argentinsk tango i oslo

The unbalanced balance

Do you remember how as a child you would take a friend by the hands and begin to spin? Your feet had to be placed close to each other as your bodies moved farther and farther apart. That centripetal motion, not to mention the companionship and the joy of playing with a good friend, created a wonderful magic. It probably felt a little like flying even though your feet were planted firmly on the ground the entire time. It always ended the same way, twirling faster, arms stretched until you were no longer able to hold on to each other.
If you believe that you spun out of control because you were too heavy, think again. You did not lose your balance because you or your friend were too heavy but because of how you positioned yourselves. It happened because your feet were no longer optimally set between the two of you or because one person’s arms were stretched farther than the other’s, thus displacing the center of equilibrium.
The tango techniques that we practice and teach draw on many of these same qualities, both the intangible joy of spinning with a friend and the physical principles of balance. Every time we dance we try to recreate that sensation of flying, of trusting each other so that we can reach the edge of our equilibrium without falling out of control.

Initially, when I make a suggestion in the dance, my partner is reluctant to answer. She is reserved to an extent that borders on being unresponsive. I suggest a movement, an action, but she does not accept it – at least not to begin with. Actually she does respond but it is through opposition rather than through doing what I ask her to do. She reacts against me, pushing towards my movement instead of submitting to the direction of the force. Her initiative is contrary to my idea and will, and as she “talks” back at me through her actions, there is a growing physical tension in our embrace.
That tension finally resolves itself in a powerful movement. Her steps are so forcefull that I have to work not to let her fly out of my arms. Due to the power of her expression and opposition she pushes us out of balance. It doesn’t take much at the end because we were already off our axis when she began moving against me. At that point, we were balanced by leaning in towards each other, and the tension was resolved in a surging colgada. As we return to this suspension we have again accumulated an excessive energy. But this time, instead of building, it winds down. We are literally back to where we started – as playing children. We are about to spin out of each others arms. We twirl for just a second longer, and then our energy expires . Once again we are close to each other, in agreement, without tension. This calm only lasts for a fleeting instant though. It is merely a single point in space as we continue with the flow of energy and movement.
The headline of this article is a quote from Mazen Kiwan. He epitomizes the type of the dancer who believes in the tango as a dance between two dynamic axes. He sometimes talks about «the balance of the imbalanced”. We think it is a brilliant term.
One cannot merely think or make a decision about performing a particular movement in tango and expect it to happen. Or, perhaps one can but it would look very dull and deliberate. If we instead dance in a fashion where our parallel axes are merely guides in the movement from compression to suspension, then we are forced to enter a radical dialogue with our partner. Nothing is pre-determined so we must always be listening for where our balance is, both individually and as a whole. It is perhaps counterintuitive to contemplate that when we move off of our independent axes, our balance with each other becomes even stronger and we move together more truly and freely. It’s the same principle as with Gothic arches in architecture. A pillar or a structure that stands alone cannot hold the same weight or force as two pillars that share an axis or power center.

Therefore, if we risk our individual balance we have the potential to be stronger together in our movement. However, the stakes are also higher. If we give and take too much or too little, if we do not listen to our partner, the dance will become uncomfortable and ugly. It will be jerky as the two opposing forces fight each other. We will end up using far more power than we need and the dance will be un-dynamic and, not to mention, boring.
Most of today’s best dancers, regardless of which tango styles they are proponents of, utilize techniques with a dynamic understanding of balance. The reason we want to draw attention to this particular video clip is because these techniques are explicitly demonstrated by Mazen and Sigrid. They have also chosen a repertoire that to be danced well requires a command of these skills.
They aren’t always “perfect”. You can see how they sometimes bob up and down. Mazen is particularly guilty of this. Still, the video clearly demonstrates how they use a dynamic axis to accumulate power. Even with very simple steps they create energy between them as they constantly work with oppositions. So let’s take a look at it:

If we now look at Miguel Zotto and Milena Plebs, the picture is quite different. This isn’t surprising considering they are classical dancers in a salon-style or something similar to Villa Urquiza. Despite that they are highly recognized as dancers, we find their dancing tame compared to what we saw with Mazen and Sigrid. There are no exciting movements or dynamics between them. We see two completely parallel axes which move synchronously. This is the reason why they move in a dull and stiff manner. Their two axes never bond to form a unified body.

At this point we assume many classically oriented readers are probably annoyed with us. Some may suspect us of promoting an ideological view of tango; where nuevo techniques are superior to classical tango, and that what is new is always better than what is old. This is not the case. Look at this clip of Javier Rodriguez and Andrea Missé (Ignore the distraction that this clip from 2007 is in sepia; it is still one of the most beautiful dances we have seen from the world’s best classical dancers):

The repertoire and style here is indeed classical and conservative, but notice how flowing and energetic it is! Isn’t it more exciting to see this dance than a thoughtless nuevo routine that is manipulated and expends excessive energy due to poor technique? The principles here are the same as when Mazen and Sigrid dance. The difference is that these dancers work much more subtly with the principles. Also, in their Urquiza style tango there is more energy directed inwards. Their chest connection, however, is still very different from that of Milonguero style dancing where the axis is constantly shared through leaning in towards each other.
Despite the differences, the dynamic technique can still be relevant to Milonguero style dancing too. Watch arch-conservative dancers like Thierry Le Cocq and his partner Alessia Lyndin, and you will see these dynamic movement qualities. In this style they almost never compromise their close style abrazo. What makes the movement flowing is that their understanding of weight and how they share their axis is dynamic. I would also propose that when energy is lacking in this particular clip it is because they lose that dynamic understanding of their axis. Specifically, it is because Alessia becomes too “heavy” because she does not move with the same energy as Thierry does.

Let us again emphasize that we aren’t promoting one style as “best” but that we are talking about a technique that can be used regardless of whether one is a classical dancer or a nuevo-dancer. What matters is how we move on the floor rather than the repertoire we are working with or what kind of stylistic traits we use to spice up the dance.

If we, Anne Marit and Magnus, were forced to define ourselves as dancers, we would say that we are nuevo-dancers. Yet we spend more time practicing our classical technique than we spend practicing the large and extravagant nuevo technique. We believe that having a variety of experience and background is the best way to develop as dancers; no matter what style we ultimately use to express our joy in movement.

We believe the same thing applies to classical dancers. Like us, they benefit from developing as nuevo-dancers rather than stagnating within their classic style. A couple of years ago we experienced first-hand how devastating it can be to become ideological about one’s tango style. We attended close to ten milongas in a North American city, and we were surprised by how uniform all the dancers were. Despite the city having a large community, they only danced classical tango. The general level of the dancers was lamentable. It was stiff and the repertoire was simple. We don’t mind the latter as long as they still move beautifully.
We believe that the dancers did not move well because they had only practiced a static technique without ever challenging the possible kinetic energy of a dynamic tango embrace. When it comes to producing power, nuevo technique is superior to the classical dance. On the other hand, the classic tango provides a precision and basic understanding of the dance that the nuevo technique can never give on it’s own. As we have said before, our belief is that the most expressive dancers master the opposing camp’s techniques. We believe that mastering classical tango helps the dancer achieve a necessary precision, and that newer tango encourages dancers to move dynamically and powerfully.

Let us end with two clips of a couple that perfectly demonstrates the melding of the two techniques. Both clips are of Mariana Montes and Sebastian Arce. The music as well as the dance reflects a modern combination of the two styles.

The reason they are able to dance with this technical mastery of their nuevo style is that they are also outstanding classical dancers. They are sparse with extravagant motions, a characteristic of successful nuevo dancers. Poor nuevo dancers tend to use their “spices” (the extravaganza or the advanced repertoire) as their main ingredient. This makes the dance look like a series of clichés of difficult steps. There is no such tendency with Sebastian and Mariana. Instead, they don’t depend on the cover of spices and give us a taste of tango in its most essential form – and how beautiful it is! This milonga is within the paradigm of precise classical dance, yet they would never be able to perform it in such a lively way without their thorough knowledge of tango nuevo techniques.

Since it was so difficult to choose our favorite clips of them, here is another milonga with Mariana Montes and Sebastian Arce. Notice their rhythms. They are at the forefront internationally when it comes to precision, especially when the dance is rapid. In addition they have “polyrhythmic” features in their dancing. This means that one of them is dancing to one rhythmic figure and the other dances to another rhythm. Now, enough chatting. Here is last clip. It is a beautiful wedding of classical and nuevo techniques, and it is also the end of this article:

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