The Tango of Zero: Angel Wings and Fairy Dust

30th January 2010


"He sprinkled me with Fairy Dust." ~ Diana Shore

"And four or five minutes later she stepped off the dance floor with a little pair of tango angel wings fluttering above her head, and another in her eyes, making her open them very wide, and blink. They were soft, they were fluffy, they were golden" ~ MsHedgehog

Why dance tango? There's probably as many reasons as there are tango dancers. Shoes are definitely up there in the top 5 reasons though.

OK, so what makes tango different from other dances? You can do better acrobatics in Contemporary or Contact dancing. There's far more moves in Ceroc. And so on. To me, it's the focus on Fairy Dust or Angel Wings, often referred to as "connection".

However West Coast Swing has "connection" and it's not the same thing at all.

Contact, Blues and Tango all seem to share the following common ground;

  • Free-form - the freedom to flow in the moment. Just because you did movement A does not require you to now do movement B.
  • Connection beyond thought - you can simply feel your way through the dance together.

Getting the magic

"Logic is the first step on the path to wisdom, not the last" ~ Spock

These make it rather hard to categorise how to accomplish "magic" in tango. It's beyond technique. Sure you need good technique to make it work, but ultimately people will describe it when it works by how it felt, usually in poetic and abstract terms.

So how do you achieve this Nirvana?

"In the dance-off I just marked people down for mistakes rather than looking for what they were doing right" ~ Craig Revel-Horwood

Firstly get the basics right. There doesn't seem to be any actual need for complicated "moves", but what you do has to be technically right.

Secondly get the basics down so that you can do them without thinking. You're going to dancing by feeling what's right, not by thinking.

For this to work you'll need good fundamentals - balance, posture and so forth. You're going to be dealing with increasingly subtle, tiny motions. You don't want extraneous movements.

The better I get at this, the more I begin to understand the mentality of dancers who are happy to sit for three hours at a milonga, have one of these dances, go home and still call it a good night. It's simply an experience you probably won't get during the rest of the week, so sitting out for a few hours isn't such a big deal by comparison. I suspect that between dancers with considerably more experience it's probably quite mind-blowing. Literally Nirvana.

A Berkotango Anecdote

For reasons no-one's entirely sure about, an Argentinian Couple recently turned up to the Ceroc-hosted Tango practica at Berkhamsted.

Given that it was a practica and under Ceroc, I asked the lady to dance. Now I'd already seen them dancing, so I knew she was way beyond me. However I also knew she was happy with "simple dancing" i.e. walking musically. This gave me a distinct advantage (and believe me at this point I needed everything I could get, she was very good).

The thing about just doing walking and rocksteps is that fundamentally, physically nothing really changes. If you can get the posture, embrace and the first step to work, it's largely a matter of carrying on, and focusing on moving with the music. Indeed it very rapidly came down to "weight transfers one toe at a time" kind of dancing.

If on the other hand I'd wanted to do ochos or giros, I would have needed to make adjustments to the embrace. Back sacadas would have probably required huge amounts of adjustment by comparison. I'm already out of my depth at this point, why on earth do I want to make things harder?!

And so we walked.

Did it work? Well to be honest I half expected her to politely bail on the dance in the first 5 seconds and spend the rest of the evening exclusively with her partner. However she stayed for the whole dance (and as I'd used Ceroc etiquette to get the dance in the first place, I was more than happy with one dance!) and although she was clearly getting more out of the music than I was, it basically worked.

And then I understood why they were happy to come to a Ceroc practica - dancing together for most of the evening was definitely going to be worth it. They had each other. All they needed was a dancefloor and good music.

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- Christopher O' Shea, 30th January 2010