The Lion and Jill

•Saturday, 20 July 2013 • Leave a Comment

“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion.”

What we seek is that moment of connection when things move from the physical to the metaphysical, and the dance just speaks. Nothing is forced or staged. Nothing is unnecessary. Perhaps this is true of many things.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the Lion.

“May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as it it were sorry, not as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

[Both quotes — in italics — from C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair]

“Honeyed by Oblivion”

•Saturday, 27 April 2013 • 6 Comments

The quotation heading this post is from George Eliot’s The Spanish Gypsy and refers to kisses, but it could perhaps equally refer to certain tango moments.

I read quite a lot of poetry and dance tango on average three or four times a week. There often seems a close link between the two. Frequently I’m reading a poem and there’s something in the words that chimes with the feelings I get when dancing, particularly those very special tango moments when the music, the partner, the movement and the mood all come together to create that feeling that most dancers seek but is so difficult to describe.

I’ve recently taken to noting those poems or lines which make that connection for me and intend to post them here occasionally. In some cases the writer is not talking about dance, so I’ve taken the liberty of ‘adapting’ their words slightly (with apologies and respect).

Please feel free to add you own.

There are as many nuances and inflections for tango as there are dancers to dance with and tandas in which to enjoy them.

[Above adapted from Tess Gallagher, Portable Kisses.]

You are always new. The last of our dances was ever the sweetest…

[Above adapted from John Keats’ letters to Fanny Brawne.]

Something made of nothing,
tasting very sweet,
A most delicious compound,
with ingredients complete;
But if as on occasion the
heart and mind are sour,
It has no great significance,
and loses half its power.

[Above from Mary E. Buell, The Kiss.]

When age chills the blood, when our pleasures are past —
For years fleet away with the wings of the dove —
The dearest remembrance will still be the last,
Our sweetest memorial the dances we love.

[Above adapted from Byron, The First Kiss of Love.]

Tango is a secret told to the heart instead of to the ear.

[Above adapted from Edmond Rostand, Cyrano De Bergerac.]

Rose danced with me today.
Will she dance with me tomorrow?
Let it be as it may,
Rose danced with me today.
But the pleasure gives way
To a savour of sorrow;
Rose danced with me today,
Will she dance with me tomorrow?

[Above adapted from Henry Austin Dobson, A Kiss.]

My love and I for dances play’d,
She would keep stake, I was content,
But when I won she would be paid;
This made me ask her what she meant.
Pray, since I see (quoth she) your wrangling vain,
Take your own tangos: give me mine again.

[Above adapted from William Strode, Sonnett.]

Never do with your arms what you could do better with your whole body.

[Above adapted from Cherry Vanilla, American singer-songwriter.]

Come back often and take hold of me,
sensation that I love come back and take hold of me —
when the body’s memory awakens
and an old longing again moves into the blood…

[Above from C.P. Cavafy, Come Back.]

Tango: Sensual or Sexual

•Tuesday, 5 March 2013 • 15 Comments

Argentine tango is a sensual, emotional dance. But sexual? That seems often to be the perception of those outside the tango scene…

We are sexual as well as sensual beings, and perhaps at times there may be some kind of overlap between these two aspects of sensuality at certain times, in certain dances, with a certain partner, in the same way that there may be in day-to-day contacts or conversations. But this isn’t what tango is about. Perhaps the confusion comes because tango is certainly about passion.

This is a trailer for a documentary entitled Tango and Sex by Junior Cervila:

The film “… explores the sub-text of Tango, and every aspect is colored by sexuality. Tango is not just a dance it is an historical tradition, a social contract between two people, a philosophy. Because sexual expressiveness was forbidden, the early years of Tango bore this stigma. Tango is a social contract with strict rules defined by the very nature of ‘leading’ and ‘following’. These rules provide perspective for understanding both relationship between the sexes and how the individual relates to their own sexuality. How one perceives these roles ranges from sexual repression to total release or sexual freedom. As a philosophy the documentary explores the dance as a sensual metaphor for life…with trust and true intimacy as its highest level.”

I’ve not seen the documentary so I cannot comment further. But, a sensual metaphor for life… I can go with that. And certainly trust and true intimacy are as essential in tango as they are in any real relationship.

Feel free to add your thoughts.

Tango Libre

•Thursday, 27 September 2012 • 3 Comments

Photograph by Peter Forret

In Belgian director Frédéric Fonteyne’s film Tango Libre Mariano ‘Chicho’ Frumboli plays the ringleader of the prison’s tough Argentinean inmates who is asked by the central male character to teach him tango after realising its physical and emotional importance to his free-spirited wife.

I quote from the review in ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ (

In the stirring scenes that follow, the Argentines after initially refusing begin a spontaneous demonstration of basic tango steps, at first taunted by the guards and fellow inmates and then accompanied by their percussive handclaps. The dance is shown almost as a battle for primacy. As the display segues to regular lessons that swiftly gain in popularity, the prisoners learn that the tango represents seduction and surrender, pain and anger, frailty, grace and freedom – all of which resonate with men facing long periods behind bars….

Incidentally, the same review describes ‘Chicho’ Frumboli as the “renowned Tango Nuevo founder”, which must come as news both to Frumboli himself amd those who believe Astor Piazzolla may have a hand in its development too!

The film received the Special Orizzonti Jury Prize at the 69th Venice International Film Festival.

No news yet on where and when the film can be seen, although the general release date is given as 7 November 2012. (For those in the London area there are previews at the ICA on 14 October, and also at the Rich Mix Centre on 12 October, and at the Curzon Mayfair on 17 October.)

Beauty and Structure

•Sunday, 29 July 2012 • 5 Comments

Thank you to everyone who was kind enough to comment on my previous post on the compás. Martin Wilkinson offered a further example of this:  Ricardo Vidort and Liz Haight, dancing again to Canaro’s Poema.

I have heard people who have considered moving to tango from other dances, or perhaps started to learn and become discouraged, state that for them Argentine tango is too full of rules and restrictions. This seems to me like saying that it isn’t worth learning to write well because there are too many rules of grammar and spelling.

Looking at these three videos I am reminded again that one of the joys, and strengths, of tango is that it can embrace such an enormous range of interpretations of a single piece of music. Every interpretation may have its exponents and detractors, but these examples show that for the best dancers the seemingly strict structure of tango in itself forms the basis for a sensitive expression of a beautiful piece of music.

In any form of creative or interpretative art there can be no beauty without structure?

Tango Musicality: The Compás

•Monday, 23 July 2012 • 7 Comments

I feel I should preface this post with some kind of disclaimer. The opinions expressed are, of course, my own. I have danced Argentine tango (or, hopefully, some close relation thereof!) for a little over five years and still consider myself a beginner… someone at the start of a long and joyous tango journey. And like anyone who has been dancing tango for more than a few months I have strong opinions about aspects of the dance and the music. But they are opinions which have been handed to me by people whom I respect, and who have a lot more tango ability and experience than I have.

The discussion of the compás here may give the impression that I scrupulously follow all the tenets I’ve outlined. I do try to, but frequently fall short. So perhaps these notes are essentially a reminder to myself of what is important in tango, and to where I need to direct my attention. (Not to mention posture, and… and….) But do tell me what you think.

“You don’t have to step on the beat…”

I have been told this, even by a teacher on one occasion. (I didn’t go back.)

As far as I’m concerned, this is a fallacy. Or perhaps better, a misunderstanding.

I was fortunate enough to begin my tango journey with teachers who emphasised the basics of social tango.

They taught me that the beat in tango is called the compás, and that the most important thing in dancing tango is learning how to express that by stepping precisely on the strong beat.

I used to play saxophone and clarinet so I tend to think in terms of ‘beats to a bar’. Few dance teachers, of any kind, use these terms. I remember getting somewhat confused during an early jive class when the teacher talked about the music being in sections of four phrases until I realised that what he meant by a phrase I understood as two bars of four beats per bar.

But you really don’t need to know anything about bars or time signatures to realise that tango music for dancing is composed of a strong beat followed by a weak beat. (Something that is actually true about most dance music.)

So the foot we are stepping onto should strike the ground simultaneously with the strong beat. And our ankles pass on the weak beat.

If you look closer at the dynamics of the steps of someone who walks beautifully you will see that the movement of the feet isn’t constant. There is a slight natural slowing on the weak beat and an acceleration into and through the strong beat.

Depending on the music this variation can be quite subtle or a staccato thrust “like a knife” (una puñalada). For me this is at the heart of being able to dance well to this music.

Time for an example? This is Pablo Rodriguez (one of the Argentine teachers I was lucky enough to work with for a while during his sojourn in Leeds a few years ago) dancing with his partner Noelia Hurtado to Poema.

Of course you don’t have to step on every strong beat. Is that where the confusion arises about ‘not stepping on the beat’? You can step on one strong beat in two or three, or you can step on the weak beats too from time to time. Note how Pablo and Noelia in the example above use a combination of several faster steps to ‘point’ certain musical phrases.

In discussions about tango I’ve been offered arguments against the above interpretation of the compás by those who claim it’s a question of style, or that it doesn’t apply in the same way to tango nuevo dance. For me that’s nonsense. If you’re going to ignore the essential basic rhythm of tango music, then as far as I’m conerned you’re not dancing tango.

Tango nuevo dance may or may not be ‘freer’, as some dancers claim. But you could argue that with great freedom comes greater responsibility; responsibility to be true to the essence of good tango…

What about dancing to tango nuevo (or even neo- or alt-tango) music? Piazzolla extended the classic harmonies and counterpoint of ‘Golden Age’ tango in moving it from the dance floor to the concert hall. Many of his compositions appear have a different ‘pulse’ to classic tango, but I would still contend that in the majority of cases (the danceable ones, I’m tempted to say, but that bring us into a whole new argument!) the essence is still there if we’re prepared to listen for it, and respect it. However complex it might be, we can still hear it and say, “That’s a tango.” (Or, sometimes, not….)

But I’m drifting off my subject again.

Perhaps one of the best-known tango nuevo dancers is Mariano ‘Chicho’ Frumboli. Let’s take a look at how his style of dancing differs from Pablo Rodriguez. The music is, again, Poema:

For me, although the two interpretations are very different, they both share one essential thing: respect for the compás, the essence of tango musicality.

Just a note: Tango vals is a little different in that, being in waltz time, you have a strong beat followed by two weak beats. But the basic principle of the compás is the same, although there is perhaps less scope for variation in the choice of whether or not you step on every strong beat.

The Importance of Anticipation in Tango

•Saturday, 23 June 2012 • Leave a Comment

Anticipation in tango… a bad thing?

I’ve always been told so. Of course a follower shouldn’t anticipate the lead, but doesn’t it happen naturally the other way around? Or even develop through a good connection?

I dance differently with every follower, of course, for the same reason that I dance differently to different pieces of music. And tango is a three-way conversation between the music, the woman and the man. Each has an effect on, and expects a response from the other.

The woman and the man respond to each other and the music. And although the music does not respond in turn, the way it is heard depends on the emotional state of the dancers and their ability to work with the complexities of rhythm and melody.

So when I dance with a follower I should begin to understand the way she responds to the music and my lead, and therefore, perhaps, to anticipate a little the possibilities of her response.

A good leader should also be aware of the dancers around him and his partner, and be able to anticpate a little their possible movements in order to protect his partner… here’s an experienced dancer: no problem; the couple over there are less experienced and don’t seem to be paying as much attention to the music as they might: best keep a safe distance in case of unexpected back-steps or flamboyant moves.

Of course there’s also the other kind of anticipation which begins before the dance. The anticipation which builds before and during the day of the milonga… listening to tango music at home or in the car on the way to the venue. That’s the sort of anticipation we should all feel.

A tango senryu

My heart moving
To the way her body moves

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