My Beginning’s and What was going on in the US at the time:
I started dancing tango at the age of 18 in the year 2000. This was near the start of the Chicho era. It was the beginning of the tango boom in the U.S. and what was also the start of the nuevo tango movement. For those people that started during the 1998-2008 decade in the U.S. we learned what I feel now was the McDonald’s version of tango. It’s not exactly a bad thing because sometimes you just need a quick bite of food. This version of tango was quick and easy to learn and share with others. This version of tango emphasized big movements on the down beat and deemphasized just about anything having to do with the history of tango. We stayed apart from each other and just used physics to create movement.
The complete opposite of this style was also popular at this time. We commonly call this “Milonguero” style however Iona’s term, sustained close embrace (SCE) style is more apt. I luckily grew up in a city where both were popular and taught as options so I got to learn both styles well.
An interesting thing happened in the U.S. (and I assume other places) is that we created our own “salon” style by combining nuevo tango movements with the closeness of SCE style and we simply regarded the, what I now know as Salon embrace, as the “V” embrace and just figured it existed only as an option, not it’s own style. This mix of close embrace encouraged the follows chest to not leave the leaders chest and allowed the hips to pivot freely under the followers chest. We were attempting to do big 180 degree pivots inside of a milonguero embrace, which for most every person reading this is nearly impossible without letting your chest leave your partners chest. These two styles did’t work so well together but that’s what we got. The teachers in the early 2000’s were learning from Chicho and Gustavo Naviera and sadly not from Toto Faraldo or El Chino Perico.
Identifying My Problem
It is common for people in the United States to say that “tango is not about competition.”
In September of 2013 I traveled to Taiwan to teach classes and perform at the 2013 Taipei Tango Festival. I knew that Asia was “all about Salon” so not knowing salon style I decided that I would perform a milonga and show them what west coast US musicality was. Although the performance was fine it paled in comparison to the salon performers that were at the festival. Sebastian Archaval and Roxana Suarez stole the show with their beautiful and well thought out lines, attire, moves, etc.
In 2014 I was teaching at the Tucson Tango Festival along with other U.S. teachers Jaimes Friedgen and Christa Rodriguez, Momo Smitt, Dave and Ariel, Jay and Brigitta, and the 2013 Mundial Tango Champions Maximilliano Cristiani and Jesica Arfenoni. Before going to this festival I didn’t really understand what salon tango was exactly. I thought competing was for people from Florida and California where all they care about is how they look and that the “real tango” was for us Northern Coasters/ Democrats (making up a word there) who loved tango for the feeling and music.
At the festival my partner and I performed and at the time I felt we did an OK job (really we did terrible). I was not particularly impressed with any of the performances but then Maximilliano and Jesica performed. My jaw dropped to the floor, I couldn’t believe my eyes, such power, such elegance, such flow. Even though I was a teacher at the festival I quickly swallowed my pride and ego and took all the classes I had time for at the festival that these two were offering. This was perhaps my first encounter with Salon style tango. This was my first taste of a michelin stared meal, not the shitty McDonald’s brown bagged matter that I call food when I’m in BA and need a taste of home. I was learning real solid technique…WOW.
Luckily Maxi and Jesica came to Portland right after that festival and we were both scheduled to go to Austin for a festival after their Portland trip. I got to hang with them for three weeks and learn all I could. After these three weeks of hanging with them I realized that what I had been doing was not the tango that I wanted, but the tango that I was served. I also learned that all those people that say that “Tango is not about competition” perhaps just don’t want to put themselves out there to be compared to someone else or worse have to see themselves dancing.
In the beginning, as Gustavo Benzecry Saba has pointed out in his book “The Quest for the Embrace” with historical records, that competition has been going on in tango since the beginning. Some of the most famous tango dancers (i.e. El Cachafaz) in the golden era and before made their living off of tango competitions. Today the Mundial is a world wide event with over 400 couples joining it every year. The majority of these couples are Argentine. Many of today’s big name couples were winners or competitors in either the Mundial de Tango or the BA city competition (Sebastian Achaval, Sebastian Jiminez and Maria Inez Bogado, Daniel Nacucchio and Cristina Sosa, Maximiliano and Jesica, Pablo Rodriguez and Noelia Hurtado).
In 2013 I purchased a yoga studio in Portland, my home town, and moved my tango classes to my new studio. With nearly unlimited studio access I began watching videos of big names and figuring out what it was that they were doing and how I could improve my dance.
March of 2014 was my start into learning Salon Tango, I split with my previous partner in April of 2014 and in May of 2014 I found my new partner to start training with, Tilly Kimm. I moved to Boston, her current city at the time, in September of 2014 and we really began working on our tango together in January of 2015 (after her Harvard PhD defense) on our trip to Buenos Aires together. In February and March of 2015 we were on a teaching tour to Asia and didn’t have time to train. We decided to compete in the 2015 U.S. Championship with just one month of training in Salon style together and really just one month of actually training together. We were confident in our abilities and in the end, we got 4th place and after the competition about 75 people came up to us and told us that we deserved 1st, including many competitors and a couple judges.
A couple of months after the 2015 championship we decided to consider another attempt at the championship for 2016 so we to start training. Now I am personally really bad at training, unlike Tilly. She was a ballet dancer until an injury at the age of 16, she is an amazing pianist, she went to MIT for Mathematics, and she has a PhD from Harvard in Neuroscience, this girl knows how to study. I however was a B- student. I got my grades because I did my homework but it was never good. I got some great early opportunities in my tango life including free lessons with Rachel Lidskog and Alex Krebs, but after my third year I just learned by social dancing, which is the typical way people learn in the US after their first one or two years of classes. Our 2015 year was not filled with tons of training but with some pushing from Tilly we did train more often than I would have on my own. We focused in on our walk, our connection, and our communication.
We spent 6 weeks in BA in Jan to Feb of 2016 before our Asia tour and ended our tour with a stop in San Fran for the championships. With about one year of working together, we went into these championships with much more confidence than before. We finished in first and the rest is history.
After just two years of working in the salon style, I was able to secure the US Championship title and more importantly, unlike my performance in the Tucson tango festival of 2014, I now like watching my performances.
My urge to people reading this, please reconsider your view on competing, salon tango, and your own training habits. If you are interested in learning Salon Tango, Tilly and I have been studying hard to bring it to you. We teach Salon style classes in our studio and when we travel.
Our next big event will be the World Championships and I have promised Tilly that I we will practice 3 hours per day minimum to prepare for this event. Please wish us luck. If you are interested in supporting our training process we have worked out that we can train for just $25/hour. That means that for every $25 we can raise, it’s one less lesson that we will need to teach. You can go to https://www.patreon.com/adamandtilly to support our efforts and in return we will be providing you with an in depth view of our training process as well as other perks for different levels of training.