Entry 29, April 4, 2011, 3:02pm (ship time)
I'm sitting in the South Pacific lounge (deck 6, all the way aft) watching the tango couple rehearse. It is a very different type of tango than I was learning in Michigan last summer. For now I'm calling it "show tango," although I'm sure it probably has a proper name.
The key difference is that in show tango the routine is worked out beforehand, while in the social tango I was studying in Ann Arbor is improvised. I suppose that this is a necessity in a tango production -- there can be no mistakes, no miscues, and so everything must be worked out in advance. The company is particularly risk-adverse when it comes to entertainment, and I suppose this is for good reason (you wouldn't want to see any mistakes in a stage show after paying thousands of dollars for your week long cruise, would you?). I imagine it as the dance equivalent of my job on the boat -- play the part, get the paycheck.
The couple are an excellent pair of dancers. The way he lifts her reminds me of the way sensei would throw in Judo class -- totally effortless (the difference, perhaps, is that sensei's throw was irresistable -- by the time you realized what was happening, you were headed to the floor no matter what). The ease with which they dance makes me think that they have been partners for a long time. That was the case with the last couple as well -- they were married, even. I wonder what it must be like when your life, professional, and business partner are all the same person.
Show tango is mostly open embrace, instead of social tango's closed embrace. This makes the more flashy intricate moves possible, and is a contrast to social tango which is (at least in my experience) mostly closed embrace due to crowded dance floors. It can be very impressive to watch, as it seems like the dancers can read each others' minds (due to the predetermined nature of the routine). Still, I think it loses a bit of the magic when the improvisation is removed. There is no element of danger, no possibility of failure, and no possibility for unexpected brillance . . . it is the difference between music recorded in the studio and music recorded live. I've always liked the live recordings better, because the small technical imperfections are usually accompanied by moments of spectacular beauty. I wonder if a tango couple has ever forgotten their routine in the middle of a show and had to just start dancing, and if so I wonder if the audience could tell the difference.
The musicians (and by extension, dancers) that I really respect are the ones who can play the same music every night and make it sound just as fresh and dangerous three months into the gig as it was the first night. In other words, the ability to make any music sound good at any time. I don't know how to do that yet, and I only know a handful of musicians who do.
Visible from the windows in the lounge are the cargo docks of Cartagena. I'm watching the huge cranes unload container ships while listening to tango music, and it is a strangely appropriate accompaniment to the process. The cranes themselves are massive, as tall as the tallest building in Lansing, and move along the pier on steel tracks like a huge railroad car. Each one has a moving gondola and lifting unit that slides in and out above the ship, with a cradle hanging from eight cables. This cradle can grab an entire shipping container as easily as your hand picks up an apple. It is a bit like watching a dance, as the process is not as simple as you might think to lift and move a shipping container. A forty foot container suspended from six stories of cable becomes quite a pendulum once you get it moving, and so the crane operator must move the lifting apparatus very precisely at the apex of the swing to cancel the container's momentum. It is as if the crane and the container are dancers, and so the tango music goes well with it.