Click on list names to view articles written by Susana as well as interviews of Susana, listed chronologically from most recent.
"Tango Transformations, A Hero's Journey"
by Susana Domingues for Dance International Magazine summer 2015
When invited by Dance International Magazine to explore the question of whether
tango was art or popular culture, I was thrilled to write on the topic. I quickly
discovered the 700 word limit was going to be a challenge, but decided to let the
ideas flow and deal with edits later. For your enjoyment, I've included both versions
below starting with the unedited version with the working title 'Tango
Today: Art or Popular Culture?' followed by the Published version entitled by the
magazine's editor, 'Tango Transformations, A Hero's Journey'.
"Tango Today: Art or Pop Culture?"
by Susana Domingues
Tango has held a mythical place in the global imagination since tangomania
first hit Paris in the early 1900s. It has long been a cultural icon of male-female
sexuality, albeit a possibly dated or exaggerated one by today's sensibilities. Yet
the dance has not been saddled by this icon, nor by the vision of its aspirants.
Today, avid tango dancers worldwide may number in the hundreds of thousands. It's
hard to say exactly what draws people to tango, particularly those from colder climes
and more conservative cultures. As a product of a different culture, perhaps for some,
tango provides a safe place to engage in very defined male and female roles. For others,
tango's complexities and expressive possibilities are intriguing. Whatever the initial
draw, many soon find themselves in the grips of an addiction, an obsession. Tango
becomes a lifestyle, a vehicle for personal growth and often artistic expression,
even for those with no prior dance training. An inevitable question arises: Is tango art,
or is it popular culture?
If all creativity is art, then even a first tango lesson presents opportunities to be
creative and musical. But the matter is soon riddled by new questions, of aesthetics,
process, audience, immediacy, cultural relevance and ways of defining art: high art,
low art, fine art. These are lofty notions for tango, a child of 19th century Buenos
Aires brothels, an offspring of desire and necessity.
You could say that tango was born a teenager, with an instant sense of rebellion,
completely contrary to Argentina's 1871 Civil Code and its morally defined roles for
women, but absolutely relevant to the growing underclass of young immigrant men who
vastly outnumbered the population of women at the time. Can art come from what some
would refer to as low culture, from the marginal 'barrios' of immigrant communities,
as tango did?
Blooming into the radiance of its 1930s golden age, tango saw an immense proliferation
of gifted composers, arrangers, poets, singers and instrumentalists, and the height of
its popularity in Argentina's dance halls. This song of life in the Rio Plata riverbed
was driven by popular demand from the working class. And the artists of the time
repeatedly answered with poetry.
While the decline of the big band era everywhere in the 50's, brought also a decline for
tango, an artist emerged at whose hands it underwent a metamorphosis. Astor Piazzolla
dramatically changed tango's instrumentation and took it a large step forward in
harmonic complexity and rhythmic structures. Piazzolla's 'Nuevo Tango' (new tango) was
unpopular among purists who referred to it as 'tango for export' - not real tango.
While most Argentines of the day preferred Elvis Presley to Piazzolla, Nuevo Tango was
becoming an expression of Argentina's national tragedy: a lament worldwide audiences
heard in their own hearts, through their own experiences.
Piazzolla toured with dancers
Juan Carlos Copes and Maria Nieves
, who'd already created choreographies to his
pieces - its rubato tempo leant itself to choreography. The couple remained foremost
tango dancers until the early 90s, reaching a height of fame in Tango Argentino, a musical
review they created and performed in, which premiered in Paris in 1983 and hit Broadway
in 1985. Perhaps in a desire to distance tango from its humble beginnings, the cast
performed in formal wear. They'd arrived at a truly artistic scenario, which involved a
concern with aesthetics, a privileged audience seated in the distance of a darkened theatre,
and critics who played a role in its survival and revival.
Tango Argentino's musical
review format was to be heavily
copied through the 90s; the same
stories retold over and over: a woman invites a seduction, the couple embraces and embarks,
she weakens to the seduction, she finally submits and succumbs. The seduction is depicted
mythically, with a vampirical allure, as though the woman is really submitting to her own
death - a ritual audiences seemed to invite - a dying swan a thousand dancers have been before her.
The audiences these productions inspired, created new communities of aspiring tango dancers
throughout Europe, Asia and North America. Traits of cultural appropriation typified many
tango students. They learned Spanish with a Porteño accent, drank mate, wore fedoras, and
took a keen interest in tango's history. Not surprisingly, the notion that authenticity was
key to tango's survival arose alongside a theoretical battle of dance styles in the 90s,
fueled much by relatively new enthusiasts. Brandishing historical facts about the various
styles, critics also asserted that improvised tango was more genuine than choreography.
Often those whose dance was being labeled Stage Tango, Nuevo Tango, Salon style or Milonguero
style, cried, "Don't limit me! I am guided by the music and the situation, not an identification
with a style."
Despite burgeoning global tango communities and the passionate nature of their enthusiasts,
improvised tango danced outside of Argentina, for the most part, did not yet look like how
Argentines did it. Beautiful in its simplest movements, tango has a complexity that seduces
the intellect. Imposing personal inhibitions, a need for personal space, intellectualising
tango, or simplifying it for the sake of pedagogy, diminishes it; it is after all, an
inspiration of passion.
Decades later, tango may have resolved these issues by transforming yet again. Its sustained
popularity caused yet another tango revival in Argentina. A new crop of talented young dancers
has emerged. Inheritors of tango in all its former manifestations, rooted yet poised to be
innovators, they perform with ease, grace, musical and technical dynamism. Dancers such as
Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes, Sebastian Achaval and Roxana Suarez, and Ruben and Sabrina
Veliz travel the world teaching and performing at tango festivals. Equally skilled at
improvisation, they make their choreographies seem immediate and alive.
We also see an emerging global tango culture, with performing couples such as Fausto Carpino
(Italy) & Stephanie Fesneau (France) who, also inheritors of tango, no longer cling to cultural
symbols in order to belong, and beautifully exemplify the art of improvised tango in their
performances. Walk into a Milonga (tango hall), anywhere in the world, and it will have a
common culture and a harmony, where your audience is your fellow dancer seated in the chair
you occupied before stepping onto the dance floor. Your peers watch and enjoy the parade of
momentary inspirations, and challenge you to be better.
Tango has undergone a hero's journey, of exploration, of transformation, and the very audiences
that might have dismissed it, were instead inspired to dream. If popular culture disappears with
time, and art is that which endures, then one can safely say that Tango in its 145th recorded year,
is art. But more important than tango's ability to endure, is its ability to relate to a group of
individuals in a personal way. Tango remains a child of a cultural experience which succeeds in
expressing: "There is beauty in me, therefore, there is beauty in life".
"Tango Transformations, A Hero's Journey"
by Susana Domingues for Dance International Magazine summer 2015
Tango dancers worldwide abound. It's hard to say exactly what draws so many people to tango,
particularly those from more conservative cultures than the Argentine one that gave it birth.
Perhaps, for some, tango provides a safe place to engage in clearly defined male and female roles.
Or perhaps tango's complex partnering and expressive possibilities are intriguing. Whatever the
initial draw, many who do enter into this form of dance soon find themselves in the grips of an
addiction, an obsession. Tango becomes a lifestyle, and a vehicle for personal growth, for social
interaction and often for artistic expression. Yet there are those who might deem art a lofty notion
for tango, a child of 19th-century Buenos Aires brothels.
You could say that tango was born a teenager, with an instant sense of rebellion, completely contrary
to Argentina's 1871 Civil Code and its morally defined roles for women, but absolutely relevant to
the growing underclass of young immigrant men who vastly outnumbered the population of women at the time.
Blooming into the radiance of its golden age from the 1930s to 1950s, tango culture saw an immense
proliferation of gifted composers, arrangers, poets, singers and instrumentalists, and the height
of its popularity in Argentina's dance halls. This song of life from the Río de la Plata riverbed
was driven by massive public appeal, thus endowing the dancers of that period with a bounty of
inspiring music and lyrics to dance to.
In the 1950s, an artist emerged at whose hands tango underwent a metamorphosis. Composer and bandoneonist
Astor Piazzolla dramatically changed tango's instrumentation and took the music a large step forward in
harmonic complexity and rhythmic structures. But Piazzolla's Nuevo Tango (new tango) was unpopular among
purists, who referred to it as 'tango for export' - not real tango.
While most Argentines of the day preferred Elvis Presley to Piazzolla, Nuevo Tango was discovering an
international audience. Dancers Juan Carlos Copes and Maria Nieves toured with Piazzolla. The pair reached
their height of fame in Tango Argentino, a musical review they created and performed in, which premiered in
Paris in 1983 and hit Broadway in 1985. Perhaps in a desire to distance tango from its humble beginnings,
the cast performed in formal wear. The dancers had arrived at a truly artistic scenario, which involved a
concern with aesthetics, a privileged audience seated in the distance of a darkened theatre and critics who
played a role in its survival and revival.
Tango Argentino's musical review format was heavily copied through the 90s, with choreographies that retold
the same stories over and over: a woman invites a seduction, the couple embraces and begins dancing, she
weakens to the seduction, she finally submits and succumbs.
These productions inspired new communities of aspiring tango dancers throughout Europe, Asia and North America.
The notion of authenticity arose alongside a theoretical battle of dance styles, mostly amongst non-Argentines.
Often those whose dance was being labeled Stage Tango, Nuevo Tango, Salon style or Milonguero style, cried,
"Don't limit me! I am guided by the music and the situation, not an identification with a style." Many of the
critics asserted that improvised tango was more genuine than choreographed tango.
Today, tango has transformed yet again with a new crop of talented young dancers. Inheritors of tango in all its
historical manifestations, rooted in its tradition yet poised to be innovators, they perform with ease, grace, and
musical and technical dynamism. Dancers such as Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes, Sebastian Achaval and Roxana
Suarez, and Ruben and Sabrina Veliz travel the world teaching and performing at tango festivals. Equally skilled
at improvisation, they make their choreographies seem immediate and alive.
We also see a growing global tango culture. Walk into a milonga (tango hall) anywhere in the world, and it will have
a common culture, where your audience is your fellow dancer seated in the chair you occupied before stepping onto the
dance floor. Your peers watch and enjoy the parade of momentary inspirations, and challenge you to be better.
Tango has undergone a hero's journey of exploration and transformation. If popular culture disappears with time,
and art is that which endures, then one can safely say that tango in its approximately century and a half of history
is art. But more important than tango's ability to endure is its ability to relate to a group of individuals in a
personal way. Tango remains a child of a cultural experience that succeeds in expressing: "There is beauty in me,
therefore, there is beauty in life."
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In Conversation with Susana Domingues"
by Adriana Contreras for Newworks.ca blog 2015
New works is proud to present Tango Poema, as part of its New Works @ Night series,
January 9th and 10th, 2015 at The Orpheum Annex. We sat down with the creative
mind behind Tango Poema, Susana Domingues, to find out more about her career,
what inspires her, her artistic influences and creative process.
When and where did you start dancing? When did you discover Tango and how did it become part of your life?
I first saw tango in a 15 minute news segment about a new Broadway hit called 'Tango Argentino'.
It was 1985. When I saw the dancers in the report, I said to myself, "That! That, I have to do."
I had no dance background except for 6 modern-jazz classes I'd taken when I was 12 years old and
there were very few people in Canada then, who danced Argentine tango. That year I moved to Toronto
from my hometown, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and soon after found someone who'd learned the basics
from the cast of 'Tango Argentino'. He taught me what he knew and we became performing partners,
copying dance moves from the few video clips we could get our hands on. Two years later we were
performing at least twice weekly at cultural festivals, weddings and special events. Since then,
my life has taken many paths, but tango has always been a prominent throughline. It has meant so
many things for me: courage and adventure, profession, friends, and in its artistic journey, a guide for life.
Tango Poema is an intricate project with many layers. Can you tell us about the creative process and
the collaboration with Linda Lee Thomas and the other dancers involved in the production?
Shows I'd presented prior to Tango Poema, i.e. Tango Vive (1993) and Cimarron (2003) had included short
historical narrations about tango's beginnings. I've been doing creative writing since 2005 and by 2012,
I wanted to present a tango show that used spoken word pieces to say more about tango culture today.
I suggested the idea to Linda Lee Thomas and asked if she'd be interested in being involved. She did nothing
but encourage me. A month later we sat on her patio and listened to early recordings of the spoken word pieces
that are now in the show. I can't tell you how important it was to me that Linda Lee like them. She's been
there as a Tanguera since the beginnings of tango in Vancouver. The pieces were very personal. I was nervous
about them and I needed to know if they related to the tango experience of others. Linda Lee's response to
them was a great relief - she was moved, and I was encouraged to move forward.
The historical tango piece in the show required group rehearsals. This made using local dancers essential.
I had a general outline for the piece but I knew the other details would flesh out during rehearsal.
Some personal emergencies had caused an eleventh hour casting shuffle with four new cast members. And
although we may have felt a little thrown together, the first rehearsal serendipitously revealed a bright,
spirited group that was generously collaborative and fun. Ideas were thrown in, or thrown out, with a
selfless concern for getting the best result. The audience response to the sold out shows was overwhelmingly
positive with a recurring note of applaud for the opportunity to enjoy Vancouver tango talents.
There was no question of working with them again for Tango Poema 2015. Each of the couples brings a
unique quality to their performances. Their personal dance styles, their choice of music, costume,
their mix of choreography and improvisation, all enhance the dynamic spectrum of the program.
For myself I've found the artistic process is often about facing one's fears. And so it has been
for this upcoming show. Performing pieces alone, as I will be on Friday, presents a new horizon for me.
I've always enjoyed performing in the safety of a dance partner's embrace and only stepped out of it
for very short passages. The process of choreographing these solo pieces has been enjoyable and I'm
excited about performing the ideas for their first audience.
Who are your biggest artistic influences?
Linda Lee Thomas has always been a mentor regarding my artistic yearnings. And she's provided an
example of what's possible. She's had an illustrious tango career.
Tango dancers; I've appreciated so many, but the first was Maria Nieves. She was both a consummate
tango dancer and a powerful performer. She did not compromise one for the other.
Over the last four months I've been deeply moved by Joseph Campbell and "The Power of Myth". It was
Linda Lee who suggested I read him 15 year ago. Joseph Campbell helped me finally come home to the
fact that art is necessary. It's not frivolous. I guess I always knew that, but he synthesizes
elements with such unabashed, beautiful simplicity that I became re-inspired about the importance
of celebrating life's mysteries - the things that are impossible to know for sure.
What is going on in dance right now that is exciting to you?
It's tango that really excites me. And in the tango world, I love what I see lately. There's a new crop
of talented dancers, performing stunning new effects in what feels like a traditional style. Some of
these effects are impossible to duplicate without embracing Tango's defining qualities, for example,
tango's unique embrace. It's as though they've taken everything at their disposal, the best of all of
tango's manifestations, past and present, and dance these elements seamlessly, with musical and technical
dynamism, yet in a way that feels rooted and authentic. And I love that this new crop of dancers is coming
not from Argentina alone. The main hub of tango activity is still its birthplace, Buenos Aires, but there is
a global tango culture now, from which new performers are sprouting.
How would you describe Tango to someone who has never experienced it before?
I guess it's hard to describe Tango to someone in regular language. Poetry, such as the spoken word
pieces in the show, might do a better job. Anyone who puts it in a few words, glibly telling you, for
example, "It's fun!", isn't telling you the whole story. There's that wonderful quote from Isadora
Duncan, "If I could tell you[...] I wouldn't have to dance it". But I'll try. Here goes: When you dance
tango, whatever you are bringing with you to that moment, the other person is feeling in some way.
Whether you are leading or following, in your movements, you lend yourself to the music and to the
other person in a way that requires empathy. I've heard it said that good tango involves an intense
state of 'listening'. And because tango's complexity creates so much lovely possibility, there's an
incentive to be so very attentive to that other person. When you've danced that way, it's hard not to
want more of it. And soon you find yourself in a community of others who are seeking to repeat that same
experience. Whatever it is that initially draws people, in tango they find a unique, creative culture and a community.
How is Tango lived in Vancouver? What would you recommend to someone who has recently discovered Tango
and wants to get more involved in what Vancouver has to offer?
The person who has recently discovered Tango is in a very special time in their tango journey - a magical time.
I would recommend making an effort to keep the experience musical. While even its simplest movements are beautiful,
tango also has a complexity that can seduce the intellect. However, dancing requires being in the moment, not in one's
thoughts. Learning will involve some work towards understanding tango's mechanics, but it's important to repeat what's
learned until the experience becomes musical again. One of the best ways to do this is to dive in and practice at
Milongas (Tango halls). In Vancouver we have a vibrant community with numerous long-standing Milongas, each offering
a different atmosphere and mix of music. And you don't need a partner to attend.
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Book Review of "Tango: Sex and Rhythm of the City"
Dance International Magazine 2014
by Susana Domingues
Tango, the ubiquitous and visceral element of Buenos Aires culture, has had a colourful
history that could almost appear fictionalized. Indeed some Argentine historians dismiss
the commonly held notion that tango was born of the brothels of 19th century Buenos Aires.
Late in the century, the population of men vastly outnumbered that of women, but I've come
across various accounts over just how much, ranging from twelve to one to fifty to one.
And of the claim that the men of tango's early days danced with each other, I once
overheard a Buenos Aires tanguero make the distinction: "They practiced - not danced."
On these accounts and more, Mike Gonzalez and Marianella Yanes set the record straight in their
book Tango: Sex and Rhythm of the City. Captivating and insightful, the book tracks tango's
evolution while elucidating ambiguous tango lore that has re-circulated through web sites and performance
programs since the 1980s. After mapping out the pattern of immigration and urban development which led to
tango's early proliferation, Gonzalez and Yanes describe the political and social climates that produced
four major eras in tango music: Guardia Vieja (Old Guard), Guardia Nueva (New Guard), The Golden Age and
Tango Nuevo (New Tango). Argentina's ongoing political struggle between populist and elitist movements
presents a recurring theme of how repressive regimes affected tango's popularity, culminating in
its "lean years at home" in the 70s when "tango seemed to come from a world that had been
murdered by the 'Dirty War'". Several eras have tango becoming a darling of society abroad before
regaining legitimacy at home, with Paris repeatedly opening its arms to tango's exotic lure.
Though many significant figures in tango's history are included, from Carlos Gardel to Evita Peron
and Astor Piazzolla, the only Argentine dancers mentioned are, El Cachafaz and Casimiro Ain, in very brief citations.
Gonzalez and Yanes' tango history traces the 30s to the 70s mostly by the period's music rather than dance.
And, disappointingly, the dance boom of recent decades is summarized into only several pages. Missing is any
mention of tango's recent presence in TV shows such as Dancing with the Stars and dance films such as
Sally Potter's The Tango Lesson (1997), whose Nuevo tango dance style caused much controversy
amongst traditionalists, some of whom would eventually redefine themselves in light of its innovations in dance and pedagogy.
Personal accounts, tango lyrics and delightful trivia engagingly support the more historical sections of the
writing. At times the language used by the authors seems veiled in mystery and innuendo, comparing tango's
movements to a knife fight and metaphorizing it as a theatre of life with its colourful cast of characters: the pimp,
the prostitute, the confidence trickster. But soon enough Gonzalez and Yanes provide the historical markers and facts
to back it all up. The book delivers a beautifully depicted and well informed history, chronicling the diverse characters
and ingredients that have formed tango then and now. Suitable for the uninitiated and the tango aficionado
alike, Tango: Sex and Rhythm of the City is time deliciously spent.
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"From Submission to Suggestion, The Hidden World of Tango"
Dance Central, Review Publication 2012, original publication 2002
By Susana Domingues
"Passion," is one of the first words that most people associate with tango and the woman's submission in her role as follower seems to be the first image that comes to mind. The ad campaign for Forever Tango, a production that visited Vancouver twice, capitalized on public enthusiasm about tango's sexual nature. "Tango. A vertical expression of a horizontal desire" read the ad copy, with posters featuring a picture of a man standing, feet planted firmly apart, while a woman stands with one leg wrapped around his hip. I myself have certainly not been unaffected by the expectations of audiences who I performed for over the years. Whether performing in theatres or at official government functions, at weddings or bar mitzvahs, there was an expectation that I wear sexy outfits, with high slits in the skirt, and look very serious. I gladly complied and confess I enjoyed playing the part.
Although the Forever Tango approach to publicity helps to sell tickets, it leaves the general public with no idea of what tango is to thousands of "tangueros" and "tangueras" worldwide. A tanguero is someone who goes out several times per week to dance tango with friends, strangers, mates and dance partners in a variety of venues such as dance halls, dance studios and cafe-bars. I visited Argentina several times and found that the world of the tanguero was quite different from that of a tango performer. The relationship of the man and woman dancing tango socially was an area I had not needed to explore as a performer. My goals in tango dance began to shift.
Tango has been described as one of the few urban folk dances, born in the Rio Plata region of Latin America about 130 years ago. Although there is controversy about the history of tango, I found the best explanation of its origins in a recent documentary called Tango, the Obsession, produced and directed by Adam Boucher. In it, historians describe how the city boys, called "compadritos," who frequented the dance halls, would travel to the outskirts of the city where the African drum dance called candombe would take place. On their next visit to a social dance in the city they would apply the movements they had seen in the candombe to the popular dances of the time, such as the polka and mazurka. They did this partly for fun and partly as an expression of rebellion because the movements from candombe were considered obscene. The historians explain further that the much publicized theory that tango was born in brothels is probably incorrect and that instead it was the prohibition of tango because of its "obscene" nature that drove tango into the brothels where other prohibited activities also took place.
Today tango is a subculture in many cities around the world. I believe its staying power has had to do with how it has evolved over the years. Through Argentina's various historical phases, tango has always reflected Argentinean society. Had it not evolved, tango might have remained a folk dance that no longer related to modern society and Argentina might not have had such success in bringing its brand of tango to the rest of the world.
In 1985, the dance show Tango Argentino began a successful Broadway and off-Broadway run. As the production toured the world, cast members offered instruction to locals. This was the birth of many social tango dance scenes outside of Latin America. Tango enthusiasts in North America began teaching themselves to dance from any available videos of performances. Tango tourism to Buenos Aires began to bud, and eventually Argentine teachers toured and taught communities about their way to dance social tango. Now tangueros outside of Argentina must decide whether they want their tango dancing to be an expression of tango's past (a past when women rights worldwide were not at all what they are today), an expression of Argentine culture or an expression of themselves.
Outside of today's tanguero circles, tango hasn't ventured far from what it was when Rudolph Valentino first danced it on screen. Women contemplating tango dancing can experience a stumbling block in the idea that to dance tango they must comply with this outdated image. Obvious questions arise. What if I'm not submissive? Am I supposed to act submissive while dancing tango? What if I am not attracted to the person I am dancing with? Am I to pretend that we are in a three-minute romance? What if I feel happy while dancing? Must I stay with the traditional look of tango angst? What about the tradition of man leads/woman follows? Is that still true for today's woman? Must a woman submit to always following?
Perhaps there is a stigma to submission; perhaps the word suggests much more than what it actually defines. Perhaps following does involve submitting to being led. But that doesn't necessarily mean that one has to be submissive in the role of follower.
I like to compare tango to a non-verbal dialogue. Not every dialogue with a leader involves dominance and submission. The old cliche holds that it takes two to tango, just as it takes two to engage in complimentary roles of any kind. If both partners are into their respective roles, then I see no dilemma. I also see no reason to assume that the roles and experiences we have with dance partners must reflect the other interpersonal relationships in our lives. What is important to me, is that the dance become a vehicle for genuinely expressing one's self.
I've had the privilege of dancing with some great dancers. They were all different. Some of them had an exquisite way of responding to what I was doing, even though I was following. They could intuit the subtle suggestion in my movement and respond through the lead. Sometimes they did this with motives of seduction. Other times, I felt the comfortable warmth of friendship. The character of the dance, and the character of the dancer, can unfold gradually or it can be revealed from the first embrace. That embrace can be a soft nestling into the most comfortable position for both, or it can be an expression of the partner's need to be strong and take the other dancer somewhere quickly. The possibilities are as endless as the personalities of the dancers.
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"It Takes Two to Tango"
Western Standard Magazine, June 27, 2005
by Dina O'Meara
Tango. The word conjures images of dancers with smouldering eyes and simmering sensuality gliding to the melancholy sound of Astor Piazzola's accordion-like bandoneon. The men are manly and the women are, well, wrapping their legs quite conspicuously around them.
This is no two-step, or waltz, and definitely not predictable. Tango is an exploration of moods, from melancholy to playful. Dancers seem to vibrate while maintaining the balance of energy between male lead and female response, a powerful interaction that can evaporate as soon as the music stops.
That sultry Latin image is playing out in growing numbers of dance clubs in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg. Fanatics say the Argentine transplant flourishes here because it's a living thing, a mystery people want to explore, a passion meant to be communicated without words. And, just maybe, the tango lets North Americans experience our biological imperatives rather than our politically correct ones. "I wonder if in our culture, if we haven't been seeking some therapeutic interaction," acclaimed performer and instructor Susana Domingues muses from her Vancouver studio. "Tango is a product of a different culture, and maybe that provides a safe place to engage in these very definite male and female roles."
Tango is fundamentally based on the strong male lead--and the woman's willingness to follow, she explains. There is no sexual homogeny here; the "manlier" the man, the better. He directs the steps through movements of his torso, his hand on the small of her back, his rhythm. The woman responds to the direction, then he responds to her, creating a tight balance of power that is the key to tango's sensual appeal.
But it's a concept that has caused many a tight-lipped argument on Canadian classroom floors, and silent exits by fuming couples. Calgary-based instructor Leo Sato makes sure beginners know exactly where the sexes stand on the dance floor--and it isn't politically correct. "Ladies, repeat after me," Sato begins his classes. "Men lead, women follow, men lead, women follow."
Sato started out in ballroom dance, and fell into tango while living in South America. Since coming to Calgary about five years ago, he's seen the number of tango students swell, in part, he believes, because tango's basic eight steps are easy to learn. The clothes are rather cool, too; form-fitting pants for men, leg-baring dresses for women. And those ankle straps? They're not just for looks: they keep the shoes from flying off women's feet while executing the gancho, where the female "hooks" her leg behind her partner's knee with a swift, sliding backward kick, or the ocho, when he prompts her to swivel in a tight "eight" formation by his side.
Unsurprisingly, the male- female ratio in Sato's tango classes is around one to one, whereas in other Latin dance classes it's around one to five. "Salsa is like an action movie, or a comedy," he says. "Argentine tango is more like a good romantic movie." In tango, men and women are equal partners but definitely not the same. "It isn't a chemistry of similar parts, but of different parts," Vince Davis, founder of Edmonton Tango, says. "The two very different roles come together and fit; it's magical."
Vince and wife Cindy became full converts to the tango after visiting Buenos Aires in 1995. Both were ballroom instructors at the University of Alberta, where Vince manages the School of Business' information systems. "There's a very strong personal and emotional involvement in Argentine tango," Vince says. "Ballroom dancing doesn't have that same feel."
The couple were instrumental in promoting the dance in Edmonton and Calgary. A couple of years later, Tamara and Ernst Edler, of Tango Sutra, caught the bug--in Canada's small tango world, Domingues taught Tamara her first class--and now split their year between Edmonton and Argentina. "Tango is enticing because it explores the depths of emotions, is very intimate, and you never stop learning because of that," Tamara says. Over time, the gender dynamic evolves. "The woman exerts more of her will as her level of expertise in tango grows." In other words, the more you learn, the clearer it becomes that it really does take
two to tango.
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