“Tango is about feeling and sensitivity, otherwise you are just doing gymnastics. You can do all the steps but it has to have the feeling and sensitivity of authentic tango.”
— Carlos Gavito
Feeling and sensitivity are complex concepts and require some arduous exploration. Nonetheless, if we want to tap the depths of the Tango, according to Gavito, it is a requirement.
I should first acknowledge that when Gavito speaks of “feeling and sensitivity”, he is not primarily referencing his partner but rather the dance. He states on one occasion that Tango, although it looks very romantic, is not personal; The feelings and stylistic nuances are being directed not to one’s dance partner but rather toward the music and the dance.
Gavito and his period dance partner Marcela Duran were masters at infusing their dance with feeling. The stage performances particularly were gripping dramatic presentations, dripping with affected sexual tension and passion. But this was acting designed to entertain audiences and not at all what he was referencing as essential ingredients for social dancing.
What is feeling and sensitivity?
How do you include it in your dance?
Gavito repeatedly states that one cannot teach feeling but that it must surface instinctively from within. What he does allow is that one can dance is such a way as to encourage and create space for this instinctual feeling to surface and find physical expression.
There are three stylistic elements of Gavito and Duran’s dancing that feed this “feeling”, namely sensuality, elegance and timing. (In the instructional series “Un Tal Gavito” Gavito identifies sensuality and elegance as the two defining qualities of Tango.)
The most immediate visual impression that one draws from watching Gavito and Duran is their distinctive sense of timing; there is a pause or stillness that separates each step, followed by a split-second flourish that catches up the beat with precision. Gavito credits this pause as the moment of fermentation for the feeling and inspiration that predicate the following step:
“The secret of tango is in this moment of improvisation that happens between step and step. It is to make the impossible thing possible: to dance silence.”
When one watches Gavito and Duran dance, one is captivated not by the technical difficulty of the steps or with the technical proficiency of the dancers but rather by a sense of emotional intensity and immediacy that seems to erupt with each step. In fact, one often has the sense that the dance steps themselves are perhaps doable but it is the emotional presence or investment that is the real challenge.
This has certainly been representative of at least part of my dance experience. Certainly learning the steps has been difficult enough. But there has also been the requirement that I present myself emotionally to my partner and invest my inner self fully in the dance. This has required honesty and openness from me that has proven to be not only the challenge of Tango but also its reward.
For me, this involves including several practices that are not exactly dance steps, e.g., making eye contact, smiling, being soft and attentive in the embrace, and breathing. These and many other small nuances allow for a connection between my partner and I as well as the dance. Yes, Gavito seems to be mostly dismissive of the partner-to-partner connection, but it is in my experience a foundational element that allows me to be invested in the dance and connected with the music. In fact, I seem to be physically incapable of dancing with someone with whom I do not feel some level of heart connection. Very embarrassing certainly, but inescapable.
Being open to my partner and the music requires vulnerability, courage and trust. It is from such “feeling and sensitivity” that the Sacred Dance is nurtured.