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El Mundial del Tango-Highlights and Results

This year the Mundial del Tango celebrated its tenth anniversary.  The two-week festival was filled with daily shows by orchestras and tango dance companies, as well as lectures, milongas and of course the salon and stage tango competition.  There was also tributes given to the famous tango composer and bandoneon player, Astor Piazzolla, 20 years after his death; the world-renowned dancers, Gloria and Eduardo Arquimbau, who started their career in 1959 and were one of the principal couples in the show Tango Argentino; and of course, the queen of tango, Maria Nieves, who has decided to retire at the age of 74.

In the salon and stage tango competition, 487 couples participated, representing 32 countries around the world.  Many people have criticized this competition because they don’t believe that tango, as a social dance should be judged, particularly tango salon.  Tango salon is not meant for the public, like stage tango.  Many tango historians and writers define it as a feeling that is danced, one that is shared only between the two people who are dancing, not by the spectators.  But how can one judge a feeling?  Also, various people have questioned whether professional dancers should be allowed to compete against non-professionals.  Yet there have been many professional, well-known dancers who have competed and not made it past the semi-finals.  So what exactly does the competition judge?

In tango salon, the competition seems to have created dancers to be clones of one another and consequently the dancers lack their own personality in the dance.  As a spectator of the tango salon final it was difficult to see who would be titled the champions because the majority of the couples were very good dancers and they also danced very similarly.  However it seemed as if all of the couples were holding back and not dancing and enjoying the tango like they do in the milonga.

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The stage tango competition is generally easier to judge because the dance itself is one targeted for an audience.  Yet, many tango dancers and teachers criticize the competition for the lack of creativity in the choreographies, and the lack of true tango.  As Maria Nieves said, “Menos aire y mas piso” (“less air and more floor”).  In other words many stage dancers concentrate too much on doing showy tricks and jumps and forget about the real tango, which is danced on the floor, with an elegant walk, an embrace and a strong connection between the couple.  Impressive technique has taken the place of passion and artistry in tango because many tango dancers instead of dancing for themselves are too concerned with the reaction of the public, who they think seem to be impressed only with acrobatic tricks.  Also, the results of the competition have a lot to do with the judges and what kind of tango they like.

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Many talented dancers competed this year in the salon and stage competitions.  Excitement and emotion filled the enormous Luna Park stadium the night of the finals.  The first place in Tango Salon was given to an Argentine couple, Facundo de la Cruz, from Cordoba and Paola Sanz, from Chubut.  In Stage Tango, the winners were Cristhian Sosa, from Buenos Aires and Maria Noel Sciuto, from Uruguay who unlike previous winners, danced to a tango by Piazzolla and sung by Goyeneche, “Mi Gordo Triste.”

 

One of the most touching events in the Mundial was the tribute to Maria Nieves, the woman who embodies tango.  On Tuesday night, at the end of the stage tango competition, Maria Nieves danced with the former stage and salon tango champions from the past ten years.  The night ended with all of the champions dancing together with Maria shining in the middle of the Luna Park stage and the entire audience, made up of thousands of people, honoring her with a standing ovation.  Maria, in an interview during the Mundial, states passionately, “El tango es un sentimiento…algo que primero hay que llevarlo en el corazón y luego a los pies” (“Tango is a feeling…something that you must first carry in your heart and then in your feet”).  This is priceless advice that all of the dancers who compete should never forget.  After all, tango is a feeling that is danced and that is what the dancers should emulate and what the audience should capture.  While many dancers may criticize this competition, it is still a great way to bring people from around the world to the Buenos Aires to share their love and passion for such a beautiful dance. 

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The Narrative Tango Tours Experience

Not just anyone can really feel tango.  To truly embody Argentine tango one must sensually experience it in the place where it was born—Buenos Aires.  One must eat, breathe and live tango.  To live tango one must grasp what it feels like to walk down the cobblestone streets of Buenos Aires with the person you love, a dear friend, your mother or alone.  You must walk with the Argentine cadencia and hear and feel the compás (rhythm) of the tango beneath your feet.  As the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges says, tango is “una manera de caminar” [a way to walk].

Tango is the porteño (native from Buenos Aires) walking along Avenida Corrientes, the porteños standing on the corner “charlando,” (gossiping) with a cigarette in one hand, while the other hand gestures dramatically to show they are passionately involved in their conversation or whispering sensual comments to women passing by.  It is the porteña woman, sitting alone at a table in a milonga (a social space where tango is danced), sipping a glass of vino tinto (red wine), encircled by smoke. Her dark sorrowful eyes follow the tanguero standing across the room, waiting for his eyes to meet hers and invite her to the dance floor—-This is tango.

It is the culture, the smell of the city streets, the animated taxicab rides, it is the Argentine passion and pride in their culture.  Tango is Buenos Aires and it is the porteños. Tango is Carlos Gardel, his idolized face and smoking jacket.  Tango is succumbing to the man’s power, it is seduction, it is comfort in the embrace, it is reflection and contemplation.  It is sensual, embodied experience.

The World Tango Championships & Festival, 2011

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The day has arrived! After much anticipation, the World Tango Festival and Championship, an annual tango extravaganza that descends upon Buenos Aires each August, has officially started. The city is abuzz with tango dancers, historians and enthusiasts that have traveled both near and far to be a part of this exciting tango festival.

If you have the opportunity to participate in any way in the tango festivities this year, we highly recommend it. Narrative Tango Tours will be soaking up as much of the tango-tastic activities as possible. The ‘Mundial’, as locals call it, can sometimes be hard to navigate. There are hundreds of great options to enjoy the tango during the festival, but many times lines are long, venues are crowded, and directions can be confusing if you don’t know the culture or the language.

So here are some details, as well as a few wonderful (and bilingual!) sites to rev up your tango engines.

Dates: The World Tango Festival and Championship lasts from Tuesday, August 16th, until Tuesday, August 30th. Exactly two weeks of tango fun!

Useful Websites: below is a compiled list of the most useful websites that NTT has found for this years Mundial, complete with details and must-see activities for the 2011 festivities.

  • Popular website 2xtango gives us a full program of all of the tango activities available at this years mundial. Read the English version here, and the Spanish version here.
  • Argentine newspaper La Nacion tells us the ten things we can’t miss this Mundial. Read the article (in Spanish) here.
  • The official Government site for the Mundial has a wealth of details. Click here

Authentic Tango

I recently returned to the fast-paced city of New York after ten months of living in languid, passionate Buenos Aires.  Since I learned Argentine tango about 6 years ago in Buenos Aires, I always compare this unforgettable experience with dancing and teaching in other cities.  A common phrase among Argentines is “Tango is a feeling that is danced.”  This “feeling” is missing in tango outside of Argentina.

The embrace is one of the biggest differences between tango in Buenos Aires and New York.  Culturally, Argentines are more daring and direct when they approach a woman and Americans are more timid.  Argentines constantly make flirting gestures, looks and comments, whereas Americans are shyer, indirect and pragmatic.  These cultural distinctions carry over into the tango embrace.  For example, men in New York embrace in a very light, weak manner.  It feels as if they are afraid to touch me, or they are careful not to hug me too tightly for fear of my reaction.  An Argentine teacher once told me that when she was teaching tango in New York a man told her that he was afraid to embrace a woman too tightly for fear she would accuse him of sexual harassment.  The American culture is colder so many women are cautious when getting close to just any man.  This also causes distance in the tango embrace.  Both leaders and followers need to relax to be able to find the true Argentine tango embrace.  American embraces are distant, while an Argentine embrace makes you feel protected, close, held and secure.  For those 3 minutes both the man and the woman seduce each other with the embrace.  This is the true tango connection.  This leads you into a state of bliss.

Instead of trying to find this blissful state by enjoying the connection with the other person and listening to the music, many tango dancers outside  Argentina care only about learning the most complicated steps and thus lose sight of what real Argentine tango is.  They would rather learn how to do a gancho (a kick between the legs) or a colgada (a step off axis), instead of tightly embracing a woman and walking elegantly while listening to the romantic music.

Another drastic difference between tango in Argentina and the rest of the world is the way dancers listen and dance to the music.  A tango dancer living and dancing in Buenos Aires learns about the different orchestras and how to interpret the music.  They do this by going out to milongas, watching the older milongueros dance, and chatting with them between dances.  You begin to understand the difference between taking long steps when dancing to Osvaldo Pugliese or quicker steps, playing with the contratiempo in the music when dancing to Juan D’Arienzo.  Milongueros tell stories about the musicians and their orchestras.  Outside Argentina, since there are very few tango historians or older milongueros, many dancers don’t seem to recognize the difference between the orchestras and often don’t make a distinction between tango, milonga or vals.

Tango is much more than a dance.  It is a feeling and it is embedded in the Argentine culture and identity.  Thus, it is difficult to try and teach that feeling or that culture to people who have never been there and who have never experienced it.  But maybe if we continue to try and disseminate elements from the Argentine culture to the rest of the world people will begin to understand the meaning of true Argentine tango.

Shoes, shoes, shoes

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A few weeks ago Narrative Tango Tours was invited by fashionista Susie Greenebaum to write a guest post for her fashion blog. Thrilled to participate, I started thinking about what area of tango oriented fashion I wanted to further explore. It didn’t take me long to decide on…shoes (surprised?).

Comme il Faut has been long regarded in Buenos Aires as the holy grail of tango shoes. I teamed up with Jocelyn Mandryck, the talented photographic mastermind behind Fuera Foto, to visually capture the essence of Comme il Fauts shoes and shopping experience. The shoot was loads of fun and I really enjoyed talking to the saleswomen at the store, learning more about tango shoes and writing the article.

Read the full article here. Enjoy!!

Discrimination in the Metropolitano de Tango

In my last post about Argentine Tango in Japan I described my experience in the Asia Tango Championship held in Tokyo last year and we posed the question of whether nationality is important in the expression of Argentine Tango.  This question will be considered once again here in my post about the Metropolitano de Tango, which is the tango championship for all of Buenos Aires held there every May.

On May 26th the Metropolitano de Tango was annulled by the judge, Elena Liberatori and asked that the competition be redone to include the participation of foreign tango dancers.  The city of Buenos Aires along with the organizers of various milongas and the Asociación de Maestros, Bailarines, Coreógrafos de Tango Argentino (Association of masters, dancers and choreographers of Argentine Tango) organized the championship this year, where numerous tango dancers are given the opportunity to compete with the possibility to win cash prizes and qualify for the finals in the World Tango Competition held in Buenos Aires every August.  This year the city decided to restrict the competition to dancers who can prove residency in Buenos Aires for at least 2 years.  This new rule created a conflict among various tango dancers who wanted to compete since many couples include an Argentine and a foreigner.  The only foreigner who was able to compete was a Canadian woman, Alison Murray who proved she was married to an Argentine to enter the competition with her husband.

The judge Liberatori declared that although tango was born in the Rio de la Plata region, like all art, tango is universal.  In September 2009 tango was declared Universal Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO, which means that it is universally recognized and shared and therefore there should be no limits in those who choose to dance the tango.  Many people also acknowledge that tango would have died out a few decades ago if it weren’t for the foreigner tango dancers who have kept it alive.  Thousands of foreigners go to Buenos Aires yearly and indulge in numerous nights in the milongas and spend hundreds of dollars on classes, clothes and shoes.  Tango tourists are the ones who provide work for many Argentine tango dancers in Argentina and around the world.

The judge Liberatori questioned whether a person’s nationality effects their talent or ability to carry out a sport or art form.  She wondered whether Lionel Messi, as one of the star football players for Barcelona takes away Spanishness from Barcelona’s team, or if the star Paloma Herrera makes American Ballet Theater less American because she is Argentine.  Thus, is ones nationality important in their ability to dance tango?

According to the Telam agency the competition was annulled and was ordered to be redone, but the government of Buenos Aires did not recognize this ruling and said that the results will hold and they will not repeat the competition.  The government said that foreigners were allowed to compete as long as they could prove residency in Buenos Aires for at least 2 years.  Otherwise there are other competitions in various provinces of Argentina, as well as other countries around the world.  While I am a foreigner who dances tango and has been living in Buenos Aires for a couple of years without residency, I respect that the government has restricted the Metropolitano to include only Buenos Aires residents (including foreigners who can prove residency) considering this competition is specific to Buenos Aires.  Otherwise anyone from around the world could come to Buenos Aires a month before the competition and compete and then there would be very little difference between the Metropolitano and the Mundial (the World Tango Competition).  I also believe that there should be no limits placed on who dances tango, but this rule is not restricting people from dancing tango or from competing it is just restricting this particular competition, the Metropolitano, to residents of Buenos Aires.

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Gotan Project shakin’ it up with

I came across this great, non-traditional tango video a few weeks ago. Gotan Project, a very well known tango-electro group, chose a more conceptual route for this video. I like seeing tango music paired with something that doesn’t fit into the predescribed box of what is “tango”. The boxer in this video provides the movement, giving the video a touch of dance that isn’t tango. The hatted and suited man is reminiscent of Gardel, but not in an overly overt way. All in all, this video gets the NTT seal of approval for creativity!