It was such an exciting evening at the last WI meeting. There was passionate, fiery and exotic music, rare footage of filmed tango, a fascinating talk and beautiful dancing demonstrations. Janet Earl and Adrian Barsby, who teach together but are not regular partners, did a double act chatting in a relaxed fashion and inviting members to ask questions or interrupt whenever they wished, rather than wait until the end. The talk was so informative, explaining the background and history of the dance as well as describing the different types of tango.
They explained that Tango is a social partner dance which originated in South America. In spite of its name, ‘Argentinian Tango’, Uruguay and Chile also lay claim to originating it. Argentine Tango should not be confused with ballroom tango which is a sanitised version of the dance developed in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s because the Argentine brand was considered a little too steamy.
Salon tango (the most social version) is a fully improvised dance, though it clearly follows rules which give it its appearance. The leader, who is usually the man, expresses himself by interpreting the music in his own steps and those which he invites the follower, usually the woman, to make. Historically, there is an element of “showing off” the woman by making her dance well. Their classes are generally based around this style of tango. There is often a tragic story being danced out!
Another style of tango is called Canyengue, which has a slightly higher stepping characteristic (possibly due to its having been dance in the sawdust and blood on slaughterhouse floors).
Tango Fantasia is a show version of the dance which is more likely to be choreographed and includes aspects of jazz and ballet dancing.
Socially, dancers also dance Milonga, which is more uplifting and happy, and Vals (Waltz) which is more graceful. Tango is danced in bars of two beats each but phrased in two lots of two bars, giving a phrase of 8 beats. Milonga is also in bars of two beats each, but phrased two bars at a time. Vals is in bars of 3 beats (though usually fast enough to be in 1), where the first beat of each bar “corresponds to a whole beat in tango”.
Janet and Adrian explained the instrument used in tango traditionally is the Bandoneon which is rather like an accordion. They played beautiful recordings of Tango music on the instrument. They delighted us by showing a clip of Rudolph Valentino and Alice Terry dancing in “the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” in 1921.
They explained how Tango spread to USA and came to Europe in the 1920s, mentioning lots of very famous singers, dancers and musicians whose names I cannot spell ~ Carlos di Sarli, Asto Piazzolla among them!
Janet showed us her beautiful dance outfits and her exquisite shoes, which she buys in Argentina. They finished by recommending several performances of Tango that members may wish to see locally:-
Tango at the Music Festival on 11th July, Tango, Tango at the Roses Theatre in October, Midnight Tango in Oxford and Bristol in July etc.