Published August 2003

By Maestro Ive Simard

“And, I had the consciousness of different eternities for the man and the women.” I.S.

The Cuban sailors arriving in el Rio de la Plata
brought with them the candombe and the habaneras, the basis of the bro­ ken rhythm and syncopation that became the novelty of the day compared to the repetitive ways of the waltz that were popular at the time. The tradi­tion of the zamacueca provided the element of seduction. The milonga con­ tributed the closed marching style, well grounded and close to the floor.
These milongas had their origin in the couple dances of the XIX century (valse, polka, mazurka, schottish) which soon developed local variations. One of these group dances, la contradanza, was introduced to Cuba by French planters escaping the slave revolt in Santo Domingo in 1790 and was latter brought to el Rio de la Plata. These dances, European in origin, were transformed into Creole varieties and provided tango with a strong legacy.

From the beginning, tango was danced in a close embrace, partners close together. Uniquely, tango borrowed from the tradition of group dances a variety of figures, which it then brought, for the first time, into the interior of the dancing couple. The tango is a synthesis of all the dance forms that coexisted at this time; an improvisation based on new production, not reproduction of established forms. This synthesis comes from the dances of the XIX century on one hand, and a tradition that allowed an infinite variety of figures borrowed from the contradances arid the quadrilles (i.e., danza criollo) on the other. The latter were laden with figures and inventions of Latin American and African origin. But now, many of these figures were inside the couple for the first time.

Argentine tango accomplished this miracle of introducing figures inside the couple; this is the secret of its success, the main innovation that it offers the world of dance. Historically, this phenomenon had its origin first in the milonga. The couples dances established to this point required continuous movement, the couple was required to perform patterns and turns without stopping. Tango introduced a suspension of movement. Suddenly, the cou­ ple calms down. The man can stop, while the lady continues to move around him, or vice-versa. Another central important characteristic of tango is this capacity to suspend movement. This is the carte. It allows the leader to avoid collisions with other couples, creates diversity and provides for the possibility of very subtle and intimate movement. One of these subtle movements is a voluptuous balancing of the hips_ known as the quebrada.
Another dimension of the tango is the break in the symmetry of choreogra­phy found in all other closed couples dances of the XIX century. Because of the carte, the choreography is at times very different for the man and the woman. By stopping, the man may become a supporting point and the woman has a space to embellish the dance. In several figures, it is the woman that shows her ability to create variation inside of the frame pro­ posed by the man. This innovation allows the man and the woman to per­ form different steps. This asymmetry in the movements of the two partners already occurred in milonga - the direct ancestor of the tango-- where one of the partners takes a step on every single beat and the other can introduce counter-time movements. The milonga allows one partner to mark the beat (black notes) while the other executes variations on the rhythm of the half beats or less: a contratiempo.

Without cortes y quebradas, the tango is just another dance.

Ive Simard is the president of the Argentine Tango Master Association (ATMA).

Next month: Approach to la danza del tango.