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Saturday, 27 December 2014

What does it take to dance in Buenos Aires?

Thinking of visiting the Mecca of tango? 
Are you ready for the challenges which await you? 
Are your expectations realistic?

Here is one person’s opinion – not expert, not comprehensive, but coming from a lot of observation and personal experience.   Visitors to BsAs need as many assets as possible to break into the local milonga scene – and I’m talking about the traditional milongas here, such as La Nacional, El Beso, Plaza Bohemia, Lo de Celia, etc.  So here’s my list: 
  •  Make an effort with your personal hygiene  and  appearance  (for a man, that can include wearing a jacket). 
  •  A good embrace is a must, and the first step you take is a defining moment – make it count. 
  • You need to dance well if you are to be noticed, and then desired as a possible partner
  • And you need to appear interested and confident – look like you belong in the milonga
Now some basic codes that should be respected: 
  •  Using the cabeceo is essential …. and for ladies, that also means remaining in your seats until the man arrives
  • Good navigation skills must be used to avoid embarrassing collisions, or disturbing the dancers around you. This means following a tight line-of-dance and respecting neighbouring dancers’ space.
  • It is important to dance appropriately and conservatively. No big figures, gentlemen. Nor feet off the floor, ladies.  Everyone sees everything in the milonga  - dancing that doesn’t fit in, is quickly condemned in people’s minds  
  • When dancing, there needs to be maximum concentration on your partner – it’s not about you, it’s about them.  Add to this, musicality that reflects familiarity with the music, and how to respond to it.
So will breaking into the scene take a long time?  There are a number of factors to keep an eye on, quite apart from the above list (e.g. don’t sit as a couple if you expect to dance with other partners).  Here are some extra tips: 
  •  Stay for a reasonable period in BsAs (no, two weeks aren’t long enough), attend the same milonga regularly, and return to BsAs as often as you can to re-connect with partners you have met
  • If you get a couple of dances on your first night, and your partners liked what they felt, then they will probably look out for you next time  ..... when you may then find a couple more new partners
  • Have patience, and an understanding of social pressures – local people go to the milongas to see and dance with their friends, so there is an element of wanting to dance together first.  You may have to wait and persist.  And while you may not get many dances in your early visits to the milongas, there is lots to interest the true tango lover, such as listening to the music, and watching the dancers.
These thoughts are the product of 15 years of annual visits to BsAs, when in the early years, lack of competence, ignorance ... and  a reasonable dose of fear, meant that we only danced as a couple.  No-one had told us anything about how to fit in, about the codes, about dancing that was appropriate.  Then there was a period of ‘dipping our toes in the water’, until we had eventually developed our skill, understanding, and confidence enough to fully embrace the ‘singles’ scene at the traditional milongas mentioned at the start, and to look forward to making local tango connections.  Above all, we came to utterly respect and enjoy the codes and customs of the milongas that belong to the people of BsAs.

There’s probably more that could be added to my list. What do you think?

PS. If you’re thinking of visiting BsAs for the first time to dance tango, and your teachers haven’t prepared you for what awaits, then make sure you talk to people who know.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Partner poaching

Sometimes our eye-sight doesn’t serve us well, and our use of the cabeceo suffers accordingly.  There have been times when a lady has accepted my invitation from afar, but the man in the next seat has dashed across the floor before I’ve even risen.  The lady has a choice – insist on waiting for me to arrive and send the ‘sprinter’ away, or dance with him, and give me a nod to indicate “next tanda”.

I have also found myself as one of two men approaching a lady, only to find that I’ve got it wrong.  This situation has often been resolved by everyone laughing it off as part of the fun, followed by my retreat … although once, one of my regular partners at El Maipu, sitting nearby, fixed things by saying, “Come on Robert, let’s dance”!  No retreat necessary.

However, there is another, less pleasant scenario that is talked about in some of the milongas in Buenos Aires, and at my local ones; this is the one involving the ‘partner poacher’.   Certainly, the ‘sprinter’ above may be one of those, and if the lady doesn’t want to dance with him, she can choose not to. However, the talk is more about some women: they are close to the line of sight of the cabeceo from a man to a woman nearby; as the man approaches, she jumps up and enters the dance floor in front of the intended lady.  Again, there is a choice at hand – this time by the man.  He will normally not want to embarrass the lady on the floor, so will dance with her …. hopefully, with a nod to the lady still seated.

Sometimes the misunderstanding is unintended, and at other times, women talk about their partners being stolen.  The ‘partner poacher’ gets her dance, but at what cost?  Clearly, there is some ill-feeling from affected women.  And for the man?  He too will be disturbed, and may end up simply ‘going through the motions’ for the tanda, feeling resentful.  All in all, not a good result.

So, what is the protocol?  It’s quite simple really. Once the cabeceo has been successful, the man will approach the woman, making frequent eye contact solely with her; she will do the same, as confirmation that she is his intended partner.  The woman should stay seated until the man is at her table, gives her another clear nod, then she should join him on the floor.  In these circumstances the likelihood of mistakes, while never completely eliminated, is lessened and harmony in the milonga will prevail.

Monday, 13 October 2014

To the shrinking violets of the milonga

Do you fear that nobody will want to dance with you at the milonga, so you consider not attending?

Do you hide your shyness by checking your phone messages or by making polite conversation, when really you would prefer to be dancing?

Ladies, on the dance-floor, do you often worry that you won't understand your partner's lead?

Gentlemen, do you feel intimidated by the couples dancing around you?

What does your body language say about you at the milonga?

Here's some highly recommended viewing, for all shrinking violets, not just those at the milonga!


Monday, 22 September 2014

Surrender or self-preservation?

Entrega (roughly translated as surrender) is that delicious and much-sought-after experience in tango, when you can allow yourself to become one with your partner and the music. You and your partner are in a bubble, being carried along by the music.  This is, in my opinion, true tango.

Trust is a prerequisite - trust in your partner, as well as trust in your fellow dancers and trust in the musical selections of the DJ.

How lightly do you grant this trust? Recent chats with a few tangueras revealed that some grant it far too lightly.  How powerless they have felt in having surrendered, when instead, a response of self-preservation was called for. Men have reported similar experiences.  So, when might self-preservation tactics be appropriate for men or women?

Your partner (man or woman)
  • is imposing movements upon you that make you feel uncomfortable (eg. leg-wraps, high boleos)
  • is not in control of his/her axis, and your balance is compromised
  • moves ahead of you, rather than with you
  • is moving in a way which endangers or compromises the comfort of other dancers
  • is stepping outside the embrace
Here, tango might be compared to sex between consenting adults. Don't do what you don't like.  Preserve your comfort, safety & dignity, and enjoy the experience!

So, what are some tried & true strategies of self-preservation?
  1. Cabeceo - it means that you have choice.  If you don't like what you see, or have had a bad experience with someone, don't nod to accept their invitation. It's the best line of defence.  However, we have all experienced Uh oh moments, so ...
  2. Brace - your body is alert.  You are ready to tense your muscles in order to maintain your balance or to slow down your partner
  3. Embrace - you may change the embrace, perhaps making it much closer to limit your partner's movements
  4. Say something - tell your partner that you don't feel comfortable
  5. Leave - if all else fails, reserve the right to say "Thank you" perhaps at the end of a song (not tanda) and leave the dance-floor
The choice is yours: surrender or self-preservation.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

It's not hard to see why he's a ladies' favourite!

Several seasoned milongueras have let slip that they simply adore dancing with him.

Just watch his delicious response to the music, the lovely embrace and how he communicates the cadences of the music to his partner.

Thanks Jantango for sharing these clips of Ismael Heljalil.


Monday, 18 August 2014

Cabeceo - more than an invitation.

We have written often about the power of the cabeceo - the invitation to dance. However, there’s a case to be made that the cabeceo injects other elements into the milonga – and not necessarily explicitly.

Clearly, the cabeceo is a strategy for engaging with other dancers, but it also shows a willingness to engage.   It can be very frustrating for a dancer, accustomed to using the cabeceo, to attend milongas where he/she is faced with dancers who rely on the direct approach.  He/she will sit, looking around for eye-contact, willing to engage, but receive no response.  The others will chat, dance only with their friends, or scroll through their text messages!  Going to a milonga, where everyone who wishes to dance the tanda is actively looking, is such a relief.

…. and what about the milongas where the cabeceo has become the norm?  I would suggest that the dancers have also adopted other codes of behaviour, typical of traditional milongas – and this spills over into how they dance.  There’s a greater likelihood that the line-of-dance and navigation are good, there’s a respect for other couples, movements are conservative, the atmosphere is calm, and the dancers are attentive to the music.  In other words, an engaging place to be.


Tuesday, 12 August 2014


Respect lies at the heart of tango, and it begins with that most respectful of invitations to dance – the cabeceo.

It continues with the embrace the man offers the woman – one of surrounding her with security.  An open embrace cannot provide this security, and one that puts her in strait-jacket does not respect her response.

So what else should the respectful man bring to his partner? Clear body communication and good body control will allow him to move with stability, balance, & precision.  Add to that a knowledge of tango music that will allow him to exhibit good musicality, with changing dynamics and energy.   He will have an ability to suggest the next movement …. and then wait for her response, finally moving with her.  His aim will be to create a resonance of movement and response to the music with his partner.  The bottom line – a constant focus on his partner: his lead, her response – as well as an acute awareness of the music.  Respect for her!

What can we say of the man who ignores much of this?  The man who believes that there is no reason to develop himself because he will dance anyway … most often by pressuring women with direct requests.  Is he disrespectful, arrogant, or just plain lazy?

Regardless of the answer, let’s encourage the men who show respect for women in their tango community by wanting to improve, using whatever means available to them. That involves more than going to lots of milongas and dancing every tanda in the same way.  Women deserve better than this! 

I suspect most women would gladly accept the cabeceo invitation of men who respect their partners - those men who make an ongoing effort to internalise the music and develop their social dancing skills. 


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Do cortinas matter?

How important is a cortina, apart from clearing the dance-floor between tandas?

     Does it affect the mood and energy of the milonga? 
     Might it complement or clash with the preceding music? 
     What is the ideal length of a cortina?
     Is it a problem if the same cortina is used all the time? 
     Should the DJ bother with this, and just focus on the tandas?

Well, I'm going to have a little gripe. I wish more DJs would indeed consider the contribution of the cortina. I've seen the mood created by the most thoughtful selection of music spoiled by a cortina which is soporific & energy-sapping or jarringly inappropriate.

Cortinas which allow dancers to not only clear the floor, but are also long enough to return to one's seat, have a drink and reconnect with those around, are considerate of the dancers.  So, nowadays my cortinas are usually around one minute in length, and that seems to work well.

Personally, I like using a variety of cortinas to complement or spice up the mood during a milonga - not too gloomy or bland.  On the other hand, the Heavy Metal cortinas which I heard some years ago in Buenos Aires, of all places, were way beyond the pale. Some current favourites: Pretty woman (Roy Orbison), Words of love (Mamas & Papas), Son of a Preacher Man (Dusty Springfield), Back to black (Amy Winehouse), Hard times (Ray Charles), Breaking up is hard to do (Neil Sedaka).

Am I being too precious? Does the cortina really matter at all? Next time you're at a milonga, take note and decide for yourself.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Centenario Aníbal Troilo

The great Troilo, bandoneón player par excellence, orchestra director and composer was born 100 years ago 11 July 1914, a day also commemorated nowadays as the Día del Bandoneón in Argentina. With the right partner, I love dancing to his music. Here are just a couple of my favourites:

Troilo with singer Francisco Fiorentino

With Alberto Marino

Reasonable quality Troilo recordings have been very difficult to acquire until recently.  So, if the Troilo bug has bitten you, head to TangoTunes.


Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Evolution of the coolest man dancing in the milongas

Another amusing take on dance-floor practices from Murat and Michelle Erdemsel

Guys, how evolved are you?

Monday, 16 June 2014

Reflections on leading & following

"Leading" and "following" are such inadequate labels for what happens when we really dance tango. 

On the other hand, I can't think of alternative concise verbs as effective replacements.  "Male and female roles" might be useful terms, but that assumes a common understanding of these roles. I'm a traditionalist in tango, and feel that the man does initiate, the woman responds and then he responds to her, and so on....  Of course, this is all driven by the music.

Tango Therapist's latest post (a poem) captures some of the subtle and hard-to-describe interaction between the dancers of tango and the music - it goes well beyond the crude "lead & follow" terminology.


Sunday, 1 June 2014

Diaries from BsAs #5 - Fermín (a real tango movie)

As newcomers to tango many years ago, we were fascinated by Sally Potter's The Tango Lesson and Carlos Saura's Tango. There have been other movies with tango as a theme.  But in my view, the recently released Fermín is a true tango film.

If you are able to see it, don't expect frequent dance sequences, although there are some. Rather, it's about tango and the culture of tango as a way of life. We saw how the common themes of tango lyrics form the central themes throughout 85 year old Fermín's life.  This sensitively and intelligently acted story left the audience of the Gaumont Cinema (Buenos Aires) applauding at the end, as well as some tearful eyes.

Let's hope it is released in many other countries including Australia. Try not to miss it.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Diaries from BsAs #4 - How to say "No"

From her:

While explaining the cabeceo to a non-tango dancing porteña, I realised that while a lot has been written about the cabeceo (especially strategies on how to initiate and accept invitations), not much has been said about what to do when you DON'T want to dance.

The current music may not inspire you to dance.  You may not have had a chance to see the available partners dance yet, and don't want to take a chance of an unpleasant experience.  Maybe you've just danced a particularly satisfying tanda and simply wish to bask in the glow for a while.  Or, perhaps you wish to avoid a certain person with whom you feel uncomfortable.  These are a few of the reasons why I might not want to engage in the cabeceo at any one time.

I found myself explaining a few different approaches to"No" to this fascinated local woman.  The strategies for NOT engaging in the cabeceo invitation in a traditional milonga are ideally subtle and highly effective, but occasionally one has to resort to more direct methods:

Invisibility:  At traditional BsAs milongas, the men I have no desire to dance with are effectively invisible to me.  I hardly direct my gaze at them, because to do so would suggest to them that I were interested in dancing with them sometime.  Consequently, they generally won't look in my direction seeking to dance.

Focus elsewhere:  If I simply don't want to dance at all for a while, I find the best strategy is simply to watch the activity on the dance-floor.  That takes the pressure off trying to avoid any inviting gazes.

Gaze away:  The tricky part, I find, is when I want to dance and am therefore looking towards a potential partner, but a different man (sitting close to my intended target) tries to gain my attention by looking at me intently.  People are seated very close to one-another in these busy milongas, so meeting the gaze of the right person can be problematic at times.  To avoid confusion, I ensure that I don't hold his gaze and  I look away.  The "wrong" man should immediately see that I'm not interested in dancing with him.  He would normally get the message at this point.  (Most of the people here understand that there's no pleasure in dancing with someone who doesn't really want to dance with you. They also respect the woman's role in choosing a dance partner.)  Shortly after, I may try looking again at my intended target, if he's not already dancing, of course.

Direct refusal:  As a foreigner, I occasionally have been approached by a local man asking me to dance.  In my opinion this is a very bad sign, as it means that the man is unable to secure a dance using the preferred cabeceo  method, hence is probably an inadequate dancer.  Yet, his intention is to pressure a woman into dancing with him.  It shows a lack of respect for the woman, as his behaviour assumes that she will accept.  He completely deserves the refusal he gets, albeit with a smile.  He won't try that on me again. 
Luckily, the direct approach to invitations doesn't happen too often in traditional milongas, but it's best to be prepared!

I refuse to be the victim depicted by In Search of Tango  and would love to know about other helpful strategies.

From him:

 ....... and the same strategies apply equally to male dancers in search for partners, and in avoiding others. 

However, should a man, with all his gentlemanly history forever on the surface, refuse a direct request from a woman?  Well, at a most traditional milonga in Buenos Aires the other night, my worst case (milonga) nightmare happened - a local woman, complete stranger, tapped me on the shoulder and roughly asked, "quieres bailar?" 

All my thinking regarding the issues above came to mind, but I was particularly conscious that, in this milonga, the codes of behaviour were totally respected.  The lady should have known better, and anyone watching would have been judging the situation, and assessing my response.  I felt that to say "No, gracias" was the only appropriate response, but to soften it, I said "No entiendo".  She repeated her question, this time in English.  To that I said, "yo tengo que bailar con mi pareja y mis amigas".  She accepted that, went away to talk with some friends, and that was that ...... except I was left knowing that I had refused a woman's request to dance with me.  Not a good feeling, but under the circumstances, the right thing to do.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Diaries from BsAs #3 - Breaking into a milonga

From her:

Newcomers to tango often ask how long it will take them to be able to dance effectively. The only honest answer has to be that "it depends" ...... on many factors.

The same applies to how long it takes to break into a milonga to which you are new.  Recently we returned to a milonga which we hadn't attended for several years.  We sat separately, as usual.  Despite being a newcomer, I was surprisingly given a good seat.  I was close to the dance-floor and in open view of the male dancers.

Watching the dancers, I quickly realised that I hardly knew any of the men. I was an unknown quantity to them, as they were to me.

Fortunately, one of my favourite local partners happened to be there and we enjoyed a lovely tanda early.  At least, it was obvious to the men observing that I could dance well, and a number of them started looking my way for the next tanda.  But, I didn't know how they danced.

So, I followed my tried and true policy of not accepting invitations until I'd seen that they could dance well.  Trouble was, there were quite a number of capable male dancers swirling around.  For some time it was hard to identify and target the ones I wanted to dance with.

In the meantime, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the excellent music chosen by DJ Dany Borelli.  Watching the dancers was also captivating - like staring into the flames of a fire.

Yes, I did have a few more lovely dances.  Next time, I expect there will be a few more.

As a newcomer to a milonga, patience is definitely essential, particularly if you are choosy.  After all, the local men have a circle of friends with whom they enjoy dancing.  It would be unreasonable for a newcomer to expect to immediately gain their attention.

So, how soon will you dance in any particular milonga? It depends on many things, but here are just a few:
  • does your level of dancing match the general standard of the milonga?
  • do you already know potential partners there?
  • how selective are you?
  • where are you positioned in the milonga?
  • how effective are your cabeceo techniques?
  • how do you present yourself
  • how regularly do you attend that particular milonga?
  • how patient are you and how much persistence do you have?
  • ........

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Diaries from BsAs #2 - Thank goodness for friends

From him:

It appeared that G only danced with the local milongueros, but somehow I managed to dance with her twice last year … and she was good!

I hadn’t seen her in my first week here, then she appeared on Monday, and I hoped that we’d dance again.  As much as I tried, she wouldn’t return my cabeceo, so I greeted her as I went past; still no result.

Eventually her friend S nodded; I’d never danced with S, but I’d seen her over the years and knew she danced very well.  I made sure I gave the tanda everything, and during one of the chats, S remarked that she thought I had looked ‘lost’ earlier, but I said that I had been trying repeatedly to catch G’s eye.  I also decided to slip in that I suspected that G had forgotten me, then watched their table during the Cortina.  Yes, they immediately talked …….. and with the start of the next tanda, G looked my way and nodded!  Thank goodness for friends!  

The tanda was great, and later, to finish the evening on a good note, S & I danced again.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Diaries from BsAs #1 - The price of honesty

From her:

During recent visits to Buenos Aires, I’d noticed him appearing at milongas, tall and usually clad in a suit. He’d dance with a few ladies, then disappear again into the night. His style of dancing impressed me and it looked like his partners enjoyed the experience, but I’d never been able to catch his eye.

Then on our first night back in BsAs, he looked my way and we danced a tanda of tango (Calo, if memory serves me correctly). Later, we also enjoyed a tanda of milonga together. After three hours that night, I decided to leave the milonga. Jet-lag had been playing havoc with my body-clock. I needed some dinner, which I mentioned when he asked why I was leaving so early. I should have seen it coming, but I’ll blame the jet-lag.

He, of course, asked me to join him for dinner.
What I said: I breezily declined the offer, saying I was dining with my partner.
What I should have said: “Thankyou, but I’m very tired after the long journey.  I enjoyed our dances. Hope to see you again at another milonga."

Well, I saw him again at several milongas thereafter.  Did he even glance my way? Of course not! I suppose I’d injured his pride with the direct refusal.

Moral of the story: Keep ‘em guessing gals!

Update (1 May):  Looks like I've been forgiven, as he's invited me to dance at a couple of milongas since my initial faux pas.  But things appear to have changed.  He seems to be exhibiting some interesting bits of territorial behaviour since establishing the identity of my partner .... but not winning!

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Perhaps size matters

Might there be a relationship between the size of the milonga dance-floor and the level of dancers?

On one night at Lujos, we were dancing in the small space that is El Beso in Buenos Aires. The dancers displayed a high level of skill and excellent floor-craft.  The couples seemed to collaborate and flow together.  Over the next two nights, the floor-spaces were progressively bigger, and the level of dancing; floor-craft descended to what could be described as ordinary, then poor.  In the third and largest venue, it was impossible to relax into the dance, due to distracting and unpredictable movements of surrounding dancers.

Closer to home, many dancers have remarked, that at our milonga, Comme il faut, where the floor-space is the smallest of all local milongas, the dancing is calm, with good navigation, movements are generally small, and there’s consideration for other dancers.

Theory: the best dancers congregate in the smaller venues – where good skills are essential, while others head for the wide open spaces. 
But wait a minute, on following nights came Lujos at Plaza Bohemia and El Maipu at La Nacional; the latter being quite large. Both milongas attract skilled dancers with very good floor-craft. 
Hmm, while my theory may have some merit, it’s not the whole story; there are clearly other factors that can over-ride the proposition.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Cabeceo capital of Australia?

If you like an invitation to dance in the form of an outstretched hand, a tap on the shoulder or a more formal Would you care to dance?, then perhaps you should stop reading right now.

It may come as no surprise that I'm a strong supporter of the cabeceo.  Novices to this elegant technique of invitation typically find it challenging.  But once you get the hang of it and develop confidence, you'll find it quite empowering - for men and for women.

Why bother with yet another challenge?  You might well ask.  Isn't dancing tango hard enough?

Well, call me a traditional tango purist, if you like.  But for me, dancing real tango is about becoming one with the music and my partner.  It's not something I can simply switch on - with anyone, at any time, with any music.  I prefer to dance less often, and feel satisfied when I do.  So I prefer the choice to be mutual.

Over the past few years, we've been encouraging use of the cabeceo at our milongas: Comme il faut and La Esquina, and it's so gratifying to see that it has caught on.  Seldom do we see men approaching unsuspecting women with outstretched hand.  Rarely do they hover in front of their intended victim practically forcing her to get up and dance, or bluntly refuse him in public. Many experienced dancers in Adelaide now use the cabeceo quite effortlessly.  Dare I say, that it appears to be becoming the norm in some milongas here.

Perhaps it will eventually catch on in other Australian cities.  But in my experience, so far Adelaide easily wins the prize for the cabeceo capital of Australia.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Dance like a man!

Watching dancers at a milonga my internal voice sometimes yells out “Dance like a man!  So what is it that bothers me?

I simply believe that leaders in tango need to display masculinity, and some behaviours, in my eye, exhibit a lack of it.  For example, his left hand pulled in towards him, an open ‘embrace’ with his right hand just above his partner’s hip, walking with tentativeness, flexing his body sideways in order to walk outside his partner.  My advice regarding these: keep the left arm to at least 90 degrees, adopt a genuine, close embrace, walk decisively, and use body dissociation/rotation.

The man needs to transfer his male energy to his partner.  The mentality isn't about leading & following, it’s about clear, effective communication.  It’s about confidence, which is not arrogance; strength but not forcefulness; intensity not anxiety; feeling that you belong there, not fearfulness about being judged.  
Guys! Don’t dance as if you’re apologising for being out there.

The man needs to engender a sense of trust in his partner so that she can relax and be receptive.  He therefore needs to be confident and decisive in every, single move.  Uncertainty can be detected by his partner in a millisecond, trust will diminish and tension will rise …. the dance will  go downhill from there. 

In brief:  Stand like a man, embrace like a man & walk like a man!


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

How do you like your milonga?

In a post 3 years ago “What makes a good milonga”, I suggested that there were 4 key ingredients contributing to a good milonga: the (welcoming) organisers, the codes, the venue and last but not least, the music.  However, their interaction and effectiveness have a lot to do with the organisers’ desire to be pro-active.  Here are 3 typical approaches used by organisers – see if you recognise any or all of them in milongas you’ve attended:

1.     Heavy-handed: There is a milonga in Buenos Aires that used to have a list of rules on display at the entrance.  No doubt there about the expectations, and the organisers enforced them in a fairly cold and unwelcoming manner.  There was a feeling of tension and exclusivity.  Not keen to go back there, despite the high level of dancing.

2.      Pro-active:  Anyone who has been to Oscar & Lucia’s milonga Lujos at El Beso & Plaza Bohemia, or earlier at Maipu 444, will be very aware that there is a calmness to the dancing, a lot of respect for other dancers, and an implicit understanding of what is expected.  The organisers are highly respected, and are quite willing to intervene if necessary, but in a gentle and supportive manner.   As a dancer, you feel comfortable, because the behaviour of others is predictable and safe.  Definitely among my regular milongas.

3.      Laissez-faire: The crowd determines the behaviour on any one night, and over time, a trend develops – often downward.  The floor-craft is unpredictable, and the dancing styles vary from good salon through to stage-style.  The latter results in dangerous activity, frustration, and good dancers leaving the floor early or even the milonga.  Unfortunately, the organisers are either too nice, unaware or lack the confidence to intervene.  Maybe the milonga could be good, but it’ll take an extended time to slowly change its culture – using both active intervention when absolutely necessary, and gradually increasing the awareness of milonga etiquette through a range of strategies.

In brief, the organisers need to have a vision of what they want to achieve – presumably a good milonga – and how they plan to achieve it.

Have you experienced any of these approaches?

Friday, 28 February 2014

Ladies! What does it take?

Some time ago, I posted advice to tangueras, but here I'd like to delve a little deeper.

In the early days of my tango journey, I worked hard on learning to execute the figures being taught, struggling to replicate sequences and decorations.  I was expected to do my share of the figure, regardless of how it was being led by my partner.  I thought decorations were essential, expressive tanguera accessories.  When reflecting on the results at the time, effective and elegant are two adjectives which do not immediately spring to mind.

Then I began learning about good technique - thanks largely to hours working with the maestra de los maestros, Aurora Lubiz. My body was trained to be ready, able, relaxed and responsive to the music and to my partner - whoever that might be for the next tanda.

After some years of dancing and learning, another critical piece of the puzzle eventually fell into place for me.  It was about my state of mind.  It was about being truly in the moment and surrendering to the dance - entrega.  For this, I needed to
  • be confident with my partner, but not dominant
  • surrender and be actively responsive
  • allow the music to possess me, yet not preempt how my partner might respond to it.
Some of these points may appear contradictory.  But then dancing tango involves subtle give and take.  It's a deliciously, delicate balancing act.  Simple, but not easy.

Ladies, let's forget about the flashy moves and decorations. With sound technique and the right state of mind, you can dance successfully with any good milonguero.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

How was it for you?

Gentlemen! If you want to dance real tango, you should leave exhibitionist figures and mind-sets at the door when you enter the milonga.

You'll need to focus your attention on the embrace and the music, and not on elaborate steps. What is the point of executing tricky figures, if the connection with your partner is broken? Do you really want her to feel like a puppet in your arms, rather than a woman?

So .......

      if we dance, I don't want to be your partner for a performance.

      if we dance, I will want you to dance with and for me.

      if we dance, it will be to share the feeling of the music.

After the first tango of a tanda, some milongueros gently check with me that I feel comfortable. Such is their respect. They know that a woman cannot give of herself in tango, if she is not at ease. True milongueros know that for a partner to share her passion, there must be trust. 

Guys, to dance tango, you must listen to the heart of the woman. Cacho Dante.


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