Understanding Argentine Tango (with the Assistance of Milongueros): It’s not just another Ballroom Dance


Re-posted from Tango Voice

In looking out across the dance floor at many events advertised as ‘milongas’ in North America, it is apparent that the character of the dancing while tango music is playing is very different from the tango dancing in a typical milonga in Buenos Aires [Tango de Salon: The Tango of the Milonga (Part II of ‘Tango Styles, Genres and Individual Expression’)]. What one often sees among dancers in the North American event is a collection of step patterns, with names most dancers using them could recite, such as ‘sandwich’, ‘lustrada’, ‘boleo’, ‘gancho’, ‘sacada’, ‘arrastre’, ‘volcada’. (A categorization of tango into named steps is given in ‘Figures of Argentine Tango’.) Among the men who have acquired a collection of movements, there is often a display consisting of a nearly continuous and sometimes predictable sequence of step patterns, often without regard to the progression of the line of dance; complexity in the physics of movement appears to be favored over the highly improvised linking of small movements (often those lacking a codified name) that utilize only the space needed to progress in the circulating ronda. Many women appear to be focused on performing embellishments, finding as many opportunities as possible to use them, often without regard to whether or not the man has provided time and space for their execution, and without regard to the space between them and other dancers on the floor (Women’s Adornments for Tango Social Dancing). Tango dancing at North American milongas often appears to be a performing art (with questionable artistic properties), directed by the brain, not a social and emotional interchange between partners, directed by the music. Often absent in dancing to tango music in North American milongas is an embrace between man and woman, i.e., chest-to-chest contact maintained through the dance or, if there is any embrace at all, it is broken apart for the performance of conspicuous step patterns. Also absent is a close connection of movement with the music, even when the dance-facilitating classic tango music from the Golden Age is played for dancing. For the dancers who more or less are connected to the music (i.e., moving in conjunction with the primary beat), they are not exploring the intricacies of music by taking into account syncopations, as well as pauses associated with musical phrasing. It often appears as though the music is only a background for executing patterns, not a framework for structuring the dance. In the most extreme cases, the music played for dancing at these events advertised as ‘milongas’ (sometimes ‘alternative milongas’) is not tango music designed for dancing tango (i.e., classic tango music).

Deviations from the manner in which tango is danced in Buenos Aires milongas are seen readily in the following videos of dancing in North American events advertised as ‘milongas’: San Francisco Tango Marathon, Chicago Mini Tango FestivalNew York Milonga de Reus; Atlanta Milonga Luna; San Diego Moose Milonga; Portland Tango Festival; Albuquerque Tango Festival; Tucson Tango Festival.

In contrast, videos of dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires indicate a different manner of dancing tango that uses simpler movements in a more improvised manner with respect to use of space and interpretation of the music [El Beso (Cachirulo); Sunderland Club (La Milonga del Mundo); Salon Canning (Milonga Parakultural)]. Almost completely absent in these recordings are dancing without embracing, and use of volcadas and ganchos; rare are the use of sacadas, arrastres, and the ‘sandwich’, as well as high boleos and excessive ornamentation by women. [Note that these videos were selected from milongas that are attended by a significant number of younger dancers (less than 40 years old) and tango tourists, to match more closely the demographic makeup of the North American milongas for which video representations of dancing were provided above. Even closer adherence to traditional standards of dancing tango in milongas is evident in these recordings of dancing at milongas at Lo de Celia Tango Club and at Club Gricel (La Cachila).]

The characteristic manner of dancing tango in Buenos Aires milongas can be seen more clearly in the demonstrations of tango dancing given by milongueros, men for whom dancing tango in the milongas of Buenos Aires has been a central part of their lives for decades. Improvisation in musical interpretation is evident to varying degrees in these demonstrations.

Ricardo Vidort (with Myriam Pincen) varies the tempo of his walking (slow walks, corridas and pauses) in accordance with the varying tempo of the musically complex rendition of ‘Chique’ by the orchestra of Francisco Canaro.

Pedro ‘Tete’ Rusconi (with Silvia Ceriani) creates suspensions for Ceriani within back ocho and giro sequences while still stepping to the driving syncopated rhythm of ‘El recodo’ as performed by the orchestra of Roldolfo Biagi.

Ricardo Ponce (‘El Chino Perico’) (with Paola Taccheti) intersperses pauses within a dance that varies between single and double time rhythms, in connection with musical variations in ‘Poema’ as performed by the orchestra of Francisco Canaro.

‘El Flaco’ Dany Garcia (with Silvina Valz) has been a master of milonga con trapsie, varying between single time (weight changes on primary beats only) and double time movements (weight changes also on secondary beats), at times dancing double time while Valz is dancing single time, and also varying between partial and complete weight changes, while dancing to ‘Milonga sentimental’ as performed by the orchestra of Francisco Canaro.

Walter Dominguez (with Monica Paz) has a groundedness in his walk (‘hugging’ the floor) that allows him to employ a traspie while dancing to the fast tempo milonga ‘Todos te quieren’ as performed by the orchestra of Angel D’Agostino.

Alberto Dassieu (with Elba Biscay), in dancing to ‘Valsecito criollo’ as performed by the orchestra of Juan D’Arienzo, improvises on the constant tempo vals rhythm, stepping mainly on count 1 (the strong beat) but also stepping on count 2 in the forward ocho-like weaving walk and a variant of this (right foot outside partner) walk that ends in a side-together to the right collection; he also steps on all 3 beats in a few backward corridas and giros. There are also a few points in the dance where Dassieu does not change weight but leads Biscay to change weight on each strong beat (some sequences ending in a cruzada).

Note that in these demonstrations there were no ganchos, volcadas, high boleos, arrastres, and sandwiches, and that ornamentation by women was using sparingly. Sacadas were also used sparingly by the men. The dances focused on the music, with movements selected to express the music, movements which in a social tango setting also function as a means for navigation. The movements used were not ostentatious; they were relatively simple, although a viewer with a good knowledge of tango dancing can recognize the precision and creativity in the dances.

Additional examples of milongueros giving demonstrations of tango dancing are presented in Videos of Tango Milonguero. Even more informative are recordings of Milongueros Dancing Tango in the Milongas of Buenos Aires. A more extensive collection of recordings of milongueros dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires is presented by Jantango.

The words of milongueros reinforce the notion that the focus of tango dancing is not the creation of complex and conspicuous movement sequences.

Regarding the selection of movements for dancing, Cacho Dante has said of milongueros as they developed their dance:

When they didn’t really know how to dance, they did 20 steps; when they knew a bit more, they did 10; and when they really knew what they were doing, they danced five… but with real quality.

The tango is a feeling that is danced. That’s why it is not choreographed, though it can have sequences, like all feelings. You can dance love, rage, happiness, pleasure, every mood. The tango is not a dance to demonstrate ability but rather an interpretation of feeling. It is not just moving your feet and posturing. The tango is Argentine, but it belongs to all those who understand its feelings and its codes.

Emphasizing the movements used in dancing tango as well as the music used for dancing, Facundo Posadas has said:

Don’t dance tango in a contemporary style, because the tango belongs to a culture; there are other kinds of music to dance contemporary. If we continue to dance as we are doing, we are losing our identity and we don’t show any skill. What we are showing is movement, but the skill is making you feel my dance, so that you are accompanying me, not showing that I can jump very high or drag you over the floor.

There’s nothing like tango, because of that embrace to the world. Why should we want to destroy it? Let’s continue with this one. There’s so much to do in a simple tango salon.

Regarding the selection of steps in dancing tango Ricardo Vidort has said:

People that dance tango all over the world … most of them they are crazy, all the steps, all the figures…

In contrast, Vidort has recommended:

You move with the grace that the music gives you to do it in the way you want to. We put that movement in several steps, that there are 7 or 8, and from those steps we can make 500 or more. Put the feeling; that’s the secret. That’s the whole secret of the tango. So you move and you hold the woman with strength but soft; she feels safe inside and she feels that you are taking her. So, in that moment the man, only the priority is the music and the woman. I don’t care the people… I dance for my partner; I don’t dance for them.

Further emphasis on connection with the music is provided by other milongueros.

Ricardo Ponce (El Chino Perico) has also stressed the central importance of the music in dancing tango:

The dancer listens to the music. You should know what you’re dancing to, what the singer is saying. Most people don’t know it because they like the dance. That’s OK, the tango became fashionable and they’re dancing. But the milonguero dances and with his body he has to explain to people that the tango is sad. … The milonguero, he knows the orchestra and the tempo in which he should dance. You should be one member more of the orchestra. 

‘El Flaco’ Dany Garcia has also emphasized how tango music generates emotions while dancing:

The music has to come in through the ear and, personally for me, it goes to my heart. And for the first place, I dance for the woman that is in my arms; after that, I consider the people. But always with heart. Without feeling you can’t dance the tango.

Pedro Sanchez also has placed emphasis on the role of tango music in generating emotions:

Well, the most important to me is to want the music, love the music. Love what you listen to. In tango, if you don’t get emotional when you dance, if you don’t feel the emotion, the nice thing that crosses your soul… yes, you dance. But I dance that way, I’m passionate of dancing.

In addition to tango music generating emotion during the dance, Alberto Dassieu has noted the importance of the embrace in communicating feelings:

As a final message … dance the tango, respecting the music; dance the tango respecting the people in the milongas; dance the tango with feeling. Dancing with feeling is a nice thing. Sometimes when one dances with this feeling, one feels that the heart of the woman is beating heavier; one can feel that the woman changes the rhythm of her heart, as an effect of the dance. … Embrace well; don’t dance separated.

A common theme in these comments of milongueros is the centrality of elicitation of emotions and their expression in dancing tango. Monica Paz, in her interviews of milongueros, usually asks them at the end of the interview to describe tango in one word. (Viewing the dance demonstrations after the interview is also instructive regarding how milongueros dance.) Here are some of the responses:

Osvaldo & Coca Cartery – “Feeling” “Passion”

Osvaldo Centeno – “Passion”

Walter Dominguez – ‘Love’

Ricardo Maceiras (‘El Pibe Sarandi’) – “Soul and feeling”

Hector Pollozo – “Love and passion”

Thus, from the perspective of Argentine men for whom tango has been a central part of their lives, tango is not about dancing complicated and conspicuous patterns without regard to the music, but rather tango dancing involves embracing one’s partner, feeling the music and the emotion it generates, and sharing that feeling with one’s partner while moving smoothly around the floor within the circulating ronda using mostly simple movements that connect with rhythmic variations within the music. Dancing tango is not a cerebral activity that designs a dance from a vocabulary of steps, but rather an emotional expression of the music. (See also The Essence of Tango Argentino and Tango Milonguero: Improvised Expression of Music through Movement in a Shared Embrace.)

There are several reasons why dancers at North American milongas dance differently than dancers at Buenos Aires milongas. The immediate cause of step-based musicality-deficient dancing in North American milongas is most likely the instruction received from local community tango instructors, those who introduce prospective dancers to tango. It is from these instructors that beginning tango dancers gain the impression that learning tango consists primarily of acquiring a vocabulary of steps (e.g., Dallas; Los Angeles; New York; San Francisco Bay Area; St Louis). A video of Gustavo & Jesica Hornos advertising tango instruction provides an example of the extreme to which tango is represented as a sequence of steps lacking any progression in space and devoid of connection to the music; dancing of this type often appears to be the role model for aspiring North American tango dancers. The step-oriented instruction is reinforced by traveling tango instructors, most of whom in recent years have been young Argentines with limited experience dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires. The step orientation of the majority of workshops given at tango festivals is evident from a review of the titles of tango workshops given at North American tango festivals held in 2015 or scheduled in 2016. Workshop titles that include the terminology ‘steps’, ‘figures’, ‘patterns’, ‘move(ment)s’, ‘sequences’ or ‘combinations’, or list the names of specific steps or movements (including ‘embellishments’ or similar terminology) comprise 17 of 21 workshops (81%) at the October 2015 Boulder Tango Festival, 31 of 48 workshops (65%) at the February 2016 Portland Valentango festival, 33 of 53 workshops (62%) at the July 2015 Nora’s Tango Week, and 24 of 47 workshops (51%) at the August 2015 Montreal International Tango Festival. Additional evidence that tango instructors traveling in North America focus on step patterns is evident from the ‘Didactic Videos for Sale’ web page of the Organic Tango School, where 33 of 45 videos for sale (73%) mention steps in either the title or content description.

In addition to a focus on building a repertoire of step sequences, tango instruction in North America (e.g., as indicated in the listing of tango workshops of festivals mentioned above) often focuses on an ‘elastic embrace’ or ‘shifting’ between ‘close embrace’ and ‘open embrace’, a movement not employed by most milongueros (who maintain the embrace throughout a dance) and even among those dancing Tango Estilo del Barrio in a milonga in the outer barrios of Buenos Aires (video), the embrace is not opened to the distance or for the duration often shown in tango workshops in North America (e.g., Tango Lesson: Elasticity from Close to Open Embrace).

There are also workshops on musicality given at nearly every tango festival, but they often focus on achieving a cognitive understanding of the music rather than emphasizing to students that one should allow the music to enter the body, generate emotions, and guide the body in movement. Often valuable workshop time is spent talking about concepts and giving demonstrations at the expense of students practicing connecting to music (e.g., Portland Valentango Festival). Demonstrations given at the end of musicality workshops often include step patterns that show off instructor movement skills, and they are sometimes even danced without a connection to the rhythm of the music (vals demo), thus not demonstrating musicality. Sometimes tango workshops focus on dancing to music that is not intended or designed for dancing tango (e.g., the music of Astor Piazzolla) and therefore fail to demonstrate musicality appropriate for dancing to tango music intended for dancing. The benefit of most of these workshops on musicality is questionable. In the development of their tango skills, dancers would benefit more from listening for many hours to the classic tango music of the dance orchestras of the Golden Age, in order to familiarize themselves with the music, and subsequently practice dancing to this music using simple steps, than to attend most workshops on tango musicality.

Traveling tango instructors provide guidance and inspiration to developing tango dancers. Demonstrations of tango dancing by popular tango instructors at tango festivals reinforce the notions that dancing tango consists of executing a series of complicated and conspicuous steps, that it is not important to maintain the embrace throughout the dance,  and that classic tango music is not required for dancing tango:

Nick Jones & Diana Cruz at Denver Natural Tango Festival

Homer & Cristina Ladas at Tucson Tango Festival

Donato Juarez & Carolina del Rivero at Portland Tango Festival

Patricio Touceda & Eva Lucero at San Francisco Tango Festival

These demonstrations, with their displays of physical prowess and command of a large repertoire of movements, characteristic of tango for the stage, stand in stark contrast to the demonstrations of tango dancing appropriate for the milongas given by milongueros that were referenced above. Some developing tango dancers recognize that demonstrations of this type given by traveling tango instructors are show tango and are not influenced by the deviations from social tango, others recognize the deviations but believe that the codes of the milonga are changing and thus find raw material in these demonstrations for developing their social tango, others are confused regarding the boundaries yet model their tango after what they see in the demonstrations, and some are even naïve regarding the distinctions and find in these demonstrations inspiration for guiding their social tango development.

Given the type of tango instruction commonly available to aspiring tango dancers, and the demonstrations given by tango instructors, it should not be surprising that there is a plethora of step sequences observed at North American milongas, at the expense of close connection of partners with each other and the music. This focus in tango instruction on step manufacturing is set within a marketing environment that promotes tango as a performance dance, as is evident from the representation of tango in websites (The Representation and Misrepresentation of Tango in Website Images in North America) and the popularity and availability of YouTube videos (YouTube as a Source of Tango Information) of tango dancing that mostly portray show tango.

The cultural milieu into which tango is introduced in North America cannot be ignored with respect to its impact on tango dancing. Predominant perceptions that learning to dance involves learning step sequences, promoted by the ballroom dance establishment with its published step lists, contribute to this approach to teaching and learning tango [Factors Affecting the Survival of Argentine Tango Cultural Traditions in Non-supportive First World Cultural Environments (The Dominance of Tango Extranjero)]. Anxiety regarding the intimacy of the embrace also facilitates avoidance of or minimal engagement with a maintained embrace while dancing tango (ibid.). Lack of exposure to classic tango music within the culture hinders acquiring the familiarity with tango music necessary for improvisation on the musical structure; lack of appreciation of music from a foreign culture creates the opening for familiar music from North American culture to be substituted as a background for executing sequences of steps associated with some types of tango dancing (e.g., Tango Nuevo or Tango Escenario rather than Tango de Salon).

The causes of step orientation in tango dancing in North American milongas are obvious and have been discussed above and in previous Tango Voice posts. What have not been discussed in detail previously are the consequences of the cerebral orientation towards tango dancing on the nature of the engagement with tango experienced by the tango dancer. Obsession with the production of step sequences concentrates the dancer’s attention in the mind instead of letting the emotions flow. An analytic approach to the music prevents the music from enveloping and guiding the dancer. Repeated alterations in the embrace hinder the achievement of a communion between partners allowing an emotional exchange, perhaps even romance. If these qualities of absorption in the music, expression of emotion, and communication with partner are absent from tango dancing, then dancers have failed to understand tango as experienced by the Argentines, and they then fail to enjoy tango as a unique dance providing a unique and enjoyable emotional experience.

Tango is not just a collection of steps; it is not just another ballroom dance.


Some Thoughts from Chicho Frumboli

Back in August Chicho Frumboli posted a fascinating statement on his Facebook page. It’s certainly food for thought.  (Roughly translated)

Just a thought… Buenos Aires always leaves me with mixed feelings… Sometimes it’s pure love, at other times I hate it…

Perhaps that’s because it’s so important to me.

It seems that after so many years of dancing and teaching, tango dancers of my generation are becoming “milongueros nuevos”. 🙂

My thoughts and feelings are, how much I miss the milonga… how I miss Almagro, the Parakultural Centre in Chacabuco [centre of Buenos Aires underground culture in 1980s-early 1990s then based at Salon Canning], Arlequines, La Viruta in its Golden Age.

This was a time when aesthetics weren’t so important.. a time when we were learning to dance, and we told ourselves that true authenticity lay in discovering our own dance.

Then we learned to dance through our own efforts, our only teachers being a mirror and our own judgment.

Then it was creativity, study and exploration which kept our motivation alive. I believe that the rise of fashions in tango was inevitable.

Now there are countless “maestros” and a ridiculous number of “professionals”, which is a double-edged sword. It is good in one respect, because in the end there are more people who are attracted to dance tango, and this clearly that it is not going to disappear. But on the other hand, quality and quantity don’t often go together.

Today I regret that there was never an academy that brought together, at least in terms of the basic concepts, the key techniques, instead of this focus on the visual aesthetics associated with a particular style.

Tango is at a gateway. We can pass through it and discover something really great…but only if we want to.

It’s difficult to understand why we have this “dance factory” for competitions. What happened to tango…? To dancing? Having fun… seduction… playfulness… creativity…?

That’s how I learned, and still learn by watching the great dancers, whatever their style.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been in tango for so long that this is such an important part of me… wanting a utopia in which tango is as true as it’s always been.

Today belonging seems to be the important thing… If everyone dances in the same way they feel safe and important. To be “someone”, whether they call themselves dancers or teachers, puts them in a privileged position. That’s wrong.

I see it a lot in those who dress up as tangueros, Argentines and foreigners. It’s funny… or sad, depending on how you look at it.

Hence my love and my hatred.

Because I see that, after more than 20 years of tango, it getting more difficult is every day to teach. Or to dance.

Teaching people to dance… phew! The struggle gets more desperate every day.

So here are my questions:

Why teach styles? Because this limits our bodies, arms, backs, feet and necks. Why is it necessary to dress up as a “tango professional”? Why the same suits, the same dresses, the same make-up? Why teach musicality? Why do they speak so much bullshit? Why aren’t they really teaching people to dance?

I mean to truly dance… With all the possibilities of the dance… form, techniques, with all the freedom our dance has.

Don’t be cardboard cut-outs, guys. It’s very cold and empty. You won’t find tango by chasing a prize, or money, or fame. The Tango is within us… as it’s always been.

Let’s go on pushing forward. This is just beginning.

(Reposted from Tango Musings)

Creating a Tango-Brand: The Role of Language in the Marginalization of Argentine Tango

I have been thinking how to explain, in an non-judgemental way, the development of Argentine Tango to fit western culturural mores and expectations. I can’t do better than this.

Tango Voice

In Buenos Aires, the birthplace of tango, tango is defined by its cultural heritage. Although it may be difficult to define ‘tango’ precisely [Definition of Tango: Where are the Boundaries in Contemporary Tango (Stage Tango / Tango Nuevo / Contact Improvisation Tango)?], porteños who dance at milongas know what constitutes Tango de Salon and when dancing crosses the boundaries of socially acceptable tango dancing (Codes and Customs of the Milongas of Buenos Aires: The Basics). Adherence to a larger set of codes associated with tango social dancing, including the music to which it is appropriate to dance tango, defines an event as a ‘milonga’ [Do Milongas Exist outside Argentina? (The Milonga Codes Revisited)]. These traits are part of the Argentine tango dance culture that is maintained by its practitioners. New dancers learn the characteristics of tango through a socialization process.

When there is transference…

View original post 8,370 more words

Under the Radar

Is It Possible …
There are Tremendous Orquestas You’ve Never Heard – But SHOULD?

Oh, yes. And I mean sublime music every bit as good for dancing as your all-time favourites. As soon as you hear them, you know right away this is why you love tango.

And the surprise of hearing such beautiful music they’ve never heard before is delicious for dancers.

Right now these wonderful gems are forgotten to history. Folks who have the ToTANGO COLLECTOR edition know what I’m talking about (if they have been diligent about discovery); otherwise, they are still very much under the radar of aficionados. To me, another cruel tango crime.

In a milonga situation, I find these recordings handy either in the very early evening before things have really gotten going, or late at night on the verge of fatigue when people seem to be more open to music they’ve never heard. They add a sparkle, intrigue and something a little special – more than what people have come to expect when they come out to dance.

Coming soon, spotlight on a new collection of Lost Dance Masterpieces from the 20s and 30s (and how to use them as a DJ).

It’s All About the Music – Tango Rhythms Summary

Tango rhythms can be complex.
Starting simply and progressing to more complex, you have (at least)
the following rhythms:
– slow, walking beat emphasised in Di Sarli or 1940s Fresedo
– double-time or quick-quick-slow rhythm emphasized in D’Arienzo,
Biagi, older Canaro
– Dramatic pauses while beats slip away
– Habanero, like in Milonga Triste by Hugo Diaz
– 3-3-2 or long-long-short syncopations like Troilo,
– Melodic lines as in Calo, Canaro, Demare, De Angelis or other
1940s orchestras
– Expressive drama like in Pugliese, (but the underlying tempo remains steady)
Modern Tango
As for Piazzolla, he almost completely went over to the 3-3-2 rhythm,
plus imported a lot of Jazz and Classical ideas like tempo changes,
which explains why it is so difficult to dance with improvisation to
Color Tango and other modern orchestras are heavily influenced by
Piazzolla, complex compositional techniques, and the 1950s singing
tradition of tango, which was tango for concert, not dancing.
Only a few modern orchestras cultivate a “real” tango dance-beat,
like Hector Vargas or Miguel Villasboas, but you still wouldn’t call
it traditional golden-age tango. Where is the golden-era revival,
like the 1990s swing or rockabilly revival? [The past 5 years has shown a shift away from “cover bands” to new Tango  bands that respect the classic form, but bring their own freshness to the music.  Orq. Victoria (Argentina) and Tangalo (Australia) are examples.  The Emilio Balcarce Tango Orchestra School and Maggie Ferguson in Australia have had a huge impact in the rise of new musicians – ED.]
Non-tango tango?
Some modern music, such as Gotan use a very heavy disco bass line,
which explains why people new to tango are able to hear the beat.
But, Gotan lacks the rhythmic complexity of intertwining rhythms or
melodies of 1930s & 40s traditional tango. In addition they lack the
“pre-lead”, the tension-building drama which really defines tango (as
opposed to rock or foxtrot or whatever where this tension is absent.)
A lot of popular non-tango tangos and world or pop music uses the
habanero rhythm. For example, the ever-popular “Tango for Evora”,
Lhasa’s “De Cara a la Pared”, or Fabrizio de Andre’s “Crueza de Ma”.
Tom Stermitz

Tango Lessons from The Beautiful Game

Following Australia’s recent success in the Asian Football Cup, it is worth reflecting on what it is about the game that makes it attractive, exciting, hypnotic, … musical even, and applying these essenses to our own tango.

Just like Tango, we know that you must master basic technique before you can elevate into the realm of genuine expression, liberated play, intentional dialogue. If you’re struggling to stand up, walk straight, keep your partner comfortable, lead and follow unconsciously, you have no hope of creating a beautiful dance. You can’t create poetry if you can’t spell. Most of what we see during World Cup games is play that is above and beyond these basics. But occasionally you see failures, a lack of basic technique, and the results are ugly. The entire game judders, the flow is blocked, the composition disintegrates. When you go to a good milonga, you see most people dancing with at least a good mastery of the basics, and the absense of such ugly flaws makes you forget the hard work that eveyone has done to get to the point where it all looks efortless. Dispassionate Competence
Just like tango, we don’t like seeing boring safe, defensive, pre-planned play. It works in that it gets you from start to finish in one piece, but it is uninspiring. Not something you’d look forward to. With our tango, machined perfection, clinical progress around the floor, may get the job done, but none of us wants to dance that way. We need to go beyond that safe play, and dirty the clean water with our own personality, leave our our own fingerprints, display our own interpretation. Our dance has to be ours. Beauty is not geometric perfection, it is a reflection of our human selves, with our flaws and quirks.

Musical Composition

But what do we really love watching? We love watching teams that have transcended both basic technique, beyond clinical effectiveness, and have ascended to that level of confidence and openness that they will play with joy, they will tease and tickle, poke and bend the edges of the game. The game will flow at a macro level, with a rhythm and motion that is like a musical composition. A game with tiny intimate moments, between players, with the ball, that is humerous at times, teasing at others, primal and brutal, and sometimes zen calm where others would buckle under pressure.

And what we love most is the humanity of it all. The respect, the compassion, awareness of each others history, mediated through the structure of this game of Tango. This game that separates the boys from the men. That separates the artists from the technicians. This beautiful game.

Attributed to In Search of Tango

The missing elements of social Tango – No 1, The Ronda (circulation)

Unashamedly borrowed from Megan, Tango in the Spring, Canberra, with a few additions –
Tango is a celebration of social dancing, with people coming together to enjoy one another’s company and share our love of Tango and dancing.   How can you (men) help make a milonga a truly magical social experience.

37de9b_8aa8f1a9acb143af84773469bab3ebba.jpg_srz_276_246_85_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzDancing an a great milonga, such as Milonguita, in Palermo, Buenos Aires, the energy carries you easily through to 3 or 4am and you leave walking on a cloud.  Too often we depart local and festival milongas feeling deflated.  What happened to the energy of the room?  Couples dance in a bubble of their own enjoyment, ignoring the comfort of other couples, never looking at the leader in front or behind to see when to move forward or when to turn backwards.  The energy of everyone dancing together in a room is completely lost.

While the embrace between a couple is at the core of Argentine tango, the true magic of social dancing in a milonga is that the sum is greater than its parts. Dancing together in the ronda, with couples moving together to the music, we create an even more powerful experience. Many an experienced milonguero will tell you that their best tango moments come when they feel connected to the other couples around them, as though in a whimsical musical conspiracy with the other leaders, the whole milonga dancing as one. If you haven’t had this experience before, we invite you to try it at the next milonga.

So how do we create that greater magic? Appreciating the power of floorcraft can help!

Making a magic milonga: leaders

For leaders, the floorcraft to help the milonga magic is very simple, and very difficult at the same time. The core is awareness and sensitivity – to your partner, to the other couples on the floor, and to the music. This is not easy, and is difficult to learn. But there are some simple rules of thumb which make a big difference.

Most people know that social tango is always danced in a ronda, a large wheel of dancing couples that slowly rotates during the dance. What this means is that you dance with your partner, of course, but you will also be dancing with the couple immediately in front of you and immediately behind you! Each couple dances within their space in the ronda, and slowly progresses, following the train of the ronda. The speed will depend on the particular milonga, the people present, the music, and the mood. It is wonderful to perceive the energy of the ronda and find your own dance within that larger dance.

To do this, at the very least you need to be aware of the couples in front and behind. Feel the place between those two couples, and try to dance within it.  Allow about on a good step length between you and your neighbours.  Concentrate on moving forward slowly, all the time.  Avoid static figures.  Listen to the pace of each song and try to maintain that pace. If everyone is dancing well, there will be no need to overtake the folk in front, or to step out of the line of dance into the centre of the room. And the folk behind will have the same feeling, they will be comfortable and happy following you in the ronda and have no need to step out of it or try to overtake.  If you feel the need to pass, generally move to the inside and pass to the couples left (where the leader can easily see you).  If you are passed, let the passing couple in. (no road rage).  Passing on the blind side takes skill and timing.   Try not to get stuck in a pack at corners or at the ends of narrow rooms.  Once you are able to dance with awareness of the couples around you, almost all navigational problems will start to disappear naturally.

Here is a nice diagram about the “happy and connected milonga”.

  • Wait on the edge of the floor with you partner facing the floor to protect her feet (Don’t march to the centre of the floor).
  • Make eye contact before entering the ronda
  • Allow a waiting couple in to the ronda
  • Make a train with the people in front and after you
  • Keep in your line of dance
  • Use the corners (but don’t get stuck)
  • Avoid zigzagging
  • Avoid big figures and big moves
  • Do not mark voleos, ganchos, sables unless you have a very clear view of the available space.  You are responsible for ALL the ladies’ safety.  We do not want people going home with broken toes.
  • Don’t be a space hog or a space jammer
  • Please do not chat at 100 decibels for 30+ seconds of each song.  Start dancing reasonable promptly. (This is an affected habit and basically bad manners).

But its only on the pinboard, there are no traffic cops…

Making a magic milonga: followers

The most important thing you can do to help the magic is to be compact: ladies, don’t lift your feet off the floor unless there is a very, very clear indication from the leader that you should and you know nobody is there.  You shouldn’t be responsible for navigating, so you should not need to know what space is available behind you or around you – in fact you have the privilege of dancing with your eyes closed if you want to! With your feet low and no unprovoked large movements, you can’t go far wrong. But if the leader is marking things that you know are unsafe, then just don’t do them!

Good floorcraft from every person on the floor can open a doorway to tango bliss that is otherwise much harder to find.

The reverse is also true – if the milonga is chaotic, navigating the floor can be stressful. The leader’s anxiety is in turn transmitted to each follower, making it difficult or even unwise for them to relax and give their trust.  There is no combined energy and the good dancers will either sit out or leave early.

So friends, let’s all make a pact to create magic together in the milongas this weekend, leaving chaos behind and connecting to the music together!