Friday, May 5

Spotlight

Tango often gives conflicting messages – go left but lean right, be strong and yet soft, be present and yet follow, give and yet yield. No wonder half the time it’s such a mess to sort out when you first start.

And yet, what draws you to the dance is the first steps you take, hands stretched out in front of you with the other clueless beginner. Just, moving and trying not to step on the others feet. That is the Tango you first encounter and it is neither technically, nor visually appealing. But what draws you to it is the mode of communication. The ability to say everything without words, the ability to deliver an idea with the body rather than talking or thinking of something. That is what drops us into the whirlpool of time, effort, frustrations and elations that is yet to come…if you stick with Tango.

See, Tango picks its characters, its lovers, its haters, its obsessives and its preachers. It’s entirely a love hate relationship, whether you never want to dance it because it’s “boring”, “slow”, “for geriatrics”, “sad”, “depressing”, or whether you find yourself years into the dance wondering if you ever knew how to even walk properly. Every part is up for dissection, and let’s not get started on the days where your butt sees more action than your legs.

I was watching a beautiful stage Tango performance recently and just marveling at the amount of moves I’ll never be able to do. Also wondering why we get shown one thing but taught another. Tango at its most developed and advanced rivals any other art form and literally knocks it out of the park IMHO. The  need for synchronization and flow, the communication that is so tangible and expressed, the music that tugs and plays with your heartstrings. But it is at its core not about how exact the placement of your leg is, or where the line of your frame is, or whether you managed to embellish 10 things within the phrase of the music, it is what it feels like. The things you take away on the dance floor are the feel and elation of being able to understand and play, with the music, with your partner.

What is my current goal? To unleash the best potential of whomever I’m dancing with, to give justice to the music and to be able to express myself. This trinity is what I believe will shape my dance far into the future. It demands personality this dance, it demands a soul, and it demands you to bare it all. 

Sunday, January 22

The Amorphous

Tango has meant different things to me at different stages of my life.

Stage 0 - September 2009
"Tango as a differentiator"

Expectation: It started out as a notion of difference - "I do the Tangooo" I'd drawl - red lipstick, long flamenco looking swishy dresses with ruffles and leave everything else to the imagination of my listener. Passion, fire, attitude, dominance.

Reality: Tango is subtle, a conversation not manifested beyond the surface. Yes, red lipstick, no, not long dresses unless you want to rip it and trip yourself up. Yes, passion and attitude but quiet confidence prized above all. A meeting of equals, an intellectual conversation at its most developed state.

Stage 1 - September - December 2009
"Tango as a dance"

Expectation: Quick footwork, steps, technicality, sequences, stomping across the floor

Reality: I am walking backwards in flipflops - wtf am I doing. Of course I can walk, ok I can't walk with someone blocking my way...now I've forgotten how I walk. Help.

Also, heels, backward, how? Ochos? Wtf, how do you keep your top half balanced with your bottom?

Embrace? He's 60! This is so awkward, what a bloody invasion of personal space, oh hello hottie, yeah ok I'll embrace you...

Wow, this dance was so easy, omg how am I ever going to dance like that? How long does it take? Forever?!

Stage 2 - Jan - June 2010
"Tango as a drug"

Expectation: Continued progress, lessons galore, abandoning all other college activities and friends for all consuming Tango.

Reality: Matched expectation at this stage, and the added bonus of a significant other - experienced all the firsts of jealousy in Tango - how could you prefer dancing with her to me? Ego and personality, love and loss channeled through this dance.

Stage 3 - June 2010-2011
"Tango as heartbreak"

Expectation: Tango in Malaysia will never be the same as Ann Arbor - never!

Reality: It was different, small community, but unique in its DNA - met new friends, new dance partners, developed in the dance through them and with them

Stage 4 - 2011-2013
"Tango as a journey"

By this time there wasn't much expectation - lessons came and went, friendships in the community deepened - mamak gossips til 3am. People came and went, but the core group remains. The DNA of KL needs to be preserved.

Stage 5 - 2013-2016
"Tango as an exploration and awareness of self in the ecosystem"

Festivals, marathons, Tango as part of holiday, Tango AS a holiday. Connections across borders, friendships forged in the second of the embrace. Memories and histories of the Tangasm and the few that manage to elicit it. Milestones. Building and being core to drive the community. DJ-ing.

Older and wiser - in age and in maturity. In real life and in this alter ego.

What next but to progress to the next level 2017.

Wednesday, November 2

Marathons

2nd marathon for the year at HK - decent year of dancing so far with Dubai, Singapore and HK this year.

Marathon was pretty good, still felt there were moments of real annoyance from myself in not getting certain dancers, however the ones I did end up getting were definitely memorable ones. Very unique leads in each of their own ways.

Still searching for the elusive ingredient, the hows and whats of transforming my own dance so it becomes magical, grounded, reactive, enveloping and above all musical.

I do feel there are certain partners that unleash that, and everyone's potion is of course varying. But paramount above all the need to have a conversation, to develop a certainty in the movement with assurance and an amount of elegance yet playfulness sprinkled in.

What makes a dancer so beautiful to watch? What makes a dancer so beautiful to create movement with? These are the questions I'm seeking answers to at this point. 

Monday, September 19

Strangers in the night

"Strangers in the night
Two lonely people, we were strangers in the night
Up to the moment when we said our first hello little did we know
Love was just a glance away, a warm embracing dance away"

The longer you end up in Tango, the more the elusive reason of why you stay in it begins to fade. After encountering the negative side of the dance - not getting dances, bitchy people, negative emotions - you tend to forget that the positives more than outweigh the bad really. But if there was really anything at the core of it, it is this, it is the moment of locking eyes with a stranger and suddenly becoming the most intimate acquaintances. Sensual, playful, being able to communicate without words, being able to give and take, yin and yang, feminine to the masculine energies, a real blend.

Having fun with the music, having fun with the moves, throwing and catching, releasing and absorbing energies. This is why you train, this is why you take lessons, this is why you spend so much $ on travels, on shoes, on clothing, to create a moment so perfect it lingers with you for the longest time.

Focusing on the minute sessions, focus on the internal and whats within and with-out. To move and commit with every step, to not make fun of it, but to respect the whole way. Respect the music, respect the moves and respect the etiquette of this surviving art form.

It's like finding the perfect partner in a tennis match, where you win some, you lose some and the score is 7-6,6-7,7-6 by the end of it. Equals. Partners.

Do not dance me. Dance with me. 

Tuesday, June 14

Mature

What is it to be mature in this dance? Everytime I review the journey I wonder over and over again how I could have possibly danced last year, how anyone could have enjoyed dancing with me, with that funny embrace, that un-disassociated upper body, that off balance ocho.

Yet the breakthrough seems to be sustained over the last year. After getting a full ass-kicking going to to the Istanbul Tango Marathon, a revelation of sorts with TC's teaching, a continued involvement in shaping and crafting the scene for KL tango, I have settled into a relatively peaceful place with this dance. I also attribute this highly to Yoga having helped me stretch out some previously un-stretchable parts and helping the balance tremendously.

Deep diving in the bio-mechanics of this dance, into the music and the history, just bringing myself out of the fog of unawareness and bliss. This is where the true complexity of Tango unfolds itself. Much like a baby becomes a toddler who transforms into a teenager and then an adult, we are only as mature as the stage and experiences we expose ourselves to. Unfortunately Tango is also like wine, it is impossible to rush the maturation progress without having put in the miles and encountering the experiences that change your perception of what this dance is to you and to the people you interact with.

What do you want to show them about yourself? What do you want to take from them? The only way to do so is to work on yourself, your dance, awareness, appreciation and interpretation of what is being shown to you by the range of teachers, friends and partners. It's tiring to sustain this dance in a community that is small, but it is this passion that drives us to want to continue to bring people in, to maintain a sense of non-judgement. For the seniors, to inspire, enlighten and bring the new ones on the journey and to be an influence. For ourselves, to recognise that we are toddlers too, barely matured and to always keep the sense of being humble, being open to learning, and being open to criticism and judgement of ourselves. 

Friday, June 10

Rejection

I don't think anyone likes rejection. Apparently rejection creates the same level of pain akin to being physical. Lord knows we face PLENTY of rejection on the floor, whether it be manifested in the shirking of a glance, or in the outright, no to the face for the poor soul who decided to verbalise their intent and invite.

There's a bit of learning curve or trial by fire that everyone needs to go through when facing Tango, especially in the baby years. It's the moment where you're left literally collecting dust in the corner, being overlooked and craving the invites of those dancers, oh so much more advanced than you. Especially as a follow who's role is to accept and not to initiate anyway.

I still remember one occasion in A2 where it was an open practica in Mason Hall. We literally sat there for 3 hours not getting any dances until I had the gall to walk over to the instructor to ask for a dance. One measly dance.

In hindsight super embarassing and super against etiquette but really, how's a beginner supposed to improve without some help? Yes you have your fellow beginners in class where you're mutually willing to help each other with the dancing, but to really know how a move is being done properly and being done in a way that serves to highlight that it is actually your weaknesses being manifested, you need a more experienced partner.

This is where the big debate happens. How much does rejection really mean rejection in a way that is irreparable? I've had leads tell me that rejection to them once means rejection forever. I tend to also err on the side of, if I don't want to dance with you, I likely won't go through the niceties of greeting you with air kisses and small talk. Perhaps, more reflective of my own personality more than anything else. Not one to deal with non-genuine interactions. I am also of the school of thought that rejection isn't nice and to spare you the pain of rejection, I will therefore avoid you first.

Also, how many rejections means, no, I don't ever want to dance with you. I guess this is why the cabaceo works, because it allows an unspoken silence to hang in the air and also the hope that tomorrow, that person will dance with me.

There are a few things that would make me never want to dance with someone again though - arrogance, lack of awareness and a complete lack of respect for the music. Stop moving when the music stops, I implore you!

Maybe sometimes you get tired trying to improve the world and rather the world sort itself out before it involves you again...


The need for space

Tango communities tend to pop up in a fashion that is rather ad-hoc. In areas where there are dedicated teachers, it'll be in a space as a business, as someones livelihood and dealing with the mundane of rental - overheads and operating cost.

In Malaysia for the longest time, Tango was like the pop-up that happened anywhere and everywhere, from Changkat to Bangsar, from restaurants to houses. Even now, this is quite the essence of it, Fame studio is currently the only true dedicated space to Tango and growing it as a hub will be the challenge we will face in the coming year(s).

What is it that makes Tango such an underground scene? The awareness of it is minimal if you take the average Malaysian off the street, and yet with such little following, you will see us going to milongas on a regular basis, looping in the temporary or long-term visitor into the scene and making them a part of its core.

My first memory of Tango in Malaysia will inexplicably be linked to Tuesday nights at Shivz. Looking back at those photos, I realise with a start that most of the people that have somehow entered my life from Tango toddler days are still around, become such a inseparable part of the fabric of my life that I have forgotten the days before I did not know them.

To create a space to teach, to learn, to practice and to advance. These are the ingredients and the support that we need to give to a space to truly bring it alive. To make it a home away from home and a destination in its own right.

We always want to dance in photo worthy spaces, in intimate tango dedicated salons, to places where the walls could talk. Yet in asia, it seems as though we are spoilt by our ballrooms and our grandiose locations. Perhaps the most compelling memory of Tango I have was on peat and soil way back when in my dance beginnings, at 2am in the morning, and this is what Tango truly is. Where your body, soul and mind are in harmony.


Monday, May 9

DJ Workshop - Damian Boggio

To cap off a beautiful 1st Singapore Tango Marathon, small workshop with Damian Boggio over cup noodles and instant tea in the cosy setting of Tangopura!

Notes!

DJ tips for creating a memorable night
Role of the DJ
- Phrases of music and the energy variation is very important. You can string together 4 straight tandas of 1940's golden age music, but sooner or later the energy level becomes too stagnant, with variation, no one should be asking for nuevo - that is your goal as a DJ to achieve
- 1940's music was created for the dancer, hence you cannot go wrong selecting a tanda from the era, but be wary of choosing too much from a particular time period as most orchestras would be following a particular rhythm and style that was almost the same for all of them during that time
- The DJ is a "service", people do not go there mainly for the music or the DJ, they are there for the people and to socialise
- The best milonga is one where you are unaware of the DJ, the milonga has to be enjoyable with the music as a backdrop and as a landscape, the minimum thing that has to be gotten right (other than temperature, drinks, dances, dancers which are all variable)
- The music organises the time within the milonga and is something subliminal, it should influence people's moods but they should be unaware that it is doing so

Variations in music
4 big things to watch out for and to contrast:
- Tempo
- Vocals vs. instrumental
- Rhythmic vs. melodic
- Sound quality (fidelity)

additional: timbre (violins vs bandoneon taking the melody line)

- Tempo (pace) may be the same between songs, it isn't necessarily "faster" in the sense of the tempo, but it can seem like it depending on the rhythm
- Note the years in between tracks, from 1940 to 1956 there is a 16 year gap where technology advanced with recordings, this will affect the sound quality and the fuzziness you get with it, track fidelity will differ greatly (also the recording process where they would record one track in one go, warts and all), so you get very different sound quality and nuances

Arranging the music
- TVTMT = 40 minutes to the cycle  - encourages quicker turnover
- TTVTTM = 70 minutes to the cycle - encourages longer staying power

Milonga as a marker - because less people dance this
Vals as a marker - the price is higher for both a vals and milonga tanda

- Consider the following:
        T1                 T2                 V                   T3                 T4                 M                T1
   Melodic        Rhythmic                              Rhythmic      Melodic                           Melodic
   Slow             Fast                                       Fast               Slow                                Slow

- At the beginning of the night, can afford to play faster music to perk up the mood and get people on the floor to get a good first tanda
- There are more tracks with singers than instrumental; don't play two consecutive tangos with singers, this keeps the variation going (T2V; VT3; T4M; MT1 can have vocals)
- You end up with variation like this (1930's rhythmic tango, 1950's melodic tango, Milonga)
- Do not put a hard song (e.g. Pugliese) in every cycle, skip a cycle and choose easier danceable songs

Colours
- Orchestras have their own unique stamps
- Big 4:
  - D'Arienzo - rhythmic, punchy, danceable
  - Troilo - Variation (1940's rhythmic, 1960's melodic)
  - Di Sarli - was rhythmic and sounds like D'Arienzo in the 1940's, but quickly changes to being melodic
  - Pugliese - harder to dance to, no more than 1 or 2 tandas in the night

- Other orchestras then fill in - e.g. Fresedo inspired Di Sarli (Vida Mia), Biagi follows D'Arienzo, Gobi follows Pugliese
- Calo as a joker - if it follows D'Arienzo then it is slow, if it is before Di Sarli, then it is fast

History of Tango Music
- Tango is the music and the dance; origin of word is lost, could be Tambor (drums) - onomatopoia; could be Chango (god of thunder)
- Tango started at the cabaret (El Queco); initially frowned upon
- Few influences:
  - Gauchos - melody and guitar
  - Africans - rhythm
  - European - lyrics (opera/classics)

- Tango started at the borders of B.A. - not in the city itself
- French company in early 1900's came to take Tango to Europe - first performances and recording around 1906
- By 1910, on Argentina's 100th year of independence, Tango was selected as a cultural representation of the country and thus became acceptable as a dance
- Recording companies would have two segments, Gaucho music and classic music, which eventually married together to form Tango music (Hotel Victoria - first recording in 1912) - no lyrics
- As the music became more widespread and accepted, the recording companies started recording more of the music and more orchestras popped up - now permanent fixtures on-site (Canaro 1916)
- The flute and the guitar were replaced by the Bandoneon and the piano - which could not play as as fast, as a result, music also slowed down in tempo; also the orchestras became more fixed at a site (couldn't lug a piano around)
- At this point in 1910's, tango had no lyrics - this came about by 1917 with Gardel and mi noche triste
- In the 1920's orchestra players would hop around the different orchestras and play for different ones, so style ends up being quite similar
- In Canaro's orchestra - the singer had a smaller part (estrabillo)
- Radio started playing Tango regularly on the airways; Tango orchestras would also play on the stage at cinemas before screening (silent screening)
- By 1930's where the films started having music (American films); the orchestras were less in demand - D'Arienzo + Biagi (pianist) opened up a new generation of music for dancing in the 1930's
- By the 1950's and 1960's, rock n roll was the new in thing, Tango was considered old - even Piazzolla had more success in Europe
- Tango died for 20-30 years until its revival in Tango Argentino (1980's) - to create the new, you must understand the old; music is forever evolving
- When playing cortinas, think about this, the music is old, but the moment is shared in the present - yet, when the cortina plays (e.g. Queen), this is a part of someone's past - so thus the old becomes the new and the new becomes the old