A performance like a poem: Maria & Leandro
“Dancing is creating a sculpture that is visible only for a moment.” ― Erol Ozan
As mentioned in the previous blogpost, this one is dedicated to my wonderful tango teachers Maria & Leandro and their unforgettable performance at the Che London! Tango festival.
The two of them always emphasize that tango is a form of communication; that it is a language, and that dancing it is like having a conversation with someone using movements instead of words. In class both of them hence often remind us that a good tango dancer is not necessarily the one who knows the most steps, but who is able to connect with his/her partner and use the body as communicative medium. At the recent CHE London! Tango Festival - a weekend full of fantastic workshops and milongas - their performance served as a beautiful reminder of exactly that concept for all LPTA students:
Once the clock approached the last minutes before midnight on the opening night of the festival, the dancefloor was cleared for Leandro and Maria’s first performance and the lights in the room were dimmed. Solely the empty dancefloor was lit. They stepped out with their usual grace and passion, slowly indulging in each other’s embrace. Their performance was awe-inspiring and filled with mesmerizing provocativeness. Leandro led Maria so gently yet with so much assertion. She responded and counteracted with so much teasing elegance, that it was impossible not to see the way in which both of them were answering and expanding the music into spatial and visual dimensions. They were twirling gently across the dancefloor in a rebellious yet intimate embrace, the connection between them being of a nature that I have rarely witnessed between many other dancers. Everything Leandro and Maria emphasize in their lessons was deeply embedded in this performance: the music is absolutely key, essential, and absolutely impossible to separate from the dance itself. It is not just some initial inspiration; the intricacies and interplay within the music itself are the whole lifeblood of the dance.
With each step the two took on the dance floor, and with each ocho, both deepened in their embrace. They were responding to the music, becoming involved in the music. Each painfully sweet and beautiful phrase of love in the songs they picked were accompanied by steps and facial expressions so intense, that it was as if Michelangelo himself had transformed both of them into a magnificent statue. Sometimes it even felt as if Maria’s feet and the movement of her body were another instrument, adding a little more music. It was in that moment, that the many little wisdoms that Leandro and Maria gave us in class all came together to form a bigger picture: they told us that tango is a language of the body and mind, that we need to immerse ourselves in the music and the embrace and let your body express what you want to say, but without words; that they can teach us the steps but that they want us to find our own style, our own form of expression.
It dawned on me that learning tango is indeed like learning and speaking a language, each step being a “word” and each sequence translating into a sentence and sometimes even a poem. As our teachers they guide is in the process of obtaining the necessary vocabulary, grammatical rules and pronunciation, but it is up to us how well we use the grammatical rules and pronunciation in order to be understood, and it is also up to us to decide what we want to express with those newly learned words and how we wish to do so. Watching Maria’s and Leandro’s performance, I realized that they were performing a beautifully intricate poem with endless stanzas, unforgettable rhymes and deep, strong words. At LPTA they are not only teaching us to learn the language of tango, but they are also our literature professors and creative writing coaches, teaching us the fine intricacies and the beauty of Argentine tango and showing us how to express ourselves with it, how to write stories and poems ourselves. While in the first few beginner’s lessons our conversational skills might be limited to “Hello, my name is … What’s your name? – Hello, my name is… What’s your name?” with each lesson we are able to say more. If Leandro’s and Maria’s performance was to be translated, it would most likely look like this:
“Come, darling Let me guide you Across the cold wooden floors And warm you with my embrace
Hold my hand And lead me With a question So that I may caress Your leg with mine And answer with endless pivots
I ask you then, Will you follow me this way? Will you allow me To step next to you And block your path So that you can free yourself With a sudden move?
I will follow you wherever you lead me Yes, But you should know that on this way I will tell you my story Of love and loss And give you my heart For the moment of this dance.
And I will join you in this story of yours For my heart shares the same So, let’s dance, my dear And forget the world For in this moment There is only you and me
Maria and Leandro gave two performances that night; there was a storytelling element in both of them, a bit of call-and-response, in the moment, and with the music. Their individual stories were so intertwined, that each of their responses to their partner felt like an extension of the other’s momentum. Shah Asad Rizvi once said: “Dance resides within us all. Some find it when joy conquers sorrow, others express it through celebration of movements; and then there are those... whose existence is dance” and if anyone is the master of storytelling through Argentine Tango, it is Leandro and Maria who are fluent in the language of this art and whose minds and souls are made of dance.