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The Soul of Tango
Lucien Lecarme

What are tango festivals all about? What makes the magic? People gathering for a joint experience, while the dance itself is also pulling us inwards so much. And what is changing in the world of tango dance?

I only can give some personal impressions, because tango is personal and experienced differently by everyone. Some like marathons, others like festivals, some people never leave their home town to dance, some travel all the time looking for new dancers, new experiences.
When I started dancing tango around 1987 much was still waiting to be discovered in the Netherlands. I knew the music before I saw the dance, and I loved it. Being a piano player I had some tangos in my repertoire, and listened to the stunning sounds of Piazzolla. I did not know this was tango nuevo, but it was far more the soul of this music that atracted me, that I believe is the same in Pugliese or Piazzolla. And then there is the lifestyle: what exactly is the life of a tanguero? What defines this fever to travel to new cities, meeting tangoholics in Antwerp, Rome, London or Oslo, or just deepening the dance with a partner in the place where you live. The easiest answer is: it is a perfect mirror of life! And this is so true, but also too easy.

Carel I remember the metaphor Carel Kraaijenhof told me once making a brilliant interpretation of the basic steps of tango. First you do a step back, don't rush forward anymore, just this step back, then... you leave your comfort zone, the line that you where expecting to follow in life, the usual... you leave this securidad to look to this line from the side, making you more free, pushing yourself to the peripheral and than you move forward in this new freedom, with a secure step into a new future. Than there is the short break, the cross pass of the follower allowing the dancers to stand still for a moment and deepen this feeling of freedom, connection and excitement. Than.. almost returning home, after one more step into the unknown you come back on your line, on your intentions you made before, the goal you wanted to reach in the first place, your secure patterns, but also... home. This pattern can also be found in Jazz music where the musicians make their personal journeys, after starting off in a common pattern. Than there is room for each musician to tell his or her story, stepping out of the ordinary, letting the uniqueness shining through, and returning home to the melody and main structure at the end. In both ways of expression there is a main structure known to all dancers that leaves space for personal expression, a common set of rules also that can give space to a unique strong personal experience. And in tango, what makes this even much more stronger, is that you actually can share this experience, or, tango gives you the illusion that you do. Because when observing a crowded dance floor, looking at the faces and expressions of people, sometimes it seems that each and everybody is experiencing a very personal trip, even while being in the closest embrace. Or is this just my own interpretation?

Carel Kraayenhof

Without the connection there is no magic in tango. We search and look for this intimate connection that can be realised even with a complete stranger you just asked on the dance floor. OK, it might need a dance or three, but than the magic can happen. You feel lifted, everything falls into place, as a leader you seem to find your path into the moving crowd naturally and without hesitation, and you write a story together, holding and supporting each other to the point of returning home. Maybe holding hands for 5 or 10 seconds, smiling and letting go. And ohh, this moment can also hurt so much. To be thrown back into reality.. or.. were you just experiencing a stronger and more real way of being?  Sometimes even the whole crowd on the dance floor can be experienced as one moving body, and boundaries are given up to an extend that you can feel yourself part of a bigger organic entity that is both leading you as giving space to experience something like a tango ego, being very small into something much bigger. This almost comes close to a religious rite, where people can travel half the world to find this moment. The blending of the individuality into something bigger... Being carried by the milonga, the space, the people becoming this ONE body on the dancefloor.

Applause in EL Corte is sometimes the attempt to give thanks to these moments. It is a moment where ecstatic energies have to find a way out, a prayer for the tango deity and a communal expression of gratitude to this deity, in that moment personalised by the DJ. A moment where we become also human again, putting us back on the ground. In this way there is not much difference from a tango salon or a dance party with dance or house music. The sometimes enormous amounts of people create a collective consciousness and these energies are also focused on the DJ that has a higher position than the dancers. The climaxes in these nights are celebrated by shouts of joy too , because people feel lifted by the group energy created, and this energy and awareness can become stronger than all the individual consciousnesses together. It is like a third consciousness enters the space and you feel being part of something bigger than yourself, in where your ego can let go, and your individual boundaries can melt.

Because in tango we work with heart connection, this third energy entity can be very strong and this experience can last for days. After last year Alchemie festival I didn’t want to cut the festival bracelet from my arm, as if the magic substance we all created in Prague was still held in this golden symbol of connection to the festival. The bracelet gave access to this world and by God, how hard it was to get back to ordinary life, imprisoned almost in our individuality and common patterns, being faced again with the path we have to walk alone on some level here on this earth. In a way this also happened to the orange shoe bag Doble Ocho gave out some 6 years ago. I still see sometimes this bag, totally worn out, but still used by people who still want to feel the connection to maybe magic moments they experienced on that particular festival. So marathons, festivals, salons can all create these energies, the people that participate create these energies and because human consciousness is shifting, these patterns are  also shifting. In this way tango dancers are becoming more and more open to working with energies in tango classes instead of dance steps. Or at least a combination. This requires also a more subtle body awareness, or let's say, the focus on the body, posture and energy flows within the body. I have seen Ismael Ludman for example developing in this direction as a teacher, but of course there are more.

Ismael & Maria

Methods of teaching are shifting and for example I was personally inspired by the concept Thomas Rieser introduced in his summer tango camp on Pondarosa in 2011 where the focus on the class was shifting each day on a different part of the body, from the ground, via the legs upwards! It inspired me to take up the challenge to work out with Ismael Ludman together a series of classes where we first look at the quality a certain part of the body has in creating a tango dance, than giving it a colour, and working out a theme around this energy quality. We worked out 3 basic centres: orange for basics and groundedness (legs, pelvis), green for connection and feeling (chest, torso ), and blue for intention (head). Ismael will be teaching these workshops in the Rotterdam tango transformation festival 3-6 may. It reminded me of Miles Davis Album 'aura' where he transformed colours into music. In this way coming back to the jazz, where this brilliant musician took the step in the jazz world to translate colours into music.

Another example is Lizelot de Stigter who worked out a personal methodology of tango where she recognises circles of energy, the male and the female, (Yin and Yang) that connect via tango. When she explains or draws out the form of these  energies or directions they take, it looks even much like Yin and Yang intertwining. (Lizelot will also be working in Rotterdam). This is so much also Jenne's vision, and I believe they have never met in person. I realise at this point that many tangueros might be thinking: OK, leave this sensitive crap and get back to dancing. But I am definitely sure that even the most dogmatic and conservative milonguero dancer is longing for this magic moment of stepping out of his/her ego on the dancefloor and becoming part of the transcendent tango body. He or she might just not being aware of it in words. But we all also know that, of what you are more conscious of, can become even more stronger.

So in this year of transformation, a spark is going around in Tangoworld, with festivals like Alchemie, Pondarosa, Ibiza tango LOVE, taboe tangocamps, Doble Ocho and Rotterdam Tango Transformations and so many other. As organiser I have a vision, I create a space and take care of the necessities. I invite teachers that can translate these concepts,  and than I then like to take a step back and give space to you, visitors, to create your story, connect and at the end... Feel free.