Attilla Tang performing with Eduardo Bozzo at Shewsbury Dance Festival 2014 Dance UK explores… Argentine tango

Date Thu 26 June 2014

Each month, Dance UK is investigating a different dance style for our members' e-newsletter, finding out about its technique, style and history. For June, it’s Argentine tango, which Attilla Ting, Founder of Tango Cheshire, discusses in an interview with Dance UK’s Communications and Membership Officer, Laura Dodge.

How did you get involved in tango?

I was interested in dance from a young age, but mainly trained in ballet. Then when I was at university in Leeds, studying computer science and chemistry, I taught for the ballet society. I came into contact with tango for the first time when there was a show at university, combining all of the different dance societies. I saw it and fell in love!

After that I moved to Cheshire and found there wasn’t much tango here so I set up Tango Cheshire in 2003. It’s a not-for-profit organisation designed to promote tango in the local area and provide tango classes and events.

What is tango and how did it originate?

Argentine tango is an improvised social dance performed as a duet, with a leader (usually male) and follower (usually female). It originated in Buenos Aires in the early 1900s when lots of European immigrants moved to the area. Tango combines South American music and dance heritage with immigrant influences. Men outnumbered women at that time so there was huge competition to practice and improve to get the best girls to dance with!

Tango had its ‘golden era’ between 1935 and 1955, when it was very popular. After this, the political situation meant it went more underground. Since the 1980s, it’s seen a massive increase in popularity again and people now do it across the world.

Tango is often danced at milongas, which are like tango parties. Once you know some of the basics, it’s definitely worth going along, being friendly and doing some dancing. It’s a great way to practice and meet new people.

What is the difference between Argentine tango, ballroom tango and other tango forms?

Ballroom tango branched from Argentine tango, but became more formalised. It has sharp head movements and other features that differentiate it, and there’s also a stronger drum beat in ballroom tango music.

Whilst Argentine tango was originally a social dance, there is now another form which is a more exaggerated version for performance. It is generally choreographed in advanced (though may be improvised) and includes big lifts, high kicks etc in order to impress an audience. In social tango, you can’t do big movements like that as you have to be respectful of the other couples dancing.

There are now also lots of people swapping follower/leader roles and dancing in same-sex couples. It’s not really a new thing as right back at the beginning of the 20th Century, men would learn the follower role before they started leading. It’s a great idea as it’s very beneficial to know both roles and understand how they work – it makes you a better tango dancer.

How do you train as a tango dancer?

There are lots of local tango classes in the UK. Some focus on improvisational social tango and others on the more showy, choreographed tango, so it’s worth thinking about which side interests you most. There are also intensive weekend courses as well as tango festivals in the UK and across the world.

Most professional tango dancers tend to teach as well as perform. If you get a job with a tango show, it can be a full-time dance job, but for most tango professionals, teaching regular classes and then performing and teaching workshops at festivals is the norm.

What should you look out for when watching tango?

Tango is all about the connection between the two dancers and the music. Movements can be technically difficult or more sensual and intimate, but good tango dancers will move together as a couple and respond well to the music.

Why do you love tango?

I love the sensuality, the creativity of the choreography, the music and the connection you get with a partner. In the improvised form, you are constantly reading your partner’s intentions and making spur of the moment decisions about what movements to do. With a different person or in a different space, the decisions are different, so tango is constantly challenging and exciting. You don’t need to share a spoken language with someone to dance beautiful tango.

What dance style would you like to see featured next in the 'Dance UK explores...' series? Email suggestions to laura@danceuk.org