Wednesday, March 16, 2016

26.2 Tango

My most pleasant marathon was not 26.2 miles of running.  It was a tango "marathon."  I have finished around a dozen marathons by running, but only two by dancing. I am certain that the One City Newport News Tango Marathon just can never be topped, going by the amount of fun my partner and I had.  How could it get any better?

It's true that our first tango marathon was really terrible because of a huge gender imbalance at our first in Germany.  I told myself, "Never a tango marathon again!" But the success of a marathon (running or dancing) relies heavily on the organizers' vision and organizational skills.  I can only recommend that anyone who wants to go to a festival or marathon find out what the organizer has planned, and what the organizers profess as their dance philosophy.  This is what we found by asking around before saying "yes" to the Newport News Once City Marathon.

1.  The community is warm an inviting.  We stayed with a local dancer who hosted people at her home, and we felt like family members from the start.
2. The community is a close embrace community.  The "grammar" of the community includes the Three M's--great Music, musicality in Movement and warm eMbraces.
3. The community does NOT bring stage tango teachers or teach stage tango moves for show.  Social tango is the rule.  The local teachers promote social tango too.
4. Tango etiquette is practiced wonderfully.  Talking-while-dancing was rare and not a local problem.  Cabeceos/Mirandas were easy.  
5. The event was to be gender-balanced.

This event felt very much like a small festival, called "Encuentros"* in Europe.  One of the reasons I dislike "Encuentros" is that they end up being VIP milongas and often harm the community where they are hosted. (For those who don't know what an Encuentro is, please read the definition below.). But the thing we like about an Encuentro is the level of music and the fine dancers who dance socially, musically and with grace.  This tango marathon was everything good about an Encuentro without pushing out local dancers to make room for the visiting VIPs.

If you want to visit a little piece of Argentina, I suggest you go to Newport News.  Andy and Olimpia Stein have molded this small community into a wonderful place to dance.  In fact if you do save up your pesos to go the Argentina, you might find it less enjoyable to go to Buenos Aires than Newport News.  Many Europeans have gone to Buenos Aires and say, "never again"  because Buenos Aires has become a place where tourists dance with each other.  Buenos Aires may be "way down South," but I find the "down South" in Virginia good enough for a wonderful time dancing.

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Resource for communities who would like to host an encuentro:

*Definition of an "Encuentro":
In Europe, organizers have developed little tango festivals which in all cases are close embrace weekends.  They have these features:

  • Tango etiquette that has the cabeceo/mirada (non-verbal) method of asking for a dance as the epicenter of that etiquette.
  • Floorcraft that assumes that one can dance well in a very small space and that one will not kick up one's heels with moves such as ganchos and boleos. An excellent dancer with poor floorcraft will be thrown out or at least never invited again to an encuentro.  
  • The event fills up within 5 to 10 minutes after registration fills.  Partly this is caused by having so few people at the events (200-300 people usually), and partly the organizers allow people whom they know are good dancers to have a reserved place.  ("Good" means "excellent floorcraft" may be more important than "excellent at dancing," but usually they go together.)
  • Gender balance.  The advantage is obvious, but requiring gender balance makes it very difficult for women to get in unless they have a man who will register with them.
  • Well-known DJ's who understand Buenos Aires rules of tandas and cortinas.  (Four-song tango tandas x 2, a three-vals tanda, again two tango tandas, and finally, a three-milonga tanda.). The DJ also knows not to mix orchestras, and have the best quality reproductions and play traditional, Golden Age tango.  DJ's in Europe seem to know a lot more about technical sound reproduction and the best copies of songs. 
  • Usually there is no instruction, but if teachers are the organizers, they will focus on social dance.  
  • Encuentros do not have shows.  But, again, if teachers are organizers, there is no "show"; there is a "demonstration."  ;-)