ESSAYS > Passion du Tango

Just as the Blues cannot be defined only as a sad experience voiced in song, so too is it inappropriate to reduce the Tango to “a sad thought that can be danced”. Indeed, it is remarkable that this claim by Enrique Santos Discépolo about the Tango has been cited so persistently over the decades as a highly symbolic formula. I once expressed my unease about this to José “Pepe” Libertella and Luis Stazo, the two founders and bandoneon players of Sexteto Mayor. According to Pepe, “You can’t restrict the Tango to just one feeling, to a single emotional state. There are many more poetic descriptions of the Tango as being about love, memory, yearning. Discépolo was a bitter man.” And Luis added, “Not only was he bitter, he was also very sad. He was married to a singer who ran off with another man, an actor … Take these two CDs. They are full of life, romance and passion.” Even if eroticism is the prevalent theme in Tango lyrics, it cannot be denied that the experiences involved are often sad. Unfortunately, this sadness has all too often been wrongly described as elegiac or melodramatic – against the backdrop of one’s own inability to mourn. The classical Tango was never an expression of sadness for its own sake, nor one of hopeless dejection or melancholy world-weariness. Tango is not about depression, but about the public expression of sadness as a means of regaining a grasp of the vitality of life. Raimund Allebrand has aptly described the paradoxical emotions in the world of the Tango: “A love lost is better than no love at all. Because man sees the erotic relationship as life-fulfilling and needs the female as a mirror on which to project, the memory or illusion of a positive response is more desirable than a withdrawal into solitude.”

So if the Tango is not, or not only, “a sad thought that can be danced”, what is it? “The unifying power of dancing Eros?” – to paraphrase the German title of the book by Sartori & Steidl “Die einende Kraft des tanzenden Eros”. Thanks to the Tango craze of recent years, several fascinating books have been published on the subject of Tango.* Like Sartori & Steidl, Nicole Nau-Klapwijk examines its socio-psychological and philosophical aspects. What these two books have in common is their perspicacity in linking the polarities and dualities of the Tango as an experience and a challenge, between abandonment and retreat, tension and release, freedom and discipline, distance and proximity, hesitation and acceleration, exteriority and interiority, chaos and order, autonomy and dedication, intimacy and publicity. In this subtle game, teetering on the brink, the aim is to maintain a certain equilibrium of extremes – for example, preserving a sense of self while merging with the other. The erotic aspect of Tango is obvious, not just when it is spectacularly danced on stage. Both in the music and in the dance the improvisations and seductive, exciting little pauses play an important part. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that in a society marked by increasing isolation a dance characterised by intimacy and bonding is becoming ever more popular. But there is no room here to enter into a discussion of whether the Tango thrives mainly in times of crisis, or even only then, (Sartori even speaks of an “Eros filling-station for the urban single” and “a cultural declaration of war on ruin”).

In compiling these two CDs we fulfilled a wish we had repeatedly expressed to the Sexteto, namely, to record a CD made up entirely of dance pieces. So please accept this invitation to dance, be it bold and rhythmic or refined and subtle … there are no holds barred! Don’t be sidetracked by finicky distinctions between specific dance styles. Let the music entice you on a journey of discovery into new and ever-changing configurations. Take heart in savouring this musical introduction to oneness in the eternal!

And now let us celebrate our anniversary: 30 years of Sexteto Mayor!


* Ralf Sartori und Petra Steidl, Tango – Die einende Kraft des Eros, München 1999.
Nicole Nau-Klapwijk, Tango Dimensionen, München 2001.
Raimund Allebrand, Tango – Nostalgie und Abschied, Bad Honnef 1998.
Zur Geschichte des Tangos empfehlen wir neben dem Standardwerk von Dieter Reichardt auch Arne Birkenstock und Helena Rüegg, Tango – Geschichte und Geschichten, München 2001.

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