Tanguera v. Ballerina

I grew up as a ballerina. For 12 years, one of my biggest dreams was to dance ballet professionally. I finally gave it up when I hit college — I knew I just wasn’t quite right for it. (Ballet is so much less forgiving than tango.) The dance world opened up to me at that point. Suddenly, it was more than ballet/tap/jazz. I discovered modern dance, post-modern dance, salsa, and eventually tango. But I have always been a ballerina.

With so many former ballerinas performing tango these days, it’s easy to see the benefits of ballet — the balance, poise, flexibility, and partnering skills it imparts. But ballet has a different soul than tango. The great ballerinas have always had depth to their dancing, but it isn’t the same as the depth found in tango. They are inspired by different things and manifest in different ways. Ballerinas always have an audience; in tango, I dance with the room but have an audience of one: my leader.

Last year, I had a private lesson with a well-respected visiting teacher who encouraged me to shed some of that ballet influence. In my notes, I wrote, “Dance more like a tanguera, not a ballerina dancing tango.” I had an example of what he meant (his partner, a classically trained dancer and gorgeous tanguera) but not a good sense of how to make the change in myself. Ballet was part of who I was a dancer; I didn’t know how to extricate myself from its influence.

Slowly, I found ways to make changes. One visiting teacher spent the entire weekend telling me nothing other than to put my heels down as I danced. Finally, I did. Another teacher told me to let my upper back relax. (Still working on that one.) Leaders mentioned how responsive I was in my torso, so I started focusing on the embrace and connection, looking for ways to be expressive without worrying about how it looked. I tried to relax my joints more.

I still dance like a ballerina, but I think I have shed some of the ballet style from my dancing. I still have great posture and poise. My balance is better than ever. I’m sure I still feel like a classically-trained dancer, but hopefully with a little more tango soul. I get compliments on my embrace and my immersion in the music, which mean more to me than anything else. Ballet is still part of who I am, but hopefully soon (now?) I can call myself a tanguera with just a splash of ballet.


5 thoughts on “Tanguera v. Ballerina

  1. It’s going to be a challenge for you as long as you’re involved in teaching ballet. The benefits for tango are strength in your feet and balance in high heels.

    Classical training is a discipline for the body; tango is a feeling and doesn’t have to be technically perfect to be enjoyed. Too many professionals are trying to train their students to look like them when all they need are social dance skills.

    • Tango doesn’t have to be technically perfect, but it isn’t like technical ability is a hindrance to tango. The affectations of performance and the wrong ideas about what it means to be a good dancer may hinder someone’s tango, but I don’t think classical dance and tango are diametrically opposed. What tango teachers choose to teach their students is an entirely different matter.

  2. I had some classical training myself, but realized that ballet feet have no place in tango or social dancing. There are many professionals in Buenos Aires who had early training in classical ballet: Gloria Dinzel, Aurora Firpo, Alicia Monti, Lorena Ermocida, and Guillermina Quiroga, to name a few. You can see the difference. The training complements their performance careers, and none go to the milongas to dance. However, what they perform is incorporated into their teaching.

    On the other hand, there is the pure tango danced by the milongueras–women who learned tango from an early age in the clubes de barrio where there were no classes. They had no training and are the ones I observe.

    There are two separate worlds of tango in Buenos Aires: those who teach tango (technique) and those who dance pure tango.

    Alicia Pons is one example where too much classical training meets tango.

    • Jan, your logic is interesting. You are saying that, because these dancers who have ballet training don’t dance in the milongas while other great milongueras have no formal dance training, classical training is therefore detrimental to good social tango dancing?

      I think it’s great that there are amazing social dancers who have no formal training, but it’s incredibly close-minded to say that formal training excludes someone from true social tango.

  3. Take Maria Nieves for example. Her family was so poor, she had to work at an early age and never had the benefit of dance classes. In those days, the social activity was dancing. She and Copes met and worked their way out of poverty by dancing in NYC. Then came Tango Argentino and the rest is history. View her August performance on stage at the world championships and you’ll see a lifelong tango dancer with no training; only a milonguera who made tango famous around the world.

    A later generation had the benefit of classical training, so when tango was popular again, they were ready to make the transition where there was work. Those with performance careers have only one thing to fall back on — teaching. They are so busy with traveling to teach classes that they either don’t have the time or desire for the milongas. Dancing socially doesn’t interest them. They have choreographies to prepare, etc.

    I’m constantly searching for those women who learned tango in the clubes de barrio from an early age. It has taken more time to find the milongueras than the milongueros. I hope you get to experience the milongas of BsAs first hand to see them. You’ll see raw tango and understand what I mean.

    Training isn’t a detriment. It just takes time to get if out of your body to relax and dance a feeling. I speak for myself in that regard. What you see as tango in the USA isn’t the same in BsAs.

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