One of my favourite things to do is go dancing the Argentine Tango. I was watching Strictly Come Dancing with Tim sometime in late 2006 and we had liked or disliked various dances in turn, not always in agreement. But on this particular night we saw Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace dance a demonstration of the Argentine Tango. We immediately agreed that if we were to learn one dance, that was the one for us!
That Christmas, we met up with my family and my little sister Elizabeth heard us mention that we were interested; it turned out that she had just started to learn it herself. So that was our New Year’s Resolution sorted out. We started dancing lessons with Tango Yorkshire.
We have not been able to go every week, but we have progressed and when we can we like to go to workshops, practicas, milongas, tea parties and balls. Sometimes we try to get our friends to try the basics at regular parties, with variable success!
Vincent and Flavia dance a stage version of the Argentine tango, which has many forms from the different eras and fashions that it has survived since the 1890’s. They do incorporate these stages, but still dance them with lifts and similar that are not strictly part of the tango.
Tango grew out of candombe, an African music and dance style taken to Argentina by free Africans who went there as miners and cowboys. It took in the influence of many European social dances such as the waltz, from Polish, German, Italian and French immigrants to Argentina. The music grew out of the instruments available, which is where the bandoneon comes in – the fearsomely difficult version of the accordion that features in tango was originally designed as a simple alternative to an organ in churches!
The styles include waltz, salon, milonga, canyengue, viejo (old), nuevo (new) and there are jazz versions too. Milonga came from the style one had to adopt while the ladies were wearing skirts that were tight at the knees, apparently, and the word can mean the tango style, a tango ball and milonguero or milonguera can refer to the dancers, as well as the descriptive tanguero/a.
There is a very well-defined social culture to the dancing, which starts with the cabaceo – where a man and a woman meet via their gaze across the dancefloor. Nothing is said; that is a contract to dance between them, and he must then collect her as suavely as possible! The woman is the follower – the man is the leader. All her moves are a reaction to his movements, and he choreographs as they go. It is not a planned routine. The couple will dance for a set of dances, usually three or four of the same musical type, known as a tanda. A short interlude of music known as the cortina (curtain, in Spanish) tells them when the tanda is over. If they wish to continue they will, but this is point at which they can swap and dance with someone else. The man is supposed to escort the woman back to her seat.
The dancers are in an embrace throughout the music – breaking the embrace is rare in true tango, unlike the stage versions with lifts, posturing, racy moves etc. The embrace is sometimes dictated by the type of music or tango being danced, but should accommodate the follower’s comfort.
The final piece of the dance is the intention, but it is the most important. When a leader is really good, his movements need only be very subtle but they become so clear that it seems that his lead is through his breathing. This takes years to achieve, or a very confident and well-poised leader! It feels so good that it is described as the soul of the dance, or the duende, a word that flamenco dancers will recognise. A sort of trance-like lift of the heart.