« Ricardo Vidort RIP - 1929-2006 | Main | Eva Norvind »

June 10, 2006

Writings of Miguel Angel Pla

I recently came across a couple of essays on tango by Miguel Angel Pla, an Argentine physician who has become a tango teacher and seems to have a North American base in Vancouver.

Pla is articulate and thoughtful. Short descriptions from two of his essays appear below.


Pla's essay "Tango and Marginalisation", from a 1993 conference on "Social Marginalisation" in Buenos Aires, talks about the subcultural nature of tango, beginning with its origins among disenfranchised immigrants of the Rio de la Plata region and seen still in the marginalisation of tango culture in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s.

[T]ango could be defined as a mirror of man and his environment. In this mirror the individual discovers his own shabbiness, his defects, or simply sees his feelings reflected in his expression. Add to this the rebellious nature of some of its lyrics, and it is easy to see why the guardians of main-stream culture want to BREAK THE MIRROR - that is to say, do away with tango.


Pla's more recent article, "Tango Roots and Codes", is a collection of pithy and opinionated reflections on tango learning and customs and values of the dance.


  • There is only one embrace. Again it is confusing when some people talk about Salon style and refer to it as a dance done in an open embrace. This is a misunderstanding and quite inaccurate and unfortunately again the problem with the enthusiastic tangueros attempting to ‘help’ when they really have no idea what they are talking about. In Salon style Tango the physical embrace is fluid, sometimes extremely close and sometimes with some space depending on the needs of the couple.

  • Northern Hemisphere countries have a large tradition with Ballroom Dancing. Because of that, it has become very easy to transfer the same ideas to other dances. That's why students and teachers like to speak about levels: beginners, intermediate, and advanced. This is not proper for Tango. In Tango we learn in layers which should not be labeled as levels.

  • The most difficult thing about dancing Tango are Tango FUNDAMENTALS. The difference between a very good dancer and another who is not very good is: Tango FUNDAMENTALS. One more time 'It's not WHAT you do but HOW you do it'. If it was necessary to use only one word to define Tango this word would be: ELEGANCE. So if there's no ELEGANCE there's no Tango.

  • It is unwise and actually quite ugly to attempt to do embellishments with only a little knowledge of Tango since it is not possible yet to know what beauty is and what it isn't. If FUNDAMENTALS are lacking it's possible to see in very new dancers (habitually ladies) and even some others who are not so new, UN-EMBELLISHMENTS instead (for instance, front boleos done incorrectly in forward ochos) and it's really lamentable.

  • It is very sad to observe ‘quite good dancers' PRETENDING that they are dancing for themselves when they are really SHOWING-OFF all the time; and what's worse: ALWAYS. [...] One of the biggest problems is that this behavior then becomes a 'model' for the new dancers. [...] I have been told sometimes from a few of my Tango friends: 'This is our style'! NO, this is your LACK of style or your lack of knowledge!

  • DRAMA and COMEDY are the two faces of THEATRE. And it was like that since Theatre was born in the Golden Century of Pericles in Greece. In the Theatre actors and actresses PERFORM. Here we are with a very interesting association: We can also perform a Tango, but either in a Theatre or in a movie, NOT on a dance-floor, NOT in a 'Milonga'. [...] SOME PEOPLE SEEM TO LIVE THEIR DREAMS OF BEING GREAT PERFORMERS AT THE MILONGA. The biggest problem is that unfortunately they don't know that they are as they are. [...] While dancing a Tango we are sharing a strong feeling with our partner; this has nothing to do with an audience.

  • Somebody said, 'After an hour class you should practice for three hours' and I would like to add: in Tango it takes longer because after the three hours of practicing ALONE, we should apply this with our partners. I'm firmly convinced that if somebody were to do that for only three months then that student will become the most experienced person in a huge area.

  • [On music for dancing] I haven't mentioned Carlos Gardel, our most representative Tango figure in the world from 'The Old Guard', nor Astor Piazzolla, another Tango emblematic figure, nor Horacio Salgán, probably the most talented Tango piano player that has ever existed. The three of them are on a 'pedestal' for us and for the rest of the people in the world ('tangueros' or not) who love music. For us they are in the same category as musicians who are the most recognized musicians in the whole history. But their music is NOT for dancing. Each one of them on different occasions when asked the same question have given the same answer: 'I DON'T PLAY (for Gardel, sing) FOR DANCERS'. So why the hell do so many people insist in dancing Tangos by Piazzolla, Gardel or Salgán. AT LEAST THEY SHOULD RESPECT THE MUSICAL KNOWLEDGE OF THESE GENIUSES over their own knowledge. To not do so is simply either ignorance or possibly instead an expression of arrogance since it appears that their opinion is more important than Salgan, Gardel, or Piazzolla’s opinions.

  • There are several reasons why ladies should not ask men to dance. First, there are usually more ladies than men. If there are twice the number of ladies and they all asked men to dance, then the men would never get a chance to sit down nor would they have time to go to the restroom, stop for a drink etc. Secondly, socially speaking, a lady could say 'no' and it is accepted but if a man says no they are considered rude. And thirdly, there are no social dances, traditionally, in which ladies invite men to dance.

  • How can a ‘tanguero’ look elegant wearing an oversized T-shirt that is not tucked in? And what about wearing hats while dancing? Isn’t the polite action to remove your hat when you enter a room? It’s bad enough to leave it on .... but to dance with it on? Again, people have been watching too many movies. In the traditional Tango salons of Buenos Aires you NEVER see ‘tangueros’ wearing hats while dancing. This is for Hollywood or perhaps Carnival.

  • When the trunk of a tree is quite bent, it is because in the early stages of it’s growth it wasn’t well staked. What can we do then? NOTHING or perhaps just feel regret about this situation. It's similar for people. The best food for a baby is mother’s milk. The most distinguished chefs, cooks, nutritionists and scientific professionals cannot create or prepare anything better. The food we receive during our first period of life is the foundation that determines our future. [...] Inside each one of the tangueros exist: 1- A PERFORMER and 2- A TEACHER. We can see at the Milongas this phenomenon all the time.[...]Generally, when 'new teachers are born' they take aim at the base of the pyramid ... the beginners. This is often not the best decision ... and possibly a serious mistake. If you want to teach: this is a legal and noble feeling. Go ahead! But begin teaching either professionals or advanced students, but not beginners ... please! If you believe you are not prepared to teach advanced students YOU SHOULD NOT teach. [...] 'Somebody has to teach', 'I love Tango', 'I need to do something for a living', 'I don’t have a job', 'I WANT TO HELP' are not good enough reasons to start teaching. You need to answer the question: 'Do you want to help yourself or do you want to help others?' And be honest with yourself. So, who should teach then? Answer: The one who if he doesn't teach would die but if he does teach doesn't kill (at least doesn't damage others).

  • Posted by joegrohens at June 10, 2006 03:44 PM


    Post a comment

    Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

    (If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

    Remember me?