What is tango?
Tango is a partner dance that is based on the embrace.
Therefore, from the moment that we lose the embrace it stops being Tango. All these intricate footwork that we see is secondary. The real challenge of Tango is to be able to dance while keeping embraced. Also, you must know that all the movements we do in tango are not just designed to keep the embrace, but to produce it. Tango starts when we embrace and continues with movements that make us to embrace each other.
It is a social dance. To dance Tango is to belong to a society that exists in the milonga (the place where we dance Tango).
Milonga is not just a dance floor. Milonga is like a temple. You ought to know and respect the rituals of the milonga because a collective created it. It is not a rigid set of rules, but you have to agree to listen and pay attention to those who already have spent their whole lives there. Over time you will see that it all makes perfect sense, but you are not going to understand it right away. To understand it you must think as a dancer. To be able to think as a dancer you need to become a dancer first, and that takes a lot of time.
Not just any place that assigns itself the name of the milonga is a milonga. A milonga is a milonga if a big chunk of its participants are educated enough in the subtleties of the milonga and the dance.
The milonga is like a family or a country in many aspects. If you are new, you will be respected as a “baby” in the family, but you ought to understand and consider that you, as a “newborn baby”, won’t be able to do everything the “adults” do. Same as an immigrant in a new country, you first have to demonstrate your acceptance of the ideals of your new country, your desire to become a part of it. For sure, you will incorporate your own particularities, same as a new person in a family would, but you will start where everybody starts.
If a place gathers a lot of new dancers and a very little amount or none of the senior “family” members, it is not a milonga in reality. Milonga is not a place where anything goes and where the kids play without their parents watching, otherwise it is just a kids’ playground.
It is understandable that Tango, being rooted in the most profound characteristics of human being, makes many people think that Tango is whatever their body would do, feel and express when they embrace their partner and move to the cadence of their favorite music. It is true up to a certain level. But Tango also exists outside them, outside their own body, and outside their lifetime.
If you are attracted to Tango, if you feel Tango, if you love Tango, its music, if you ARE Tango; then you belong to the family.
If you belong to a city, let’s say San Francisco, California; you would be proud to be able to guide a visitor into your city. If you do not know the names of the streets, nobody would consider that you belong to this city.
Imagine that you suddenly discover you belong to a family you do not know. At any age, you would like to learn about your family. It is a fundamental element of your identity. You would like to know its origins, the entire genealogy of your family. Wouldn’t you?
What if you visit Paris, fall in love with the city, and decide to live there? Would you be satisfied with just staying at home, and knowing just your address?
Let’s now imagine that you just discovered Tango. You saw a performance, perhaps. Something inside you told you “I want to do that”. What was it? Was it the outfit, the moves, the music, the attitudes or all that? Then you go and take a class. You may get introduced to a basic set of moves, get an explanation of the rhythm, the posture, the embrace, a little of Tango history. If you do not get at least a few of these topics, you may like to look for another class.
An authentic teacher teaches you to dance Tango as it is danced in the most authentic milongas of Buenos Aires. He or she would be able to transmit that to you only if he or she does it too: dances in the milongas, belongs to the Tango family, and knows the geography of Tango, because he or she loves Tango.
How to know? You will have to go to Buenos Aires to find out, and even then, you may get lost on the way, and end in some of the zillion of parties that are called milongas, but milongas they are not, or just approximations. You will need to be guided into the Tango realm by someone who belongs to it. You won’t be the only or the first one: everybody in the milonga arrived there in the same way.
Would it bother you if I tell you about the History of Tango? I understand that you probably come to dance Tango to experience of “living in the present”, to liberate yourself from the stress of your mundane life. But you have to know that the “present” you live in when you dance Tango connects you to all the “present” moments lived by those who have danced Tango (and the ones that will in the future…but we do not know yet what to say about those ones).
When Tango was the most popular activity of Buenos Aires, you would come for the first time to a milonga accompanied by someone who already is a regular, most probably a relative (that’s why the family comparison is very appropriate). You wouldn’t go to the milonga without previous longtime preparation at home, in the social club of your neighborhood, in family parties, with your relatives and friends.
The task of a Tango instructor is to integrate a new student to the milonga. Many integrate their students to their groups without encouraging them to be individuals at the milongas. They end up participating as assistants in the organizations of their teachers’ classes and events, and remain forever related to Tango only in this indirect way.
Groups authenticate each of its members. As a teen, with my buddies we once got into a very popular quinceañera party where nobody knew us. A few of us climbed into the roof of the club where the party was taking place, and entered through the bathroom window. Once inside, unnoticed, we took place at a table with empty chairs close to the door. The rest started to enter through the door, and we greeted them. That was enough to let them in. We authenticate them, so they were authenticated by the group members as belonging to the whole group.
In the story, finally we were discovered as outsiders because some boys in the group started to misbehave, throwing cake to each other with such unlucky aim that it reached the quinceañera’s dress. We were expulsed from the party by the adults.
I think that we could have been integrated, stayed till the end of the party and made new friends if those guys were more moderate. We did not behave according to the “etiquette” of the party. If we did, we could have been accepted as a part of the family. In the meantime, we were a small closed group inside of the wider community of the quinceaňera party. We did not integrate, and it makes sense: we were outsiders.
From all the groups that form Tango, I have chosen those composed by the oldest persons that started dancing Tango as teenagers or even children, and were not interested in Tango as a profession. For them Tango was an important part of their lives because Tango was an important part of the lives of all the inhabitants of Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Rosario. They were born between 1920 (Roberto Segarra http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5q5Xk2fxP8) and 1944 (Ricardo “Tito” Franquelo http://practimilonguero.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/practimilonguero-presents-ricardo-tito-franquelo/). Tango was a source of identity, not the only one (football is another), but extremely important. They went with their relatives and friends to the milonga. They met their spouses there. They came back as couples to find there other couples of friends. They went alone again after separation, divorce or death of their partner. The milongas recorded a reflection of their lives.
Today they are extremely wise. You can see it in their attitude, the way they dance, talk, behave, shake your hand, and the way they embrace. Also, they have a very particular power, knowing the remained days of their lives are less than the ones behind them; they have no fear to be sincere. They put everything in each single move, in each word, in each gesture. And they do not have to pose. They are living, in a very natural way, in a very honest way. That is a particular privilege, since in Tango, at the distance of a close embrace, you cannot avoid honesty. Also, because they are not “professional dancers”, they do not have to pretend, to be nice to you in order to get business.
You need to be educated to be able to see that. It is not evident. You won’t see all these subtleties unless someone draws your attention to them. Of course there are many ways your sensibility could be educated. Your own life educates you, well or not. You may have the sensitivity from your cradle. You may remember your grandparents dancing, listening, playing, and singing Tangos. If you were not so lucky, you can still go to school.
We don’t go to milongas because of a special occasion, a birthday celebration or whatever special. We go to milongas regularly because we like the music and the dancers. What matters for a dancer is the aesthetic experience of dancing. It is important that the music is good and the dancers are good. Of course, the beauty of the place, the lighting, etc. add to the experience. But if what you really appreciate is dancing, you’ll stick to a milonga that offers you what I mentioned first: good music and dancers.
Of course you may like to meet new people, chat, be in a crowd; but you could also find all these experiences outside Tango. We should look for the essence of Tango experience, and that involves the appreciation of the aesthetics of Tango and its dance.
You have to be aware that your level of commitment to Tango, understanding of the art, sensitivity to Tango will affect other participants of the milonga. You can compare it with going to a concert. Is not the same appreciation for the educated in the kind of music performed and not (or mildly) educated. Also, consider that you have to play, because the milonga is a participative event, not one where you merely act as an audience.
Dance is an expression of beauty that is not mainly visual. You discover Tango as a dance through your eyes. Tango has visual components. But the visual beauty of Tango is the manifestation of internal mechanisms that make it possible, not the opposite. It would be wrong to start the construction of your dance from the visual end of it. What we see is the result, the glow of Tango.
Tango is a kinetic experience, with all the sensual aspects the sensations of our body and our partner’s body provoke in us, and an auditory experience. Tango music tells us the way to move in connection to our partner.
It is not Tango if you dance with the goal to be seen.
To see is important as a guide. When I watch people dancing Tango at the milongas I let my eyes guide me. They will stop at the couple that dances for each other, to the music that is played, respecting everyone around, assuming a good posture, letting everything fall in place effortlessly, not trying hard, not forcing steps.
The eyes also participate in the way we invite to dance. We look at the person we want to dance with, and patiently wait her to become aware and look back at us.
Patience is indispensable.
A wrong approach to the building of a Tango community is to give support for reasons that are external to Tango. That is a great mistake, since it lowers the general quality of the dance level, and promotes misinterpretations. We should save our support for those who promote improvement of the dance at the milongas.
There are lots of lies, misunderstandings and misinterpretations surrounding Tango. But the truth comes out in the milongas. Remember that, for me, milonga is a very special name that I do not give to just any gathering where people play music that they believe is suitable to dance Tango, and move in a way they decided to call Tango.
I am not going to fight with those. They are not a match for real milongueros.
What I want is to pass my knowledge to those who want to continue the lineage of Tango, which is beautiful, honest, humble, great and very, very real.
There is so much to say about Tango that I could be writing forever, but I think that the best is to go dancing, as I will do now.
 Characteristics of human being: a) its unique body. b) A limited existence in time (to be born and to die). c) To be consciously aware of it. All of these three characteristics imply sexuality.