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Our bootcamp-style social tango classes develop your musicality, connection, technique & improvisation, as well as your confidence with milonga etiquette.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

What is tango?

This is a question guaranteed to generate animated debate. In his blog Miguel Angel Pla quotes the great tango poet Discépolo when he says “it’s a feeling that you can dance”..... there is more thought-provoking stuff in Miguel’s musings.

The subtlety and musicality in the dancing of the older milongueros is being appreciated by many more people, helping them to define their meaning of ‘tango’. Take a look at the links to Pocho & Nellie, & the late Ricardo Vidort y Liz Haight, to see examples of how “less is more”. However, it’s not just the old guard, as Ney Melo & Jennifer Bratt’s Poema illustrates.

Some of the words that come to mind when people talk about tango include, “connection”, “the embrace”, “elegance”, “musicality”, “passion”. Marcela Durán personifies the latter in a stage performance of A Evaristo Carriego with Carlos Gavito.

Feel free to give your opinions by writing a comment to this posting, but just one more thing … consider what Carmencita Calderón might mean to the culture of tango. Firstly, watch her in a 1933 movie with "El Cachafaz", then sit back and absorb the significance of her dancing at her 100 years birthday celebration!


Tuesday, 13 November 2007

BsAs milongas from the woman´s perspective

Well here´s my view on how to make the most of the milonga - at least at the milongas where Bob and I choose to go in separately. Some milongas lend themselves to this, whereas others are more suited to couples.

If we were to enter and be seated together at any milonga, there would be a few implications and consequences: we would be seen as a couple, dancing only with each other and therefore usually seated in the area for couples. Eye contact across the dancefloor for the ¨cabeceo¨ is not required here, for obvious reasons, so the location in the milonga does not lend itself to meeting other potential dance partners. In fact to try to use the cabeceo from a couples table would send quite confusing messages to a local milonguero!

So when we choose to attend a milonga separately:
  • We enter, pay and are seated separately in the women´s and men´s areas respectively
  • Soon after, I visit the ladies loo and change into my dance shoes, as it´s considered bad form to change them in the milonga itself. Although I´ve seen people do it, your awareness and respect for the codes of the milonga will be noted by others if you prepare yourself for the milonga in the bathroom. Some women undergo a complete tranformation from their day-to-day persona by the time they enter the milonga
  • I find it´s important to watch the dancers for a while, to take in the mood of the place and importantly, to identify potential dance partners. Contrary to common belief, it´s not just up to the man to select dance partners in the traditional milonga.
  • Yes, that´s right, I am an active participant in choosing a dance partner, but I never approach a man directly and ask him to dance, or vice versa. That would be asking for a public refusal and embarassment for both parties. No, it´s all in the eyes.
  • My cabeceo process starts with appraising potential dance partners in action, showing discreet approval as they dance past, perhaps with a smile. My body language when seated is open and shows I´m interested in dancing. Even if I´m chatting to the lady next to me, it will not be an in-depth conversation, which would close me off from eye contact with the men, unless of course, I´m not interested in dancing that tanda.
  • Bob will ask me to dance early in the piece (via the cabeceo, of course) to show that we are both capable dancers who also respect the milonga conventions, and won´t cause embarassment to other potential partners. This includes using appropriate floorcraft, which does not interfere with other dancers: no ganchos, high boleos, long steps on a crowded floor, etc. At the end of the tanda, he accompanies me back to my table before returning to his.
  • When a new tanda starts and I like the music, I will discreetly scan the room to see if a dance partner of my choosing is available. If our eyes meet and and the nod is exchanged, he will approach my table. At this point, I wait until he is close enough to me to be sure I wasn´t mistaken and the woman next to me was actually the one he wanted to dance with. So I don´t stand up until I´m sure, thus avoiding embarassment all round. I´ve seen some women point to themselves at this point, as if to say¨Did you mean me?¨ But I prefer the wait-and-see approach, so no one is the wiser if there was a misunderstanding.
    This discreet selection give all parties a chance to select partners according to their comfort levels without the embarassment of overt refusals.
  • On the other hand, if I don´t feel like dancing and/or no suitable partners are available, I ensure that my body language indicates I´m not dancing at this stage, eg. by watching the couples on the dance floor, listening to the music, and definitely not seeking out eye-contact with the men seated in their area.
  • Occasionally someone may try to ask for a dance directly, but I tend to politely refuse. Unless I am sure I will be comfortable dancing with him, I would be putting myself in a potentially embarrassing position in front of the milonga, and I would have no-one to blame but myself. And it´s true, everyone sees everything at the milonga.
  • Oh, and I should add that presenting myself well for the milonga is important. It´s no secret that it helps to take time to dress appropriately, etc.
  • On the other hand, when sharing a table with friends, some of these codes are relaxed, for obvious reasons.


Thursday, 1 November 2007

Making the most of BsAs milongas

It´s every foreigner´s desire to "dance with the locals", but if you´re a couple, there are some adjustments to make. Here are some tips that worked for me (& therefore, for Pat):
  • we enter the milonga separately, which means that I´ll be seated at a table with other men; I also make a quick trip to the toilet to change my shoes
  • I watch the dancers for a while - maybe 2 tandas - to get the feel of the milonga and to identify potential dance partners
  • it´s been a good idea to dance with Pat early in the milonga, so that others can assess our ability, style, and musicality - important if my use of the cabeceo is to be successful
  • the cabeceo is my only means of inviting women to dance - a direct approach can mean an embarassing refusal! In the larger milongas, I´m able to walk around a bit in order to catch the eye of a woman I wanted to dance with
  • at each milonga, it takes a while to become known, and I simply have to be patient and build up my reputation in order for women to, in reality, invite me to dance via the cabeceo
  • once my invitation had been accepted, it´s time to put into action some more of the codes that Gustavo Benzecry Saba wrote about in his book "La pista del abrazo". I walk around the perimeter of the dance space until I reached my partner - and only then will she stand up. This also means it´s clear to the woman that it is her that I´m approaching, and not someone near her
  • after a brief "hola", my next move is crucial in givng my partner confidence in my ability to dance well with her. The embrace is a complete story in itself - and it´s a defining moment in this tanda for us
  • I´ll take time to absorb the music before my first step; from here, my navigation around the floor is of immense importance. I´m dancing with the other couples around me, and it´s important to protect my partner & my space in the milonga, as well as respect the space of others
  • at the first cortina, my Spanish is barely adequate for a conversation, but it´s good enough to continue the connection begun with the dance .... and at the end of the tanda, accompanying the lady back to her table is an appropriate final touch


Thursday, 20 September 2007

The man's left hand

Everything is connected to everything else. And the position of the man's left hand can make a big difference, as you will see in this article from Tango and Chaos.

So guys, compare your style to the pictures in this article, and see how the left hand's position can affect your dance. The Tray of Martinis tip sounds fun, too!


Sunday, 16 September 2007

Improvisation ... that's what it's all about

Feeling the music, connecting with your partner in the embrace, sensing the possibilities which open up from moment to moment on a floor full of dancing couples - all these present creative moments, which become more intuitive the more you dance. I've even heard some say that those so-called "mistakes" which their partner makes are, in fact, openings for improvisation.

So, do you want to develop your improvisational skills further? Then take a look a this article and practise ... a lot.

And here are Melina and Detlef improvising to Biagi's Belgica at Porteño y Bailarin in BsAs.



Saturday, 1 September 2007

Pugliese, the innovator

Nadim (tanguero from Melbourne) has just sent me this historic link of Osvaldo Pugliese and his orchestra playing at the famous Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. It got me thinking about how Pugliese's tango compositions and arrangements are truly innovative (and therefore more demanding for dancers).

Pugliese was not a mainstream kind of guy. Joining the Communist Party because of the injustices of the Spanish Civil War landed him in gaol several times. As a sign of support during his imprisonment, his orchestra would still perform in his absence, but with a red rose on his piano.

From his early compositions La Yumba and Recuerdo, the distinctive strong, driving beat is present. But particularly in his later work, this is also meshed with exquisite lyrical elements, as well as intense, emotionally demanding passages. Without doubt, that's why so many dancers chose his later pieces, such as Pata ancha (Geraldine Rojas & Javier Rodriguez) and Gallo ciego (Lorena Ermocida & Osvaldo Zotto) for performances.

Despite his huge, trail-blazing body of work, when declared an honorary citizen of Buenos Aires he responded with a modest "I am merely a labourer for tango".

After his death in 1995, Roberto Alvarez, the great bandoneonista of his orchestra, took over the Pugliese baton and now leads the well-known orchestra Color Tango.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Milongas in BsAs

Often I am asked what the milongas in Buenos Aires are really like. Apart from having lots of experienced dancers there, are the milongas so different to those here in Adelaide?
Well, where to start?

Undoubtedly the first thing that springs to mind is the harmony on la pista (the dance-floor), despite the crowds. At the good, traditional milongas you will usually sense a coherence between most of the dancers and music. You are not just dancing with your partner and the music, but also with all the other dancers on the floor. As long as dancers respect the conventions of the milonga, they are all able to dance, albeit within the confines of a square metre at times. At some milongas, popular with tourists who are unaware of these conventions, that harmony is often not so evident, so the much sought-after tango-trance is harder to achieve.

In Adelaide, perhaps we have not felt the need to develop some of these codigos (conventions), but they certainly serve a purpose, even if la pista is not crowded. For example:
  • Being able to dance in la ronda (line-of-dance) and not overtaking those in front or holding up those behind, ensures a smooth and predictable flow. So dancers know how much space they have to play with.
  • El cabeceo is an effective face-saving way to arrange your next dance in the next tanda. If the person doesn't maintain eye-contact or nod in return, then no harm done. Nobody is offended or put under any pressure to dance.
  • Boleos and other extravagant moves which intrude on others are avoided, to avert injuries and disruption of the mood.
Take a look at some well-known examples of Buenos Aires milongas - actually not all of them were so typically crowded when the recordings were made.

By the way, Tango Salón Adelaide's first milonga will be on Friday 5 October at an elegant new venue. More details to follow.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Close Embrace

Close embrace is central to a lot of our dancing at Tango Salón, but we also recognise the need for flexibility, especially for some figures. There's been quite a bit of debate about close v. open embrace lately on the tango discussion board, tango-l , and these three excerpts from 22nd July are worth reading in full:

  • Ron has an interesting take on the intimacy of close embrace.
  • Nina says that "if you know how to hold a woman in your arms, then you might be able to learn this dance"
  • Polly says, "to please the woman, concentrate on the embrace, then the steps"
The close embrace is beautifully illustrated by Detlef & Melina in video clips recently recommended by:

  • Sue Butler, who suggested a clip featuring the couple dancing to two different versions of Corazón and, of course, dancing it differently. She added, "both are beautiful, but I really enjoyed the second one; it's just so slow and danced with such feeling for the music"
  • John Hayward's recommended clip is an illustration of "excellent walking techniques"


Sunday, 22 July 2007

Secret Men's (Tango) Business

………… aka “The gaining of insight!”
The dozen men who took part came up with some pretty interesting observations and have promised to be ultra-sensitive guys with their tango partners from now on. Here’s a selection:
In trust exercises:
“I didn’t know where I was going to be taken next, so I simply had to wait”
“When I relaxed my arm, I could feel the lead better”
“I needed to communicate the transition from one direction to another gradually and in advance”
In advances:
"I could feel the energy in his body when he wanted me to take a second step"
"I had to plan the lead for the stop as early and as carefully as I planned the lead for the advance"
"Whenever the leader hesitated even slightly, I felt it immediately."
"In leading the ochos, timing is critical"
“Anticipation is the killer of improvisation”

“The follower doesn’t need to know the figure, just how to follow”

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