March 19, 2008
yvonne on tango styles 2
See also: Interview with Yvonne for El Once
Candombe e Canyengue
Interview with Yvonne Meissner
(translation E. Marsiglia)
We asked the tango teacher Yvonne Meissner to tell us about the different Argentinian tango styles and terminologies which were discussed and published in 2000 on the "E-American List".
(Y = Yvonne, J = journalis)
J: Yvonne we would like to know more about the history of tango, looking at it from the point of view of dancing in general.
Y: I would like to begin by telling you about a dance called the candombe which preceded the tango and which was brought to Argentina by slaves from Africa. For a long time a substantial community of these black slaves existed in Buenos Aires until it was decimated by an epidemic of yellow fever in 1871. But the candombe survived and is still danced today in Montevideo in Uruguay (which is opposite Buenos Aires on the other side of the Rio Plata). In this dance people move the upper part of the body and remain separated from each other, as in the salsa.
J: I remember at the beginning of the film "Historia de Tango", made in 1949, that the candombe was danced in some of the scenes. It seems that with its strong rhythms it has influenced the canyengue, which is a form of pre-tango.
Y: Yes, the canyengue was developed by the children of candombe dancers. It was danced from the early part of last century until at least the end of the thirties, and retained, musically, much of its African roots. The canyengue or canyengue orillero is also known as the tango con cortes (y quebradas). For example, Carmencita Calderòn, the partner of the well-known ballerino Cachafàz, referred to her tango as tango con cortes rather than canyengue or canyengue orillero. But whether we are speaking about the childhood memories of my dancer friends aged between 60 and 90, or about researches made by historians, they both agree that the tango con cortes y quebradas forms a part of the canyengue, given that the typical repertory of the latter is based mainly on cortes and quebradas.
J: Could you explain the terms cortes y quebradas in a bit more detail?
Y: The word corte comes from "cortar", meaning to cut, and, as opposed to a step, or paso, indicates the beginning of a step but without complete transference of weight onto the new supporting leg. In the most exaggerated case at least 51% of the weight remains on the leg that began the step, with 49% transferred to the other leg. The movement is carried out using the front part of the foot onto which the weight is transferred by leaning into it and then quickly, the weight is transferred back to the initial leg.
The word quebrada comes from "quebrar", which means to break, and indicates a movement to the side and a twisting of the upper torso towards that side. These are not complicated steps. It is just that it is very difficult to describe movements in words even when, in reality, they are very simple to execute.
The tango with cortes y quebradas is a historical form of tango and is not normally danced today in the salons of Buenos Aires, especially as canyengue music is no longer played.
J: Why is this?
Y: The canyengue is an old form of tango which was danced by the black and mixed race populations that lived in the working class areas in towns such as La Boca and San Telmo (but also in other catchment areas of the Rio de la Plata, including Montevideo, in Uruguay). In fact, in Montevideo, very interesting forms and variations of it survive even to this day. In this dance, there are lots of quebradas and movements of the upper torso which are rooted in the African dances of the original slaves.
Towards the end of the twenties and the beginning of the thirties another social class, consisting mainly of the white population, began to be interested in this dance of the blacks, or 'morenos', and with them, slowly, the canyengue orillero evolved. It is called orillero because these descendants of European immigrants lived in the orillas, or outskirts, of the towns, where they came into close contact with the mixed race families who were mixtures of white and black, or of white and native peoples (indios). This process of being taken over by a higher social class was repeated many times in the social and formal development of the tango. During the forties (the golden age of tango), a new richer social class, the middle class, began to emerge that wanted to distinguish itself clearly from the other, lower, classes. As a result the music and dancing of the canyengue and the canyengue orillero began to disappear from the salons of Buenos Aires.
Even today, the older milongueros, aged 60-90, who form part of, or who come originally from this social class, refuse to dance the canyengue in a tango salon. It is only the interest shown by foreigners towards the end of the eighties which allowed its return and even so, it still only appears in shows for tourists or is danced in salons by newer generations of dancers, although many professional dancers have learned the steps, having seen it danced within the family when they were young. We shouldn't forget that the authentic dancers of the canyengue would today have to be between 95 and 110 years old, and those of the canyengue orillero between 85 and 90.
In summary then, both the canyengue and the canyengue orillero are essentially historical forms of tango which were danced separately by two different social groups. It was then abandoned for a long time and eventually revived by the interest and enthusiasm of outsiders.
J: Thanks, Yvonne.
Posted by joegrohens at March 19, 2008 02:28 AM