Homogenized tango

I’ve been viewing this year’s Mundial de Baile rounds of salon tango.  The couples are well-dressed, attractive, slim, and trained dancers.  They all use a wide arm hold, have erect posture, long smooth strides, and execute turns and adornments with ease.  They come from different cities and countries, but they all basically look and dance the same.  No one in a group of ten stands out to me over another; they have been homogenized.  Not only do they all dance the same, they dance the same way to every orchestra.  They are performing for the judges rather than dancing a feeling for themselves.  Afterall, there is a title and handsome prize at stake.  

The tango I know and love is different with every partner.  I go to the milonga not knowing with whom I will dance that day or the orchestra.  One thing I do know is that our dance will be improvised in that moment for mutual pleasure.  I surrender to my partner and the music.  I don’t think about my feet or if someone is watching us.  That’s not why I dance tango.

There was a time when personal style was admired in the milongas.  All the milongueros who learned as teenagers created their own personal styles, and they remain true to them today.  A tango with Miguel Angel Balbi is unique from one with Roberto Angel Pujol.  Both have their own personal styles, dance differently to each orchestra and can dance well with any woman.  A milonguero gets bored dancing with only one woman.

Personal style and feeling have been thrown by the wayside and replaced with cookie cutter clones who follow what is pronounced as tango to the world and sold as the standard.  Tango Argentino is being standardized like other forms of ballroom tango known as International Standard and American Style.  Judges of those competitions dictate how those styles should be danced.  This is already happening for Tango Argentino in Buenos Aires.  The champions each year are trained by the same teachers.  Competitors are savvy enough to know they have to study with certain teachers in order to have any chance at the title.

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13 Responses to “Homogenized tango”

  1. tangonorthcounty Says:

    So pretty, so polished, so… sterile?

  2. Chris, UK Says:

    “The champions each year are trained by the same teachers. “

    Which teachers?

  3. Homero Montalvo Says:

    These cookie cutters are not dancing, they are performing, a big difference. It won’t matter what rhythm they dance to, they all look the same if all they have learned is steps but don’t have the feel or passion of that particular music.
    Homero

  4. jantango Says:

    It’s no secret that the champions for the past few years were coached by either Carlos Perez and Rosa Forte or Mario Morales. http://www.mariomorales.com.ar

  5. jantango Says:

    I agree completely with you Homero. They don’t feel the music, they merely do the steps.

  6. Mari Says:

    I agree that the performances, while beautiful and accomplished, seem a little cold from just watching a video. But this homogenized quality that you talk about makes me wonder if some of that is because whenever anyone dares to divert from the (very loosely) agreed upon aesthetic, the insults fly. “Her arm is too low!” “He shuffles his feet!” or conversely, “His feet are too high!” etc. etc. etc. In this age of YouTube where anyone and everyone can be an armchair tango judge, it’s no wonder no one wants to take any chances. The only way to minimize the risk of bitter criticism, is to follow the formula that works.

    Performances are exactly that – performances. When the dancers show too much emotion – they’re criticized for not being serious (or, ironically, professional) enough. If they don’t show enough emotion then they’re robotic and cold. If I were performing I think I would probably hear and feel my own racing heart more immediately than the music. I would be very nervous and one needs to be relaxed to really fall into the music. But I’m only human. And they’re only human competing in a contest of an aesthetic that seems almost impossible to judge and yet these contests are held every year. I would ask, if you don’t tend to like contest performances, or what they represent, why watch them at all?

  7. jantango Says:

    The salon tango rounds were boring because they looked like wind-up dolls all doing the same thing. I found them more interesting nine years ago when they began and there were individual styles.

    The stage tango finals were spectacular which I viewed on television rather than going to Luna Park. I was holding my breath and cheering many performances. The choreographies and work that went into them was incredible. If stage performers can’t transmit their passion, they lose their audience. All of the finalists except one succeeded. The winners of the European competition were going through the motions without any emotion.

    I know dancers who participate in the tango salon competition, so I go for that reason. I used to film and report on Tango-L. The 2-1/2 hour program with the competition and tribute to Maria Nieves was fabulous.

    Tango is an important part of my life. I dance it, I listen to it, I write about it, and I watch others dance it.

  8. Mark Says:

    I know one couple was just dancing 🙂
    We had no ambitions or expectations of winning or even making the semifinals. It was just for fun and for the experience, documented at http://walkjivefly.com/2010/08/tango-world-cup/

  9. Mika Says:

    What do you expect from a competition? I guess the couples participate just for self-marketing.

  10. Frank Says:

    I am still not sure why someone would bring up that subject. To compare dancers on a championship with the ones who are dancing in a milonga makes no sense at all. And complaining that they would just dance for the judges sounds a bit silly for me. For whom else they would dance in such a moment.
    I have seen the semifinals and the finals and to propose they look all the same is just not correct. There have been lots of differences in style in timing in they way they expressed themselfe. And I was so happy to see all these very good dancers who put lots of energy and time in learning about that great dance.
    And for beeing honest complaining that they differ too less for me sounds more as an excuse to make them worse as they are. It is quiet logic that if it comes to high level performance the differences are much harder to recognize (it is the case in every dance and sport I would know of).
    And I am sure it would be a pleasure to dance with on of them in a milonga.

  11. jantango Says:

    Well, that’s a very good question. I guess I expect to see tango danced the way it has been danced for many years in the milongas. Unfortunately, the government is taking advantage of a product and marketing it in order to bring tourism to the city. The champions of tango salon become performers and teachers who train more exhibition dancers. Salon tango is disappearing in Buenos Aires along with the milongueros.

  12. jantango Says:

    Frank,
    The rules for the salon tango championship are based on how tango is danced in the milongas, i.e., following the line of dance (ronda), keeping feet on the floor, etc. Those who enter have more experience in the milongas than on the stage. Those who dance tango in the milongas dance for themselves; those who perform on stage dance for the audience. There shouldn’t be any problem dancing for oneself in a competition–you dance who you are.
    I merely gave my opinion about this year’s qualifying rounds which I observed. All the dancers looked the same because they have all studied abroad with the same teachers who are training them to be clones. Tango is losing its individuality — it is homogenized. As far as the winners of tango salon are concerned, he is too young and inexperienced for the title, and she needs help with her feet.
    I know I would never have an opportunity to dance with any of those competitors, because they only dance with their partners.

  13. jade Says:

    Nowadays, all the milongas have an exhibicion in the middle of the night. How long has this tradition lasted?

    I’ve seen old clips of milongueros and milongueras back in the day doing performances at milongas…and they look like they are having the time of their lives showing off while the crowd goes wild. Many milongueros seem to be known for showing off special steps that they invented.

    So isn’t dancing tango for others actually an old tradition?

    I guess dancing for others v. dancing for oneself is a different issue than all the steps being homogenized though.

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