The joy of tango

For a form of dance, tango certainly has been written about, spoken of, philosophized on, and cinematically captured exhaustively. And though some of the great minds and pens of the past century attempted to test their wiles in describing the fundamental baseness of this dance, the attempt to rhapsodize (so to speak) about the Argentinean national pastime merely shows how limited language can be in aesthetic description.

Oddly enough, what is certainly the most thorough (if not the most oft-quoted) exposition on the joy of tango comes from a British illustrator. Alan Lee was born in 1947 and is primarily known for his work appearing within certain editions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, as well as pre-production artwork for Peter Jackson’s films based on the fantasy books.

But Lee has time for leisure pursuits, too, and is reportedly quite keen on tango dancing.

“There is a storytelling element in [tango],” Lee once explained. “The tango form is a little like the blues in that you have a kind of structure. It’s not as rigid as 12-bar, but it's very much a storytelling medium – and there’s an element of call-and-response, and a particular arc in the musical form, that suggest a story.” Naturally, Lee has become interested in narrative structure as he works on fewer standalone projects, and here he sublimated that interest into understanding new aesthetic.

One can imagine a bit of an abstract storyline going on in every tango, but the narrative and knowledge imparted is certainly best expressed in an untranslatable language of moving human bodies.

“[Tango is] about being in the moment, with the music,” said Lee, “and responding to your partner, and the particular feeling and momentum in her body in any one moment. It’s a very concentrated thing; you can’t think about anything else while you are doing it. If you try to hold a conversation, it just kind of falls apart.” Herein, Lee confirms a cherished belief of GatewayTango, namely that the line between sport and dance is thin indeed, with perhaps only the random element of sport the difference.

Lee is prescient, for just as in sport, the deadliest thing you can do to your performance is to enter conscious thought. The body takes care of itself – this is the wisdom of the skilled tango artist.

Lee goes on to discuss the near-150 years of modern tango history informally before winding up with, “I could go on talking about tango forever … but it’s also to do with movement. I try to get that into my pictures: a sense of movement, something flowing through. A while ago, I realized how much I'd been drawing dancing figures in the corners of my sketchbooks for years before I discovered tango!” 

So call it kinetic aesthetics: the connection between a dynamic illustrator hoping to convey a sense of movement and the never-ending string of couples adding to the storyline that we may see in tango. Indeed, to get more metaphysical about it, one may say that thought and action can might on the dance floor, producing an artistic product of beauty that speaks without words, that illustrates without static image.

And apparently, Lee’s joy of tango and his effusive remarks to anyone who asks about the subject has caught the attention of those he admires most (beyond the realms of fantasy and illustration, of course): In 2015, the neo-celtic pagan folk band (!) Omnia produced a track on their album Prayer entitled “Alan Lee Tango.” Though thematically right in tune with their frequently fantasy-laden lyrics, “Alan Lee Tango” is a surprisingly mainstream-sounding tango number – quite a departure from a band that includes the digeridoo, bouzouki, bagpipes and the hurdy-gurdy among its instrumentation.

It’s kinda too bad the Spanish is limited to a handful of lines scattered throughout, but here’s some fairly representative stuff:

No Tower for Saruman /
No Camelot for King Arthur /
Bilbo waits in the shire /
No Burning Eye over Mordor /
For when the music's playing /
Alan's swaying to passion's song /
Baila un tango para siempre /
Baile de fuego, danza de passion…

And hey, here’s the whole thing for your enjoyment. Tango on!

As if things could not get any more mashed-up, so far we’ve seen an illustrator for Lord of the Rings celebrated in a neo-celtic pagan folk bank. How about tango melding into other realms Hmmm? How about the non-stop Ka-ching of Las Vegas themed slots with the passionate lover tempo of Tango? We’ve got that covered too! Check out this Lucky Tango slot and many others like it at …… They’re all for fun play only and a great time to spend your free time between Milongas likewise. Don’t say we didn’t warn you, but Tango finds its’ way into the heart of everything in the end!