There is a very formal and factual explanation of tango in wikipedia. I’ll explain the way I dance it and feel it. Tango is both a form of music as it is a dance. Although, I can tell you now, I can dance a tango to other musical forms that may not be tango. The most touching version I have attempted is to tango to Nina Simone. And that I’ll never forget.
Dancing was a way for people to get to know each other in the olden times and as a way to court someone. It’s often difficult to describe it to people who has never seen or danced it so I compare it to going to a disco in today’s terms.
Tango is a negotiation between 2 people. In most cases, the male leads and the woman follows. Now you may say, “how chauvinist!”, “what about the woman’s choice?”. And I’ll say, it is a negotiation art form. When a man invites a woman to dance, she will have to accept the invitation to proceed. A man proposes the first embrace and the woman chooses how to accept it (open or close embrace). The first step is called a “salidar”, a man invites to woman to step sideways to the right. He doesn’t push her back or pull her in and it is on her good side. Next, he brings her left in with her right before attempting to move forward while she moves back. If he is confident, he’ll request for the woman to cross her feet so her left crosses her right. At this point, he can decide if he will attempt something more complicated or to simply continue to move forward. The crossing of the feet is his litmus test of their communication. These are the basic steps.
Finding a good tango partner is more difficult than finding a life partner in my opinion. Dancing with someone you’ll know if he a show off, a considerate person, timid, risky, selfish or generous. Does he protect you, try to understand you and gives you room? Finally, do you fit when you dance together? With a good dancer, tango is enjoyable, with a partner that fits, it’s electrical. You’ll find the rhythm together to step in synch. He will communicate clearly his proposition and guide her to complete the move. Both has to support and hold on to each other with the same strength and pressure. In tango, a dancer wants make the other person dance and look good. A male leader allows the woman to show off her strengths and her elegance while the female dancer listens intently to each proposition and executes them accurately to allow the lead to make new suggestions.
Then there is the beautiful, sensual, inexplicable pause. Unlike salsa, it is not carried forward by momentum and pushing and pulling. When a couple pauses on a dance flow, it is a time to reconnect, rest and enjoy the moment. But the communication doesn’t stop. Even when they are not moving forward or back, there is movement in the legs, the feet caressing the ground for example. It is a moment that demands confidence, in yourself and your partner. There is no room for doubting or wondering off in your mind. While the man waits for the opportunity to move again, the woman has to be alert for that moment.
Finally and not least, there is the music; the tune and the lyrics that are intertwined with your movements. The song, asking you to be touched by it and to move with it. I think that is why I think that tango along with the Spanish language touches me deeply. Tango demands that you connect with your partner and the song and yourself at the same time. In that 3 to 4 minutes of the song, you are transported to another world. You’ll feel the emotions, participate in it and create your role in this world.
A video of a small concert I attended in La Viruta where I danced and listened to tango.