Before I started to dance tango, I thought about ballroom dancing for a while, but it doesn't work for me aesthetically. I don't like the princess look and the smiles or the way the couples look away from each other. I could never imagine myself doing salsa or 'latin' without feeling a fraud. Jive or swing don't suit my rather saturnine personality.
Tango works for me, aesthetically, physically, and emotionally.
I'd like to show you a performance. Strictly Come Dancing was one of the BBC's better ideas, especially given the public service remit. This also involves cricket, incidentally.
Just watch 00:19 to 01:54, you can skip all the rest. And you most definitely should. Or, don't. If you really can't stand it, skip the whole thing. And then I'll tell you some things I thought about it then and think about it now.
Here are some things I thought then and now.
- Her dress is perfect. It's not a princess dress for little girls. It's not a theatrical costume. It's not a glitter bikini that you'd buy in the horrible clubbing shop on Oxford Street. It's a very good imitation of just-a-dress. The delightful illusion of nakedness aside (an illusion no-one would fall for, for one second) it's a rather modest dress I could easily imagine myself wearing. His suit goes the same way; it says, this is not about glitter or gauze. It's not about imaginary princesses. It's about her and him, man and woman. I still have to restrain myself from creating an unsuccessful version of this dress.
- The one overwhelming thing that this choreography, and their delivery of it, communicates to the naive viewer is the couple's absorption with each other and their own mental states. The story is about the close connection and the unbridgeable distance between two people. It is not about the dress or the shoes or the look of the thing. Their expressions are self-contained and remote, as though they were really thinking. (They're also not gazing perpetually into each other's eyes like stunned coots, a habit that annoys me in tango performances). There is no fixed smile, in fact there's no smile at all until the end, and that one is totally sincere. They are doing a very different thing, but this is the same sort of smile I sometimes share with some of my favourite people at the end of a dance. It says “we worked”.
- The choreography works (for me) with this piece of music, a song with a clear and frankly rather tangoey sentiment, and a sentiment that focuses on the woman's emotions and is sung in her voice.
- Mark Ravin Ramprakash (34,839 first-class runs as of today, high score 301 not-out, widely regarded as an international failure but averaged 42 against Australia) was born do this dance and no other. If you have read Simon Hughes' rather brilliant book A Lot Of Hard Yakka, you know, as I did then, that the generally mild-mannered Ramprakash was known to the Middlesex dressing room as "Bloodaxe" for his occasional tendency to flip out and reveal the seething interior.
- You would have to be a twit to think that this is how people dance socially. If you know that tango exists as a social dance, then you know that it isn't going to look anything like this. People being deluded by shows, as such, just isn't a good explanation for them dancing badly in real life. What the naive viewer gets from a show, is whatever the show tells them the dance is about. If the choreography is a good one, it will communicate the right thing, and that has practically nothing to do with technical content. Good choreography has something to say, and says it. If it fails to say what it means, then you can say it's bad art. That happens a lot. If it says something you don't agree with, then you can say it's wrong. That also happens a lot. But it doesn't follow from either of those that choreography, just by being itself, gives people bad ideas.
On watching it again nearly four years later, I notice the choreography is cleverly put together for the benefit of the professional - Karen Hardy - who hasn't done argentine tango before and needs to make good use of her great body condition and ability to deliver a show, without getting bogged down. And by tremendous luck, Ramprakash's good condition, body shape, physical presence, and default style of movement as an elegant-to-majestic batsman is exactly what's needed here. He's absolutely capable of just standing there when required to do so. Winner.
Unless you know how to dance tango, the details are absolutely meaningless, and I think it takes quite a lot of experience to make sense of performances in any detailed way. It's the overall impression that counts.
And the overall impression was just what it should be.