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Tango and Buenos Aires: A Living Tradition Evolving with Time

Tango and Buenos Aires: A Living Tradition Evolving with Time

Marcelo Solis and Nestor La Vitola at Argentine Tango Tour to Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is the World Capital of Tango and its birthplace.

I wish to share with you the friendship and appreciation of the milongueros that I am lucky to enjoy. We all feel Tango in our bodies. Each move, each new milonga we go to, each partner we dance with, and each new learning experience reveals that Tango belongs to us, and we belong to Tango. It is a beautiful feeling, and one of the key reasons why Tango is so appealing is its haunting rhythm. However, Tango also belongs to others, to the people we share it with. 

Argentine Tango dancer milonguero Chino Perico with Marcelo Solis at the entrance of a milonga in Buenos Aires in 2023

If we do not pay attention, we may take an egotistic, self-centered, selfish approach to Tango. That would leave us with nothing or with something we may call Tango, but it is not.

Among the others we share Tango with are those who have danced it before us.

Most of them are not with us anymore, but many are still alive and dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires. Would you miss the opportunity to meet them, see them dance, chat with them, and dance with them? If you let it pass you by, it will be a significant loss for Tango, especially for “your” Tango, the one in your turn you will share with those who come after you.

Argentine Tango dancer milonguero Jorge Kero with Marcelo Solis at a milonga in Buenos Aires

Originally published in September 2013, this post celebrated the enduring vibrancy of Tango and the unique cultural fabric of Buenos Aires, the world capital of Tango. At that time, the city was alive with the spirits of several milongueros—veteran tango dancers who had been the custodians of this rich tradition for decades. These seasoned dancers shared their passion and mastery in the milongas (tango dance events) of Buenos Aires, offering a direct link to the historical roots.

As of today, the scene has evolved. While the essence of Tango is deeply embedded in the city’s art, the ranks of these elder milongueros have thinned significantly. The remaining few carry an even greater responsibility: they are not just transmitters of dance techniques but living symbols of Tango’s soul and history. 

The image features three men of different generations, all notable Argentine tango creators and milongueros, posing for a selfie in a room with a red light ambiance. From left to right, Marcelo Solis with gray hair, Blas Catrenau in the center wearing a dark suit and light blue shirt, and Brian Mujica on the right with a buzz cut and black shirt. All three are smiling at the camera, symbolizing a joyful connection across generations within the tango community.

Their presence at milongas has become a rare treasure, offering invaluable experiences to both locals and visitors who seek to connect with the true spirit of Buenos Aires.

Despite the dwindling number of original milongueros, the tango community continues to thrive, driven by a blend of reverence for its origins and a spirited determination to ensure its future. New generations of dancers bring their interpretations and innovations while still drawing on the deep well of tradition that makes the Argentine Tango unique, memorable, and universally admired.

The continuity and change within the Buenos Aires tango scene reflect a broader narrative of cultural preservation and evolution. As the cityscape shifts and modernizes, the Tango remains a steadfast emblem of Argentine identity, celebrated not just in Buenos Aires but worldwide.

Whether you are a seasoned dancer or a curious observer, engaging with this living tradition is a profound way to experience the soul of Buenos Aires.

Each dance, song, and encounter at a milonga offers a heartfelt insight into why Tango is much more than a dance—a way of life that continually adapts, resonates, and inspires.

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Understanding Connection in Argentine Tango

Understanding Connection in Argentine Tango

Marcelo Solis dancing Argentine Tango with Mimi on a colorful chrome light background

Before stepping onto the dance floor for the first song of a tanda at a milonga, introspection becomes key.

My energy and what I bring to my partner shape our dance, influenced by factors like sleep from the previous night, health, nutrition, etc. Tango, to me, is an offering of generosity, a crucial element to forging a deep connection.

Generosity mirrors the joy of giving unexpected gifts to friends, enhancing our bonds. This philosophy extends to Tango. Preparing for a milonga isn’t just about physical readiness but achieving emotional and mental balance. I avoid bringing negative emotions into the dance space, striving instead to share joy and positivity.

Personal grooming and a relaxed approach en route to the milonga are parts of my ritual, symbolizing respect for the event and participants. Connection in Tango starts with self-awareness, feeling grounded, and in tune with my partner’s presence.

I value dancing with those who share a common love for Tango, including students, as it transcends mere instruction, evolving into meaningful friendships. These relationships are based on mutual joy rather than obligation, a principle I emphasize when teaching the concept of connection.

Teaching in small groups or private lessons allows for personalized guidance, focusing on comfort and connection with oneself and one’s partner. Every individual and couple has unique challenges and growth paths, underscoring Tango’s absence of a one-size-fits-all approach.

As an illustration of profound connection, I reflect on Osvaldo and Coca Cartery’s dance at the “Porteño y bailarín” milonga anniversary in Buenos Aires. The audience’s familiarity with each other and the dancers showcases the deep, communal bonds within the Tango community, a testament to the essence of connection in Argentine Tango.

In my next article, I will talk about musicality. For now, I leave you with this concept:

The music is your friend too.

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Mastering the Art of Argentine Tango: A Roadmap to Dance Excellence

Mastering the Art of Argentine Tango: A Roadmap to Dance Excellence

Marcelo Solis dancing Argentine Tango with Mimi at our beginner class.

Building Your Tango Foundation: The Power of Solo Practice and Musicality

Regular practice incorporating walking, weight changes, pauses, pivots, turns, “paradas” (stops), “calecitas” (merry-go-rounds), and embellishments serves as the cornerstone of your dancing freedom.

The best part? You can enhance these crucial elements without a partner by your side.

But that’s not all. Argentine Tango demands solo dedication in various aspects.

Musicality, for instance, plays a pivotal role in your tango journey.

To hone your musicality, immerse yourself in active listening to Tango music, delving into the intricacies of what you hear.

This newfound understanding will elevate your dancing to new heights.

The forthcoming tips are universally applicable, whether you’re engaged in solo practice or dancing alongside your partner:

1- Enhance Your Walking Skills:

Unlock the Potential in Your Walking Technique Initiate your practice sessions focusing on walking.

Explore four different walking speeds: regular, fast, slow, and very slow.

Begin by mastering the slow pace, allocating 4 counts for each step.

Next, dedicate time to practicing at a regular pace, aligning your steps with each downbeat of the music.

To work on fast-walking skills, engage in what’s commonly referred to as the “corrida.”

This involves walking to a rapid rhythm following a quick-quick-slow pattern or a down-up-down sequence.

Tango invites you to transform your walk – and, by extension, your entire life – into a masterpiece of artistry.

More walking exercises…

2- Change Of Weight:

A ‘change of weight’ is essentially a nuanced form of walking. It takes place in one spot without any physical displacement.

When you begin your dance, consider incorporating at least one change of weight to infuse elegance into your movements. However, avoid excessive changes, as moderation is key.

Here, you’ll discover a selection of exercises aimed at refining and enhancing your ability to execute seamless changes of weight:


Approach these changes with a composed demeanor. When dancing with your partner, your execution of this element should convey a soothing and serene presence to them.

More change of weight exercises…

3- Pauses:

Pauses rank among the paramount components of Tango.

While honing your techniques, actively seek instances where you can incorporate pauses.

For instance, consider incorporating a pause during a salida to the side, also known as a “salida in 2,” as a prime example.

You can make a pause in position 3:

After change of direction:

4- Pivots:

To refine your pivot technique, you can commence with bar exercises.

In the absence of a bar, utilize a chair, preferably one with a high backrest, to assist in practicing forward and backward ochos. Place your hands on the back of the chair for support.

Afterward, push your limits by practicing ochos without relying on the bar or chair for support.

Work on forward and backward ochos with both displacements and without any displacement during your practice sessions.

5- Mastering the Art of Tango Turns: A Guide to Five Essential Techniques

One of the most effective methods for enhancing your turning abilities in Argentine Tango is through chair exercises. These exercises provide an excellent platform for refining your technique and balance, making them valuable to your practice routine. Incorporating chair exercises into your training regimen can significantly improve your turns and elevate your overall dance performance.

Chair exercises offer a controlled environment where you can focus on the precise mechanics of turning. They allow you to work on your posture, balance, and footwork, which is essential for executing smooth and graceful turns in Tango. The support provided by the chair also ensures that you can practice safely and confidently, gradually building your skills.

Find a sturdy chair with a high backrest to get started with chair exercises for turns. Position it in an open space with ample room to move around. Here are some essential exercises you can incorporate:

And exercises involving the 1-2-3 structure of the turns:

Ensure that you practice all exercises in both clockwise and counterclockwise turning directions.

Engage in chair exercises but without the use of an actual chair.

Another element frequently incorporated into turns is the “rulo.”

And “enrosques” movements:

6- Exploring the Technique of “Paradas” (stops):

Developing control over both your own inertia and your partner’s is a crucial skill in Argentine Tango.

A valuable practice method is to challenge yourself to halt your movement at any point within the first five elements previously mentioned.

A classic illustration of stops is the “sanguchito” or “mordida” move:

7- Unlocking the Elegance of the “Calecita” in Argentine Tango

In this element, the follower must align her axis over one of her feet, enabling the leader to maintain a continuous pivot in one direction.

See an example:

8- Elevating Your Tango with Exquisite Embellishments:

A solid foundation in your dance forms the basis for its beauty.

Think of embellishments as a natural expression of your well-honed technique rather than mere add-ons or flashy movements.

It’s crucial to understand that no matter how many embellishments you incorporate into your dance, if your foundational walk is lacking, it will detract from the overall appeal.

Embellishments should seamlessly emerge from the groundwork you’ve laid in your dance practice. They are not isolated tricks but rather an integral part of your dance vocabulary, enhancing the elegance and expression of your movements. So, focus on building a strong foundation first, and let embellishments naturally enrich your dance as an organic extension of your skills.

Here are a few instances of embellishments, starting with “Cepillo” (brush):

“Rulos” (circles):

“Cross and go”:

9- The Art of Musicality:

Elevating your musicality involves actively immersing yourself in the world of Argentine Tango music.

Listen to Tango music now!

Osvaldo Pugliese, Argentine Tango orchestra.

Important Considerations to Keep in Mind:

Embrace regular and mindful practice.

Ensure it fills you with joy. By prioritizing your own enjoyment during practice, you cultivate generosity in sharing this joy with your dance partners and fellow dancers on the milonga and class floors.

Furthermore:

Dancing shouldn’t be daunting – It’s a journey of joy, creativity, and self-discovery.

Dancing is your time for amusement, self-expression, and relaxation, a chance to socialize and unwind in a friendly environment. To dance with a sense of freedom and confidence, you’ll need to embrace a challenge greater than Tango itself – the journey of classes and practice sessions.

Moreover:

Prioritize self-care for peak performance in your dancing.

    1. Incorporate stretching and regular exercise into your routine.
    2. Cultivate healthy eating habits and ensure adequate sleep for enhanced dance performance.

To Summarize:

Dancing Argentine Tango offers a path to not only organize your life but also to empower yourself and discover meaningful life goals.

Ultimately, it’s a journey towards making life more beautiful.

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Enhance Your Tango Dancing Skills with These Effective Exercises

Enhance Your Tango Dancing Skills with These Effective Exercises

Becoming a skilled Tango dancer takes dedication and practice. Try these video exercises to refine your technique and elevate your performance:

Mastering Weight Transfers:

Learn the art of seamless weight shifts for graceful movements.

Perfecting the Tango Walk:

Transform your walk into a captivating Tango experience.

The Basic Box Pattern:

Explore foundational choreographic patterns for a solid dance base.

Mastering Movement Techniques:

Refine your dance skills by focusing on the subtleties of Tango movements.

Mastering Pivots:

Elevate your Tango expertise by honing your pivoting skills.

Enhancing Body Awareness:

Cultivate a deeper understanding of your body’s motion for a more fluid dance experience.

Constant improvements

Being a good dancer requires you to manage your time to maintain an active and aware relationship with your body.

Bar and Chair Exercises:

Engage in effective exercises tailored for enhancing your tango prowess.

Molinete

Learn essential techniques for executing flawless turns in Argentine Tango.

Expand your body’s potential and improve your tango skills by incorporating these exercises into your routine.

With dedication and perseverance, you’ll elevate your Tango prowess and become a better dancer.

See all video lessons

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Why do we choose to dance Argentine Tango with some people and not with others?

Why do we choose to dance with some people and not with others?

Argentine Tango dancing by Marcelo Solis and Mimi in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The first thing we should clarify is that possibly nothing in dance is absolutely conscious and voluntary and that chance always plays the leading role; I would even dare to generalize this introduction to all the processes of life and to everything that exists; but I am going to conform and remain in a rather humble place (which, coming from an Argentine, may arouse some incredulity), speaking only about the dance, restricting myself to a particular case of human life – although I would like you to know that I think that the dance (in this case the dance of the Tango, which I consider the kind of dance that is more dance than any other dance) is human life par excellence.
 
When we grow older and wise – if we weren’t fortunate enough to be born wise – our most practical, sound wisdom turns out to be that we shouldn’t spend our energies trying to control what is beyond our possibilities.
We can’t handle much more than ourselves, and what little we can control other than ourselves, we achieve anyway through great control of our actions and attitudes.
As we learn to apply this general principle in the particular cases that the development of time brings to us, Tango dancers, that is, we milongueros, find ourselves facing a problem that is not small: dancing Tango implies a strong dependence on other people, which, we continually learn, we cannot control.
 
Since the only thing we can access some control is ourselves, we learn to be more and more careful and meticulous in choosing the people to whom we grant the privilege of becoming dependent on them, of giving ourselves.
 
So we could talk here about establishing a contract with these people, a pact that has the beauty of not being manifest, not written, not spoken, and that can be freely terminated and renewed by any of the parties, a relationship of privilege and freedom that we might as well call friendship; which could not be objectively defined, with for example a list of principles and requirements. This contract, this friendship, will be constantly defined and re-defined by the subjectivities involved.
 
I am referring not only to the people with whom we dance; but also to the people with whom we like to chat, laugh, share or sit close; because in the milonga, what is our manifest objective, intuitive or involuntary, is to inspire ourselves, which is sometimes explained in words like “being happy,” and at the same time inspire and cause happiness in our colleagues.
 
On occasions we have danced with someone with whom we have felt such a connection, such an openness to express ourselves, such an encouragement to reveal our maximum capacities in the dance, that everything that was not dancing disappeared, and the world and the other couples on the dance floor were there in an almost imperceptible way; everything found its meaning and even the mistakes became necessary to that dance, so much so that, now we know, they were not mistakes but capricious choreographic creations, daughters of chance and of our strength, intelligence and preparation to integrate everything that happens in the thread of our choreography, of our improvisation, like pearls and precious stones, and exotic and unknown flowers and creatures, that nature made appear there, for us, for our enjoyment.

Will it happen again? And with the same person?

There are no guarantees for this. Neither people nor any code establishes it. Only the freedom inherent in a friendship that could come from a joyous and satisfying common experience.
 
However, even if we want that moment, that experience, and that state to return, we already know very well, if we are realistic, that nothing happens in the same way again. So, the dancer proposes a new goal each time: to wish and act following that wish, that the next time the dance, our dance, will be better.
 
And here we find that paradoxical problem: will the other person, the other people, want the same thing, something called better dancing, and that would mean at least approximately the same thing, or would it be complementary to what I call with those exact words?
 
This is a significant problem, and it appears here because dancing Tango is not at all something superficial. On the contrary, it requires we have the courage and the predisposition to face it, dedicate time to it, learn, study, observe, investigate, question, practice, create, do, recreate, and do countless times again, without worrying about quantities, because we could not dance Tango without being generous, starting with being generous with ourselves, with our living bodies, with our joy of being alive.

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Marcelo Solis dancing Argentine Tango with Mimi

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–and keep getting better.

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