Oh what an atmosphere - dancing Tango at Jive venues

21st April 2010

(More Unlocking the Milonga articles.)


So, I went to the iJig ball a few weeks back, and had a great time.

Obviously, there were some opportunities there to dance tango, and I took them with both hands (and a firm embrace :) ).

On the way back from the venue, my partner, a lovely dancer, commented that she had her best Tango dances at Jive venues.

She's not an inexperienced dancer, in either Tango or Jive (or other disciplines for that matter), and she usually has a good insight into things.

And the thing is, I know what she means. There are now enough Jive / Tango crossover events around, and enough dancers who do both, so that you can make such a relatively-general claim, and back it up with some evidence. Certainly, it's a sentiment that I've heard from a few other people, in different ways, over the past year or so.

So, it seems that tango milongas at Jive events, and even Tango tracks in Jive, seem somehow to be more harmonious than the equivalent in traditional tango venues.

Which seems strange on the face of it, as you'd think the standard of Tango dancing at Jive venues would overall be lower than that at Tango venues. So you'd assume that there would be more problems.

So, why is that?

What is "Harmony"?

The first thing that comes to mind is a comment in a post a while back on dance-forums; the relevant part is as follows:

There is always an elderly, overweight, argentine guy in a suit who slowly dances around the edge of the dancefloor, and all he does is walking and maybe an ocho once in a while. And he has usually an amazingly beautiful girl who dances incredibly well plastered all over him. Be that guy.
There is also always a someone on the dancefloor who wrestles his partner through all kinds of maneouvers, interrupted only by short pauses where he repeats a move 5 time till it "works", or where he explains just exactly how the follower has to move to make the 40 step sequence he wants to do work. Note that he dances mostly with beginners. Note the frozen smile on his partners face. Don' be that guy.

In other words, you don't need to have a vast experience of every single tango sequence in the cosmos to be a good dancer. Good musicality, connection, and consideration of your partner is all you need.

Considering that a lot of tango classes in the UK are all about learning sequences, the so-called "greater experience" is often illusory. One only has to spend a (non-First-Friday :) ) night downstairs at Negracha's to realise how it's possible to be extremely experienced, have command of dazzling movements, and yet still disrupt the hell out of the place by zooming around like a crazed bluebottle. Many Tango teachers in London have some of the worst, the very worst, floorcraft around.

But... they're Jivers...

I've occasionally encountered, and there's no other word for it, prejudice from Tango dancers against Modern Jivers.

Now, I'd be the first to admit that the level of teaching and dancing in Modern Jive is not as advanced as the level of a good AT class. Classes are by-rote demonstrations, technique is rarely touched-on, there's no individual attention, and it's extremely difficult to learn beyond improver ("intermediate") level.

On the other hand, I've been to some really bad AT classes. And whilst technique is great, one only has to look at the level of floorcraft in some London milongas to realise that few teachers in AT talk much about floorcraft.

Experienced MJ-ers are used to floorcraft, at least conceptually. They're used to the idea that they need to be aware of their surroundings, and that they need to adjust their steps and moves on a continuous basis to allow for changing amounts of space on the dance floor.

Of course, the actual practice of floorcraft in AT is totally different to that in MJ - but at least experienced MJ-ers are familiar, at a "gut instinct" level, with the importance of floorcraft in general. Some AT-ers, judging from their dancing, never get to that level.

OK, why harmony?

So, one hypothesis is that, within MJ, AT-ers tend to be the more experienced dancers. They may be new to AT, but they know about dancing.

They know about floorcraft, they're not too fascinated by complex movements, and they're often likely to come from the "MJ Blues" tradition, which emphasises connection, musicality and improvisation instead of flashy sequences and dramatic poses.

That doesn't mean that MJ-ers are going to be "good at AT", but it's possible that they'll create, almost by accident, harmony in their milonga dancing.

It's a theory.

~ David Bailey, 21st April 2010

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