Tango is a social and partner dance

Dancing at Cafe FloridaTango is a social and partner dance that originated in the city of Buenos Aires, where, together with its music, poetry and culture, the population consider it their identity.

To learn it, you will embrace not only your partner, but Tango itself, its music, culture, and home city.

In my classes, I will guide you into the beauty of Tango music, how to interpret this music with your body, how to enter the dance floor and stay there while you dance. I am going to guide you into the embrace of your partner, into the society of the milonga (Tango dance party), into the culture of Tango, and into the city of Buenos Aires.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, when Tango appeared for the first time, the main social dance was the waltz.  Tango continues and intensifies many of the elements already present in the waltz, for example, taking the proximity between partners to the limit and making them dance in close embrace. Another element already present in the waltz is the line of dance, in which all the couples on the dance floor circulate in a counterclockwise direction. Tango also incorporated this, but now the couples do not have to be continuously moving. Now, dancing Tango, they have more freedom and a more creative use of the space.

In order to make you understand “with your body” these characteristics of Tango, and educate your sensitivity in regard to these and many other elements that shape Tango to be what it is: “A unique manifestation of the human potential”, I will train you with exercises and concepts.

If you have the desire, the passion, the stamina, the perseverance and the necessary patience, I will help you be a part of Tango, to be Tango yourself, to be a “milonguero” or “milonguera”.

In response to those who expect to learn patterns and fireworks in my classes, and get disappointed because I am not giving these kids such unhealthy candies, and ask me with a disappointed tone:  Is then Tango “JUST” walking?

Yes! If you got nothing inside you:  no emotions, no passion, no feelings, if you are an empty shell, if you are a robot that only works and tries to take advantage of everybody… yes… it’s “JUST” walking, as you expressed.

But, if you are a HUMAN BEING, with capital letters, is not.

Your walk is yourself. The way you walk expresses who you are.

If your walk is only utilitarian, your whole life probably is the life of a tool.

I am looking forward to seeing you and dancing with you soon,

Marcelo Solis

The Tango Journey

Dear students, friends, milongueros and milongueras: How long since you have started your Tango journey? A while ago I had a conversation with a student in my class (not one of my regular students). She complained about studying Tango (although not continuously) for three years, but not achieving very much of it. I asked her what milongas she had being going to, since I never saw her in any milonga. I realized from her answer that she was not a regular in the milongas. Well… if after three years of studying Tango you still do not go to milongas… something is not right. Another student (a regular one but returning from a month long break) was feeling a little sad because I gave her corrections about her posture: the basic “please lean forward a little bit, find a soft point of contact with your partner’s face…” which is often difficult to do for ballroom dancers. At the end of the class she said with a crying intonation that she felt her dancing was not improving. I reminded her that the correction about her posture was the same I gave her at her first class (a year ago?), that we had done many exercises in classes, that I gave her drills so she could practice by herself to incorporate these details in the posture, and that I gave her the same correction over and over again many times. 1.Posture is essential. Why? When we dance Tango we engage in a multiple faceted experience. If you like a simple description, it is like a diamond, but furthermore, for me, it is like a “string” in the “string theory” of physics, with outside and inside dimensions. One of these facets is purely mechanical: a couple dancing Tango makes a mechanical system. Our posture is, in essence, the way we set up a fundamental piece of that mechanical system. If a part of your car is not well placed or not well shaped, your car won’t run. 2.I can teach you, showing what is necessary. I can give you a set of different exercises to do. I can make you do these exercises at a class, but nobody can change your posture or make any other necessary changes but yourself, as well as nobody can do your dance but yourself. 3.That takes us to an important realization you have to make in the very beginning of your Tango journey: you will need to make changes in yourself, many kind of changes, many self-explorations, many plain acceptances of corrections, many learning curves. All that will require a great deal of courage. Tango is not about satisfying your ego. It is about Tango itself. It is very important to take a minute, and think about what is our goal with Tango. Be aware that you are about to be part of a community. The natural habitat of that community is the milonga. It is not the class. The class is merely a school to prepare you to be at the milongas. It is not the festivals. They make only exceptional moments in the life of a milonguero. It is not the stage, where Tango is as real as a Hollywood movie or a Broadway production is real life. The life of a milonguero consists of everyday milongas. So, we have to make the milongas our wonderful experience if we want to be milongueros. Many of you know how much I love to learn and practice martial arts. In a martial art class, when your teacher is giving you corrections, all the oxygen in your lungs and your brain is taken by the fact that you just tried to beat the other person , or avoiding to be knocked out by him or her. Nothing is left to talking back, giving excuses. So, you just listen. And that is great, fundamentally, because you always learn something when you listen. I understand, you have a life that sometimes gets in the way of your desire of dancing Tango. You have a day job; you are stressed out by many factors like the economy, your health, your children, etcetera, etcetera… What I propose, when you get corrected, is to just listen, consider, and try. Do not come back with excuses. There are way too many excuses not to dance well. Our learning process is not a continuum. I understand that you may be tired. Something might be going on in your life, and you cannot focus on your passion as much as you would like to. However, my job is to do what you pay me for: showing you how to dance Tango. I know that you know all that. I know that you know that I know it. I will be patient. After all, I do what Tango does, something older people in Tango always tell you: “Tango is waiting for you”.

Tango is education

Marcelo Solis at Cafe Florida on New Years EvePerhaps you were asking yourself: Why a Tango School?

When I receive a new student in my class I know that he or she wants to learn to dance. But teaching 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.
So, I must give the new students a sense of Tango as a whole, make them understand that they are learning a culture.
I heard someone calling Tango a “sub-culture”. I do not agree. All the elements I have learned while studying Tango are substantial in the general society, and the broader world culture. I learned the importance of my body as the root of my existence. I learned a lot about my interaction with others, how my happiness or unhappiness affects everybody around me. In sum, I learned that everything I do affects everybody in this world.
I have realized the importance of teaching the beauty of Tango.
In my classes I teach all the elements you may have in your checklist, that every Tango instructor claims to teach. Name your favorite element, I do teach it.
However, more important than the element itself is the meaning that the move carries within.
A week ago, I attended an event related to Tango. I was chatting with a couple. They told me they took some tango classes. They asked me if in my classes I made my student change partners. I replied that, yes, but that it was not obligatory, as I knew many couples liked to remain together during the class.
Then they said they were learning “ganchos” in one class, and that they found uncomfortable doing “ganchos” with other people.
Well, I told them that, anyway, learning “ganchos” did not make much sense because if they went to Buenos Aires’ milongas, they would find out that you were not supposed to perform “ganchos” there.
They were surprised, and, I think, a little incredulous of my assertion. Since they never went to Buenos Aires, they could not tell for sure. But I do.
In my 15 years of teaching Tango in the Bay Area (and 19 years teaching Tango in Argentina and worldwide), I have discovered that the main obstacles in teaching a new student is to overcome all the previous ideas about Tango he or she brings to the class, and change them into what Tango really is.
Now, you are probably asking: What Tango is in reality?
My answer is: Tango is what happens in the milonga. And when I say milonga, my image is that of the very best of the most authentic milongas in Buenos Aires.

This is what guides my instruction, and that is why, along with others who are after the same goal, I created the Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires.

What I get when I pay the entrance fee of the milonga?

When I go to the supermarket, I buy groceries, take them home, and then do with them pretty much whatever I want. 

The same happens with any merchandise I purchase.
If I decide to become a member of a Club, I only take home my membership card , and the pride of belonging to my beloved Club. The Club stays where it is, and I come to the Club for whatever activity (social, sports, etc.) it is for.
When I come to the Club I belong to, I have to observe behavior  For example: taking a shower before getting into the swimming pool, no diving, no smoking…
If I do not follow these guidelines, I will first receive a call, and eventually will be expelled from the Club if I keep ignoring these warnings.
When I come to the milonga, I first pay at the entrance. What am I getting for my money? A dance? A glass of wine? A snack?
I may get all that, but I am also receiving something more important. All these are elements that the organizers of the milonga provide you with the intention of enhancing the experience of attending.
The money I pay at the entrance is used to organize it: pay the rent, arrange the chairs and tables, clear and clean the dance floor; the lighting, the ventilation of the room, the DJ, the sound system, the personnel that takes care of everything, and for all the freebies organizers give you to make you and all the milongueros and milongueras feel more than welcome to the home of Tango.
The milonga is where Tango lives, where Tango is kept alive.
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.
Once we start dancing, we realize that everything we do is dancing. Dancing feels so natural, It makes us feel so at home in our bodies that it makes sense to see all aspects of our life from the point of view of being at the milonga.
The fee we pay at the entrance of the milonga is not the price of what we are getting for that money. The $10 does not make a milonga a profitable business. The true organizers of true milongas do it for passion of Tango, not as a business. With that $10 you just contribute to the necessary setup of the milonga. But in reality the milonga is pretty much made by you.
Since it is you who actually makes the milonga, the milonga will be the way you are: the quality of the dance, the behavior, the outfits of the dancers, the ambiance, all these characteristic of the milonga are what you bring with you.
Not liking the milonga you attend  is comparable with living in a neighborhood that you do not like.
Everyone at the milonga is essential. So everyone must be aware of having  the responsibility of making the milonga a good place, even and especially, for having fun, as we are responsible for the world we live in, and particularly, for being happy.
In that sense, the organizer of the milonga is not the one accountable for how a milonga is.


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
jean.sylvain.negre@gmail.com

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.

Cabeceo

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.

Epilogue

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.