Friday, 2 January 2015

Tango rules!

This is a post, that I really wanted to avoid, but I have to write it - or else my head is going to explode!

Triggered by my last article (who was by some misunderstood as a rejection of encuentros) and by another post on facebook, I was once again confronted with a statement that I have heard in many variations, but that always boils down to: „I will never go to an encuentro, because I hate these tango traditionalists and their rules. They are just nazis, who want to block my freedom to move! Tango does not need any rules. I want to be free. I want to have fun!“

These words make me want to shout out:
„What do you think, that a Milonga is? A psycho seminar for self-realisation? A contact-improvisation workshop? Kindergarden? Go get a grip! Really....“

No, but let‘s stay calm and think logically about it.

Tango is an interaction of individual beings. Even more so. It is a social partner dance. Such a kind of activity needs to be regulated in some way. Every form of human interaction is defined by rules. Limitations that tell us, what kind of behaviour is accepted in this setting and which behaviour will be frowned upon or will even be dangerous. Sometimes they are written down and called laws. Sometimes they remain unwritten codes of behaviour. Some are universal, some apply only to one context, group or area. Rules therefore also help define group identities.

You want to live in a certain country? You will have to abide to its laws. Or at least not get caught whilst breaking them.
You want to drive a car? You will have to adhere to the traffic laws.
You want to play tennis or chess? You are going to agree on a set of rules with the other players.
You want to dance viennese waltz? You need to understand that everyone will move counter-clockwise, if you don‘t want to bump into someone else. 
You want to participate in a debate at university? You need to know the rules.
You want to communicate with your grand-mother? You surely will know how to behave towards her, based on a unwritten set of mechanisms that make sense whilst interacting with elderly relations.
Get it?
Even free-form modern dance has its limitations. Or improvisational theatre. Or kindergarden, by the way...
There is no freedom of rules unless you move to a desert island.

The so-called „codigos milongueros“ are therefore no abomination or freak-law and not even particularly limiting. Actually they just describe a certain respectful and group-oriented form of behaviour: 
- To take care not to invade the personal space of someone when inviting him/her to dance: Mirada & Cabeceo.
- To take care of the other couples on the dancefloor: Entering the dancefloor carefully, moving counter-clockwise, keeping the feet on the floor, keeping distance to the other couples and not invading their space. (More details here.)
- Giving everyone the chance to chose a (new) partner according to the music and helping to create an open atmosphere, where dancers do not cling to their favourites: 1-tanda guideline.

A couple of years ago, nobody even cared to write down or discuss these „rules“. Why? Because those who lived by them, knew what they were doing. They shared a cultural back-ground, a common upbringing that ensured, that they would know about them, once they went to their first MIlonga. 
Then came the tourists to Buenos Aires and behaved like elephants in a porcelain-shop, because they just did not know about the setting. They had learned Tango as an imitation of art, a tuned-down version of stage-tango. Their Tango was more of an artistic self-expression than a ballroom-dance. 
I have danced lots of other ballroom dances and I agree: Tango is much freer in its musical expression and allows for much more individual creation when it comes to movements. But it is still a ballroom dance. And with it come limitations. But certain people seem to forget about this simple fact, mostly non-argentines or stage dancers.

And this is the reason, that organisers of encuentros milongueros or so-called traditional Milongas in BA or elsewhere started to write down the codigos. They did not like the chaos that was often the result of self-expressionalist-Tango. They searched for a calm social environment in which they could practise their ballroom-dance. Some guidelines where even „invented“ anew in these last years, I guess because of the insensitive behaviour that many europeans and north americans showed, e.g. when inviting someone to dance, taking it for granted, that the person would just love to do so. The Mirada & Cabeceo where most likely not used in this strict form pre-millennium. Because it was not necessary. Everyone would be careful and sensitive enough to read the body language before approaching someone else.
So, this is why it was just plain necessary to write down the codigos: To assure, that everyone has a chance to agree on a common form of respectful behaviour. Today, the codigos are not the only distinguishing feature of encuentros, but they form (apart from the close embrace) the core-philosophy of these events.

And this is why I prefer to dance at encuentros or traditional Milongas. I can rely on the fact, that people will behave respectfully and carefully in their interactions. This is not the result of nazi-behaviour, but a process of developing a group identity by defining certain limitations. Like chess players do. 
In all those years, I have only met very few people, who did not appreciate the atmosphere that is created in this manner. An atmosphere where everyone can indeed have fun, because he/she is not kicked, creeped-upon or neglected. Given the ideal case.

But I don‘t ask you to agree: If you don‘t like to dance counter-clockwise, if you need your high voleos, if you don‘t feel comfortable dancing with someone new every tanda - don‘t go to an encuentro. That's totally fine and does not need any further discussion. Not everyone has to agree on the same codes.

But do not say, that you won‘t go, because you are against rules as such! 

No Tango event is rule-free! Let's take marathons* - just to mention one setting from which some (but not all) of those come, who criticise the use of the „codigos“. I guess, marathons have just got other rules. There seems to be e.g. the unwritten code to dance at least three tandas in a row amongst some maratonistas. I dislike this idea out of many reasons. Imagine, I'd say: "You block my freedom to move with your bloody rule! I hate rules!" Would that not be plain stupid?

So, respectfully, if you don't like the "codigos", argue against them or just don't go someplace, where they are applied, but don't just tell me, that you are against rules. 

Please come up with another line!

P.S. For those who don't follow me on Facebook or don't read the comments, I would like to add:
A Tango friend who's a Cambridge scholar, just sent me an article by Mary Midgley of which she was reminded by my blog. Midgely writes about games and rules in her essay 'The Game Game': 'the restraining rules are not something foreign to the needs or emotions involved, they are simply the shape that the desired activity takes'.
Highly recommendable.

P.S.S. Just to say it loud and clear to anyone who feels needlessly offended: this is no post against maratonistas. This is a rant about some stupid individuals who position themselves as Tango-anarchists against the so-called tango-nazis. Mentioning marathons in my last paragraph, just serves an example. As I have written in one of my earlier posts, Marathons and Encuentros are much more similar as one might think.