International Tango = Passion of “Wuthering Heights” x “Carmen”

06Apr10

Subtitle: Why International Tango, and Why Not Argentine Tango

I am a social dancer. What does that mean? — I go social dancing. — That means swing dance, hustle, west coast swing, salsa, merengue, bachata, etc. But I haven’t really gotten into Argentine tango. So why not Argentine Tango? I know a lot of non-ballroom dancers say — Argentine Tango is more genuine style. First of all, Argentine Tango and Ballroom Tango use different style of music. For some music, you may do either, but depending on the mood of the music, one style fits better than the other. But what makes me prefer one over the other? I say it’s personal preference. Then what makes me prefer one style over the other?

When I looked at the following video from 2000, I had an answer.

It’s because of those great dancers who danced international style tango so beautifully and I just can’t get over them.

Plus I feel International Tango is a whole lot more macho. Let me explain. How do you express the mood of Heathcliff and Catherine (Wuthering Heights), or Carmen and Don José (Opera Carmen)? The word “romance” can not replace the word “passion” in this case. In many ways, they are two different animals. And I think “passion” is what International Style Ballroom Tango is about. The clip is from ca~2000 Japan.

See if you can find:
Luca Baricchi & Loraine Baricchi
Augusto Schiavo & Caterina Arzenton
Massimo Giorgianni & Alessia Manfredini
Fabio Selmi & Simona Fancello
Timothy Howson & Joanne Bolton
Alan Shingler & Donna Shingler

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12 Responses to “International Tango = Passion of “Wuthering Heights” x “Carmen””

  1. 1 jantango

    The only word I can use to describe what I saw in that video is abuse. I dont understand how those women put up with being jerked around by partners who never look at them for one second. They all were out of breath after the two-minute routine that had no feeling or connection whatsoever with the music. I wonder how many of the women dancing the International style develop back problems.

    The tango I know and dance in BsAs is about embracing your partner and feeling the music. Tango is more known as an exhibition or performance dance even in BsAs today, but normal people dance tango to enjoy it with each other–not for applause nor titles.

    It is too bad that so many do not know what they are missing as dancers by not knowing the tango that was born in Buenos Aires. The English and American versions do not come close because they are all about steps.

  2. 2 caityrosey

    What you see in this video is not abuse. It’s consensual, after all 😉

    It’s interesting how people from different dance backgrounds can look at the same video and see different things. What I saw was some amazing dancing and some amazing performances. And I don’t think it takes a background in ballroom dancing to appreciate it. Although, as with most art forms, an understanding of what makes this particular kind of tango “tick” tends to increase the observer’s appreciation.

    What I see when I watch this video is some top-level ballroom dancers dancing with amazing control, connection, grace, and drama. Ballroom style tango is all about staccato movement–I envision the stalking panther, the striking cobra, the sharp and violent passions. It’s all there, out on the floor.

    I don’t see women (or men) being jerked around or without connection. If they were, they would not be able to move together so seamlessly. Their centers would be all over the place. You know what it’s like when you are jumping on a trampoline with someone? Unless you’re in unison, one person’s bounce subtracts from the other person’s bounce, or you double-bounce the other person, sending them soaring and screaming into the air. Same with this tango. These people have to be dancing together with amazing connection in order to do what they are doing.

    Regarding pack problems: I doubt you’ll find more back problems among ballroom people than among dancers in general. While the men and women “look” stretched out in uncomfortable ways, it’s not uncomfortable at all. The reason the lead and follow are poised the way they are is so that they can dance body to body, with feet on different tracks. They each poise the upper body to the left, creating a frame with the arms that facilitates movement. The lower body counterbalances the stretched and poised topline. The spine is still stacked up in a healthy way. Ask a teacher to show you sometime. It’s really amazing how it all works. The only way this sort of dancing will inherently give you back problems is if you’re doing it wrong.

    When you say that the tango you know in Argentina is all about embracing your partner and feeling the music–well of course. That’s not only what AT is about. It’s what most social dancing is about.

    The dancing you see in that video is competition tango dancing. A performance. It’s not supposed to be just like social dancing. It’s a whole other type of dancing–it’s a sport. Competition ballroom is first and foremost about showcasing your technique. Secondarily, it’s about performance and musicality. In order to optimize this approach, the dancers usually have a pre-choreographed routine. And they don’t get to pick the music. That’s a surprise, and the mark of a good artist as well as a good technical dancer, is when they can manage to show musicality as well as technical mastery, and do it on a dime. That’s a challenge. I would imagine AT competition dancing is similar. Also a sport. Also more focused on technique.

    Social ballroom is different, and much more like social AT you describe. It’s not a sport. It’s not about choreography or about “titles and applause.” I dance both social ballroom and AT, often at the same dance. I don’t see much distinction. It’s all social dancing to me.

    • 3 jantango

      I described what I saw in that video — ABUSE. I know that it is considered to be THE most elite form of ballroom dancing, but whoever came up with the international style of tango had no clue about how it is danced in Buenos Aires. the international style doesnt even respect the beat of the music. The men look like robots and their partners like puppets. It has one purpose — competition. Most people just want to dance for the enjoyment of being together in the music. That is lost in International style competition dances. Everyone works hard to conform to the standard set by judges rather than dancing the way they feel.

      I learned social dances as a child because my parents were ballroom dancers who met at the Aragon in Chicago. Later I studied International Latin dances, but never the foxtrot, waltz, tango or quickstep because they look ridiculous to me. I dont see the point in dancing behind the beat of the music as the British dictate for the style. I taught social dancing. I have seen enough competitions to know what I like and what I dont like.

      Ballroom style was invented to that teachers and judges could earn a living trying to get people ready for competition after years of private lessons. They want technique so that everyone looks the same–except for the fancy dresses. It is all about how many hours of coaching you have with the judges whether you win or not in competition.

      Connection isnt about being physically attached to a person — it is about being connected with the music together in harmonious communication and the joy of the present moment.

      Your reason for the back breaking position of the women does not make any sense. They are joined at the hip with no upper body contact whatsoever. Whereas in Argentine tango a couple has complete body contact from the head to below the waist in the embrace. There is no separating during the dance.

      I like the description I read years ago about the styles of tango. ARGENTINE is the romance, AMERICAN is the marriage, and INTERNATIONAL is the divorce.

      Argentine tango began as a social dance in Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, tango for exhibition and stage performance is presented as tango, so many are not viewing or learning the real tango — embracing a partner and feeling the music. That is what it is ALL about. The old boys network in BsAs is turning tango into a competitive sport where couples have to study with the judges to get an advantage in placing in the annual championships. That is too bad because the network is controling how tango is danced rather than allowing individual expression.

      Why don’t we see more plain social dancing by everyday people in competitions? Why does competition dancing have to be a performance of choreographed routines that were practiced for months? Where is the spontaneity, feeling, improvisation? Dancing has become so fixed on technique that there is no pleasure anymore just being in the moment with a partner. They all look like robots that were wound up to go through the motions.

      Visit my youtube channel and see some real tango from BsAs. If you feel that social ballroom and AT are the same, you havent yet experienced the real thing in tango.

      I see where you are coming from in this discussion. Like many you are under the spell of what ballroom dancing is supposed to be because the authorities who control it want you to believe it without question. The spotlight on social dancing in television is not presenting the real thing, but the public doesn’t know the difference. They put any kind of music to whatever dance and make a flashy choreography to impress audiences with personalities who know nothing about dance.

      Back to you . . .

      • What a great discussion! It’s wonderful hearing how passionate everyone here is about dancing. Even if those passions have different sources, it’s the differences that make them interesting.

        My friend Jen is an excellent ballerina and a FANTASTIC contemporary dancer. Even though I’m generally not much for solo performance dance styles (i.e. ballet, jazz, etc.) I still love to see her dance. Still, her styles aren’t ones I would ever learn myself because my interest is in the effect produced by a partnered couple. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with Jen’s dancing, but it’s simply my preference. Likewise, although she’s tried ballroom dancing and enjoyed the few times she’s come out to socials with me, her interest is in artistic creation and possibilities inherent in human kinesthetics; thus while she respects ballroom, it’s not a style she particularly enjoys. Again, her preference.

        I’m concerned, Jantango, that you’re using your preferences to define inherent value. I absolutely agree that Argentine tango has a stronger focus on improvisation than international or American tango do, but I’m unclear why that means it’s better. If improvisation was our sole definition for artistic merit there would be no Shakespeare but only beat poetry, no Motzart but only jam circles, and not even Argentine tango but instead just contact improv. I have nothing against beat poetry, jam circles, or contact improv (in fact, I make all my west coast swing students do a little CI as part of learning to improvise with the dance), but I’m glad that I have a bit of choice with what type of art I want to see or do.

        You make several critiques about the technique of international tango. While most of them are subjective, matters of preference which I’ve previously addressed, there are two that I wanted to touch on briefly. The first is your claim “the international style doesnt even respect the beat of the music.” On the contrary; international style puts its strongest emphasis on the beat. It puts less emphasis on the MELODY. In AT the melody which (with the exception of vals) may lack a clear beat, guides the dancers. In international tango the beat drives everything and all those sharp turns, twist,s and head flicks are designed to accent the beat, while the melody serves to guide the characterization and styling. Because the music was incredibly aggressive the dancers danced aggressively. It is precisely BECAUSE they are with the music that they look the way they do.

        The second technical point I wanted to address was connection. You sound as if you’ve been dancing for a long time; I’ll assume at least ten years, and that you’ve done a great deal of learning, attending workshops, private lessons, master classes, and so forth. If so, you’re no doubt aware that many things in dancing are illusory and appear contradictory. To an outsider who’s never danced AT, it may appear as if the dancers were slumping on each other. to such an observer, the A frame of AT would look like a heavy burden, when in fact it allows a strong positive connection that communicates through a core-to-core connection, the result of which is each dancer feel very light to his or her partner. I assure you that the “disconnected” approach is similar. While it looks exaggerated and uncomfortable, it provides a light counter-balanced connection that allows for an incredible freedom of movement. One will never see such a frame outside of ballroom styles because no other dance moves around the floor as much as the ballroom styles do. You do, of course, have every right to criticize the aesthetic of such a frame, and the movement it produces, on the basis of personal preference but I counsel you not to assume you know what the physical effects of such a frame would be without having learned to dance in that style.

        With regard to the salesmanship aspects of ballroom and the tendency of the masters to define the style in such a way to sell their lessons, that is undeniable but again it is not inherently negative. There is not a ballroom dancer in the world who is unfamiliar with the costs, both monetary and personal, involved in ballroom dance, especially competitive ballroom dance, but it is a cost we pay willingly. Perhaps we like the music, the movement, the community, the technical challenges, or any of the other hundred aspects of ballroom dancing. The point is that we LIKE them and have made a conscious choice to pay the costs involved. It is almost impossible to convince someone who doesn’t want to dance to even come to a free lesson, so we must assume the costs involved are the result of students willing to pay those costs, not teachers tricking students into dancing.

        Finally, you do have one quite valid point, which is the authenticity of the dance. International tango and American tango are NOT Argentine tango. While the dances have a similar origin, the ballroom styles have changed so much as to be scarcely recognizable and it is understandable that native Argentinians are offended at the co-opting of the word “tango.” One sees similar offense from Brazilians when presented with ballroom samba, and Cubans with cha cha and rumba. As such, it is perfectly reasonable to insist the dance be referred to as “ballroom tango,” “international tango,” or “English tango,” because it is a different style and therefore merits a different name, though I doubt you’ll get much heed from the world’s dance community. Just because it is different, however, does not make it invalid.

      • 5 nat

        You’re conflating two things: the distinction between Argentine tango and ballroom dancing, and the difference between social and competitive/performance dancing. At least in the ballroom world, if you’ve seen it on TV, it’s almost certainly competitive/performance dancing–in style and aims, at least, even if it’s not actually a competition.

        I actually agree with you that the tendency for competitive ballroom to feel the beat in the body, rather than the step, looks wrong. But that has nothing to do with social ballroom. IMHO, there is almost as much difference between social ballroom dancing and competitive ballroom dancing, as there is between social ballroom dancing and social Argentine tango. [Mind you, most of my ballroom friends disagree, and see a lot more kinship between social and competitive ballroom than I do.]

        As for the merits of improvisation vs. specific steps–sounds to me like a matter of taste. But, last i checked, even Argentine tango has a lot of generally-used steps, it’s just how they’re put together that is improvisational. Social ballroom dancing is equally improvisational–it’s making things up on the spot to go with the music, from a repertoire of basic steps that you have learned. The only social dancing I’m aware of that is fully choreographed is certain square- and contra-dancing. (And, even then, there’s a *lot* of room for improvisation, because the positional movements are choreographed, but none of the actual steps or flourishes are.)

        If the true value in dancing is in improvising movement to match the music, then swing dancing (with its historical emphasis on inventing all-new moves) would clearly be superior to either ballroom are Argentine tango. And hip-hop dancing, krumping, and any number of other “street” dances would be the clear choice if you truly think that the only thing that matters is being together and in the music. Because pretty much anything else, including Argentine tango, is a compromise between improvisation and consistency–the difference is one of degree, not kind. We’re all striking a balance between pure improvisation and rigid choreography–Argentine leans a little more to the improv side, social ballroom leans a little more to the choreographed side, and competitive ballroom is even more choreographed.

  3. 6 caityrosey

    1) As I said, I think it’s a misnomer to term this dancing “abuse,” even if it doesn’t appeal to you. It’s two people out on the floor dancing together by choice. To call it abuse makes an unfounded assumption about the personal lives of the dancers on the floor. I don’t think that sort of descriptor has any place in this discussion. Say it looks uncomfortable; say it doesn’t look like fun to you. Those are all perfectly valid personal opinions. I don’t want to get too deep into semantics here, so I’ll leave this point here.

    2) I appreciate you expanding on your dance background a little more. it is good to know that you have a background in both ballroom and AT. It makes me respect your opinion more, even if I don’t necessarily agree with you.

    3) Throughout your two posts, you make the argument that social dancing is inherently of more value than competition or performance dancing. I don’t think this is a fair value statement to make. They’re two different beasts.

    Is playing soccer with your friends at the park of more or less value than playing on a team? I don’t think so. The one is a social activity–you’re there to have fun, improve your skills, and get some exercise; the other is a sport focused on scoring points and showing your technical proficiency. I think the same comparison can be made between social dancing and competition/performance dancing.

    There’s no point in trying to argue that social dancing is of more value than dancesport. In what way is it better? How would you measure it? The only value statements you can really make are in terms of what you personally prefer. It’s a subjective opinion, not an objective truth.

    Just so you know, my first love is social dancing–I prefer social dancing too. But I don’t think there’s anything that makes social dancing inherently better than dancesport.

    4) I won’t quibble with you over what kind of body contact you prefer while dancing. AT embrace works well for AT. Am/Int Tango frame works well for Am/Int Tango. ‘Nuf said.

    5) Social dancing is social dancing. Different dances have different qualities to them. You move and express the music differently depending on the type of dance. As a fun experiment, sometimes a friend and I will switch back and forth between AT and other dances during the course of a song. Waltz to AT, back to waltz. Cha Cha to West Coast to AT, back to West Coast. Etc… It’s great fun because each different dance expresses the music a little differently and it’s so interesting to play with the transitions.

    6) I don’t think I’m under the spell of anything in particular. I’ve been dancing too long to harbor any illusions about media representations of dance or how social dancing compares to dancesport. I think I’ve learned enough to appreciate the art of dance in many forms. And I’ve also learned how to appreciate dance, even when it’s presented as a commodity (So You Think You Can Dance, etc…). And again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of it. You just need to have an open mind and eyes hungry for beauty wherever you may find it.

  4. 7 jantango

    @suburbakngt

    Argentine tango is the original that was born in Buenos Aires.
    I taught dancing for 20 years. Began at the age of 6 in ballet, studied piano and oboe, and returning later to dance. I turned 62 this week. I danced enough of international to know that there is nothing natural about it.

    @ aityrosey

    There was a time when social dancing was for everyone with no egos involved. Those who do otherwise are in it to boost their egos. Only those with a bundle study. It is no longer for the general public as dancing once was.

    The dance is named for the music. Switching between waltz (3/4) and AT (2/4) is impossible. Why is it necessary?

    • At no point did I disagree with you that Argentine tango came before ballroom tango, but I fail to see how that makes it inherently better. More traditional? Absolutely. More prestigious? Arguably. More authentic? I’d disagree but I’d at least hear you out. But none of those define quality.

      The polka is older than Argentine tango, the mazurka older than the polka, and (I believe) the minuet older than the polka. By your logic of “first is better” we should all be dancing minuets. Now I have nothing against these dances – in fact, one of my favorite parts of going to Viennese balls is seeing vintage dances that I otherwise never get to observe – but I don’t enjoy them enough to pursue them, and I certainly don’t want to be limited to them. Fun as the mazurka is, there hasn’t been a piece of popular music written for it in the past hundred years, so if I want to be able to use my dancing socially, I’d have a lot of trouble with this indisputably authentic dance.

      The question of originality is an issue of cultural survival that is quite contentious today. If a culture – or any aspect of the culture, including dance – refuses to evolve to a changing world, it runs the risk and high probability of becoming increasingly irrelevant. If it does adapt, however, it is no longer itself. At what point does an evolving cultural artifact lose its identity with the culture? You can hear this argument being had every day in immigrant communities where members are forced to become bilingual in order to advance in their new society.

      If Argentine tango refuses to evolve, it becomes an historical artifact, beautiful in its own right and certainly enjoyable by those who love it but with little appeal outside of that circle. One can see that currently with contra dancing, folk dancing, and vintage ballroom. Heck, one can see it with modern ballroom dancing. You may not LIKE how ballroom tango evolved from Argentine tango, and you may feel it’s changed so much it shouldn’t properly be called tango anymore, but again you’ve failed to make a case for its overall lack of quality as a valid style of dance in its own right.

      The only thing you need to do to make your argument valid is add the words “I feel” to your statements. “I feel that there is nothing natural about [international standard],” is a valid point. “I don’t feel anything natural in international standard,” is an even better point (the former could be dismissed as, “that’s just your opinion,” while the second demonstrates the effect of the style using yourself as an example). Just saying, “I danced enough of international to know that there is nothing natural about it,” however, makes you come across as a pompous ass.

  5. 9 caityrosey

    I hate to say it, but I don’t think there’s a situation in life where ego is NOT involved–it’s part of being a flawed human being.

    Social dancing is still for everybody. I don’t understand the point you’re making.

    It doesn’t have to cost a bundle to study. I used to dance with a student group that only cost $110 a semester for group classes. That was a great way to learn. Even taking private lessons doesn’t have to cost a bundle if you’re smart about it. Depends on how you define “bundle,” I suppose.

    Switching between AT and other dances requires some creativity. One thing I love about social AT is that, because it’s so improvisational, you can really do it to any song, not just to strictly AT music. Just like a lot of hardcore WCS dancers will dance WCS to any song.

    Why is it necessary? For fun. To play. Why not?

  6. 10 Breakin' Dishes

    @jantango…

    You “claimed” u studied international and u have taught for 20 years… u def just said this!

    “Later I studied International Latin dances, but never the foxtrot, waltz, tango or quickstep because they look ridiculous to me.”

    So you learned Latin… NOT Standard and NOT Smooth

    Please talk about what you know about! You can have your opinion but your opinion is not bond and neither is ours but your acclaimed 20 years of teaching does not make you infallible! Please respect the dances for its beauty like all of these people have said. if you cant respect this then why should we respect what you have to say? true dancers appreciate all dance even if they don’t prefer it.
    its funny how u wrote the measures of the dances, waltz (3/4) AT (2/4) and you said why would you dance these two together, …switching? well its called improv honey you said it best.

    It seems as if you are discriminating against American and International style tango. I know tango, that is Argentine tango, was originated from Buenos Aires but it is a different style from American and international tango. And you don’t like it cause its not from Buenos Aires. The country of origin should not matter as to whether it is the right one or wrong one. Just understand that Tango originated in Buenos Aires, and the other styles fused from DIFFERENT CULTURES into it as the dance spread to DIFFERENT COUNTRIES. In the early years of the 20th century, dancers and orchestras from Buenos Aires traveled to Europe. The dance became diversified then, and as you see it is not trying to be passed off as the orginial nor using the the name AT but American Style and International Style….VARIATIONS OF A DANCE! (MESSAGE) You must learn to appreciate these dances for what they are and not be so closed minded. Please don’t try to compare them to the style of dance that you know and love or you will never be able to enjoy them. I’m not trying to force you to like American and International Tango I just want you to respect it for what it is and don’t discriminate against it nor the people who dance it.

    I commend you other ladies and gentlemen for your respect for both because they are all beautifully danced and not entering in this discussion with “tunnel vision” views. Also your explanations of both never pointed out anything negative nor put the other dances down.

    Let’s hear this again:
    “Later I studied International Latin dances, but never the foxtrot, waltz, tango or quickstep because they look ridiculous to me.”

    ALL dance is beautiful and it does not matter to me where it came from because i appreciate all origins and all types of dance, not one is better than the other!

  7. 11 Breakin' Dishes

    O and another thing!

    You talked about people being trained by coaches, teachers or judges… you ARE a teacher! So I’m sure you don’t just hey kidos get out there and improvise… right? Cause a basic step is to dance to the music(AT has one or no one would learn true AT and do it correctly so they are not judged by YOU cause they did incorrect improvision or some milarky) and to feel comfortable with improvising and you teach this right? for free? or do you make a living and charge (there is a lot of time spent teaching for free)?.. cause at some point in your life you said to yourself… I love this dance, i want to teach this to people and they will grow to love it.. Same with ballroom instructors.


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