That’s Not Tango

A brief look of dancing at a Michigan school and in Colombia.

Crosssed PensOriginally published in the Clawson Patch May 2013

Michael: I frequently use writings from Patch publications to teach my students who are learning English as a second language. The other day I used an article from the Macomb Patch titled, “It Takes Spanish III at L’Anse Creuse North to Tango.” It featured a video from Youtube that can be seen here.

“Well, what do you think?” I asked my students after viewing.

Colombians are very etiquette minded and avoid making disparaging remarks. However I could see them holding back and wondered if they noticed the same problem with the video that I had. Finally the comment came. “It’s not tango,” a student said. The rest of them shook their head in agreement.

Graciela: I know that Americans enjoy music. But they are more for listening than dancing. For most Latin Americans music is the essence of life and dancing is a natural extension. We learn from a very young age. For us music and movement are merged through the body.

Michael: During eight years of living in Colombia I often notice that little girls start moving to any music they hear and music is everywhere. The concept of personal space in regards to sound seems non-existent in this country. Music blasts from everywhere whether it is a store or five different people in a neighborhood believing they are doing everyone a favor by sharing their particular favorites. Bars in Colombia will go broke if they don’t have a large enough dance floor. At weddings the men are constantly dancing and often wear out more than one partner.

I started my lessons in various types of Latin American dances before coming to Colombia. One thing my ears are use to hearing from Latinas is, “You have gringo rhythm.” It is obvious that those L’Anse Creuse North students also suffer from my affliction.

Graciela: My husband is getting much better with his rhythm, though he still has a long way to go in terms of feeling the music. I give the school teacher, Elain Siegle, much credit for trying to introduce students to the Latin dances. And it is not impossible to overcome gringo rhythm. I have seen a few people get very good at our dances. Though, I am not holding out much hope for Michael.

Michael: Our thought is there is no reason for just students learning Spanish to know about the dances South of America’s borders. So we are using this opportunity to introduce readers to a few of them.

Graciela: Since each dance with its history and variations could easily occupy a book by itself we will just be hitting some of the basics of dances you will find at bars, weddings and parties here in Colombia. Ballroom dancing is another thing. Where possible we will include links to Youtube videos.

Michael: Tango is a very sensual dance. Its origins are a little dubious though. The dance started in the brothels of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The women enticed men with the movements and closeness. The men, not wanting their wallets lifted, kept track of the hands of the woman. This basic idea can be seen in all the tangos. The dance developed and changed over the years to become a popular one for ballroom dancing. Many people may remember the performance by Antonio Banderas in the movie Take the Lead. However it is the Argentinean style that I mostly see. Here is a couple dancing the Argentinean style in a place very similar in looks to where my wife and I use to go for tango.

Graciela: The home of tango in Colombia is Medellin because one of the most prominent contributors to Tango died in a plane crash near the city. Carlos Gardel is loved by the people of the city. They have a museum dedicated to him and each year the city of two million hosts a tango festival. The dates for 2013 are June 20 through June 24.

Michael: Medellin is a beautiful city to visit. It was recently named the most innovative city in the world.

Recently an American visited Medellin after traveling much of Latin America and learning tango. Here is part of what he wrote on a webpage, “The tango community in Medellín is friendly and welcoming, and obviously there are some talented dancers, but I think what really surprised me were the quality of the teachers. I would highly recommend learning to dance tango in Medellín.”

Graciela: Milonga dancing is something that can very easily be mistaken for tango. Most tango bars also play the music. The steps are short and quicker as is the music. Argentineans have told me that milonga is a happy dance where the tango is more of sorrow. You can see here with this street performance.

Michael: Salsa is what they taught the students in the video. My first instructors in the dance were professional Hollywood dancers and they taught me the LA style. This looks to be what the students from L’Anse Creuse were learning. Only after getting to Colombia did I find out what can really be done with the salsa and how hot it can be.

Graciela: The major winners in salsa dance come from Cali, Colombia. They say that in Cali the salsa is pure and hot like the coffee. In fact the music playing in the video is from a group called Niche from that city. The name of the song is Cali Ají (a very spicy sauce in Colombia). The music is quick and designed for the faster foot movements used in Colombian salsa. Here is a video at the salsa festival in Cali showing how young Caleños (people from Cali, Colombia) dance and what it means to their life.

Michael: What I really enjoy about some of the salsa music like that of Niche is the way the many members in the band blend the sounds. One way to tell if someone is Colombian is to start playing what many consider their National Anthem. All those dancing are either Colombian or honorary Colombians. Here it is with Niche playing Cali Pachanguero.

Graciela: Juanchito is a special place outside of Cali where people from the world come to dance salsa or watch. It is one of the best experiences for anyone outside Cali to know and feel what the music evokes.

Michael: After salsa, merengue is probably the second most popular overall dance in Colombia according to the people over 50 that I spoke with. For just listening vallenato comes in at number two place. To really get the true Merengue you need to go to the Dominican Republic. The dance originated there in the 1800’s and quickly spread throughout South America.

Graciela: Merengue makes you feel happy. The dance is from the waist down and easy for gringos to learn. Often times you really do not need a partner and you will see people just moving to the music. Though there are many excellent singers for merengue, in my opinion you can’t go wrong listening to Juan Luis Guerra or the group Rikarena. The younger people enjoy a more modern merengue like this one from Proyecto Uno with words in both Spanish and English.

Michael: Now we arrive at something that is truly all Colombian, the vallenato. It comes from the Caribbean coast of the country where they hold an internationally renowned festival each year featuring the best vallenato groups. I recognize the music immediately because of the accordion. As one of my students told me, “The accordion is soul of the vallenato. I include the music in this writing even though it is not really for dancing. My student told me, “Vallento goes best with sitting and drinking with friends.”

In my opinion it is the most annoying music in Colombia. But I would say that most Colombians are very passionate about it to the extent that my previous comment could bring me some angry comments. Here is the way I am use to hearing vallenato.

Graciela: Vallenato is romantic. They sing of love and tell a story. Really you listen to the lyrics more than the music. Unfortunately sometimes the words are fast and for someone like my husband with Spanish as a second language. He does not understand everything. It is best heard from a live band and with a group of people. When alone most Colombians usually listen to other music. Here is a Youtube of two of the best vallenato singers.

Michael: The above is just the tip of the iceberg to music in Colombia. There is much to be learned and enjoyed in the country and I highly recommend a visit.

In addition I doff my hat to L’Anse Creuse North teacher, Elain Siegle, and her students. May you continue to both learn and enjoy the many things Latin America offers. In my opinion, dances south of the border should be a part of the education of all students. It is good exercise and excellent education.

Graciela: I invite everyone to come and enjoy my country. Beyond being an excellent location to learn Latin American dances it offers spectacular views and unique places.

Thank you for reading - Your comments are always welcome

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