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!

The History of Argentine Tango in Japan

Outside of Argentina, Japan is one of the countries with the longest history of Argentine tango. Tango came to Japan after an aristocrat, Baron Megata, learned the dance in Paris in the 1920s and then brought home some French recordings to give himself lessons. Later he opened a tango academy in Tokyo and began teaching free tango classes to the Japanese aristocracy.

Many tango orchestras were formed in Japan and by the 1950s more than 20 orchestras started playing tango. In 1954 the first Argentine orchestra directed by Juan Canaro performed in Japan. Soon after, Francisco Canaro and Osvaldo Pugliese’s orchestras also went to Japan to play. Tango Argentino, the first tango show to tour internationally, was a huge success when it arrived in Japan in 1987. Taro Hakase, a famous Japanese violinist, became recognized in the tango world after he recorded his work Watashi with the Forever Tango orchestra in 2000 in Japan. Since then Watashi is repeatedly played and danced to by tango dancers around the world. (You can watch Alejandra Gutty and Leonardo Barrionuevo dance their interpretation of Watashi which they performed in the internationally renowned show Forever Tango).

Currently the tango continues to be extremely popular in Japan. But unlike in Europe where tango nuevo often tends to dominate the dance floors of the milonga, the Japanese are obsessed with dancing tango salon in a traditional Argentine close embrace. In 2009, the Japanese were finally recognized for their love and devotion to the Argentine tango when a Japanese couple, Hiroshi and Kyoko Yamao won the category tango salon in El Mundial, the world tango competition held in Buenos Aires every August. Speaking of El Mundial – last year Chizuko Kuwamoto, a Japanese woman, won the stage tango category with her Argentine partner Diego Ortega.

This past July I had the wonderful opportunity of participating as a judge in the tango competition in Asia held in Tokyo, Japan preceding the world competition in Buenos Aires. Over 70 couples competed in the tango salon category and it was unbelievable how closely they imitated the style of traditional Argentine tango salon: the embrace, the musicality, the posture, and the walk. Considering the Japanese are such dedicated students and they are meticulous in everything they do, it is not surprising that they are some of the best tango dancers in the world next to the Argentines. Yet, even with their impeccable technique many Argentines criticize Japanese tango dancers because they claim that they lack passion. While it is already difficult for many Argentines to accept foreigners dancing tango, it is even harder when they look different than an Argentine.

So how important is appearance and nationality in reproducing traditional tango, versus the feeling of passion that is expressed in the tango embrace? This question continues to be posed daily in the tango world. Stay tuned for our next post on the debate surrounding the Metropolitano and whether or not foreigners should be allowed to compete with their Argentine partners…