The Perfect Tango
I know... tango isn’t science. You can’t measure it by any objective standard. But I have seen two dances that are so good that I simply can’t imagine a way to make them better—so for me, they're "perfect". We've already shown one of them. It's the first video we posted of Ismael dancing to No Me Extraña. Now, here is the second one. It's a video of Miguel Balbi dancing to Biaggi's El Trece at a party in Almagro. Watch how he moves to the music:
At the end of the video you can hear Alberto Dassieu comment, "Muy bien pareja de bailarines."— "A very good pair of dancers". For the milongueros, this is the absolute essence of what dancing tango is about: a pure, unadorned expression of the music; unpretentious and simple on its surface, but profoundly complex in its use of cadence and melody.
To see what's really happening here—to actually get a feel for it—you should first just listen to this tango until it becomes familiar. Maybe even dance to it several times and get acquainted with the melody and the cadence. Get to know the changes: strings rising and then receding, Biaggi's sharp wizard hands on the piano, the whining and chunking of the bandoneons—and then go back and watch the way Miguelito moves. Hold up a piece of paper and block out the legs of the dancers. Note the path of the upper bodies: front, back, side, around and around and around—effortlessly using all of the room. Then, block out the upper bodies and isolate the legs. If you look very closely you may see some of the tango triple stepping we discussed earlier—but Miguel does it very subtly. As he pivots in the giros, he sometimes inserts two quick weight changes on each side of the weak beat. They're almost invisible—but they are there. Miguel uses them both aesthetically to mark the compás, and also to stay over his feet and readjust his position in relation to his partner.
Miguelito is a very talented, athletic tango dancer... with about sixty years of experience behind him. He even danced through the lean years of tango, with friends like Hugo, Tonino, Ernesto Delgado, Jorge Orellana, and Elba Biscay, (who are still dancing), and also with Petroleo and Finito (who, of course, are not). They all went to a club together in Floresta, and one time I mentioned to Ernesto and Jorge how much I would have liked to have seen them dancing there. On a long shot I asked if anyone had ever filmed anything. They laughed and said, "Why would anyone film us? We weren't doing anything important. Tango was dead... there were probably less than 30 people dancing in all of Buenos Aires! We never thought tango would even exist today. We never thought we'd still be dancing." (I think it was around this time that RCA's manager in Buenos Aires decided to destroy most of their inventory of tango recordings—including masters of Troilo, Di Sarli, and many others, which can never be replaced.)
Like a great athlete, Miguel makes it look easy—but it's not. This is very difficult tango, both physically and artistically. By the way, on my side, I have to say I think the video came out pretty well, no? Unlike a normal milonga, I had more freedom to move around the floor, and the effect is almost like we're dancing along with him.
I don’t want to get bogged down in complicated descriptions of tango technique, but there is one last thing I think we should cover. We’ve seen how the core of tango is the use of the compás, and how corriditas are used as a foundation for expressing the music. In corriditas, you follow the music with short runs, stepping on different combinations of the weak and the strong beats—but of course you also have the option of not stepping on a beat at all. This is the final musical tool we need to discuss: not stepping on a beat.
Good, natural dancers feel tango as compás—and the compás gives you three choices: You can step on the strong beat, you can step on the weak beat… or you can choose not step at all. If you choose not to step, your free foot will stay off of the floor and "float" over the beat. You can do this anytime, but when you start to curve your corridas, and float over a beat or two, your supporting foot will naturally pivot. As you tighten the corrida, you’ll pivot more, and these pivots become part of the structure of the giro.
Look at almost any of these videos, and you will see “float”. One or the other partner’s foot will float over some beats, and often (but not always), they will be pivoting on the other foot.
Finally, if you keep both feet on the floor and “float” over some of the beats as you turn, you will arrive at a very nice technique that some of the best milongueros use: the enrosque. An enrosque is when the man pivots on both feet at the same time. The body turns while each foot remains in place, and the legs twist and wrap around each other. I've only seen two dancers, Tete and Miguel, who are true masters of the enrosque. They use them regularly—however it can be physically challenging to do them naturally in a milonga while leading your partner around—and it's especially difficult on a poor surface like the one in this video. But Miguel does a pretty good job when you consider that he's dancing on a sticky tile floor with large grout joints in it... and also, that Di Sarli rather than the tango picado of Biaggi is his preferred music.
A note of warning: You shouldn't think of pivots or enrosques as moves or figures. If you do, you'll fall into the dead end of academic, workshop tango. I have a horrible vision of someone reading this and then practicing enrosques for a couple of weeks so they can unveil them at their next milonga. (Or even worse, teach them in their next class.) I don't want to sound condescending, but tango really doesn't need more people displaying challenging moves that have little connection to the music. Miguel's enrosques are a natural part of the way he feels the music, and they have developed over many years of dancing. He doesn't think, okay now it's time for an enrosque. The music pulls him into the turns, and his pivots naturally flow from one foot, to the other, or to both feet simultaneously, as he floats over different combinations of musical beats. Anyone with some athletic ability can probably do an enrosque with a few weeks of practice... but doing them well, and doing them in the music, is something completely different.