Why AT is not an Afro dance stolen by evil whites

Bearing in mind the neo-Marxist bias and hatred of anything European or “white” in academia and the media it is not at all surprising to see attempts to show that tango has “African roots” which have been “whitewashed”. So that tango has been, to use a freshly minted neologism “whitened” which I guess means that it has been culturally appropriated or stolen by whites whereas the unfortunate noble blacks, always the victims of the evil whites, have been written out of its history. So lets consider what it would mean for tango to have African roots and then to be whitewashed or “whitened” and in this it may be better to stick to fairly well established facts and agreed upon meanings of words and to avoid emotive and politically charged neo-Marxist neologisms that self-consciously detest anything European and seek to slander it.

It is an incontestable fact that South America has a sizeable black population that has significantly and positively influenced the creation of the unique cultures of countries like Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. This is most obvious in Brazil where Afro-Brazilian culture includes things like Samba dancing, Batucada drumming and Capoeira dance/fight. Now, these are not specifically African but rather “Afro”. For example, while some elements of Capoeira can be traced to Angola, Capoeira in its modern form is Afro-Brazilian in the sense that it was created by African or Black people in Brazil based on forms that they brought from various parts of Africa but that did not exist in that form prior to their development in Brazil. In that sense it is unquestionable that the practices of Capoeira, Samba and Batucada have Afro-Brazilian roots and no one would question that.

It is also true that today these cultural forms are practiced by Brazilians of all colours. If you go to Sao Paulo you will see Batucada drumming bands called bateria (pronounced /bah-te-RI-a/) that you often see comprised mostly of whites, or that least that what I saw when I was there. Does that mean that white Brazilians have culturally appropriated/stolen this practice from the black Brazilians and that it has therefore been “whitewashed” or “whitened”? You could say that if you wanted I guess, eg., if you’re a neo-Marxist academic in a Western university and you see victimisation everywhere and these sorts of aspersions basically pays your salary and attracts audiences to your lectures. Except that most Brazilians would probably laugh you in the face and find this incredibly offensive and a slander of their country and you’d get serious pushback. Brazilian culture today is the product of 500 years of mixing or “appropriating”.

Uruguay is also said to have an Afro culture in the form of the Candombe, a sort of street marching band with drumming and free dancing, of which they are very proud and that you hear marching down the streets of Montevideo several times a week. The problem is that while Candombe has clearly Afro roots you see few black people in Montevideo and, as with the baterias in Sao Paulo, the Candombe bands are predominantly white as far as I could ascertain. In the 6 months that I spent there and having the bands march in front of my apartment regularly I do not recall seeing a single black person in any of these bands although I’m sure that there must’ve been some. So I guess we must say that that Candombe is “whitened” if that means that it is practiced (hence I guess appropriated, hence stolen) by white people. Go tell that to the Uruguayans.

So let’s consider Argentine tango. On my understanding the black population in Argentina has been decimated through war, disease and probably various state policies. So I would not dispute that they have been displaced and oppressed by whites, at least those in the government. As a libertarian I’m critical of all governments especially when they try to engage in social engineering and so I have no disagreement with neo-Marxists criticising governments, except that they want more government, not less.

So that’s not really the issue here because the claim is that whites have appropriated tango from the blacks. So the question is whether tango is either (a) an characteristically Afro or black cultural form like Capoeira, Batucada, Samba or Candombe; (b) a characteristically European or white cultural form that black people merely participated in; or (c) a creole form that has a mixture of white European and black Afro elements. If it is (c) then the further question (d) concerns the relative contribution of whites vs. blacks so that we an decide whether it is fair to say that one group created and hence owned this form as their cultural heritage or capital, and the other has appropriated or stolen it for themselves and has written the other group out of it.

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There are several facts that suggest that Argentine tango is a creole form that comprises of mainly European elements with some Afro admixture. To begin with, you will notice that the early tango orchestras were referred to themselves as a creole orchestra or orquesta criolla. So from the outset the form was recognised as a uniquely Argentine form that was creole, a mixture of imported forms. However, the neo-Marxist may argue that already in those early 20th century tango recordings there was a move to appropriate and whitewash tango.

So the next question is whether in this these musicians were already culturally appropriating and “whitening” what was really an Afro form. In order to decide this issue we need to try to reconstruct the evolution of tango from the early 19th century to the beginnings of the 20th century. That’s about 50-100 years of evolution. First, lets consider the characteristics of distinctly Afro vs. European forms of music and dance. If you consider the Afro forms in Brazil and Uruguay you will notice that they are heavily based on drumming rhythms and that the dancing to these rhythms is typically not partnered in an embrace of any sort but is either individual or separated and rather free form.

Afro forms utilise complex rhythms that probably originate in various parts of Africa and instruments that are predominantly if not wholly percussive. The Berimbau utilised in Capoeira can play several notes that can be replicated on a tonal instrument like the guitar but it’s hardly a melodic instrument. By contrast, it is an incontestable fact that tango as we understand it today is a musical form that utilises the Western tonality and harmony and is played on European instruments: guitar, flute, bandoneon, piano, violin, double bass, etc. As for the dancing, even putatively Afro dances like the Cuban partner dances, these can be traced to European origins in the English country dances and contradanza, and not to any distinctly African or Afro form (see Musicality: tracing the origins of tango to contradanza and habaneira).

So the question is whether distinctly Afro forms could integrate the Western form of music and dance, that is, tonality, melody, harmony and partner dancing? In the case of Capoeira the instruments like the drums and the Berimbau can be traced to Africa whereas if you look at forms like the American Blues and Jazz, these are played on Western instruments: guitar, piano, trumpet, bass, saxophone, etc. These are designed and played in accordance with Western tonality and theory of music that has evolved in Europe over centuries since the Middle Ages. So can we then say that Blues or Jazz has Afro roots because it originates with African-American culture in the US? And should we say that jazz has been appropriated or “whitened” because it was subsequently developed by many non-black musicians and in terms of musical form it is placed within the Western musical tradition.

Going back to Brazil, we can look at the development of the Bossa Nova out of a Brazilian song form. Joao Gilberto was a singer from Bahia who was exposed to the Afro-Brazilian rhythms and then created a way of playing the guitar that imitated those rhythms and the singing style that is peculiar to this form. The only problem is that, apart from those rhythms being imitated on the guitar, everything else is white: Joao Gilberto was a white man from an upper middle class family who played the Spanish guitar which is a European instrument and used the standard Western tonality and harmony. Moreover, the greatest and most prolific composer in the form Antonio Carlos Jobim was a classically trained pianist who was influenced by the European romanticist composer and pianist Frederick Chopin. Then the most recognisable recordings in the form are performed by the saxophonist Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto, all white.

What might irk the neo-Marxist sensibility even further is that the Bossa Nova has been identified with upper middle class Brazilian culture, ie., gentrification from the start. This is not to say that there are no black performers of the Bossa Nova. The most accurate characterisation is that it is a modern form that originates in Brazil, and so has Brazilian roots. Nonetheless, the neo-Marxist must absolutely abhor the Bossa Nova and run with disgust the moment they hear it. Indeed, one of the greatest exponents of Bossa Nova singing became disillusioned with the gentrified form and became a Communist turning to screechy protest songs instead.

So the question about Argentine tango is whether it is more like Capoeira which clearly has Afro roots, or more like Bossa Nova which has some elements to an Afro rhythm but otherwise is within the Western musical tradition and is gentrified and whitened from the start. If you look at the claims made by the neo-Marxist what you always see is some pictures of Afro-Argentinians participating in a Candombe ritual where people are engaging in what might be partner dancing to some rhythmic drum music and presumably singing, and then they might bring out a performance by an Afro-Argentinian demonstrating a Canyengue sort of street tango. The argument is that the “salon” approach is a whitened version of the original or authentic thing which was “street” and “Afro”.

In this, however, we are no longer in the realm of facts but rather of interpretation. It is an agreed upon historical fact that there Candombe ritual parties in Buenos Aires in the 19th century, and some of them are said to have been referred to as “tango”. But then we have to reconstruct the connection from the Candombe parties of the early parts of the 19th century to the musica criola and associated dance form, the so-called tango Canyengue, that emerged toward the end of the century. You need to reverse engineer the form to figure out how much of that was Afro in origin and how much European. That’s difficult to do and so you need to engage in pure speculation. Is tango an Afro form like Capoeira which has been “whitened”, is it like with Bossa Nova which has some Afro elements but is otherwise within the Western musical tradition.

Now I don’t discount that some neo-Marxist academic who hates anything Western or European will view Bossa Nova as having Afro roots and a form of hateful cultural appropriation/plunder, but I assume that the reader is not a radical leftist ideologue on a mission to destroy Western culture but wants instead to get a reasonable appraisal of the situation. It is more plausible, in my view, to say that tango, even in its early stages of development as practiced by Afro-Argentines, was a European from practiced by blacks. Let’s say initially it was Candombe rituals, then it would have been mainly drumming music. Was that recognisably Argentine Tango at that stage? I’d say no. Then some instruments would have to be introduced that are not Afro. The two instruments that are characteristic to tango are the guitar and the bandoneon. The modern guitar was invented in Spain around 1860. That was also the time when the bandoneon which was invented in Germany was brought to Argentina. This was precisely the time when large numbers of immigrants were arriving in Argentina and Uruguay. What we do know is that the milonga is a derivation of the Habeneira which is a European dance form that incorporates an African rhythmic form called the tresillo.

So what is left of the Afro element of tango is the idea of a ritual dancing party and the rhythmic element of the Habanera form that evolved into the milonga. The other aspects: the idea of partner dancing, the instruments, the musical form are already European in origin. In other words, tango was never really Afro in its roots, it was already “creole” from the outset. If it was “whitened”, what was whitened was not an Afro form but a creole form that had some Afro elements and that was practiced by both white and black Argentines. The prior form of Candombe was not recognisably tango any more than the samba is recognisably Bossa Nova even if Bossa Nova incorporates it. The neo-Marxists are committing the fallacy of composition:

The fallacy of composition arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole (or even of every proper part). For example: “This tire is made of rubber, therefore the vehicle of which it is a part is also made of rubber.” This is fallacious, because vehicles are made with a variety of parts, most of which are not made of rubber. (Wikipedia)

There are some elements in Tango that can be traced to Afro-Argentine roots. But even the idea of a dancing party is not uniquely Afro in origin even if the dancing parties in Buenos Aires at the time were Candombe parties. Neo-Marxist talk as if Europeans have never engaged in social dancing until they came to Argentina. It’s a level of historical ignorance that is just astounding, but if you know any neo-Marxist academic you will know that they pride themselves on their lack of history, or on some weird neo-Marxist version of it in which everything that Europeans have or do has been stolen from the noble savages. A more reasonable and realistic view of the matter is that Afro-Argentines have been a part in the development of tango but that tango is a uniquely Rio Platanese form that arose out of a combination of a number of elements, in particular, the habanera musical form and the practice of partnered social dancing. It was a creole form from the start and if anything the tango de salon is a “whitened” and gentrified form of what was already predominantly a white and gentrified form to begin with, the Afro contribution notwithstanding.

Neo-Marxist destruction of Argentine Tango: why I’m getting out

When I started the ATH project I thought that the problems that I saw on the tango scene had to do with things like poor organisation, poor teaching, and excess marketing. I then noticed that a lot of the issues had to do with the influence of politics, in particular, the encroachment of leftist and feminist ideology. I thought that perhaps the political influence would be limited and at least some part of the tango scene could be reserved for traditionalists who want to maintain the traditional practice of Argentine tango. However, I’m coming to the view that this assumption was wrong and that the tango scene is not only stagnating but rapidly regressing and falling into a downward spiral.

What’s particularly concerning is that the tango scene is following the wider social trends in becoming toxic for heterosexual men. Feminism has made it acceptable to view men with derision, to characterise male behaviour and cognitive style as toxic, and also to make it acceptable to plunder the fruits of men’s labour.

Men perform the majority of the hard work in the economy and when feminists demand social justice and equity in the workplace what they mean is that they want easy access to the easy, comfortable, well-paying office jobs and they don’t want to compete for these by working long hours. Instead of treating their work professionally women feel entitled to dress provocatively at work to attract the attention of high status men but to cry sexual harassment when low status men show unwelcome interest. Men’s achievements in creating the most successful societies in history are derided as the work of “dead white males” who are instead said to have created a patriarchy that oppresses women and minorities.

The discourse deriding white men is now becoming well-established in tango and it is fair to say that it is no longer safe to be a north European man on the tango scene. Men are on the tango scene at the pleasure of women to provide partners for them. What I’m finding is that being a man on the AT scene you’re effectively regarded as a taxi dancer whose job is to satisfy women’s requirements. You’re not really appreciated or respected and this is signalled in a variety of ways.

For example, European women have a soft spot for “latin” men: South Americans, Italians, Portuguese, etc. Now, I understand that there are affinities between different ethnicities and I myself have a strong preference for Asian women. However, imagine if in my promotional material I constantly emphasised that there are great Asian female dancers at my event. If you analyse the discourse on the Western tango scene it is clear that it is essentially designed to cater to the tastes of Western women and their valuation of men. In this regard, I actually am on the side of those who call for “decolonising” tango. There seem to be few or no masculine Western men on the contemporary AT scene. Instead the typical guy on the AT scene is an emasculated social butterfly who is in a symbiotic bordering on parasitic relationship with the women.

As I see it, the contemporary AT scene is only marginally about sociality and cultural enrichment and is predominantly about extracting value and it is slanted towards the interests and desires of women. I could offer many anecdotes illustrating the sort of toxic attitudes that I’m talking about: attention seeking, social climbing or competitiveness, consumptivism, valuation of men, etc. It is inevitable that these women are essentially engaging in self-sabotage because the men who remain on the tango scene know how to play the game. They are the “liberal”, leftist, feminist men who pander to the female ego and sense of entitlement but essentially extract maximum value for themselves by exploiting their advantage of scarcity as few real masculine men would endure the toxic vibe of the AT scene and instead pursue other, masculine hobbies. This is what I plan to do as well.

I’m pretty much done dealing with this and have already minimised my exposure to AT milonga scene. I’m just done with the treatment and I abhor feminism and female empowerment and entitlement. I was a “feminist” at university in the sense that I was in favour of equality between men and women. But I noticed that feminism is not about equality at all. It’s about female supremacy. Affirmative action is essentially about plundering men’s resources by women. It is about stealing from men: children, property, jobs, etc. Women have choices that men don’t. The idea that a man can be a “househusband” and the women can be the breadwinner is a complete fantasy. Women are given jobs in favour of men, but still expect the man to be the provider. There is no equality or fairness in any of it.

All of this has eventually and inevitably reached the tango scene and I don’t see any improvement in the situation any time soon. What would have to happen is that all the steps that have been taken and that are being taken would have to be reversed, and it took a lot of steps to effectively kill tango. Tango is just another victim of socialism, or what Ludwig von Mises calls destructionism. As we find in Wikipedia:

Destructionism as discussed by Ludwig Von Mises, a classical liberal economist, is policies that consume capital but do not accumulate it. It is the title of Part V of his seminal work Socialism. Since accumulation of capital is the basis for economic progress (as the capital stock of society increases, the productivity of labor rises, as well as wages and standards of living), Von Mises warned that pursuing socialist and statist policies will eventually lead to the consumption and reliance on old capital, borrowed capital, or printed “capital” as these policies cannot create any new capital, instead only consuming the old.

Tango is the old capital that is currently being consumed or plundered by (a) the Argentinian state which has become parasitic and renders the country unproductive and (b) neo-Marxists in Argentina and elsewhere who seek so-called “social justice”, or what really amounts to plundering and destruction of the cultural capital of the West. So lets consider the steps in the process of the destruction and plundering of tango:

1940s

The rich economies of Argentina and Uruguay that were created mainly with men’s labour and that built beautiful cities with grand European architecture are destroyed by redistributive democratic statism/socialism starting with Juan Peron. The state plunders the economy that was built over the previous 100 years and then bails itself out by printing money destroying the currencies for decades. To this day the Uruguayan and Argentinian pesos are practically worthless and the cities look like they’ve been a war zone in recent years. Then, to explain the destruction of the economy, the blame is put on the evil American empire.

1980s

The Argentine government decides to engage in market capitalism by exploiting the tango culture and attracting tango tourism through state sponsored marketing. Has loud musicals travel internationally and then creates tango products for foreigners such as various classes, festivals, competitions, etc. Trains dancers to do performances and give workshops around the world that appeal to people’s vanity by offering them the possibility of “performing” in fancy costumes.

2000s

The “liberals” who dominate tango scenes in major urban areas start casting aspersions on the traditional tango dancing as being “machismo” and traditionalist ideas as “the tango police” or “old boys club” etc., and promote leftist, feminist and egalitarian ideas about equality, anti-ablism, inclusivity, therapy and promote a culture of low expectations. They make sure that all communication channels such as forums and commentaries see discourse moving in the direction of the left and anyone that opposes that is outnumbered and if they appear to be persuasive are censored or cancelled.

2010s

We see the hard left ramping up the political attack by promoting the idea that tango is an African dance that is culturally appropriated by “whites” or that has been “whitened” and “genrified” and that it needs to be “decolonised”. It’s not clear what that means but it seems to mean at least (a) if you’re white you should feel guilty about your people appropriating/stealing and gentrifying/whitening tango; (b) you should work to compensate the marginalised groups by making tango less ableist, patriarchal, oppressive, that is, by rejecting things like skill, social rules or manners, and sex roles; and (c) refusing to dance or excluding in any way minority groups like black women, homosexuals, transexuals or the disabled signals internalised systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.

Any resistance to the LGBTQ+ agenda in tango is to be met with resistance. Although I haven’t seen this happen yet I won’t be surprised if we see online and offline mobs protesting cisgender only tango events that follow the traditional “codigos” as oppressive and patriarchal and calls for people who organise or participate in such events to be fired from jobs, cancelled from forums, etc.

800px-Overton_Window_diagramTo my mind the people on the AT scene who are politically on the centre or to the right of centre are like the proverbial boiling frog. The left is taking systematic steps to shift the Overton Window away from traditionalist discourse towards a discourse where the traditionalist attitudes are considered radical and unacceptable. Their strategy was developed by Herbert Marcuse in his essay “Repressive Tolerance” (1965), namely, to be intolerant towards the mainstream attitudes in order to establish their preferred leftist attitudes. As Marcuse puts it at the outset:

The conclusion reached is that the realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed. In other words, today tolerance appears again as what it was in its origins, at the beginning of the modern period–a partisan goal, a subversive liberating notion and practice. Conversely, what is proclaimed and practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression.

So what the left is doing is systematically seeking to repress the prevailing attitudes and to tolerate only the marginal attitudes, namely, the attitudes of feminists, homosexuals, LGBTQ+, blacks, etc. The goal is to repress and not tolerate the attitudes that represent the dominant mainstream population, to delegitimise those attitudes. This is the explicit program of the left and as far as I can see they are proceeding with this program unabated. I see only a few people are meekly expressing dissent only to be mobbed with so-called “liberal” attitudes or opinions, ie., opinions that are anti-ablism, anti-male, and pro-inclusivity. Characteristically masculine and achievement oriented attitudes are actively opposed and discouraged, and a feminine cognitive style is dominant and acceptable. There are instead explicitly political moves to “decolonise” tango, to normalise same-sex dancing and to rely less on men in the organisation of events. Any such moves in the opposite direction would be considered fascist, sexist, or white supremacist.

The neo-Marxist agenda for tango is being clearly defined and can be found on websites like those of Olaya Aramo who is a “Philosopher with a PhD on sociology of gender. Professional (queer) tango dancer and organizer and Contact Improvisation practitioner and researcher.” As I have mentioned previously (see eg., Postmodernism) universities today are in the business of destroying Western culture and a major tool that they have developed is the manipulation of language. You basically have an army of PhDs like Aramo in philosophy, sociology, gender studies and dance departments of universities who are getting government funding to write dissertations on how to turn tango into a postmodern, inclusive, therapeutic, vegan, anti-patriarchal, queer practice that transgresses gender roles blah blah blah. This is their goal and they’re busy organising and indoctrinating.

So here are some or Olaya Aramo’s proposals for destroying tango:

  1. Politicise tango in terms of rich vs. poor. Aramo’s first workshop Class and gender in the origins of tango teaches participants that “politics are a constitutive part of the movement itself, making visible the contribution of marginalized social groups as poor migrants, people of color, prostitutes, as well as the processes of whitening, gentrification, and nationalization.” So tango was created by poor migrants, non-whites and prostitutes, and then it was “stolen” by white rich white Argentine nationals. In other words, tango was stolen. So what’s the solution? Reparations of course. Given that the participants are most likely affluent white people I guess the goal is to create a sense of guilt and self-loathing.
  2. Convince people that tango was stolen from the blacks by evil whites in an act of “cultural appropriation” aka theft. The workshop entitled Intersectional tango, black roots of tango and whitening processes in technique “traces a genealogy in the movements of tango, looking for its black roots based on ethnomusicological and ethnodancelogical research, and describing the process which led to the whitening of these roots through so-called professionalization and cultural appropriation during the nationalization of tango phase. It’s aimed for anyone interested in tango or cultural history, and it’s especially pertinent for intermediate and advanced tango dancers who can strongly feel these cultural influences functioning in their bodies. ” It’s no clear that Aramo is not herself engaging in “professionalisation” and “cultural appropriation”, but either way she clearly wants to convince tango dancers that when they are dancing tango their bodies are somehow participating in stealing black culture, at least that’s one interpretation of this Pomo gobbledygook.
  3. Convince people that sex roles are a patriarchal ploy and an irrational bias and need to be destroyed. In the Gender roles and gender identity workshop Unrolling partner dance Aramo teaches that The assumption of roles in popular partner dance is prejudice to be overcome. Today, we know that there’s no need to use the fixed roles of following and leading to dance any partnered dance. This assumption comes from a social construction about gender roles and it is not based on any technical impossibility of dancing differently. What do we have instead? We need to deepen in the practice of active listening or connection, where we find the essence of partnered dance itself. This skill can be developed through simple exercises brung [sic] from contact improvisation, where roles have never existed and can be applied to any form of popular partnered dances.” Of course, it may be possible to dance without leading and following, but that does not entail that we want to “overcome” gender roles. Amaro is not, however, concerned with freedom of choice, because clearly gender roles need to be destroyed in favour of “pansensuality” etc etc.

Anyway, I think that this illustrates clearly enough the neo-Marxist strategy for destroying tango. One may follow the link and consult the remainder of this stuff, I don’t have a stomach for it. I think the problem is that people on the tango scene believe that this will be a separate thing away from the mainstream milonga scene, but I think that they are mistaken and that we are going to see increasingly aggressive incursions by neo-Marxists on the mainstream tango scene in the form of same-sex dancing, transgender, queer and lesser-abled people insisting on being included, various improvisational dancing and vocal criticism on and off TA forums of traditional norms as signs of the cultural appropriation and patriarchy. In fact, we are already seeing all of these but over time they will ramp up to the point where the milonga scene will be unrecognisable and will in all likelihood completely implode.

For now the neo-Marxist agenda is proceeding unabated in its “slow march through the institutions” as the communist strategist Antonio Gramsci put it. Unless I see enough people waking up to what is going on, taking the “red pill” and presenting a concerted resistance I no longer recommend participating AT. I am myself minimising my own participation and instead focusing on other hobbies that are safer for masculine European men. If you are a man with an interest in AT I suggest becoming an audiophile or a musician as these seem to be relatively safe spaces for men. These can lead to organising tango events away from the feminised, neo-Marxist ridden tango scene, and may open up the possibility of re-building an alternative, anti-PC tango scene. But for the time being tango dancing seems to be pretty much a high risk activity for men and to be generally in the process of destruction. This website, if it survives the neo-Marxist attack and does not get cancelled, is meant to serve as a message in the bottle for future generations who might be able to attempt to rebuild it.

The MP3: an impoverished musical experience

We have many “wonderful” tango DJs on the scene these days, or at least that’s what all the marketing on FB pages tells us. In reality more often than not what I see is something like this: the “wonderful” DJ plugs the audio device into the headphone jack of the laptop (ie., no external DAC); and then plays the music from MP3 files. The music that results is downright depressing: thin, muffled, low energy, lacking in space or transparency, basically a dying corpse. If that wasn’t enough the DJ then attempts to resuscitate the victim by amping up the volume to ear-assaulting levels.

tango vinyl djIt took me a while to figure this out and now I can spot the mediocre audio setup almost the moment I enter the space. In the early 2000s this was understandable as little was understood about tango music and its requirements, at least outside of Buenos Airs. Today, however, we have access to online DJ lists and tandas, quality transfers to high resolution audio files on websites like TangoTunes which also provides ample information about tango music, and any aspiring DJ can find information on how to get acceptable sound of these in terms of the computer software and digital-to-analog converters or DACs.

Despite all of this we continue to be subjected to really awful sound at most milongas (really “practilongas”) organised by dancing teachers who are clueless about DJing themselves or about hiring competent DJs. Apparently the costs are too high and one place where these people are comfortable skimping, apart from the audio equipment, is the music files. Apparently, MP3 music files are perfectly adequate because “most people can’t tell the difference anyway”.

I’m old enough to have spent a decade or two listening to music on vinyl and then CDs using fairly good quality Hifi equipment: NAD amplifier, Harman Kardon CD player, Mordaunt Short speakers, Dual turntable. So I was a bit of a hi-fi buff. When the internet came around and you could download mp3s I was excited about the possibilities. But I noticed the clear difference in the quality of the sound compared to the CD. Clearly a 320kbps sounded better than 128kbps, but it did not sound anything like a CD.

More recently I decided to look into music reproduction for tango and in the process learned about the most recent developments in computer hi-fi or “computer audiophile”. The rules of the game have changed quite radically in particular because the traditional source of vinyl or CD was replaced by the sound or audio file (MP3, ACC, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC). Consequently where in the past one had to consider a good quality turntable and/or CD player today you must consider the audio player software (iTunes, Traktor, Audirvana 3, JRiver Media Center, etc.), additional sound processing software or “filters”, and the digital-to-analog converter or DAC (DragonFly, Chord Mojo, Chord Hugo 2, etc.)

Generally speaking the discussion of a computer audiophile setup as it relates to classical music will also apply to tango although tango might have some special considerations. Not all classical music is recorded in the same manner. I found that classical orchestras that use period instruments have a similar sound to tango recordings. These orchestras use instruments that would have been in use when the music was originally composed rather than their more modern versions and therefore tend to be recorded in a way that tries to capture the timbre and ambience of the individual instruments rather than just the content of the music as it emerges out of the whole orchestra.

In other words, we an acoustic image where there is a clear separation of the instruments that captures the characteristics of the various instruments whether they occupy the space in the low, midrange, or high range of the acoustic spectrum. If find that the EDO recordings also preserve the timbre of the instruments as it would have been immediate to the players and audiences at the time. With a good recording you can clearly here the separation of the bandoneon, the violins, the piano and the bass in their respective place on the spectrum. All these acoustic instruments emit complex sounds that are due to harmonics, so that a given note played on an instrument is actually a collection of several notes. So in the process of recording and reproduction you want to capture the richness of the acoustic signal as much as possible.

Now, when the audio industry was transitioning from analogue formats such as the vinyl record and the tape to the digital medium of the compact disc it was decided that in order to capture the maximum amount of information the ideal format is 24bit/96kHz. I have a vague understanding of what this means, but basically this format samples most of the information that is audible to the human ear. Some advocates of high resolution or HiRes audio argue for higher, and the CD is able to contain more information, much more than the vinyl record. But 24/96 was considered adequate even for most audiophile purposes.

Now, when the first computer audio files were brought out the purpose was to be able to transfer sound over what was at that time very slow internet. An uncompressed sound file takes up more than 10Mb of space and at that time hard drives were small and the internet was slow. This would take hours to download. The MPEG standard was developed for compressing music files. As Wikipedia tells us:

In regard to audio compression (the aspect of the standard most apparent to end-users, and for which is it best known), MP3 uses lossy data-compression to encode data using inexact approximations and the partial discarding of data. This allows a large reduction in file sizes when compared to uncompressed audio. The combination of small size and acceptable fidelity led to a boom in the distribution of music over the Internet in the mid- to late-1990s, with MP3 serving as an enabling technology at a time when bandwidth and storage were still at a premium. … With the advent of portable media players, a product category also including smartphones, MP3 support remains near-universal.

 

MP3 compression works by reducing (or approximating) the accuracy of certain components of sound that are considered (by psychoacoustic analysis) to be beyond the hearing capabilities of most humans. …  Compared to CD-quality digital audio, MP3 compression can commonly achieve a 75 to 95% reduction in size. For example, an MP3 encoded at a constant bitrate of 128 kbit/s would result in a file approximately 9% of the size of the original CD audio. (emphasis added)

So the main purpose of the MP3 format was eliminating a lot of information in order to reduce the file size while retaining an “acceptable” quality of sound. Most discussions today concern the issue of what is “acceptable fidelity” and what is “beyond the hearing capabilities of most humans”, with arguments such as that “most people can’t tell the difference”. This begs the question why prior to the MP3 the standard of music reproduction was 24bit/96kHz?

So while the original intent was the compression of the music file so that it can be more easily stored and transferred, what has happened subsequently is that new music was recorded so as to sound good even when reproduced from an MP3 file. In other words, whereas previously the CD set the standard of music production and reproduction, now MP3 became the new standard. That has meant that most people are mostly exposed to music reproduced from MP3 and rarely hear music reproduced from CDs on quality audio equipment.

Now when you compress a recording of classical or tango music to the MP3 format you effectively strip the music to its bare musical content losing a lot of acoustic  information that contributes to its atmosphere that is critical to the aesthetic experience of the listener. People who are trained in listening to music or have listened to high quality reproduction of the music are able to immediately perceive these aspects. But most people are still able to respond to these aspects without being consciously aware or being able to articulate them. The problem is that most people have become so used to MP3 that they accept them uncritically.

DJ setup Foobar 2000So the idea that MP3s are acceptable and that CD quality or high resolution 24bit/96kHz files are redundant strikes me as utterly absurd, so-called comparison tests notwithstanding. It is true that people are nowadays constantly exposed to low quality sound reproduction to the point of being unable to discriminate between acceptable and impoverished sound reproduction. It is the sad reality that we are exposed to more “music” then ever before, but most of that is really musical noise that only succeeds in blunting our sense of hearing. I reproduce below an excerpt from an article written in 2001 by the musician/composer Mark Polscher that addresses some of the issues relating to the proliferation of MP3s. I used Google Translate and did some minor editing to improve clarity.


8-bit music is produced in 24-bit studios, sold in MP3 quality and consumed through 6 channels

By Mark Polscher

Source: Telepolis

[…]

The data-compressing MP3 algorithm has the logical consequence of a general reduced perception of music

What was initially intended as a compromise and concession due to low transmission speed on the internet is establishing itself as a musical norm and not only on the sales and retail side. For many musicians and music producers MP3 has become a reference for artistic production. With growing awareness that 8 bits are completely sufficient for most contemporary music anyway the MP3 format with its tonal inadequacies represents an artistic loss for only a few. AB comparisons to prove that the difference in sound between MP3 and CD is hardly audible are proudly announced.

This is not surprising. Almost all of the music samples used were “composed” from the outset in a multi-evaluation manner and industrialized in terms of sound technology, so that a new compression by MP3 could no longer harm the production of such quality. The fact that the MP3 format was able to spread so successfully in a short time has nothing to do with the original idea of compressing music files so they can be quickly sent over the internet with low bandwidth, but with the fact that the data-compressing MP3 algorithm is the logical consequence of a general lowering of the perception of music.

In times when the decisive cultural trends emanate from the standard pop machine and an incessantly sounding data stream terrorises our world, it is not surprising that music is only used as a permanent karaoke for a universal attitude to life. Admittedly, it doesn’t matter at which tonal and aesthetic level the global soundtrack occurs. MP3 has long since mutated from the Internet file format to the sound standard.

In this light, the whole question of copyright appears like a historical apercu, where entertainment device manufacturers and consumers remain unimpressed. I am afraid that more and more musicians and music producers are constructing their music in terms of the MP3 format right from the start and are completely uncritical as to both industry standards and renewed inferior standardisation. And all without need: the Internet business with music is idle and, more importantly, the Internet is further away than ever from becoming a mass medium. There are various options for non-data-reduced archiving (storage has never been so cheap), and the commercially available CD will undoubtedly remain the medium for music for a long time to come.

But of course the whole point is not with MP3. The fact that music has already been conceived and created with reduced data in its creative phase is the result of a reduced-imagined and position-compressed stance towards the work itself and only clears the way for the standardised sound porridge of our day. As long as composers and producers continue to turn away from the essence of music and give up the creative moment in favour of a consumer-oriented fabrication the door to regression and flattening in music remains open.

All of this is also in grotesque contradiction to the efforts of the music and entertainment electronics manufacturers to blast the high-definition DVD technology in 24 bit and 96 kHz for both the musician and the listener. In the meantime, every Aldi PC has been equipped with a 24-bit converter and the countless samplers in children’s rooms in the western world process their audio snippets in DVD quality. The manufacturers promise the music producers a sound engineering paradise and the music consumer consciousness-enhancing sound experiences in front of the television. On the one hand it is rather uncomfortable to see how you have been trying to define various DVD standards for years, and once again solely and exclusively favor economic and political rituals with this or that technique, on the other hand it is a sad pleasure to experience, how the advertisement suddenly discovered sound and depth as the highest quality feature in music. But what kind of works are they supposed to be? The hit parade in 24 bit and 6 channels for breakfast television?

I doubt that the benefits of DVD and other new sound carriers can be conveyed to music consumers. The system blocked the access itself – and the sad thing is that the musicians, composers and interpreters, who actually concern it the most, contributed to it themselves with their humility towards the phono companies.

MP3 may have been a political move

The fact that the manufacturers of music reproduction equipment and home electronics still get their money’s worth can be attributed to McLuhan’s phenomenon “the medium is the message”: 8-bit music is produced in 24-bit studios, sold in MP3 quality and consumed in 6 channels. When the movement started a few years ago, after some hesitation, I decided to put two of my works on my homepage as an MP3 download. Still intoxicated by the utopian idea of digital democracy and excited about the technical possibilities of having alternative publication and distribution channels, I thought that this was an artistically adequate way of presenting my music to a wider public.

Regardless of the unsatisfactory sound results in the MP3 encoding of my pieces and always hoping that this algorithm was only a transition format, which will soon be replaced by an acceptable further development, it was also important for me to be part of this movement to be and take a position against the phono empire. But that was of little interest and the low audio quality quickly met the demands of both producers and consumers.

In doing so, immensely important musical information is lost during coding: the criteria used in information technology processes for data reduction, redundancy and irrelevance are both used in MP3 technology. The lossy coding of audio material uses the effects of frequency and temporal concealment and forms the basis for reducing the depth effect, dynamics and spatiality to a minimum or eliminating them completely. But these are essential parameters that serve to clarify music and coordinate multi-layered perception for musical deepening.

The fact that there are only a few musicians involved and only a few listeners can and want to perceive this is sad enough, but to say that this is not relevant musical information is simply stupid. The fact that one wants to do without these artistic expressions fits all too well into the one-dimensional thinking and feeling of our day. If music is produced from the outset according to the new industry standard, it certainly says something about the quality of the creative process. If the composer can’t or refuses to perceive losses in coded audio this says something about his sensitivity. If you find this sort of music, you should avoid it.

I have now decided not to make any further MP3 encoding of my music and for the two works “are there two? Are there more than two” and “vme” expressly on my homepage to point out that the recordings, similar to the Real streaming format that I also offer, are only a reference to the studio production, for which an appropriate sound carrier is required. Incidentally, when I download one of my MP3-encoded pieces, I no longer have any copyright concerns, because it is not a digital copy of the work, but only an incomplete reference to it. MP3 could have been a political move. Composers and interpreters could have assumed a high degree of responsibility and self-determination. Instead, however, they again prefer to continue to allow the industry regulate our aesthetic and economic future.

Salon Canning vs the tango organiser: why there are no good tango DJs

My Friend: Hi … organizers! Will you help Tom find good tango in your cities?

Me: I like anything with Golden Era music. Thanks!:)

Organiser 1: [Links to FB groups for those cities]

Me: Thanks! However, it’s hard to tell from FB groups which organizers/DJs play good quality Golden Era music, ie. no music after 1950.

O1: what are you looking for? milongas, classes, practicas?

Me: The Salon Canning experience lol

O1: it’s hard to predict sometimes even if you know the dj

Me: The DJ should inform the organisers about equipment set up and DJ set.

O1: they rarely do it

Me: I know. But they should. It’s like lottery.

MF: Hahaha the world would be a better place but only at Canning man… It’s a hit and miss everywhere yes

O2: Tom, O1 is right. You can’t be sure about the sort of music that DJs will play in the milonga in [country name]. Usually the music can be really ‘surprising’ meaning ‘shitty’. There are a few djs you can trust.

One of them is O1 :)) She played in my milonga and it was really cool. So I can highly recommend her. BTW, when will you play at …, O1??? I miss you!

As for …, there is good music at milonga …. The DJs are very good, with a good taste [dj’s]. They play traditional tango music.

And in … there is a great new milonga on … as well run by an Italian, Argentinian and Uruguay DJs who really take care about what they play. So you should be satisfied, Tom.

If you want you can check my milonga on …. We invite DJs and we try to find the good ones, I mean the ones who don’t experiment too much :))))

Me: Thanks O2, that sounds good. Basically I’m interested in the standard trad BA repertoire and a decent audio setup … no direct audio cable into the laptop audio jack, decent DAC and no lossy mp3s. Apparently that’s still a lot to ask. I still find DJs who haven’t heard of TangoTunes and use mp3s and the audio jack. This was excusable 5-10 years ago. I really wish there was some way of screening for these things. But I accept that being a musician I’m hypercritical and most people don’t care. I’ll check out those recommendations. Thanks again!:)

O2: Oh! So to be honest, you will suffer on … if you come because we don’t t have such an equipment at our place. Our regular lovely place has been closed because of pandemic, and now we are renting a students’ club dancing floor which is not perfect at all. Especially in terms of the sound. But if you just look at it like meeting new great people :))) you will have fun. I promise you 🙂

Me: Ok I’ll adjust my expectations. Which is your milonga?

[I’m starting to get frustrated as I’m getting a sense that the information I’m getting is all but useless and I want to get rid of the red herrings they’re throwing my way and focus on what I want, which was the original reason I’m having this conversation. I also noticed that O2 seems to be clueless about proper DJ-ing audio equipment.]

Me: People focus on the music that the DJ selects, which is either trad or not. But I heard “trad” DJs with really awful sound. And the three things that the DJ needs to really understand is sound files, music player software, and DACs. I discovered this by way of listening to classical music. The standard Mp3 + iTunes + audio jack (built-in DAC) are not designed for music reproduction, you know, what used to be called “Hifi” … High Fidelity. Modern music (electronic, pop) is recorded to sound good on the cheapest device possible. But tango is very fragile and needs super careful treatment and curation. But people aren’t doing that. There is a website called https://tangodjsforgoodsound.info and I think you guys should put your basic audio set up there, and make sure you always carry it with you. I’m guessing that people aren’t losing their DACs. I’d suggest having a Dragonfly DAC as a backup.

O2: That’s interesting. I will talk about this with guys who really care about the sound and quality of the music they play. Thanks for sharing it.


 

What’s interesting about this conversation is that these “organisers” and “tango DJs” appear to be completely clueless about what amounts to a basic audio setup for tango, and when I broach the issue they try to change the subject and finally just go cold as I’m not responding to their efforts at marketing. They appear to know little or nothing about it, or at least its not something they want to discuss. Instead, they want to focus on “meeting people” and “DJs that don’t experiment too much”, and that the DJs are Argentinian, Uruguayan and Italian . What does that mean? When you go to Salon Canning you’re not there to “meet people”, you’re there to dance. Also, you expect no experimentation from the DJ. You expect what you get every time you go there, traditional Argentine tango music. It’s always the same. Even at the hipster milongas in BA the music was never something I had to pay any attention to since it was all acceptable. Yet you go elsewhere and whether the DJ is Argentinian or not the music is consistently frustrating and jarring.

My online tango friend Bononno (his blog is Tango High and Low) started a topic on a tango forum “What makes a good DJ?” To quote:

I’ve been thinking about this for a while but am only now getting around to asking. (I searched the archives but couldn’t find anything in the forum on the topic.) After listening to some wonderful DJs and some really atrocious DJs, I’m wondering why this happens. The corpus of danceable tango songs is large, but not that large. There’s a fixed body of songs from which to draw, almost exclusively from 1925 to 1950. There are certain orchestras that are essential to any milonga, and some that aren’t. But I know from experience that some DJs play one magnificent tanda after another, with appropriate cortinas, and others are all over the map, mixing classic tangos (generally fine) with later songs that are almost never played. Generally, these tend to be overly dramatic, largely vocal songs from the late 40s and 50s. Generally, these are songs I am unfamiliar with.

 

I am also beginning to wonder about Argentine DJs. We’ve got a bunch who live here and others who come through here and most of them are not to my liking (some are terrific though). They have a fondness for offbeat songs or very late examples of Pugliese and Troilo, which are difficult to dance to and go on for far too long. The cortinas often consist of cheap top-40 rock-and-roll, which generally spoils the mood of the milonga. Or they play 10-minute salsa songs. (A bad idea at a milonga in my opinion.) Is this a porteño thing, playing vulgar rock and outlier tangos? I realize the tradition in B.A. is a bit different than what we have come to expect elsewhere, but there’s a lot of beautiful tango music out there; no reason not to play it.

 

What’s surprising is that there a number of good, solid DJ playlists available, recommendations on which composers to play and what periods, and so on. I’m not saying it’s easy to be a DJ, but they could at least stick to music that the crowd can dance to and wants to hear. I’m not asking for favorite songs or orchestras (I have mine, you have yours), but it’s awfully frustrating to go to a milonga and sit out many of the tandas because the music is just not something that moves you to get up and dance. In tango, there’s no need to try to expand the repertoire into obscure or unloved tangos; you simply have to pick and choose the best from what’s available. And there’s a lot.

It should be simple, so why isn’t it? As Bononno recognises, the tango DJ should stick to the established tango repertoire and have a clue about organising the tracks, and that’s hardly rocket science. The more difficult part lies in getting a decent sound.

There are two reasons why tango DJs who are moving around on the milonga scenes around the world are allergic to traditional tango music. First, there is the technical difficulty of getting a decent sound out of Epoca de Oro music. Most DJs know little more than to set up some music or DJ software on their laptop and to get some tango music to play. The worst case scenario is if they use something like iTunes and mp3 music files. Better if they use some sort of a “lossless” format and a better music player. But that’s still going to be far from enough and so they “experiment” in order to spice up a set which is falling flat.

In order to make traditional tango music come alive ideally you need high quality transfers from the shellac records to high resolution 24bits/96kHz FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) files with no “cleaning” or compression at all. You try to clean up or compress the file and the music sounds flat and lifeless. You’ll just have to live with the pops and noise. Then, you’ll need a decent set up on the computer. You’ll need music player software that is designed for quality sound reproduction. Neither iTunes nor even DJ software for electronic music like Traktor is adequate for this. You will need something dedicated to high fidelity reproduction like JRiver Media Center or Audirvana. Finally, you will need a decent external USB DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter). The built-in DAC inside your laptop is not adequate to quality sound reproduction. Yet I continue to see tango DJs plug the audio cable directly into the headphone jack on their laptop. It’s a complete joke.

Tango music would be consistently great if tango DJs and organisers cared about DJing as much as they care about promoting themselves. Unfortunately, and this is the second reason, they don’t. What they sell is red herrings: meeting people, dancing lessons, workshops, events, marathons, and loud high energy DJ sets spiced up with a lot of non-standard numbers, in other words, they sell a lot of buzz. With very few exceptions, sticking to quality traditional tango music is not in their business model. Their business model is selling tango product. Also, too many seem to crave all the attention they get on their FB pages, their 100s of international FB friends, promoting stuff with posters, a lot of online technique lessons, etc. If you, on the other hand, just ask for traditional tango or the Salon Canning experience they tune out. You can feel the Arctic wind. They just couldn’t care less. It’s boring and they couldn’t get attention on their FB pages and the associated status, international friends, exoticism, or product for that. There would be no buzz. Salon Canning is the tango marketing buzz killer.

Video analysis of inefficient and efficient movement in Tango Estilo Milonguero

This analysis of videos of people dancing tango will make much more sense after doing the ABCD Method foundational practice a couple of times rather than relying on the visual image alone even with the explanation provided. Experiencing the way in which the upper body connects to the action of the feet is likely to provide much more insight and understanding of what you’re looking at. I will use SST for Salon Style Tango and TEM for Tango Estilo Milonguero.


Tango Estilo Milonguero (TEM) is defined by an unchanging embrace or hug, with elbows floating around the level of the shoulders and pointing out rather than down (see Embrace: the essence of tango). The constraints on the dancing are the posture, the embrace, the music, and the changing momentary situation on the dancefloor. The dance is an improvised variation on the walk.

We can visualise or have the mental image of the walk either in the horizontal or vertical dimension (see Mental imagery and partnering technique: push-pull vs long spine). The horizontal type movement will lead to push-pull type partnering and will lead to movement which is less efficient in terms of (a) the use of space, and (b) the transmission of lead and follow, and therefore also (c) the range of options for improvised movement.

When we look at dancers we only see the movement in space. However, once we have experience of the vertical mental image (see Video: ABCD Method foundational practice) we should be getting better at identifying the two types of movement generated by the two sorts of mental image, horizontal/push-pull vs vertical/long spine, and how that affects the dancing.

In the videos discussed all the dancers are putatively demonstrating Tango Estilo Milonguero as defined by the type of embrace. However, there is a difference in the partnering technique due to the different type of walking and, as I argue, mental image that these dancers use. In the first set of videos we’ll look at the horizontal approach, it’s visible elements and how it affects the movement, use of space and movement possibilities, and then we’ll look at the vertical approach.

I admit that based purely on the visual image any number of different interpretations and judgements of the movement are equally possible and plausible and indeed this is the source of so much confusion. My commentary should be taken as an interpretation and evaluation from the vantage point of someone who has experienced tango movement generated by the long spine mental image and makes more sense when this mental image has been experienced.


Example 1: Tete Rusconi instructional video in TEM

In these instructional videos Tete is demonstrating the TEM embrace and movement. It has many of the elements of efficient TEM movement. But when you look at the walk you can see that he initiates with his chest and then falls into the leading foot. Initiating this way commits him to the step but then his step is too short and it gives the impression of the step being too short for what was intended, mainly because his partner is rather small and not extending enough to make the step larger. Overall, the walking takes much more space than would be available at a crowded milonga and would not be viable. The range of movements also seems quite constricted by this approach.


Example 2: TangoChino, TEM vs SST lesson demo

This video attempts to demonstrate the difference between TEM and SST, but the instructors import the horizontal image of SST into TEM. A clear sign of a horizontal mental image is the woman’s embrace which is around the man’s arm rather than up on the shoulder. This prevents him from communicating his intention without moving in the horizontal dimension first.

The result is that the movement is stifled and lacking in freedom and expressiveness, as if the dancers are lacking space which is typical of this approach. While you get the intimacy of close embrace you lose dynamism and expressiveness. This is probably the reason why many dancers who identify as dancing “close embrace” do an “in-out” approach, dance close embrace and then open up when the want to do some moves.

While the technique of crossing instead of pivoting is typical of TEM, you will notice that when the dancers transition from TEM to SST they change the steps from rhythmic to smooth. But dancing in this rhythmic fashion clearly takes up space and would not be efficient in a crowded milonga, and seems to be necessitated by the partnering technique in which you have to keep walking. Either way, it’s not accurate to characterise TEM as this sort of rhythmic walking. It is more accurate to say that TEM faciliates rhythmic dancing when it is required, but this is clearly not always required (eg., you couldn’t dance this way to Pugliese) nor efficient, and so will create a misconception about TEM. Moreover also clearly contradicts the smooth movement of Tete in Video Example 1, creating further confusion.


Example 3: Tango Vagabundo TEM demo

This is a very common approach to TEM which basically imports most aspects of SST into TEM and results in very inefficient and restricted movement that require opening up. Elbows are pointing down and the woman embraces the man in a SST embrace which pushes his leading arm down. That is a sign that the leading is push-pull. While there is some crossing footwork characteristic of TEM, the ochos are done by pivoting and the woman has to open up and they’re in an “armpit” embrace rather than chest to chest. The result is a dance lacking in dynamism or freedom of movement, and gives people a false impression of TEM, again, mainly because it imports movement technique from SST into a close embrace.


Example 4: Sara Torricelli & Gianni Loppi demo

This is exemplary of many of the aspects of competent TEM dancing and the result is fluid, dynamic and efficient dancing. Although this is a floor show taking up space this can be easily adapted to dancing at a crowded milonga. To an untrained observer the walking movement is, as in the case of the previous examples, in the horizontal dimension. But the mental image here is vertical. There are two signs of this. First, the position of the elbows. Second, the action of the feet. Although in motion the feet seem to move along the floor, when you stop the movement you can see that actually the man anticipates horizontal movement by pulling up with his heels. In other words, half of the movement is up. This means that by the time he moves forward or back he’s already communicated the movement and the woman steps comfortably without any rush.

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Notice that here the pulling up of the heel is not merely the purely decorative, non-functional boleos that you see in SST (see Beauty or kitsch). In SST this movement is non-functional because the embrace does not allow for this movement to be transmitted to the partner. The structure of the TEM embrace means that this movement is directly communicated to the follower and is therefore functional in the movement technique. Also, it is not a kick to the back but rather a vertical movement of pulling the knee and the heel up in the vertical dimension rather than, as in the case of the boleo, to the back and out.


Example 5: Silvia y Tete

In this video we can see Tete dancing very differently from what we saw in Example 1. The use of space is much more efficient, there is greater variety of movements and greater fluidity, dynamism but also stability in his dancing. What you will notice is that there is much less of an effort to flow smoothly along the floor and more pronounced pulling up of the knee and heel. Again, these are not decorative boleos but are functionally integral to dynamic and efficient dancing in TEM. Also notice that when he exaggerates this movement into a decorative or expressive feature, he pulls the knee up rather than back and out as in the boleo. This is what I call emergent movement which is decorative movement that naturally arises out of functional movement technique and in contrast to purely decorative choreographed “decorations” remains functionally connected (see Choreography vs emergent movement).

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Example 6: Ricardo Vidort

Probably the pinnacle or ideal example of TEM technique that I describe here on ATH, and what I base my analysis of TEM technique on, is the posture, embrace and walking movement of Ricardo Vidort. Here it must be mentioned that I look at his dancing from the point of view of technique rather than the specific steps that he does. My focus is on the embrace, esp. the position of the elbows, and the specific way in which he walks which never commits him to a step but which is always reversible (see Walking and the principle of reversibility).

The initiation of the stepping movement with a horizonal floating of the heel and the knee is visible. There is also an instructional video in which he demonstrates and instructs on a motion in the lateral direction. My approach to teaching is slightly different. First, I don’t think that explicit instruction is the most efficient approach and that the focused movement practice in the ABCD Method is a more efficient approach. Second, I feel that explicit instruction for women to cross tends to lead to that movement becoming a habit and a step executed even when it is not led, rather than just a variation on the walk, and so I wouldn’t recommend teaching it that way, but rather as an exploration such as the Cross Walk (see Video: ABCD Method foundational practice).

The following video is a good example of the TEM embrace and also in the efficient use of floor space and reversible walking. There is hardly any movement in the horizontal direction beyond a step or two, and always in a compact and controlled manner. Visible is also the lateral movement that Ricardo uses to communicate his lead.


Example 7: Myriam Princen with Ricardo Vidort, female movement

The technique for men and women is essentially the same. Women are often taught in SST and also in some TEM lessons to extent her leg when walking. But when the mental image is vertical the technique for walking in TEM should be the same as the man. It is more difficult to see the image of the heel floating up in the woman because the high heel shoes already push the heel up but in this video we can see that Myriam Princen floats up the knee. Notice I’m not saying that she’s bending the knee. The key here is that the walking movement is initiated by floating the knee up. There is no need to throw the leg backward in the horizontal direction as is often seen in tango lessons (see screenshots in Mental imagery and partnering technique: push-pull vs long spine). In this video you will also notice all the elements of the vertical or long spine mental image in TEM, the elbows around shoulder level, lateral movement (there’s also a visible tilt) and the corresponding fluidity, freedom but also efficiency and reversibility of movement. There’s virtually no lag between the lead and follow.

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