados.
Don’t misunderstand me: I saw some impressive giros for sure! Fast ones with sacadas all over the place, and feet flying. But when you look closely, it’s actually a remarkably small set of steps, it’s simply that their technique is jaw-droopingly good, so it flows perfectly. If I ever want to be a tenth as good as the best dancers I saw in milongas, it’s technique I need, not steps.
And those ‘feet flying’ giros were very much the exception. The vast, vast majority of the dance I saw there was calm and contained.
That’s now my ideal. Those dancers are my role models now.