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Secrets of a Tango Dancer

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 The Argentine Tango

“Argentine tango is a dance of steps and figures, but is also a tool for expressing our emotions, experiencing without words, only getting deeper with time and experience of all sorts.”

Isolde Kanikani is a professional tango dancer and teacher living in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Kanikani discovered and began expressing her passion for dancing the Argentine tango at the young age of fifteen.  By the age of seventeen, she began giving tango lessons, teaching people how to perform this intimate and exciting form of tango.

“From the outside people watching tango dancing have almost a sort of a voyeuristic  type idea.  I can imagine it’s a sexy dance, it’s hot, it’s passionate, it’s whatever words you want to bring to it.  But when you’re inside there’s a different sensation and it goes past all of that. After about a year of dancing I felt it for the first time and the sensation was that you simply met with somebody and you just connected and you weren’t attracted to them physically.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bu7zTP4EaZk?rel=0]

Film Premier – Tango Stories – Isolde Kanikani, the first in a series of short, intimate performance documentary films, by Director/Videographer Rudi Goldman, examines the dancer’s lifelong passion and engagement with the tango lifestyle.

Isolde Kanikani

Isolde’s interest in tango began in a remote part of England, where she had the opportunity to choose to learn either belly dancing or the tango. She naturally picked the tango.  Becoming quite an accomplished dancer the surprisingly young age of seventeen, Isolde packed her bags and on her own, travelled to Buenos Aires, Argentina, the beating heart of the tango.  This was the beginning of many journeys to Argentina.

“After arriving at the airport I managed to work out that there was no bus at this time and so I got a taxi to the place where I was staying. All I had was an address and a number of the man who ran the place where I was going to stay. He was a friend of a friend who had said I would be safe there.

When we arrived by the door, I paid the taxi man and he left after checking I was ok and that this was the right place. My response was basically if this is the address on the paper then it’s the right space. What do I know, it’s my first time in Buenos Aires with a jet lagged head  and the beautiful hot sun beating down on my head. I knocked on the door and rang what I thought was the bell. We had arranged to meet at this time but he was obviously not there, if this was the right door.

So I had this wonderful moment where worry turned to laughter as I sat on my suitcase in the middle of Buenos Aires. With a piece of paper and address that could be anywhere in this huge city and I wouldn’t know any different. So I was laughing to myself when Harold the man from the living place turned up and asked if I was Isolde.”

There she not only ended up teaching, but experienced the tango life in this vibrant South American capitol firsthand.

First visit to Buenos Aires at seventeen

Tango dancing shoes

“The most fun I ever had with tango was when it was my first time in Buenos Aires when I was seventeen.  I had arrived at this milonga where I didn’t know the rules, I didn’t know how everything worked.  Friends of mine had explained to me the system of how you ask someone to dance using the cabeceo (eye contact or subtle gestures with the face and/or eye brows).

I found a table and had a drink, then all of these men started to look at me.  And this is quite strange because in England or the other countries that I have been to, it was unusual, you feel a bit claustrophobic after the third of fourth day of it. But in the beginning it was something really amazing.

So I started to look around, but was hiding a little because I wanted to observe the social situation, how do you play this game?  Then I saw that all of the women who had come from abroad very very obvious because they would stand up straight away as soon as one of these men would ask them to dance with the cabeceo.  But then you saw the Argentine women and they would make the man wait.

So I observed some of the games and I thought, o.k. I understand this a bit more now. There’s something nice just in the process of asking someone to dance.  And it’s missed when you simply go up to someone and ask them to dance and say will you dance with me?  And then theres the yes or no answer. 

So with the cabeceo,  there was this man who asked me to dance and I knew he was asking me to dance two tracks before the end of a tanda, which is a set of four pieces of music.  And the traditional way of dancing is that you dance for the whole tanda.  So I knew that he wanted to test me out for two pieces and then maybe put me down if he didn’t like dancing anymore.  And so I made him wait, just through body language and through a playful game of interaction with each other. 

I made him wait four tandas, and each time he would ask me to dance in a very cheeky and playful way and I would say no, no, you have to wait. And so we had so much fun playing with this moment of finding our dance together that when it came to dancing on the dance floor,  it was terrible. But the game had been the most fun, the most exciting I can remember, also because it was my first time trying out the cabeceo.  For me that what that culture is all about, sometimes missed, the playfulness, cheekiness.”

Isolde Kanikani & teaching assistant Frank van der Velden

From law school to the tango lifestyle

In her native England, Isolde kept busy studying to become a barrister, but spent all of her free time teaching, dancing, performing, learning, training and traveling for tango.  After a bout with illness, which caused her to put her vision of becoming a barrister aside, Isolde decided to devote herself to teaching tango in England full time.  Later,  she decided it was time to travel and accepted many offers to teach and perform across the UK and abroad.

In her native England, Isolde kept busy studying to become a barrister, but spent all of her free time teaching, dancing, performing, learning, training and traveling for tango.  After a bout with illness, which caused her to put her vision of becoming a barrister aside, Isolde decided to devote herself to teaching tango in England full time.  Later,  she decided it was time to travel and accepted many offers to teach and perform across the UK and abroad.

“Most people come to tango when they are in their 30‘s and 40‘s after having fulfilled many different jobs and dreams in their times.  Tango has been my first and only profession, my life and dream for so long.  It has shaped me in so many fundamental ways and it will always be a part of me.  But there are other things in life like family, home and love that aren’t easy to make space for if one simply follows the tango life style.  I would like these things too and find I am caught in between  two dreams.”

Teaching the Argentine tango

Teaching Argentine tango has taken Isolde Kanikani across the UK, Norway, The Netherlands, Spain, France, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, Finland, Portugal, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and the U.S.
Teaching Argentine tango has taken Isolde Kanikani across the UK, Norway, The Netherlands, Spain, France, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, Finland, Portugal, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and the U.S.

The past few years have led Isolde to embrace a stronger didactic way of teaching students, allowing them to learn this beautiful dance from Argentina more quickly.  Didactics is based on how the body moves “naturally” and how to move in a tango way. Isolde brings a form of exuberance to her classes, which energizes the learning process and leaves students with the understanding of not only the steps, but also the depths of connection and communication when following or leading.

Cielito

<span style="color: #993366;">Copyright © 2013 Rudi Goldman All rights reserved.</span>

Isolde’s tango organization Cielito first came into existence in the Southwest of England and Wales in July 2003.  The name, taken from an Argentine folk dance and rhythm, translates as ‘little heaven’ and ‘my sweetness and delight.‘  Isolde’s mission with Cielito is to bring understanding and enjoyment of movement to music, especially to the culture and dance of Argentina. Activities range from tango classes, workshop weekends, exchanges between tango teachers and other disciplines, to performance projects in collaboration with other artists.

“Traditional tango music will always be my home.  There is so much beauty and complexity in the music that I keep finding new delights in pieces of music I have heard time and again.  I also find journeys into world music useful in both the teaching and dancing.  It offers a different range of moods and musicality to tango music, allowing students to find more cadences in their dance.”

Cielito has taken many shapes and forms over the years.  Now based in Utrecht, Isolde moved Cielito to the Netherlands in 2011.  Reflecting her strong passion for everything tango, Cielito’s purpose is to bring more awareness of the wonderful things the Argentine tango culture holds for us as individuals.   Working on a project basis, Cielito delivers a vibrant regular program of workshops, classes and promotional performances.  Activities include projects throughout the Netherlands and abroad.  Providing a relaxing and ‘safe’ atmosphere for her trainees, Isolde helps them enjoy the learning and works on building enough self-confidence for them to  develop their individuality in the dance.

Tango Roots

Tango is a dance having influences from European and African culture. The dance originated in the lower-class districts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo.  It is thought that its basis derives from the former slave dances of the ‘Candombe’  The music is a derivative from the fusion of various forms of music from Europe.

The word “tango” was first used in connection with the dance in the 1890s. Initially it was just one of the many dances, but it soon became popular throughout the society. It was first performed in theatres and rapidly spread to the working class slums of Argentina, which were packed with European immigrants from Italy, Spain and France.

During the early years of the 20th century, dancers and orchestras from Buenos Aires visited Europe.  The European tango craze started in Paris and was soon spread to London, Berlin and and other capitals.

The onset of the 1929 Great Depression and the restriction imposed after the overthrow of the Hipólit Yrigoyen government in Argentina cause tango to decline somewhat in 1930.

Considered a matter of national pride under the government of Juan Perón, tango became widely fashionable again.  Due to another economic depression and the banning of public gatherings by the military dictatorships tango again declined in the 1950s  In 2009 the tango was declared part of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage” by the UNESCO organization.

Argentine tango and ballroom tango: The differences

Argentine tango differs quite a bit from ballroom tango.  The two major differentiations are the visual appearance and the music used for the dance.  Ballroom tango music tends to have a regular beat and tempo, whereas Argentine tango music varies greatly.

The dances have completely different feels to them, with ballroom the dancers are focused on the basic steps, whereas with the Argentine variety, dancers follow the melody. Ballroom tango has an 8 count basic step, in contrast, there are no basic steps in the Argentine version.

With ballroom tango, the dancers move around in the space quite a bit,  but in the Argentine version, they sometimes dance for a long time in one spot.  A close embrace is often used in Argentine tango (salon style), but in ballroom tango it tends not be used very often and the ballroom dance itself has a more formal look to it.

In Argentine tango, most moves occur below the waist,  unlike the ballroom variety which uses broad upper body movements and staccato head snaps.

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