Why MUSICALITY is so important?

Often people get attracted to TANGO first by what they SEE. Then, to be able to reproduce the BEAUTY they had seen, they need to realize that it is not rooted in the GEOMETRY of the figures. Furthermore, the MUSIC that is danced shapes the proportions of this Geometry.

If the initial energy that makes us dance comes from our PASSION, the music is what channels and shapes that energy.

To dance Tango is to belong to a society: the milonga

Tango is a partner dance that is based on the embrace.

Therefore, from the moment that we lose the embrace it stops being Tango. All these intricate footwork that we see is secondary. The real challenge of Tango is to be able to dance while keeping embraced. Also, you must know that all the movements we do in tango are not just designed to keep the embrace. but to produce it. Tango starts when we embrace and continues with movements that make us to embrace each other.

It is a social dance. To dance Tango is to belong to a society that exists in the milonga.

Milonga is not just a dance floor. Milonga is like a temple. You ought to know and respect the rituals of the milonga because a collective created it. It is not a rigid set of rules, but you have to agree to listen and pay attention to those who already have spent their whole lives there. Over time you will see that it all makes perfect sense, but you are not going to understand it right away. To understand it you must think as a dancer. To be able to think as a dancer you need to become a dancer first, and that takes a lot of time.

Not just any place that assigns itself the name of the milonga is a milonga. A milonga is a milonga if a big chunk of its participants are educated enough in the subtleties of the milonga and the dance.

The milonga is like a family or a country in many aspects. If you are new, you will be respected as a “baby” in the family, but you ought to understand and consider that you, as a “newborn baby”, won’t be able to do everything the “adults” do.  Same as an immigrant in a new country, you first have to demonstrate your acceptance of the ideals of your new country, your desire to become a part of it. For sure, you will incorporate your own particularities, same as a new person in a family would, but you will start where everybody starts.

If a place gathers a lot of new dancers and a very little amount or none of the senior “family” members, it is not a milonga in reality. Milonga is not a place where anything goes and where the kids play without their parents watching, otherwise it is just a kids’ playground.

It is understandable that Tango, being rooted in the most profound characteristics of human being[1], makes many people think that Tango is whatever their body would do, feel and express when they embrace their partner and move to the cadence of their favorite music. It is true up to a certain level. But Tango also exists outside them, outside their own body, and outside their lifetime.

If you are attracted to Tango, if you feel Tango, if you love Tango, its music, if you ARE Tango; then you belong to the family.

If you belong to a city, let’s say San Francisco, California; you would be proud to be able to guide a visitor into your city. If you do not know the names of the streets, nobody would consider that you belong to this city.

Imagine that you suddenly discover you belong to a family you do not know. At any age, you would like to learn about your family. It is a fundamental element of your identity. You would like to know its origins, the entire genealogy of your family. Wouldn’t you?

What if you visit Paris, fall in love with the city, and decide to live there? Would you be satisfied with just staying at home, and knowing just your address?

Let’s now imagine that you just discovered Tango. You saw a performance, perhaps. Something inside you told you “I want to do that”. What was it? Was it the outfit, the moves, the music, the attitudes or all that?  Then you go and take a class. You may get introduced to a basic set of moves, get an explanation of the rhythm, the posture, the embrace, a little of Tango history.  If you do not get at least a few of these topics, you may like to look for another class.

An authentic teacher teaches you to dance Tango as it is danced in the most authentic milongas of Buenos Aires. He or she would be able to transmit that to you only if he or she does it too: dances in the milongas, belongs to the Tango family, knows the geography of Tango, because he or she loves Tango.

How to know?  You will have to go to Buenos Aires to find out, and even then, you may get lost on the way, and end in some of the zillion of parties that are called milongas, but milongas they are not, or just approximations. You will need to be guided into the Tango realm by someone who belongs to it. You won’t be the only or the first one: everybody in the milonga arrived there in the same way.

Would it bother you if I tell you about the History of Tango? I understand that you probably come to dance Tango to experience of “living in the present”, to liberate yourself from the stress of your mundane life. But you have to know that the “present” you live in when you dance Tango connects you to all the “present” moments lived by those who have danced Tango (and the ones that will in the future…but we do not know yet what to say about those ones).

When Tango was the most popular activity of Buenos Aires, you would come for the first time to a milonga accompanied by someone who already is a regular, most probably a relative (that’s why the family comparison is very appropriate). You wouldn’t go to the milonga without previous longtime preparation at home, in the social club of your neighborhood, in family parties, with your relatives and friends.

The task of a Tango instructor is to integrate a new student to the milonga. Many integrate their students to their groups without encouraging them to be individuals at the milongas. They end up participating as assistants in the organizations of their teachers classes and events, and remain forever related to Tango only in the indirect way.

Groups authenticate each of its members. As a teen, with my buddies we once got into a very popular quinceañera party where nobody knew us. A few of us climbed into the roof of the club where the party was taking place, and entered through the bathroom window. Once inside, unnoticed, we took place at a table with empty chairs close to the door. The rest started to enter through the door, and we greeted them. That was enough to let them in. We authenticate them, so they were authenticated by the group members as belonging to the whole group.

In the story, finally we were discovered as outsiders because some boys in the group started to misbehave, throwing cake to each other with such unlucky aim that it reached the quinceañera’s dress. We were expulsed from the party by the adults.

I think that we could have been integrated, stayed till the end of the party and made new friends if those guys were more moderate. We did not behave according to the “etiquette” of the party. If we did, we could have been accepted as a part of the family. In the meantime, we were a small closed group inside of the wider community of the quinceaňera party. We did not integrate, and it makes sense: we were outsiders.

From all the groups that form Tango, I have chosen those composed by the oldest persons that started dancing Tango as teenagers or even children, and were not interested in Tango as a profession. For them Tango was an important part of their lives because Tango was an important part of the lives of all the inhabitants of Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Rosario. They were born between 1920 (Roberto Segarra http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5q5Xk2fxP8) and 1944 (Ricardo “Tito” Franquelo http://practimilonguero.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/practimilonguero-presents-ricardo-tito-franquelo/)[2]. Tango was a source of identity, not the only one (football is another), but extremely important. They went with their relatives and friends to the milonga. They met their spouses there. They came back as couples to find there other couples of friends. They went alone again after separation, divorce or death of their partner. The milongas recorded a reflection of their lives.

Today they are extremely wise. You can see it in their attitude, the way they dance, talk, behave, shake your hand, the way they embrace. Also, they have a very particular power, knowing the remained days of their lives are less than the ones behind them, they have no fear to be sincere. They put everything in each single move, in each word, in each gesture. And they do not have to pose. They are living, in a very natural way, in a very honest way. That is a particular privilege, since in Tango, at the distance of a close embrace, you cannot avoid honesty. Also, because they are not “professional dancers”, they do not have to pretend, to be nice to you in order to get business.

You need to be educated to be able to see that. It is not evident. You won’t see all these subtleties unless someone draws your attention to them. Of course there are many ways your sensibility could be educated. Your own life educates you, well or not. You may have the sensitivity from your cradle.  You may remember your grandparents dancing, listening, playing, and singing Tangos. If you were not so lucky, you can still go to school.

We don’t go to milongas because of a special occasion, a birthday celebration or whatever special. We go to milongas regularly because we like the music and the dancers. What matters for a dancer is the aesthetic experience of dancing. It is important that the music is good and the dancers are good. Of course, the beauty of the place, the lighting, etc. add to the experience. But if what you really appreciate is dancing, you’ll stick to a milonga that offers you what I mentioned first: good music and dancers.

Of course you may like to meet new people, chat, be in a crowd; but you could also find all these experiences outside Tango. We should look for the essence of Tango experience, and that involves the appreciation of the aesthetics of Tango and its dance.

You have to be aware that your level of commitment to Tango, understanding of the art, sensitivity to Tango will affect other participants of the milonga. You can compare it with going to a concert. Is not the same appreciation for the educated in the kind of music performed and not (or mildly) educated. Also, consider that you have to play, because the milonga is a participative event, not one where you merely act as an audience.

Dance is an expression of beauty that is not mainly visual. You discover Tango as a dance through your eyes. Tango has visual components. But the visual beauty of Tango is the manifestation of internal mechanisms that make it possible, not the opposite. It would be wrong to start the construction of your dance from the visual end of it. What we see is the result, the glow of Tango.

Tango is a kinetic experience, with all the sensual aspects the sensations of our body and our partner’s body provoke in us, and an auditory experience. Tango music tells us the way to move in connection to our partner.

It is not Tango if you dance with the goal to be seen.

To see is important as a guide. When I watch people dancing Tango at the milongas I let my eyes guide me. They will stop at the couple that dances for each other, to the music that is played, respecting everyone around, assuming a good posture, letting everything fall in place effortlessly, not trying hard, not forcing steps.

The eyes also participate in the way we invite to dance. We look at the person we want to dance with, and patiently wait her to become aware and look back at us.

Patience is indispensable.

A wrong approach to the building of a Tango community is to give support for reasons that are external to Tango. That is a great mistake, since it lowers the general quality of the dance level, and promotes misinterpretations. We should save our support for those who promote improvement of the dance at the milongas.

There are lots of lies, misunderstandings and misinterpretations surrounding Tango. But the truth comes out in the milongas. Remember that, for me, milonga is a very special name that I do not give to just any gathering where people play music that they believe is suitable to dance Tango, and move in a way they decided to call Tango.

I am not going to fight with those. They are not a match for real milongueros.

What I want is to pass my knowledge to those who want to continue the lineage of Tango, which is beautiful, honest, humble, great and very, very real.

There is so much to say about Tango that I could be writing forever, but I think that the best is to go dancing, as I will do now.

[1] Characteristics of human being:  a) its unique body.  b) A limited existence in time (to be born and to die).  c) To be consciously aware of it.  All of these three characteristics imply sexuality.

[2] According to Enriqueta Kleinman and Mónica Paz, these are the oldest and the youngest milongueros respectively.

“Série rare”, by Jean-Sylvain Negre

In this channel – from Patagonia – travel back to 1910-1920.

By the low number of hits, evidently hardly anyone knows in Argentina, or around the world for this matter , that this jewel exists!

One of the videos in this series takes an upward look and brief tour at a vast number of boxes containing these pianola rolls.

These pianola rolls get old brittle and break.   These YouTube videos are therefore Very Rare.

The pianola mimics the pedal work of the original performer, so it captures more than a simple reproduction of the notes.   Hopefully this gives us a window into the popularity of tango and of the approach to these compositions in “real” time!

If people that could afford a player piano in Patagonia, could afford to buy Tango pianola rolls, clearly in 1910, 1920, Tango was NOT simply the music of the brothel !!!!

This video of an expensive pianola, that lived its life in the parlor of a rural family, clearly shows that this myth is pernicious and reflects a bias against Latin American culture.  Any music was played in any brothel in the world in the early 1900s including  Jazz and classical music .

Maybe someday someone in the English speaking world will notice how many of the songs are about social commentary.   Not usually the topic in houses of ill repute!

Jean-Sylvain Negre

Lesson number 1, by Olga Besio

Where do I start?

What any person who wants to dance the tango should be made clear from the beginning. (And anyone who wants to teach, too)

Many times I have wondered how they should be taught to dance the tango to beginners. It is likely that each teacher will pose this question a thousand times, depending on the students who should initiate this way at every opportunity. It is also the mysterious mystery of those days to decide on a first dance to this very complex in appearance, but whose fundamentals are so simple and yet so full of meaning.

The answer to this question suggests, in my opinion, not only the methodological aspects, and even less to the “content” such as a purely formal mathematical steps or cool ways to walk or turn.

Indeed, what is fundamentally, deeply, tango dancing? is NOT a succession of steps, figures, structures, movements. Something much more profound underlies everything. And that something deeper is not exactly “technical”, but is a factor much earlier, primary and fundamental.

In a simple statement, without attempting to assign a chronological or hierarchical order, we could say that this is a natural, human, intuitive, sensory, with a “other” with a human and “other” sound.

Then maybe we could also say that we should first develop, construct or uncover the relationship of unity-duality with the other person, partner or companion dance, anyone can do something as simple as moving together (which is often very difficult) or moving objects together. (All this, without even the roles of lead and follow, should work simultaneously for both  in order to reach a full understanding of both aspects – that are not absolutely opposed but complementary, since they need each other.)

How do we get? Allowing my body talk to the body of another person, that “straight talk” that “listen” to a communication flow so simple and natural as flowing in daily life when I do something with someone or when I talk with someone,  placed against that person, with be my “front” and not just two bodies … with a soul, feelings emotions and the human, animal and divine ability to be-with-another.

Ah, I forgot: What about the hug? Yes, of course: the arm in this position, the hand in a given height, angle … how complicated can perhaps measure with ruler, compass and square … Hmmm … And if you just hug the other person to me and I hug. A real arm, human, warm, strong and sweet at the same time … Then you can take your hand or let it take me … and maybe if we measure now is an ” correct “embrace tango!  My friends, the embrace of tango is just that: ¡¡a hug!  And not a mere “arm position” …

A hug is a natural, humane, comfortable and enjoyable for both people and will address other aspects of our theme: the movement, playing with the weight of another person with his own, doing something together … like dancing.  As I said on another article, dancing is a natural fact that human being is born with. Everything is here, so is. And we usually consider “technically necessary and / or right” is neither more nor less than a consequence of something in your home is absolutely natural. Dancing is a natural fact.  So we avoid stereotypes …

Uh, I think we still lack something. The dialogue is, by definition, “two”. But in the case of the tango (perhaps in the case of every dance is a dance of two?), the dialogue is presented as me. Of course, the “third” is the MUSIC And in this wonderful, amazing, catching “TRIALOG,” is where we see the birth of tango dancing and walking with him, improvisation and creativity.

After will be the steps, figures, styles and all the infinite variety that tango or milonga, and vals, can give us.

So I think this is what should be taught and learned in the first lesson:

  • Dialogue with the other person. The absolute certainty that everything that happens in the dance is the work and responsibility of both people in the sense that, in fact, the dancing is built between the two (one each from its role) that each developing it at all, and collaborating with your partner or colleague. Withinthis dialogue as one of its aspects, including the embrace is.
  • Dialogue with the music. Within this dialogue, as one of its options, includes a walk.
  • In short, the “trialogue” deep communication between these three key elements (both people and music), with all the incredible significance, depth complexity and detail that it contains. Within this “trialogue” is included and embraced as walking music. And understanding no doubt that all these aspects are a that nest precisely and as a fundamental fact, the essence tango.

This would, in my view, the first lesson. But … how should last? An hour and a half? Two hours? A month?  Perhaps a lifetime.

Olga Besio’s bio.

The lead is a reflex action, by Susana Miller

The lead is a reflex action. It is learned consciously and then left “dormant” in our unconscious.

The lead and its response are spontaneous, much like the dialogue of two people who share a common system of codes: one of language, gazes, gestures or bodies (in the case of dance). Both people are submerged in Dionysian fashion in the same fountain, which is the music.

The home of art lies in the soul, far from conscious thought. In dance, as in all the arts, there is a technical know-how and a series of fundamental elements. These function at first by using the mind and a certain amount control, but later on they disappear when corporeal memory outs intellectual memory.

The dancer “is another.” When I surrender to my dance, it’s another person that’s dancing, with that person’s body, legs and know-how. “I am not conscious of what I’m doing.” When I see that dance objectively (video, mirror, etc.) I am “me.” Videos, mirrors and the like are elements of control. They act as a teacher, a sort of critical super-me, which, in small doses, can be very helpful. The rest is adventure, it’s allowing the soul to ride the wave of emotion, to play and let oneself be rhythmically seduced for a moment that is pure quantum rubber, glooppp…

Tango in Buenos Aires

By Alvaro Dominguez

I began learning to dance Tango about three and a half years ago, on Halloween.  I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and when I started I had no idea how large the Tango community here was, and was impressed by the number of classes, teachers and events.  Recently I learned that the Bay Area Tango community is the oldest and perhaps the largest in the US.  Despite the mass and history of the Tango community in Bay Area I heard repeatedly that “the experience of dancing Tango in Buenos Aires is amazing”.  I left the Rio de la Plata almost four decades ago, without ever going to a Milonga on either side of the river; and thus, needless to say, I was skeptic about the greatness of the Tango seen in Buenos Aires; a cultural trait I guess.

About two years into my Tango experience I met Marcelo Solis.  I had many conversations with Marcelo about Tango, the music, its history, anecdotes, and tales he shared about the Tango community in Buenos Aires and the Milongas. Through these conversations I learned that Marcelo’s love for Tango is indisputable and contagious, and I confess that they began to spark my curiosity and interest. However, my sense of scarcity, financially and in my dancing abilities, was big enough to prevent me from even dreaming on going to Buenos Aires to dance Tango.  Nevertheless, an opportunity to go on Marcelo’s Tango Tour to Buenos Aires materialized last November.  I took it.

Buenos Aires Tango

It is undeniable that in Argentina Tango is a well-developed and sophisticated industry, particularly in Buenos Aires; and not only in La Boca, a neighborhood where some say Tango was born; even though its well established that Tango originated on both sides of the Rio de la Plata sometime during the second half of the nineteenth century.

I am not a stranger to Buenos Aires, its people or its culture; in fact I have friends and family there. Though I had never been to a Milonga in Buenos Aires I went without preconceived ideas on the Tango Tour, other than I’m going to have the time of my life.  I wasn’t disappointed.  During the Tour I got to meet, dance, and hang out with some of the best known milongueros in Buenos Aires, such as Alicia Pons, Blas Catrenau, Enriqueta Kleinman, Marta Famá, Monica Paz and Néstor La Vitola, among others.  I learnt a lot; from their instruction, from watching them dance, and from their tales and appreciation for Tango that each shared with us.

Friday was our first night at Buenos Aires, and the first milonga we went to with the Tango Tour was at ‘Confiteria La Ideal’, a Buenos Aires icon in operation since 1912.  We arrived at around 7.00 pm.  I believe that secretly the group experienced a sense of anxiety, with each of us thinking “How will my dance skills measure in the Mecca of Tango?” 

La Ideal is located in the Centro de Buenos Aires area; it has sumptuous high ceilings supported by columns and a décor that takes you back to the beginning of the past century.  We were greeted at the door by the host and promptly escorted to a set of tables arranged next to the Bar for our group.  Our table was at a vantage point from where we could see the complete dance floor, and after ordering a drink I took a deep breath and began contemplating my surroundings.    Who was there?  How are they dancing?  Who would I like to dance with?

The Friday crowd at La Ideal is a mixture of locals and tourists.  Although it’s not the most renowned milonga all the patrons observe the milonga codes.  Everyone there was appropriately dressed and groomed, nothing fancy.  People sat at their tables socializing with their party while attentively looking for a potential dance partner.  From the distance and from afar people would exchange head-nods (cabeceo) to express interest in dancing.  Couples flocked to the dance floor at the beginning of a tanda.  Two lines of dance were clearly defined, and you could sense the room moving and vibrating at an unstructured though coordinated rhythm.  After dancing a couple of Tandas I realized I had received the right training; I knew the rules of the game and my skills were good enough to get out there and play; or better yet, to Tango.  Going to La Ideal was a great introduction to what a Milonga in Buenos Aires is all about, but the best was still yet to come.   At around midnight we left La Ideal as a group.  Most went back to the hotel but I was ready for more so I jumped into a cab and headed to Salon Canning.   Buenos Aires, here I am.


On Saturday we went to one of Buenos Aires most prominent Milongas; Cachirulo at Villa Malcom.  We arrived early, around 8.30 pm, and there were a good number of people already there.  At the door we were greeted by Cachirulo who arranged tables and chairs for our group.  Our tables were on the hall adjacent to the rectangular dance floor.  Tables and chairs framed the dance floor, with women occupying two adjacent sides and men occupying the opposite two.  After ordering drinks and some food I began to sink into the Tango atmosphere at Malcom, watching the dynamics in and out of the dance floor.  I observed women dancing and admired their ease of movement, inherent beauty and grace.  From the distance I caught the attention of a pair of eyes in a body I had been gazing at; I nodded and received a head nod in return.  I was on my way to dance with ‘Salmon’, a tall slender woman wearing a beautiful salmon colored dress (thus the nickname) that danced like an angel.  She was from Madagascar.

Something that caught my attention was how, during the cortina, women were extra attentive in search of a dance partner they wished to dance with.  I was also on the prowl for dancing and noticed that many of those attentive eyes would look away or just look through me when I glanced intently at them.  Yikes, completely invisible, but that is what cabeceo is all about; it’s a basic code that frames a safe environment for accepting or declining a dance invitation.  In the Bay Area I hear followers and leaders whine about practicing cabeceo, and unfortunately many resist recognizing that practicing the code of cabeceo is essential in promoting better Tango dancing.

As the night progressed, and considering the times I was invisible to many of the women there, I had several good dances.  At around 1.30 am the group went back to the hotel, but I remained.  Noticing I was alone and that the crowed had thinned, Cachirulo offered me a Table by the dance floor.  Sitting in my new vantage point I looked attentively for potential dancers…but it seemed I was even more invisible; and yes, it was frustrating.  It took a while until I got an accepting nod during the second song of a Tanda.  During the small talk that takes place in between songs my dance partner shared that she decided to ‘risk’ dancing with me for half a tanda because she did not know me and had not seen me dance.  She was Argentenian and I realized that she was the first Argentenian I had danced with that night.  Inadvertently, this woman conveyed the essence and function of cabeceo and I am grateful for that.  The experience gave me confidence that all the drilling about the embrace and musicality I received from Marcelo had given me the tools to swim the waters of the Milongas in Buenos Aires, and I was grateful for that too.

The Embrace

One night, hanging out with Marcelo and Blas Catrenau, Blas shared his thoughts and feelings about how Tango is usually taught now days.  Paraphrasing Blas, he said something like, …because Tango begins in your ears, when you start hearing the music.  Then it goes to the eyes, as you search for and find the woman you want to dance with.  Then you feel the music and the moves it provokes in your body as you walk towards her; when you reach her you offer a gentle but firm left hand and you establish connection by completing her embrace; and then, and only then you move your feet.  Now days most Tango instructors teach Tango in the opposite order, they start with the feet and usually omit the music, the embrace, and the connection.

While listening to Blas I began to associate his account with the experiences I’ve had as an incipient Tango dancer, and I agreed.  While many Tango instructors in the Bay Area talk about musicality, my experience is that most focus on teaching (or performing) steps (believed by many to be the selling points) and pay little or no attention to the connection involved and required for dancing Tango.

Experience Tango in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is a vibrant City, particularly at night.  November is spring in the southern hemisphere and people of all ages hit the streets way into the night hours.  For many the night begins after 11 pm and for some it does not end until dawn, or later.  I found men and women of a wide age range in the Milongas I went to.  Although age is not a factor determining dance skills, some of the best dancers I saw were into their sixties and beyond, and in the 10 days I spent in Buenos Aires many of these geezers were at most of the Milongas I went to.  No coco and TV for these guys; they were out dancing the night away every night.

At one of the Milongas Marcelo pointed out a short thin man with few white hairs, he suggested me look at him dance.   His name is Ricardo and he was amazing; elegant, musical, subtle, and about 89 years old.  Needless to say that I got distracted with the many allures at hand, however my admiration for Ricardo solidified later, at a Milonga in El Beso.  That night at El Beso, I had been dancing for a while when Ricardo showed up; Blass introduced us and I received a warm and firm hand shake.  Soon thereafter I began dancing a milonga on the packed dance floor.  I was kneading my moves with the music and the crowd when I spotted a woman glancing with a mischievous smile at someone on the dance floor right in front of me.  Her look was as hot as she was and my curiosity was sparked, so I paid attention to the dancers she had her attention on…and there was Ricardo Suarez, dancing with a statuesque European amazon (I had danced with her earlier) that was melting of joy as her ass jiggled rhythmically to Ricardo’s lead.  Did I mention my admiration for Ricardo?  Caramba, I want to learn to lead that kind of jiggling, I want to provoke that sense of joy.


I had a great experience with Marcelo’s Tango Tour to Buenos Aires and I am thankful to him for sharing with us his beloved Buenos Aires, his friends and instructors, and his passion for Tango.  I look forward to going back, and this time I’ll remember to enjoy more the warmth and the experience of the milongueros, watch more how they dance, and dance when I can.  In the meantime, I’ll do my best to share and recreate my Tango experience in Buenos Aires with the men and women in the Bay Area Tango community.  Experience Connection – Dance Tango.

Good and bad tango dancer

The following are my answers to a questionnaire from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology of Palo Alto, made in 2011.

1. What qualities characterize a good Argentine tango leader during the dance? MS: Secure, precise, smooth, gentle, patient, adaptable, smart, elegant, musical, respectful, protective, spontaneous, unintentional, efficient and aware.

2. What qualities characterize a poor Argentine tango leader during the dance? MS: Insecure, imprecise, rough, impatient, rigid and single minded, silly, ignorant of the music, disrespectful, intentional, calculative and unaware.

3. What behaviors and attitudes are demonstrated by a good Argentine tango leader? MS: Asking to dance according to the etiquette, entering the floor acknowledging others, following the line of dance, listening to the music and knowing it well (knowing the song, the orchestra, the singer, the year of the recording, etc.), letting the dance just happen rather than trying moves and steps, not talking or chatting while dancing, talking nicely between songs, at the end of the tanda accompanying his partner back to her place, not insisting on a second tanda.

4. What behaviors and attitudes are demonstrated by a poor Argentine tango leader? MS: Asking to dance in an inappropriate way making the other person feel obliged, entering the dance floor at any time and place without acknowledging other dancers, not following the line of dance, not listening to music, not caring to learn about it, trying to do moves and steps, talking while dancing, being mean to his partner, correcting or teaching her, leaving his partner on the dance floor at the end of the tanda or insisting on another tanda.

5. What behaviors and attitudes are demonstrated by a good Argentine tango follower? MS: Listening to music, knowing it well, waiting for the lead but also dancing (not just following), being present in the moment like someone who takes a challenge, being patient.

6. What behaviors and attitudes are demonstrated by a poor Argentine tango follower? MS: Not caring about music, moving by herself without waiting for the lead or just plain following without any life in the moves, being absent minded (for example, thinking about the next leader she wants to dance with), impatient, asking you to dance or making you to feel obliged to dance with her.

7. What qualities characterize a good Argentine tango follower? MS: She really likes the music and knows it well, she is elegant, natural, and spontaneous.

8. What qualities characterize a poor Argentine tango follower? MS: Does not care about music, is exaggerated and calculative.

9. By what criteria do you judge a good dance? In other words, how do you know when you have experienced a good dance? MS: A good dance is when everything happens without any intention.

10. How do you know when you have had a bad dance? MS: I never had a bad dance. If it is not going to be good, I know it beforehand, so I pass.

11. As a teacher who has many opportunities to observe couples, what do you look for—or what do you see—in a good dance? MS: No intention.

12. What do you see in a bad dance? MS: The dancers try too hard.

Etiquette: “Cabeceo”, “cortinas”, “tandas”, and line of dance

“Cortinas” & “tandas”

“Cortinas” are small pieces of songs that separate different sets of tangos, milongas or valses (“tandas”). Each “tanda” contains four songs by the same orchestra. In this way, you know that after the “cortina” a new set, played by a different orchestra, is coming, usually a different rhythm and style than the set played right before. The “cortinas” are also a chance to change partner. The etiquette in Buenos Aires is to dance with the same partner until the end of the set. So, when the “cortina” starts to play you can say “Thank you” and go back to your table. The “cortina” makes clear that the set is over. You will have to wait for the next set to begin before to ask any other partner to dance. Once you and your partner get into the dance floor, you want to make sure what kind of rhythm (slow, fast) is being played, so please don’t start to dance right away! “Tandas” of Latin rhythms, Swing and Argentine Folklore are also played in Buenos Aires milongas.

“Cabeceo”: eye contact . Asking someone to dance

Facing the fact that to be rejected is always painful, the Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) developed the “eye contact” as the proper way to ask someone to dance. They just look at the person they want to dance with. This applies either for men or women. If the man wants to dance, he will let the woman know by a nod of head towards the dance floor. If she does not want to dance, she will deny with the head. If the woman wants to dance, she will answer back with a smile or an assenting sign with her head. After these subtle signs, he will go to her table (or where she is) and take her to the dance floor. If the other person does not want to dance (man or woman), when the “eye contact” occurs, he/she will look to a different direction. Another way to ask a woman to dance, and this one is maybe for the more braves, is to go to where she is at and introduce yourself (if you don’t know each other from before) and/or start a conversation. After exchanging some words, you can ask her if she would like to dance with you.
Tango is a SOCIAL dance. It is not a sport, so the milonga is a place not only to dance, but also to meet new people, chat with friends, etc. In Buenos Aires if a person come out of the blue and asks you to dance, it is considered a very aggressive attitude. It will be almost like saying: “I just want to dance with you and I don’t really care what you think about that”. There are many benefits of these “techniques”. One is that it takes in consideration the feelings of both partners, so when the dance finally happens, they both know they are where they want, which is the most important requirement to have a good dance. They are not dancing because they have to. Also, it is part of the ritual of tango which is a very intimate dance. I think that if you are learning to dance a foreign dance, like tango or any other, you have to try to understand the codes that come with it, because for sure you will find out they have some kind of sense.

Line of dance

The line of dance is not an Argentine invention; it did not begin with Argentine Tango. The line of dance was already in the European dances in fashion of that time (1800’s). The counter clockwise direction roots in ritual dances that proceed even the social dances that originated during the Renaissance. The Argentine Tango dancers just adopted it. In Argentine Tango the line of dance is an expression of the dance itself, understanding it as a way of walking. Also, it is the result of an agreement that shows the respect among the dancers on the dance floor.Seeing it from a practical point of view and making analogy: it is like traffic on the freeway, without the speed, but everyone is going in the same direction in your lane of traffic.

Tango History

Argentine Tango is a dance originated in the poor neighborhoods of the largest cities in Argentina and Uruguay at the end of the XIX century. It represents the cultural mix of immigrants and the established population. In the 1800’s, Buenos Aires and Montevideo had a population of 25 % to more than 50 % of Africans each. They were servants of the most influential families of these cities and were more integrated to the life of these families and the society in general than the Africans of other societies like North America. “Tangos” were called the black people celebrations and places of meeting since the beginning of the XIX century. Is in these places where the dance known today as tango began the development of its choreography and music. Other African terms directly related to tango are “milonga” and “candombe”. “Milonga” is a Quimbanda expression that means “words” and referred originally to a kind of duel between two countryside singers called “payadores” that playing guitar will improvise verses of eight syllables with a structure type question/answer; while “candombe” is a Bantú word that referred originally to the rhythms and dances made by the Africans in their tango meetings and also to these meetings.

When they were given freedom (1853) they created several associations -kinds of   unions- to help themselves, and placed them mostly in the area of the   neighborhood of Montserrat. During   carnival, they used to go out on the streets with bright colored costumes and   big-feathered hats, dancing many hours to the monotonous rhythm of “candombe”—   the music they played at these events. Different associations competed for the   supremacy and this developed into bloody incidents in the streets. The   repetition of the violence forced the police to close many of those associations   in 1877. It was the end of black people’s carnival. The consequence of this was   the creation of several dance centers where they developed a kind of couple   dance called “tango” using the same choreographic elements they used before in   their candombes. But that tango was not an embraced couple dance. They danced it   separately.

Other influence in the origins of tango comes from a typical character of the Argentine Pampas: the   “gaucho”.The “gaucho” is the product of the mix between the first Spanish   arrived to the lands later called Argentina, and the natives. They were very   skillful in the techniques needed to survive in the countryside. They liked to   live far away from populated cities and towns, had not regular jobs,   occasionally get hired by the owners of the “estancias” (farms), and knew the   secrets of the knife fencing and horse riding. They had a strong morality of   independence and, if needed, faced the arbitrarily police. These “gauchos” had a   very important participation in the battles for the emancipation against the   Spanish Kingdom. They symbolized the ideals of autonomy, courage and justice   without arbitrariness.

After the Constitution of 1853 the ideas of modernity and progress start to   shape the new country. The “gaucho” did not fit in this project and began to   suffer a persecution. The lands where the gaucho used to wander were confiscated   and given to others. Having not other option they moved into the poor suburbs of   the city and got jobs as butchers, herdsmen, horse-breakers or cart drivers. Even though the gaucho goes under a metamorphosis, leaving the horse,   shortening his knife to hide it better because it was not allowed in the city,   changing his clothes and getting the new name of “compadre”; he still keeps the   same ideals of justice, independence and courage. His new neighbors start to   admire him and many times came to him looking for protection or advice. The   young men of these poor suburbs start to imitate the attitudes of the compadres   and soon got for themselves the name of “compadritos”. Although the gaucho, transformed in compadre, brought the “milonga” to the   slums, he did not dance. His inheritors, the compadritos, did dance. They took   the choreographies of other dances which had arrived from other places of the   world and were danced in the port of Buenos Aires and Montevideo such as polka, mazurka, waltz, and habanera; and danced   with them to the music of the milongas. Further more, they also incorporated   elements from the black people’s dances, from their “tangos”, most of the time   with racist sarcasm. This originated a way of dancing called either “tango” or   “milonga”. Although the gaucho, transformed in compadre, brought the “milonga” to the   slums, he did not dance. His inheritors, the compadritos, did dance. They took   the choreographies of other dances which had arrived from other places of the   world and were danced in the port of Buenos Aires and Montevideo such as polka, mazurka, waltz, and habanera; and danced   with them to the music of the milongas. Further more, they also incorporated   elements from the black people’s dances, from their “tangos”, most of the time   with racist sarcasm. This originated a way of dancing called either “tango” or   “milonga”. When these dances arrived to the port of Buenos Aires in the second half of XIX   century, the embrace technique was known as “dancing to the European fashion”.   The compadritos adopted this technique and incorporate it to the movements they   took from the African’s tangos. Until this moment, all the embraced dances were   of continuous movement, which means that one time the couple starts to move will   not stop until the end of the song. On the other hand, the African’s tangos, as   well as the other not embraced dances, used “figures”, which means that one or   both partners will suddenly stop and take a position called figure. In order to put together these two different ways of dancing – the embrace and   the figures – the compadritos had to go further into the embrace technique and   create the “close embrace” technique. Before the tango, there was space   in-between the partners in all the embraced dances. With tango there are not   space in-between partners anymore. Tango incorporated the close embrace technique that allows the “figures” in the   embraced dance: one partner will stop while the other keeps moving or both will   suddenly stop for a while and restart the movement a few beats later. The   close embrace was enough for tango to be disapproved by the serious society. In   addition, the compadritos liked to play with the scandal and with a mocking and   unconcerned attitude making provocative movements in the dance for the amusement   of some and the shock of the others. The 1853’s   Constitution opens Argentina to the immigration. Millions of immigrants,   mainly Italians and Spanish, arrived to the country and changed it radically.   Tango was influenced by the immigration too. Its rhythm slowed down and its   melodies acquired a nostalgic flavor in contrast with its original joking   attitude. Its choreography also changed, leaving its provocative character and   tidying up its figures. A novel instrument was incorporated to the tango music,   the bandoneon, created in   Germany, which fits perfectly with the new shape of tango. Soon, the bandoneon   became the icon of tango music. All this will prepare tango for its acceptance in the Europeans ballrooms.   The 1913 was the year of its highest popularity in Paris. This made it return to   Argentina, its natural country, from the “big door”. Rejected before by the high   society as a product of the slums, it became praised for everyone thanks to its   international fame. Everybody wanted to learn to dance tango at this   time. Only the 1917 World   War will stop the popularity of this dance in Europe, but just for a while. The same year, 1917, a countryside singer, included in his repertoire the first   tango with a lyric, creating the way of singing tangos. This man was Carlos Gardel, and even he   died in 1935, he still reigns as the model of the tango singer thanks to his   1500 records. The WWI, the post war crisis and the bright presence of Carlos   Gardel eclipsed tango as a dance for a while. This was the period of the   popularity of the “tango-canción”(tango-song), good for listening but not   necessarily for dancing. In 1935 Juan   D’Arienzo incorporated the piano player Rodolfo Biaggi in his orchestra and with a fast and playful rhythm which reminded the origins   of tango, started to attract thousands of dancers back to the ballrooms. The   acceptance of this orchestra was so big, that other orchestras begun to imitate   its characteristic rhythm.  At this point, tango was a mature artistic expression. Music, dance and poetry   reached its pinnacle and developed during the 1940’s in what was known in   Argentina as the Golden Age of Tango. During these years, tango defined the   shape we know today. Three decades of dictators made tango blur in   Argentinean’s life, especially tango as a dance, but was not enough to make it   disappear. 1984 was the year where the democracy came back in Argentina and it   also the year which tango revived. The worldwide acceptance of Astor Piazzolla music, who knew how to integrate tango to other musical   expressions as classical music, jazz and rock, incorporating electronic   instruments; the triumph in Russia of Julio Bocca, an international known Argentine ballet dancer who danced to Piazzolla music; and   the amazing success in Broadway of the show “Tango Argentino” which presented   the greatest tango dancers at that time; all of these plus the freedom of   expression that democracy brought to Argentineans, made possible what we are   able to see today: a strong presence of tango not only in Argentina, its natural   country, but also in the whole world. Why did tango triumph all over the world? It is not easy to find one absolute   answer but maybe has to do with the necessity of expression and Tango is a dance   where all the range of human feelings can be expressed: happines, homesickness, passion, wittiness and much more.


“Crónica general del Tango”, José Gobello. Editorial Fraterna, Buenos Aires,   1980. “La historia del Tango”, tomo 2 “Primera época”, Roberto Selles y León   Benarós. Editorial Corregidor, Buenos Aires, 1977.

More about Argentine Tango: www.todotango.com, Argentine tango in Wikipedia