Argentine Tango – El Beso (The Kiss)

November 12, 2015

And now we come to one of the main purposes of my trip.  This cultural exploration to delve into the inspiration and expression of Tango.  What I am specifically interested in is a specific style of Tango that is connected to the “Golden Age – the early years of the Dance.”  I want to see and connect with what drives the older dancers – many of the themes I have touched on in these posts on Argentina.  So, I followed the advisement of Alejandro Gee and took the walk to a particular Milonga being held at “El Beso – The Kiss.”

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When referring to an older style, a description of its inspiration is found in “The Meaning of Tango”:

Imagine a young man at the end of the nineteenth century, fourteen, fifteen or sixteen years old, living in a village with his large extended family in one of the poorest parts of Spain or Italy. He hears that the Argentinian government is running a campaign to bring people just like him to their country. They will find him a place to stay, feed him for the first week he is there, and help him find work. He has already heard that Argentina is one of the richest countries in the world – far richer than his own country – so he decides he will go there, make his fortune, and then come home and build a grand new house for his mother…

So our young man leaves, for the first time in his life, his mother, his sisters, cousins and aunts, and makes the long boat trip to Argentina. He arrives in the great port of Buenos Aires, only a few years earlier practically a village itself, now a bizarre mixture of sophisticated European capital city and Wild West frontier town…There are more people in each street than he has ever seen before in his whole life, and practically all of them are men…

Our young man finds himself far from everyone who has ever loved him and everyone he has ever loved. Perhaps in another place he would have consoled himself by getting married, starting a new family, having children to love. But the city he is in is a city of men. Maybe he will be one of the lucky few to find a woman to love him, but the odds are against him…Many of the men must have found the loneliness and isolation intolerable. The only place they could express their softness – the sweet tender part of their nature – was in the arms of a prostitute or dancing the Tango.

To dance with the women in Buenos Aires, the immigrants had to learn their dance – and learn to do it in a way that pleased the woman, or the women would not dance with them. The unique pressures of this extraordinary city, in this extraordinary moment of its history, formed the evolving Tango, and made it into something more than a dance. The Tango became an expression of a fundamental human need: The Hunger of the Soul for Contact with Another Soul.

– Christine Denniston “the meaning of TANGO”

Which answers some questions regarding Tango – what is the passion – what does it source to drive the power of its existence – what compelled it to come alive – to thrive – to evolve – to give comfort – to bring people together – to use as a tool to build relationships – what is its inspiration? In the history of the development of this human story, is it the pain, loneliness, the loss, the missing Joy, happiness, camaraderie, family, love, the loss of love?

Will not go too far into that as each person has to find their own soul in the Tango, their own longing – if you want to go that far – as Maya Angelou said it, “the soul is the longing…” so in the music, in the dance, in the embrace, in the camaraderie – what part of it relates to what you long for?  Whew…I like the sound of that 🙂  To sum it up…as the name of the club implies – “has your soul ever really been kissed”? And, what happened after that?…. 🙂

El Beso

Walking pass the door and into the stairwell, the color of the walls, the posters, the feelings generated by the environment and projected from the soul in tandem with the old style Tango music you hear playing,  and a sense of expectation starts to rise….

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Once you walk in you see every one seated by the organizer.  And, it reminds you of a traditional type of arrangement.  The organizer generally seats the women in one section, men in another, and couples in another – although in certain sections you will see them interspersed with each other…

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The environment, once you stop to observe the nuances, is something that reminds you of another time – a time when chivalry was a part of the order of the day.  Although people are seated in different sections, they communicate about a willingness to dance through the Cabeceo…a way to  inquire about whether or not a person wants to dance while both maintain their dignity.  If the answer is in the affirmative, the man walks to her and escorts her to the floor.  The main focus of the dance is to make the follower have a wonderful time.  Afterwards, the man has the responsibility of escorting her specifically back to her seat.  If she is not the best dancer, it is the responsibility of the leader to adjust to her in a way that still ensures she has a wonderful time.  I witnessed this on several occasions and the many examples of chivalry were quite impressive to say the least.

To watch the dance…

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Is a completely amazing experience.  I’ve seen many amazing things in this world, and this ranks right up there at the top.  If you get captivated into watching one couple dance, then it appears they are doing their own thing.  But, when you expand your focus, while including that couple, to include the entire floor….then, you witness one of the amazing views in life.  Similar to watching a flock of birds or a school of fish shift directions.  It appears they are doing different things because each has their own favorite steps, moving at various times to what they find in different layers of the music.  But, then it is as if a signal goes off…and, then they all move, seemingly, together counter-clock wise around the room in the line of dance – creating a glowing sense of harmony!  A beautiful sight to behold…

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As Alejandro mentioned, the majority of these individuals were older people.  Some appearing to be at least 80 years old…and many of them mimicking the walk of a cat…At first many of them just looked at me as I wrote in my journal with my look of amazement.

Then after awhile, they began to smile and an older gentleman sitting next to me began to speak to me.  Interestingly, as he talked, he quickly recognized that Spanish is not my first language.  And, I told him in my elementary Spanish way that I did speak a little.  And so, our conversation began.  I asked him about his style of dance, Viejo Estilo, the old style of Tango.  He spoke slowly and was so very patient that he gave me the time I needed to think and form my own sentences in Spanish.  Instantly, made me ponder what is it about older people that drives that patience in life and in the dance.  Just as if I was dancing with him, he made me feel good and made me want to talk to him more.  We indeed had a wonderful time.

As I asked him about the Viejo Estilo, their is only one thing he kept mentioning over and over again – El Piso! El Piso! El Piso!  El Piso means: The Floor…which goes into the vocabulary of the dance.  Never lose the floor!!  Right from the start when studying Tango and watching Tango in El Beso, you pick up right from the start it is a form of communication!  It is a language.  And, in every language you have to get the basics of vocabulary.

Borrowing again from Christine Denniston –

“A newcomer, to Tango, learns the way a child learns a language.  First, absorbing the language of the fluent speakers around it, then after about nine months starting to speak the occasional word, gradually gaining confidence and skill, until after about three years the child can have a reasonable conversation.”

In this communication of the language of Tango, there are certain focus points necessary to build the vocabulary.

Tremendous emphasis is given to just learning how to stand; becoming aware of your axis; developing your posture; and, learning how to walk…significant things that must be dealt with before steps can be performed effectively or are even necessary.  Of course there are more aspects to this vocabulary, but this serves as a start.  Now, keep in mind….I don’t claim to be an expert, knowledgeable, or even proficient.  In many ways, I am a baby still learning how to stand and walk.  Added to my own mix, I have ZERO, as in Nada and Nunca, history of dancing.  But, for me it isn’t a dance.  I’ve found some tools that can be used on my path in life that also allow a person to improve their relationships and build…

What gives me hope, is that I read of an old Milonguero – Old Style Dancer – who was asked by his companion “how is your Tango coming?”  The old Milonguero replied, “after forty years of dancing, I think I am finally getting my walk correct.”  *chuckle*….so, that gives me hope!!

There are plenty of sources you can use to learn about Tango, I’ve only discussed a few that are relative to where I am on my personal path and journey in dance and in my life.  And, believe me, there are plenty of principles in Tango and Buenos Aires culture that can be used to make the path and journey more mutually beneficial for all involved…finishing this trip with just a few observations – coming next!

2 Responses to “Argentine Tango – El Beso (The Kiss)”

  1. Rabiah said

    Beautifully written. We need embedded video and audio. . . Can you make that happen? 😉 💃🏽

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