Tango in a Small Space
Like it or not, stop-and-go tango is a reality in BsAs, and we have tried to show how the tools needed to survive these conditions have formed tango. But you still need to express the music. What do you do when the floor is packed, and the DJ decides to play a tanda of fast milongas?
Raul Poli *
Not only are Raul Poli and Pocho very well known and respected milongueros, but people in the clubs say that both also played a part in the popularization of “traspie”, the quick tripping-step that is now a part of milonga style tango dancing. Dancing milonga the right way means stepping in the cadence without pausing or skipping beats (pauses are part of tango and vals, but they're almost never used in milonga). The problem is that walking every beat, especially the quick cadences of many milongas, can use up a lot of territory. This is fine in a practice studio, or when the floor isn’t crowded. But what do you do on Friday night in Canning when there are two people standing on every baldosa (floor tile)? (Well, okay, Canning doesn’t have floor tiles, it has wood—but you know what I mean).
Rosa and Pocho
The solution evolved through talented and innovative dancers like Pocho and Raul. They began to find steps between the quick cadences of the milonga music. Now, instead of using up a lot of floor by walking every beat of a milonga, they express the music by dividing the rhythm into very quick, tripping syncopations. They essentially squeeze more dancing into a smaller area—sometimes stepping quickly with no forward movement at all. Watch the brilliantly quick traspie of El Gallego and his brother Dany, or the flowing milonga of Raul Poli. Or, possibly the most senior and respected milonga dancer of all, Pocho. They may pack more creative musical expression into less space than anyone in the world.
The point is that while the crowded conditions of the clubs sometimes put limits on the what dancers can do, they don't really hinder musical expression. In fact, they open the doors for new ways of dancing, and they make tango what it is. Without the need to express tango in a tight space, traspie would not exist. The elegant first step that the great dancers use to resume their movement along the line of dance would never have been born. The compact and incredibly complex giros around a single axis of milongueros like Ariel, Gerard Gellé, or Tito would probably not exist. (Tito used to be famous for doing so many giros that the women would get dizzy. When he would try to make Alej dizzy, they would just end up laughing, but once in Canning a woman actually fell down, and he had to be more careful after that).
Masters of tango in a small space: Tito dances big when there is room,
and then tightens up and turns when it’s crowded.
Ariel and Tito often link 5 or 10 giros in one direction…and then reverse directions and do 5 or 10 more.
Top row: Ariel is stepping backwards, turning counter clockwise. He then stops, and begins to move clockwise.
Ariel did about 10 quick giros around a single axis, reversing direction halfway through. (Salon Canning)
Gerard Gellé dances with tremendous energy. He uses every inch of the floor, right up to the tables- and almost under them (last picture). Gerard is with Alejandra* (top row), and with Noemí Yódice (bottom row).
You might notice that in the first picture where Alej is dancing with Gerard (one row up, first on the left), she has her head turned so that she is looking right, with her left cheek to her partner. This is unusual for Alej, but Gerard asked her to try it. This position creates more dramatic photos, and allows the camera to see the faces of both dancers, so social dancers sometimes use it when performing. They also switch back and forth, depending on their dance partner’s preference. Generally, Alej finds this position uncomfortable, and prefers the more common right cheek to right cheek embrace she is using in the rest of the pictures. Right-to-right generally makes it easier to keep the head centered and relaxed in close embrace.
* Note: This image of Raul Poli (top of page) was taken from a video that was shot when he was very sick. After I finished filming he sat down exhausted, and couldn’t dance any more. The next day he went into the hospital, and he is still recovering at this time (5 weeks later). He put everything he had into it so our video would turn out well, and I’m very grateful. It was a brave effort, and the dancing was fantastic.