Savoring the Music

"Wow, look at the way they savor the music!"
--------------------------------Alejandra, after viewing this video


I love to watch people who know what they're doing, so let’s look at a video of El Chino and Noemí Yodice at Sunderland:


El Chino and Noemí Yodice


One of the best things about the woman’s role in tango is the opportunity to enjoy a wide range of dancing. A popular milonguera like Noemí might dance a fast milonga traspie with a milonga specialist, a flying vals, and then a slow, beautiful tanda of tango music with someone like El Chino, all in one evening. To get a feel for the kind of variety Noemí experiences, you might compare this video with the one of her on the other side of town with Gerard in Chapter 5. Interesting isn't it? She's almost on a different planet in the other video—different clothes, different compás... different energy. And if you compare the two embraces, you'll notice they're from opposite ends of the tango spectrum. With Gerard she uses the "arm-draped, head turned right" embrace that's one of the current fads in tango, while in this video, she uses the most traditional of all embraces from the neighborhood clubs, with her left hand resting on El Chino's upper arm. Which is better? Well, it's all tango, and the best thing about being at Noemí's level is that you don't have to worry much about it. You can just enjoy it.

I realize women's technique has taken a backseat on the site. One reason is simply because I understand the man's part better... and the other is that a man needs to manage a larger number of things in a milonga, so there are more things to discuss about the man's job. But because a woman faces such a great variety of different dancing, the physical challenges for a good milonguera during an evening of dancing are actually greater than those facing a man—and that’s why very good women dancers are so rare, and so much in demand.

Noemí is able to adjust to the differences between Gerard and El Chino because she maintains her posture, and stays centered. While she’s totally connected with her partner and the music, she’s also aware of everything that’s going on around her. For some reason, it never looks as crowded in these videos as it actually is, but here, as in the Milonguero X and the Gerard video, the ronda is packed to capacity. About three-fourths of the way through, just after El Chino and Noemí move past the top of the key on the basketball court (Hah... knew I'd find a way to stick in some sports talk), someone moves into their space, and Noemí politely fends him off with her hand—and then continues on undisturbed. Everything about her dancing radiates confidence, and grace. This is what the best milongueros are looking for in a partner, so as far as women's technique, I would say shoot for this. The secret is knowledge of the music, balance, step, posture... and feeling. To move like this you need to savor the music... to know it, and love it. It's not something you can fake.

Tango by the Numbers

It’s concurso time again here in BsAs. Apparently, this is the big one. The Mundial. The world championship of tango—although it seems like these things go on all year long. We notice it when the “numbers on the back” people start to show up in the milongas. For about 100 years the Argentine government’s attitude toward tango has swung between neglect and outright hostility, but they’ve finally come around. They now love tango, and they express that love with the Mundial, and an almost endless series of preliminary rounds spread around the different milongas in town. For regular milonga goers it’s mostly a nuisance, but the earlier rounds aren’t that bad. The contestants filter in late in the evening and sit together. They’re like a tribe… slicker and younger than the more scruffy regulars, with backpacks full of dance gear. They usually gather in a corner, whisper to each other for a few tandas or do a little text messaging, and then begin to launch themselves onto the dance floor, like a fleet of ships setting sail. How is their dancing? Well, it’s not bad… but it’s not especially good, either.

Most of the regulars just drifted into tango. They grew up in the arrabal, and tango was hanging around, like fútbol and pasta, so they started dancing. But the tango of the Mundial contestants is tango with a purpose. Seeing them in the milongas gives a glimpse of the other side—the academia-performance side.

My first impression is that their dancing is surprisingly uniform. There must be some ideal the judges are looking for, and they’re all aware of it, because it’s hard to tell them apart. Also, it looks like the Gavito wrist curl has passed into history, and been replaced by a high, vertical arm and wrist position, garnished with the man’s left thumb sticking up. Grab a strap on the subte and hang from it with your elbow back a little, and your palm facing your ear. Then stick up your thumb, and you’ve got it. And the women still tend to dance with their butts out, and some ankle wiggling. The posture is very upright, and everyone takes the same long, aggressive step, with sort of a “swoop” in it. The overall effect is eye grabbing—which is understandable, since the whole point is to to grab the eyes of judges and audiences.

They work hard, and it shows—but the overall effect has a stylized, pretentious edge to it that looks out of place in a milonga. As far as the music, most of them tend to push the compás. You feel like saying, relax... take a deep breath... you don't need to flick your leg around on every other step. But as much as I know they'd love the input, I've managed to restrain myself. It's not like they're really out of the music... but they’re not exactly answering to it, either. On the next page, let's explore a little further what it means to "answer" to the music.