Pianist and scholar Kacey Link teamed up with composer and professor Kristin Wendland to co-author Tracing Tangueros, the first comprehensive, English-language foundational study on Argentine tango. The book “offers an inside view of Argentine tango music in the context of the growth and development of the art form’s instrumental and stylistic innovations. It traces tango’s historical and stylistic musical trajectory in Argentina, beginning with the guardia nueva’s crystallization of the genre in the 1920s, moving through tango’s Golden Age (1932–1955), and culminating with the “Music of Buenos Aires” today. Through the transmission, discussion, examination, and analysis of scores, manuals of style, archival audio/video recordings, and live video footage of performances and demonstrations, the book frames and defines Argentine tango music as a distinct expression possessing its own musical legacy and characteristic musical elements.” #womenshistorymonth
Dancer and choreographer Geraldine Rojas is probably best known for her incredible interpretive range, distinctive spry footwork and years-long collaboration with dancer Javier Rodríguez. As a contemporary dancer, she ushered in a new era for tangueras, which encompassed elegance, speed and rich musicality. Though introduced to tango as a child, Rojas began studying the dance as a teenager under the tutelage of her father Jorge Daniel Dispari and mother Maria “La Turca” del Carmen, who partnered with the famed milonguero Don Carlos Alberto Esteves a.k.a. “Petroleo.” In 2002, Rojas appeared in Robert Duvall’s film Assassination Tango (in a practice with Rodríguez and a final performance with Pablo Verón). Today, she continues to perform internationally with her husband and creative partner Ezequiel Paludi. Here’s Geraldine Rojas performing Di Sarli’s Corazón featuring Roberto Rufino on vocals. #womenshistorymonth
Ada Falcón, one of the best-known female tango protagonists, enjoyed a career in music, film and radio in the 1920s and 1930s. As small children, Falcón and her two sisters performed vaudeville shows under their mother’s management. At age 5, Falcon became known as La Joyita Argentina “The Little Argentine Gem” and at 13, appeared in her first film. During her career, she collaborated with Osvaldo Fresedo, and Enrique Delfino, however she’s celebrated for her years-long work and not-so-secret affair with Francisco Canaro that lasted until 1938. Among Falcón’s many admirers were singer Carlos Gardel and composer Enrique Discepolo who would attend her studio recordings just to hear her sing. She recorded over 200 songs before disappearing from the public eye in the early 1940s. Here’s Falcón’s “Yo no sé qué me han hecho tus ojos” (I don’t know know what your eyes have done to me), a line attributed to Canaro and/or Gardel who were both smitten by her captivating green eyes. #womenshistorymonth
Singer, lyricist and composer, Mercedes Simone grew up in La Plata, a city just outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and began singing as a child. While working in a print shop as a teen, she met, and eventually married, guitarist and singer Pablo Rodriguez. On the advice of Alfredo Pelaia, a music colleague, Simone’s husband began including her in his shows, which launched her professional career in 1926. Simone went on to record nearly 250 songs on popular record labels and performed extensively in theaters, on radio and throughout Latin America. In 1937, the magazine Sintonía described her songs as “the guts of the people from every place in the country.” #womenshistorymonth
Happy Women’s History Month! This March, we’ll highlight the myriad contributions of female tangueros, including singers, musicians, composers, lyricists and of course, dancers. We kick off with singer Adriana Varela, who began her career in rock before being ‘discovered’ by the legendary Roberto Goyeneche. Varela performs internationally, has recorded over a dozen albums and has collaborated with artists as diverse as Bajofondo Tango Club, guitarist Estaban Morgado, and singer-songwriter Litto Nebbia. Here’s Varela performing Malevaje. #womenshistorymonth
“For me and the people with whom I adore to dance, the music is absolutely key, essential, absolutely impossible to separate from the dance itself. It’s not just some initial inspiration; the intricacies and interplay within the music itself are the whole lifeblood of the dance. You are not just using the music as a background to your movement, or a structure to embellish on. You are responding to the music, becoming involved in the music, making choices every second about which parts of the music you wish to highlight or play down or even contradict. Sometimes it is as if your feet or your heart or the movement of your body becomes another instrument, adding a little more music. Perhaps another rhythm with the feet, perhaps a deepening of the sweetness of the melody with the way you move your leg or torso…
As a dancer, I am answering and expanding the music into the spatial and visual dimensions. I am also expanding the connection that I have with my partner into the music, and expanding the connection with the music to include my partner.”
– Hyla Dickinson via Very Tango Store
Daoist philosophy contains the principle of wu-wei, which is often erroneously translated as “nonaction” or “no action.” Wu-wei is better translated as “act naturally,” “effortless action,” or “nonwillful action.” Alan Watts described it as “not forcing.” Over the past six months, I’ve found his concept useful in both leading and following, particularly in creating smooth transitions by yielding to the unique particularities of each dancer’s body.
Richard Powers provides a lovely description of what I’d like to call “wu-wei leading”:
“The best dancers now know that a part of great leading is following. I prefer the term tracking. After leading a move, Leads track their partners’ movement and stay with them, perceptive and responsive to their situation, watching where their partners are going, where their feet are, where their momentum is heading, and which subsequent step can flow smoothly from their current step. Leads know and care what is comfortable for their partners, what is pleasurable or fun. Good Leads dance for their partners’ ability and comfort.
Good Leads clearly suggest an option, which is different from controlling their partners. They propose, not prescribe, a certain way of moving. If their partners don’t go with their proposal (do not ‘follow’), they refrain from exerting more power to force partners to accept the proposal.
And as with the Follow role, the aware Lead also enjoys the flow state of relaxed responsiveness. Both roles benefit by paying highly active attention to possibilities. Both remain flexible, constantly adapting to their partner.
As we dance, we constantly discover new opportunities, which open doors to possibilities, as opposed to rules and restrictions that close doors. We generously adjust our own dancing to be compatible with our various dance partners, rather than insisting that they conform to us. We enjoy the individuality of our dance partners, and we continually modify our dancing to maximize their comfort and pleasure. Doing so then doubles our own enjoyment of social dancing.
Then once we discover the benefits of this awareness on the dance floor, we find that it applies to our other activities and relationships as well.”
“As a follower, [learn] to be patient. I think, especially in the beginning, we want to know where we’re going next, and more so, it’s important to know where we are so that we can go somewhere from that point.”
“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.”
excerpt of Burnt Norton
We’ve all been there – a marathon, a festival, a local milonga. You meet someone on the dance floor after the cabeceo, greet them with an open smile, enter their arms, and immediately feel as though their embrace – in that moment – isn’t quite tailored to you, but to someone else, maybe their favorite dance partner, perhaps their spouse, or even the last person they danced with, but certainly not for you. Then the next 9 to 12 minutes are sort of weird and mildly uncoordinated like a prom dance. You both get through the tanda without major incident or even fireworks, you nod, smile faintly, meander back to your seats, and maybe ponder the lack of chemistry.
Yeah, what the hell just happened?
I regularly get flack for admitting that one of my primary drives for dancing tango is co-creating and realizing a transcendent movement experience. Usually pushback is framed as, “That’s setting an unnecessarily high bar” or “Isn’t that expecting too much?” or “You shouldn’t expect every tanda to be mind-blowing” – and well, I don’t but I can’t help but feel a little perturbed by what sounds like a denial of our search for pleasure. I’ve started to wonder why we devote so much time, money and attention to tango if we’re convinced that only 1% to 7% of our dance lives should result in bliss. (Hell, if we felt that way about a restaurant, we wouldn’t dare go back.)
Maybe it’s because we believe that bliss is an accident, that pleasure requires no effort, that our tango fates are pre-determined, like finding true love or landing a dream job or having delicious cherries magically appear in the grocery store in July – but bliss is by design. It emerges from respect and understanding of the process of creation inside and outside of us. Pleasure is cultivated, tended and brought to harvest. My garden won’t yield squash, kale or sweet potatoes unless I plant, fertilize and water them. I give in order to receive. And there’s nothing wrong with that. (In fact, many plants tailor the color and flavor of their fruit so that we desire them, unwittingly disperse their seeds and ensure their survival.)
When dancing or gardening, I abide by the Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.” Daylilies, mums, and lilacs have different needs, and so do your dance partners. And there’s nothing wrong with that. By acknowledging those differences and adapting to them, I achieve a better – and often transcendent – dance experience. Using this framework, good technique then, becomes like sun, water and nutrients tailored to specific plants with their unique needs. Just as we do not deny our grapevines water, sun and healthy soil, we mindfully employ the embrace, posture, grounding and step length adjusted to the individual in our arms, not the person we’re hoping to snag later for a waltz. Our intention while dancing is toward mutual comfort and ease rooted in equality of the partnership. So if you don’t know what someone wants, just ask and find out.
Whether you lead, follow or dance both roles, first aim to create the conditions for cohesive movement dialogue with another human being. Make it your first duty to defer to a shared experience of giving and receiving. In practice, this attitude means entering every embrace with equanimity – completely anew, with neutrality and freshness, prepared to meld your intention to your partner’s, discarding any preconceived notion about how we might sing or sculpt or paint the music together. Remain in the nowness of each moment with your leader or follower.
I challenge you to regard your partner as an equal; to avail yourself of their movement sensibilities, to the ebb and flow of their energy, to the myriad possibilities of pleasure. Remember, you’re always half responsible for the tanda and for the bliss that ensues.