How to dance Tango: An introduction to the most important details.
December 19, 2018
Whether you are a beginner without any dancing experience, an intermediate dancer looking to polish your dance, or an advanced dancer in search of perfecting your moves, practicing these exercises as often as possible will take your dance to the next level.
There is a profound wisdom in the ability to dance Tango. A wisdom that you acquire through training, by working on the way you hold your body, the way you move, paying precise attention to detail, developing a sense of awareness and careful respect in dealings with others at milongas, learning to passionately love the music that milongueros dance to, opening yourself up to music that expertly advises you on how to move in every beat.
My desire to get better was shaped through decades of patient learning, careful observation of dancers who inspired and guided me, and passionate dancing in milongas, to challenge others to dance better and to be challenged to better myself.
"Tango, Our Dance", written and directed by Jorge Zanada, 1987.
May 25, 2018
The sensuality and stylized ritual of the tango are captured in this illuminating documentary. Most riveting are the milongueros-the amateur dancers who preserve the pure, traditional steps. Their intimate stories about their personal experiences reveal the intensity that feed their individual tango styles. Numerous tango aficionados, including actors Robert Duvall and Juan Carlos Copes (star of Broadway’s TANGO ARGENTINO), make special appearances. A passionate valentine to what Martha Graham called “the most beautiful dance of this century.”
When I receive a new student in my class I know that he or she wants to dance. But teaching them to dance involves not only showing the moves, but also giving the student a sense of placement, making him or her aware that you cannot just do any move at any time
When you are at the milonga, whether a well known milonguero/a or a new good student, you are making possible that Tango lives. You bring Tango to life, in your body, in everything you do with your body, not by dancing only, but by everything you do.
That's why we feel so at home dancing Tango, in good company, creating something with our body that is real and objective, something that ceases to exist immediately after dancing, leaving us in a state of relaxed pleasure and untranslatable wisdom.
Our head is placed in an upright position, allowing for the development of powerful vision and an extraordinary brain; our arms and hands free from the task of locomotion, set to create new things and reshape the world.
There is world in which being friendly does not mean being agreeable nor disrespectful of differences, but rather encouraging the individual pursuit of excellence, a road and a goal that is accessible only to you, since we are all different by nature.
…there is world in which being friendly does not mean being agreeable nor disrespectful of differences, but rather encouraging the individual pursuit of excellence, a road and a goal that is accessible only to you, since we are all different by nature. In this world we learn by imitating, knowing that it will be impossible to be like those we imitate, since they already prevented us that it is not only impossible, but unethical. In this world we need to develop our own interpretation of beauty and demonstrate that it fits the community by concretely putting it into practice, in concrete actions.
Dancing Tango is not only about you and you-and-your-partner. It is also a social event and a culture. It involves more than two: those present at the milonga (tango dance party) in which you assist, and also all those who are intimately related to Tango, at your present time, in the past and in the future (other dancers, the composers of the songs that you dance to, the musicians who recorded the songs, all the people who were passionate about Tango throughout the history of this manifestation of our very unique nature as humans, and those, in the future, who will inherit it after us).
“Tango is Life”. What does this sentence mean? It suggests that those who do not tango don’t know what life is. Can such a radical thought make sense?
Ask anyone who is involved in Tango, passionately, which is the only way to be involved in it, and that will be the answer.
This attitude in relation to Tango is rooted in the fact that Tango gives you fulfillment, opening you up to the possibility of making your life a work of Art.
Let’s say you’re in Buenos Aires and you’re looking for a class or milonga. Typically, you might do some research using the internet or follow the advice of someone you don’t know that well, which could lead you to missing out on what only Buenos Aires has to offer in relation to Tango.
What makes you a good dancer, and Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires
December 30, 2015
The Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires is an enterprise entirely dedicated to Tango. It is through Tango that we understand culture. It is a way of life. It is a way to see our own lives in the context of realities such as society, individuality, beauty, responsibility.
These words seem abstract, but they manifest as real problems in our everyday life.
Tango lends the experience of past generations, gives us the perspective of how people in the past lived and danced, of the mistakes they made in the process. It offers us the opportunity to make better choices in the present, and through our sense of responsibility, personal strength and awareness, to make life more beautiful.
Tango shows us that our individual lives are meaningless without a connection to past generations and traditions that link us to others in the present and throughout history. Passion for life, which we can only achieve and sustain through our subjectivity, is necessary to give meaning to our lives and make valuable contributions to society.
What I am describing can be found in the lyrics of many tango songs. For example, below is a verse from “Canción de rango”:
“Que bailen los que vienen pa’ bailar,
que escuchen los que quieran escuchar.
Pa’ todos hay un tango acompasado,
pretencioso y retobado reinando en mi ciudad.”
This first verse talks about society, made up of uncountable individuals driven by their own passions: dancing, enjoying the music… there is something in tango for everyone. Tango is for all.
“Yo canto porque vivo la emoción
del tango cadencioso y compadrón.”
In these lyrics the individual presents his motives: passion, emotions. Still, these passions are related to something that transcends him as an isolated individual: Tango.
“Yo canto cuando alguno pega el grito
que hay un tango compadrito
buscando un corazón.”
This verse demonstrates how he is moved by responsibility of responding to a call from Tango and others.
If you listen to any rendition of this song, you will be moved by the total commitment of the orchestra/singer into the composition. The authors, Suñé and Kaplún, really left the ball ready for a goal in this match. I enjoy all of them: Demare/Arrieta, Biagi/Acuna, Tanturi/Castillo, Caló/Rufino, Pugliese/Córdoba, Troilo/Goyeneche. I just discovered the last one: http://youtu.be/Lo51tqpkLSk
I am not going to talk about the dance. You must do it, if you want to know anything about it. It is pure beauty.
The Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires is based in Buenos Aires, where it has a staff of regular and guest maestros such as Olga Besio, Blas Catrenau and Luciana Guido, Myriam Pincen, Néstor La Vitola, Verónica Olivera, among many more, and Néstor Pellicciaro, who is also one of the co-directors.
The other co-director (and author of this article) is me, Marcelo Solis, working in San Francisco Bay Area.
ETBA also has branches in Europe and Asia.
Since tango is a globalized phenomenon that is rooted in Buenos Aires, we promote a strong connection to the roots of tango at each branch abroad. Teachers at every location organize classes and events keeping in mind that their goal is to see their students dancing in Buenos Aires’ milongas, helping them to integrate to the milonguero culture.
In order to make that possible, every year, the Escuela organizes several tours to the Tango capital. See more information about tours here…
I recently came back from Buenos Aires where I was guiding my tour.
The experience was very positive, and all of the participants became better dancers. That makes me feel deeply happy and proud.
And now the question is… what makes you a good dancer?
My answer in the framework of Tango:
1. To be madly in love with the music. Tango originates as a dance first, and then a specific music was associated to it. The first milongueros would dance using the particular technique of dancing based on the embrace, to the rhythms in vogue at the second half of the 1800’s: waltz, polka, habanera, that came to the port of Buenos Aires from abroad, and a local rhythm called milonga.
Musicians were itinerant at the time. They played improvisations based on popular melodies, and received payment directly from the dancers. The musicians who paid attention to the dancers learned to play to their cadence, the natural inertia of a couple dancing embraced. That was greatly appreciated by the dancers and rewarded with a greater pay. That is how tango evolved as a musical genre.
This process went on, with a period where tango was partially disassociated from the dance; the tendency that today, in retrospect, we relate to Carlos Gardel, a singer, and Julio De Caro, a violin player, composer and director. It lasted until 1935, when Juan D’Arienzo initiated the Golden Era of Tango by reconnecting tango to its roots as a dance.
The music from that period (that continued strong for a decade, and faded out gradually after –although never completely disappearing) is played nowadays in the milongas in Buenos Aires.
That is why it is not possible to understand Tango without passionate love for its music. The music tells you how to dance, tells you what tango is. To read more about the history of Tango.
2. To have the patience to achieve a great control of your movement, up to the “subtleties” level. Be never satisfied with what you are already able to do. However, do not allow the quest for improvement deprive you and your partner of the joy of dancing.
3. To have the passion and the commitment to practice, to put aside other things and make time to practice. Nothing will change or improve in your dance without physically doing and repeating your exercises in order to build up the necessary good habits. I heard people saying that this is neurotic obsessive behavior, an addiction, and other similar things. My response to them is: when an activity makes you stronger, wiser, more aware and alert, healthier in general, it cannot be classified so negatively. Although, for some, it may be an escapism... But that is not Tango.
4. To be generous, pay more attention to your possibilities and opportunities to give, rather than calculating how much you would receive. I tell you right away: it may be a long time before you can truly enjoy it. It is always going to be a work in progress that is never finished. It will ask you to be always in alert mode, to consider more what you can do and how much you can give, not how much good it is given to you. From the moment you go to your first class or your first milonga, the right attitude will be “I come to participate”, rather than “I come to receive”.
5. To have the desire to share, pay attention to your partner’s joy, to dance “with” your partner. That is the same principle stated in 4, but on the partnership level. At the couple level, tango is made by two people. They have to act as accomplices, give support to each other, encourage their respective strengths, provide support and a friendly challenge in relation to their respective weaknesses.
6. To respect the other people's space. Tango is intimate, but should not be invasive. That is why, to give one example, “cabeceo” is so essential to tango: you ought to ask a partner from a distance if she or he would allow you to get so intimately closed. A milonguera or milonguero has to be aware of the following: a good dancer is clean, well mannered, respectful, strong, considerate and gentle.
7. To be humble, even when you have a lot to be proud about. The greatest of the greatest dancers keep learning.
8. To be aware that Tango is not only “your” Tango, to acknowledge that it has belonged to others before you, to respect what Tango is, so your love for Tango grows on the soil of what has already been done. That implies your acting in order to know tango better, its history, the people who made Tango their lives.
9. To assume responsibility that others who come after you will get to know Tango from you.
I would like you to tell me what other elements, in your opinion, make a good dancer. Please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Humans are the only known beings that walk upright. Our walk is as characteristic as our rational mind. They are related.
You can know about other people by looking at the way they walk. You can know yourself better if you can see yourself and see the way you walk. Others can know about you by paying attention at the way you walk.
Tango asks you to be honest, and show your honest self. Very probably, at the beginning you do not recognize yourself in what appears when you allow yourself to be natural, let it go, and you may not like it! But, good news, once you know yourself and how you actually move, you can change it, you can shape it, and you can work on making yourself more elegant without pretending. And that is going to make you stronger. And for that, you will be thankful to Tango forever.
Dear students, milongueras and milongueros,
I’ve being very busy since I came back from Buenos Aires. I had plans to be in BA right now, but so much is going on, I am still here.
Among many things that I had no time to do writing about tango is the one I missed the most.
In the meantime, all that kept me busy –mainly, teaching new students- gave me new experiences, new approaches, and new thoughts about how to present tango to those who are curious about it, and show up to a tango class for the first time.
Tango is passion.
A new student asked me in the middle of her first private class if I thought that she was going to be able to dance tango. I answered that we were dancing to the music of Juan D’Arienzo Orchestra, recorded between 1940 and 1943, with Héctor Mauré singing and a 20 year’s old Fulvio Salamanca at the piano. I told her that Mauré used to be a professional boxer, until a bad punch made him quit boxing and dedicate himself exclusively to singing. I told her that if she gets to love tango to the point of finding that information really interesting, relevant, then she would dance, otherwise, not. That I could not order her to “love it”, same as it would not be possible to order someone to fall in love with a person. Whether she falls in love with tango or not is nothing I can do about.
I cannot make a new student passionate about tango. I can share my passion with my students. But many would judge me crazy, obsessed, neurotic, and I would reply that while you judge, you cannot dance.
Dancing tango implies dancing every single note, every nuance in the expressivity of each musician of each song. It takes knowing those songs and those musicians as you know your closest relatives and friends.
I am satisfied if the new student learns, at least, to respect tango for what it is.
I am very patient. Tango made me so.
You do not have to rush in getting to know tango. Tango is infinite. Also, you have to enjoy your path in becoming a real milonguera or milonguero, enjoy it the way you enjoy a tasty flavored meal, even for the moments it may get too spicy.
I will not say “I told you that already.” I will always present the concepts you need to know and apply, as if it were the first time I am presenting them to you. Repetition is needed, but we can make repetition a non-boring exercise if we do it to the wonderful music that tango is.
I promise not to say:
“Just”. Sometimes I’ve being in the situation of explaining a move that is simple in appearance, and the student says “Just that!?”, or “Ok, just that”, or something similar. Each single move is very, very, very important. Every little part of a move is something you have to feel fully.
“I got it”. Each move in tango requires decades to be understood. We have to begin somewhere, and I will patiently show you the move. But you probably won’t be able to see it all. So, please, do not undervalue it.
You need to be very humble to learn to tango. Please, accept that you start from ignorance, and have respect for the one that shares with you something he loves a lot. It is like introducing you to my family.
Now, I remember a joke: One boy says to another boy – Look at that woman! She has a moustache!!!
The other boy responds – She is my mom.
And the first boy clarifies –The moustache looks very well on her!!!
What can we do to contribute to the health and continued development of Bay Area Tango community?
September 7, 2013
Dear milongueros and milongueras,
Tango is fun. It makes us happy. But Tango is also RESPONSIBILITY.
What can we do to contribute to the health and continued development of Bay Area Tango community?
Here is my answer:
Milongueros and milongueras: 1- Dance better. 2- Behave better. 3- Dress better.
Milonga organizers: 1- Choose good DJs. 2- Give milongueros the necessary set up a milonga should have. 3- Pay attention to what actually happens on the dance floor. 4- Get to know, greet at the entrance, and say goodbye at the exit, to everyone coming to the milonga. 5- Introduce new people at the milonga to the regulars. 6- Travel to Buenos Aires and go to traditional milongas with high level of dancing to see how things are organized and run there.
DJs: 1- Go to Buenos Aires and visit milongas to learn how to do their job, not one time, but several times a year.
Teachers: 1- Stop trying to attract customers by showing them steps inappropriate to the milonga, and therefore, to Tango itself. 2- Go to the milongas, and show their students and the community that the way they teach is the way they dance at the milongas. 3- Go to Buenos Aires not one, but several times a year, study there with the milongueros, meaning: the ones that dance Tango. Prove themselves to have their place in the wide Tango community, and not to be mere local instructors without any connection to Buenos Aires, and therefore, to Tango.
To follow these guidelines, we will get together and put them in practice in all my classes and events through the Bay Area.
I am looking forward to seeing you and dancing with you.
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!
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. 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…
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.
Seven tips for women who want to dance more in the milonga.
December 5, 2011
Written by Marcelo Castelo and published in ArgenTango magazine #2.
Translated by Olga Matveeva
Throughout the years milonga organizers hear continuous complaints from women: "Tonight I danced very little", "There are no men", or "I am not asked to dance".
The reality is, in general, in many milongas the quantity of women is larger than men. Adding that the men also take breaks between tandas to get a drink or perhaps smoke a cigarette, it lowers the women's possibility of getting a dance. However, women also wonder: what they contribute from their part to the fact that they dance less or more?
To help all those women here are some suggestions that, albeit obvious, are worth repeating, and, perhaps, would increase their possibility of dancing in the milonga.
1) Learn to look
It is known that in the traditional milonga the invitation is made by the man by means of cabeceo. So it is essential for the woman to learn to observe and notice these looks and gestures. Sometimes we see women in the beginning of the tanda getting distracted, not paying attention to the man's signals, so the latter changes his mind and chooses to invite someone else. In other cases, for shyness or intimidation, women refuse to look directly at men, and end up sitting. Hence, stay alert under the men's glances, especially at the beginning of each tanda.
2) Put on your best face
The milonga is a place where people want to relax, forget their everyday problems. For that reason, men will keep away from a woman with a sour facial expression. Your most attractive feature is your smile. Be in a happy mood, others will perceive it. A good moment to show your cheerful disposition would be a salsa break. In my personal opinion, this is the most important advice.
3) Care where you sit in the room
Often women keep asking to be seated in places that are far from being the best in order to get more dances. Being in the first row, closest to the dance floor is not always the best. When there are no men on the sides or in front within reasonable distance, women will have to wait till someone walks closer to their table. Once you got a seat, study the best angle to direct the glances at prospective partners.
4) Do not always expect the best
That one illustrates very well the paradox of the dancer: the better one learns to dance, the less possibilities occur to apply it, for the lack of suitable partners. It is inevitable one wishes to dance with somebody better than him/her, but if it were always the case, nobody would ever dance with anyone! Try to go to the milonga with no expectations beyond having some good time, and do not get super selective with the occasional partners. Also, dancing is not everything, lets not reject the opportunity to meet interesting people just because they do not fulfill our expectations as dancers.
5) Improve your dance level, take lessons
A recurrent saying among milongueros is that everyone believes to be a better dancer than he or she really is. It does not matter what you think about your dance level, it matters what your partners think. When one dances better, she gets invited more. Therefore, take lessons!
6) To be and to appear
Any woman who frequents the milongas cannot help but notice: when enters a well dressed man, wearing an elegant dark suit, impeccable shoes, he always attracts women's attention. Same goes for women. Hence, if you go to a milonga where people don't know you, the more you look the part, the better. Dressing with elegance, carrying yourself with poise, behaving like a milonguera will secure you a number of invitations to the dance floor. Of course, all that has to come with a decent level of dance.
7) Become a regular
If you jump a lot from one milonga to another, know that you always have to pay "the floor due" before people start recognizing you. Men tend to invite partners they know, otherwise they wait for someone else to ask a woman, so they can observe her dance level. Upon entering the milonga, give greetings to the men you had danced with in other places. Becoming a regular in a place is the most convenient way of securing dance invitations ( providing you paid attention to all the above mentioned advice).