David and Kim Benitez are dancers, aficionados and teachers of Argentine Tango. They teach classes for all levels from Beginners through to Advanced dancers in Central London. Their methodology is built on strong dance backgrounds and steeped in the culture of Argentine tango.
August my be winter in Buenos Aires but it was the month that David and I chose to visit our friends and family in Argentina, hoping of course to fit in a little bit of tango. Who needs the sun to dance tango right?
We left London in 30 degrees heat, sandals and summer clothes and arrived on a dismal Buenos Aires day with lashing rain and wind. We had been prepared for a contrast but this welcome came as something of a shock!
Despite the gloomy start, the month ahead was to give us plenty of beautiful winter's days, with blindingly bright sun and clear blue skies.
Not so on the day we scheduled for our photo shoot with tango photographer Marcelo Di Rienzo though. As if to challenge our determination, it was an uncharacteristically cold day.
We had chosen a dilapidated building in the Villa Crespo neighbourhood for our location. In the UK, there would be all kinds of health and safety regulations preventing the use of a place like this - stairways with sheer drops, floors that seem to sink as you step on them ... but not so in Buenos Aires.
And for the purposes of the photos we were hoping for, this definitely worked in our favour. The building was a treasure trove of a bygone era, with a labyrinth of different rooms and back-drops to explore. Both a photographer and tango dancer's dream!
Yes, we were "inside", but the building was so exposed to the elements that it felt exactly the same as being outside. Not for the first time on a photo shoot, I stayed huddled in my warmest winter coat until right the last minute. And my brother-in-law was on hand with hot drinks and biscuits between shoots.
They say you have to suffer for your art and judging from the final results, I would say there could be some truth in that! Marcelo Di Rienzo did an amazing job and we are thrilled with our Buenos Aires nostalgia shots.
Here are a couple of the photos to begin with. You can see more shots on our Instagram
and Facebook page. And our Gallery will soon be filled to the brim with all the photos from that memorable day. Keep your eyes peeled!
Thank you Buenos Aires for as always inspiring us with your magic!
Twenty years ago when I started tango, I would never have imagined that I would appear on the front page of one of Argentina's leading newspapers.
But in one of those "pinch yourself" moments, it happened last Saturday.
I knew about it first not because of the article itself but because my Argentine partner's telephone was constantly pinging while we were trying to teach class.
Every family member and every friend who had ever known him in Argentina were trying to contact him.
Because Clarin is one of Argentina's top two newspapers.
We of course knew we had done a telephone interview with Clarin a few weeks back but we didn't know that it would make the front page or that a double page spread would be dedicated to us.
Clarin had wanted to interview us because they had heard about the BBC interviewing us last year on the anniversary of the "La Cumparsita" (one of the most famous tangos of all time).
They were also interested in our annual Tango Ball which over the last eight years has raised around £25,000 for charitable causes in Argentina. For example for FUSAVI, which provides life-changing surgery for people with sight problems.
But it seems it was the story of an English "tourist" who - quite literally - crossed paths with an Argentine dancer on the streets of Buenos Aires, that really captured their imagination.
It's been a busy year so far for Tango Movement in the media.
In March, videos of us and our students performing were selected by Italian's second largest TV channel - RA1 - who were doing a feature on tango. We had no particular link to the feature but felt incredibly flattered that they had chosen our performance videos!
And in January our story was featured ipaper, the online version of the Independent newspaper.
We always knew that our Tenth Anniversary Year would be special and it did not disappoint.
We kicked off our celebrations in January with an incredible Tango Movement Winter Ball.
Always an amazing event, we knew we had to really go to town to make our 10th Anniversary Edition extra special.
And we did!
Not only were we blessed with a superb performance by tango goddess Alejandra Mantiñan (performing with David Benitez), but we treated our Tango Movement students to a private performance by Royal Ballet superstar, principal dancer Marianela Nuñez. She performed the Dying Swan with Buenos Aires ballet dancer Alejandro Parente.
You could have heard a pin drop!
Other highlights of the year included our session of photos in different London locations. An unusually cold day for the start of May but we survived it somehow and had some beautiful new photos to show for it.
And then came our four-page feature in Top Santé magazine.
We have had many memorable Tango Movement Nights Out with our students this year.
A group of our students performed - for the third consecutive year - in the London Tango Championships. And we also participated in the Che Tango Festival in London with many internationally renowned tango guest artists.
In the summer, we hosted a fabulous Tango Garden Party for all our students. For the second year running, we were blessed with the most outstanding weather. The focus was on the food and the friendship, but some of you created your own little milonga and enjoyed a few tangos too!
In 2017, we have been consulted as tango experts not once but three times by the BBC.
First, we were interviewed by Katie Derham (of Strictly Come Dancing fame) on BBC Radio 4. Together with tango musician Julian Rowlands we discussed the relationship between tango music and dance.
We were then asked to coach BBC presenter, Suzy Klein, so she could dance tango for an upcoming documentary on Evita.
Finally, we were interviewed by BBC Mundo (the Spanish arm of the BBC) on the 100th Anniversary of “La Cumparsita” - perhaps the most famous tango song of all time.
But most importantly, we look around us at the end of this significant year and feel a huge sense of pride for all that Tango Movement is and everyone who is part of it.
We see students who have been studying tango with us for the best part of ten years, and also new students who have joined our extended tango family this year. We feel incredibly lucky and privileged to be part of their tango journey.
If we had had a crystal ball ten years ago when we arrived in London from Buenos Aires, we would have been amazed to see all we have achieved. But we couldn’t have been happier!
Last week, we were asked by the BBC for our opinion on the reason behind tango's global success.
On the 100th anniversary of 'La Cumparsita' - the most successful tango of all time - BBC Mundo (the Spanish language arm of the BBC ) asked tango professionals from around the world why Argentine tango is so popular in their country and why 'La Cumparsita' has captured the world's imagination.
They interviewed professionals from Turkey, Denmark and London ... us!
For the non-Spanish speakers out there, here is an extract from the article, translated into English:
He is Argentine, she is English. David and Kim Benítez met dancing tango in Buenos Aires, but for the last ten years they have been running their own academy, Tango Movement.
“When people hear 'La Cumparsita', it gives them goose bumps", says David Benítez regarding his own experience touring the world. But he can’t define why this happens with what he calls “the greatest symbol of tango”.
"Musically 'La Cumparsita' has many variations. It is a song that captures and moves the listener and through the ears reaches the body and soul”, he says.
Kim Benítez, for her part, highlights that the song has a “strong, catchy and instantly recognisable melody”.
Although she recognises that the English aren’t keen on intimacy, she states that the tango culturally is a safe way to have a unique connection with another person. If hugging someone for one minute has proven therapeutic effects, she says “imagine then embracing someone for 4 minutes or 10, if you dance several tangos with someone.”
In this way, she continues 'La Cumparsita' unites “many different emotions in a sole piece of music, which is very enjoyable to interpret when you dance: drama, sensuality, melancholy, nostalgia y playfulness"." - BBC Mundo
There’s one question that comes up time and time again in my classes.
When learning decorations*, followers often ask me worriedly:
”But won’t the leader feel that?”
The question takes me back fifteen years, when I was studying tango in Buenos Aires. I recall being taught that I should do adornments in such a way that they couldn't be felt by the leader.
And it reminds me of a story that an American living in Buenos Aires told me around the same time. He had taken the bold step of asking the Queen of Tango, Geraldine Rojas, to dance in a milonga.
As he floated around the room on cloud nine with his grand prize moving smoothly in his arms, he happened to catch a glimpse of them both in a mirror on the wall. He was astonished to see that her feet were moving frenetically, creating fabulous decorations. He had been entirely oblivious to them.
The image of a swan floating serenely, body still and quiet, as her feet beat rapidly beneath the surface is a beautiful one. But the concept that followers should somehow try to hide their decorations from their partners, troubles me.
It suggests that a follower’s decorations could be a potential irritation to the leader. And that the follower is somehow misbehaving by not doing entirely as she is told.
Both these sentiments should bother anyone who dances tango - male and female alike.
Little girls should be seen and not heard? That’s not my tango.
One of my students commented recently that there is nothing he loves more than seeing the flash of a gold heel embellishing, playing with and delighting in the movements he has led. It suggests immense enjoyment on the part of the follower and a mutual contribution to the dance.
If the follower becomes so obsessed with decorating that it is to the detriment of the lead, it can be a problem. Because it will detract from the harmony of the dance.
Tango is about togetherness. It is about two people understanding the other's expression on a deep level. This is what people are referring to when they talk about connection in tango.
The more connected a dance becomes, the less it feels that one person is leading and the other is responding. It starts to feel simply that they are moving together. It is a breathtaking experience.
However, as in our relationships in life, as in tango.
The feeling of being connected as a couple, should not in any way lessen our identity as an individual. And the more we can give, as an individual, to the relationship, the better a partnership feels.
Another Tango Queen was at Tango Movement giving workshops last Saturday. Maestra of maestros, Alejandra Mantiñan.
When Alejandra dances, her personality is immediately apparent. It would be pretty hard for any partner to ignore her adornments! But why the hell would he want to?
Through her adornments, Alejandra’s delight in her dance is palpable. Through her adornments, she is sharing her feelings with her partner and the audience.
Together, Alejandra and I were discussing how much the role of the woman in tango, in particular in relation to adornments, has changed in the last thirty years.
Rather than something simply to add on to the dance - like baubles on a Christmas tree - they act as a source of communication and connection with our partner.
They can even be a source of inspiration. Just like jazz musicians, both leader and follower can inspire each other as the dance unfolds. It can become difficult to know where the follower’s decorations end and the lead begins.
So, as followers, do we simply follow his lead? No, we dance his lead.
This, my dear reader, is connection. And this - for me - is what tango is about today.
Follower's Decorations - YouTube
*Decorations, embellishments, adornments or “adornos” (in Spanish) are movements that can be added by both the leader and follower throughout the tango. They are not part of the lead or follow. As the names suggest, they serve to decorate a movement, or a moment between movements, and are a mode of expression of the individual dancer’s feelings and of the music.
Decorations are taught in most of the classes we give. In addition, we also give workshops dedicated only to decorations. The best way to learn decorations is to practice them on your own to begin with. Once your body is familiar with the movements, it becomes easier to focus on fitting them into the dance.
This Saturday, we'll be welcoming tango tornado, Alejandra Mantinan, to Tango Movement once again.
Here she is earlier this year with our very own David Benitez.
Stepping off the plane and into the arms of a leader she had barely danced with before, Alejandra always gives true meaning to the word improvisation!
Alejandra is perhaps the leading female tango dancer of her generation. Over several decades, she has inspired countless tangueras - and tangueros - with her inimitable dancing style and her mind-expanding teaching!
This Saturday 4th November, she will be giving two exciting Workshops in our studio in Soho.
We are headed for a sell-out this Saturday but are still looking for leaders to balance out the class. Simply send us a quick message to book your place and enjoy this exciting opportunity.
Is this how you feel when the teacher draws class to you in class?
Well, it’s good to know you are not alone!
As teachers, we're very used to students growing very tense whenever they think we are watching them!
And this in spite of the fact that we reassure them they don’t have get it right straight away and in fact we’re there to help them!
It doesn’t seem to matter how supportive, friendly and totally unintimidating teachers are, students seem to have an inescapable desire to show how much progress they have made … and somehow end up achieving just the opposite!
And it is particularly frustrating if things have in fact been going really well for a while, only for them to fall apart just as your teacher’s eyes are upon you!
So other than telling you that you are in good company, what else can we say to reassure you?
Your teacher sees more than you think. Not only will they be able to tell you’re feeling self-conscious and take that into consideration, but they will also be observing your progress throughout the class, even when you're not aware of it.
You may think they are closer to another couple in the room, but they may be actually watching you! Their assessment of your progress will not be solely based on those few moments of high pressure.
And is it such a terrible thing to get it wrong in front of your teacher? They’re there to correct you. And you’re there to be corrected. If the teacher sees your mistakes and gives you tips to counter them, it will give you more material to work on.
So bring on the mistakes! They'll ulitimately make us better dancers!
This blog entry is dedicated to our lovely student and friend, Kiran, who posted the cartoon on Facebook a few weeks ago.