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Monday, 21 November 2016

Are you missing out?

At yesterday's milonga, a native Spanish-speaker remarked on the huge impact of the lyrics of tango on his dance. Some lyrics enriched his experience beyond description.

It makes sense when you think about it, doesn't it?  Consider for a moment those tangos which absolutely summon you to floor. You hear the opening bars of the piece and feel that you have to dance. I'll wager that it's the emotion of that music which plays a huge role in making you look around - almost with a sense of urgency - for a partner. How much stronger is that emotional response when you also know something of the story, or if you understand the lyrics as they are sung?

Tango is a feeling which we share when we dance with our partner. How much richer could that shared experience be, if we understood something of the poetry?

So, if you now suspect that you might be missing out, look up a few of your I've-got-to-dance-to-this tangos. You can read translations while you listen. Here are some of my favourites in Poesia de Gotán and Embrujamiento.  One website thoughtfully provides subtitled Youtube videos, too!

Here's one of my favourite Pugliese tangos subtitled by Tango Decoder:


Monday, 10 October 2016

Things my mother taught me

When guests come to your home for the first time, you show them in, you introduce them to other people who are present. You help them to feel at ease.

So, in your experience, do milonga organisers make you feel welcome and show you where there are free seats?  Or are you expected to fend for yourself after paying your entry fee? As a newcomer, are you introduced to a few dancers, to help ease you into the local scene?

When going out, I was expected to make an effort with my attire and grooming.  It showed respect and appreciation to my hosts and fellow guests.

Isn't it lovely when men and women at the milonga have donned some nice clothes for the event, which also helps them leave their day-to-day lives at home, at least for a little while.

When wanting to engage in conversation with someone, I learned to read the other person's body language first, to see whether they might be interested in talking with me.

It's wonderful to see more and more people in milongas confidently using the cabeceo, the "Are you interested in dancing with me?" non-verbal form of invitation.

My mother also taught me to say "No", when I felt uncomfortable.

So, I don't understand why otherwise assertive women put up with some dance partners' behaviour. Are they afraid of hurting his feelings? What about their own feelings and self-respect?

If we bump into someone while walking down the footpath, we automatically apologise, and pay more attention as we walk on.

How many times have you been bumped or kicked while dancing at a milonga, with no acknowledgement from the perpetrator, let alone an apology? Nowadays this is infrequent in Adelaide, but it does shock me when it happens.

Should the milonga be any different to other social situations, when it comes to common courtesy? I think not.  Yet, why do some people forget what their mother taught them, when they go to a milonga?

Maybe it's a question of maturing and feeling comfortable in one's tango skin, and realising that  tango is not about executing steps. It's about relating to others.


Thursday, 15 September 2016

Welcome stranger!

Visiting foreign milongas can be hit and miss.  Often, it's more miss than hit!  In our experience tango communities can be - shall we say - rather insular when newcomers appear at a milonga.  Lack of familiarity with the cabeceo can be a factor.  If people aren't using or are not alert to the non-verbal "I'd like to dance with you" signals, they will probably stick with the safe option, and just dance with their friends - despite having observed that the newcomers dance well.  That's their choice, of course. But it seems a pity.  They'll never know what they missed.

So, it was with no high expectations that we went to The Counting House, Edinburgh Tango Society's Tuesday evening milonga.  What a pleasant surprise to be warmly welcomed by their tango community not only on arrival, but throughout the evening.  Most dancers used the cabeceo effectively,  and we were both kept busy dancing to DJ Mike's good music with lots of  lovely Edinburgh people.  (Coincidentally, DJ Mike mentioned that he had attended our Comme il faut milonga when visiting Adelaide seven years ago, and remarked several times what a welcoming tango community he had encountered.)

Thanks for the great night, Edinburgh. Hope we can reciprocate your hospitality in Adelaide soon.

Saturday, 23 July 2016


If you've learned to dance the man's role in tango, you may have been urged to dance with more intention. Especially as a beginner dancer, any tentativeness or indecision would probably have been identified. You would have been reminded that even a hint of uncertainty is immediately apparent in your partner's response .... or lack of it!

As a consequence, you may have also formed the impression that dancing with intention is only important in the man's role. That the woman simply follows what the man proposes in the dance. And perhaps this is so ... in the early stages.

However, most experienced dancers will confirm that there is much more to the woman's role than "just following".

Dancing well in the woman's role means responding to the music and to the man's proposal without anticipation and haste. When she moves to the music it is with conviction, commitment and confidence.

Perhaps not so different to the intention required in the man's role??

Here are two performance treats, both embodying intention.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Woman's role in tango

Some interesting comments appeared on the previous post: Just follow the leader.

Andy highlighted the challenge of the woman's role and the timing of her response to the lead. Indeed the woman must contribute her interpretation of the man's lead and the music to the dance, otherwise she is merely a puppet being dragged around in his arms.

A very good female tango dancer achieves a sensitive balance between the lead and her personal expression, with the outcome being a beautiful unity of music and movement.  Two individuals dance as one in the embrace. Lidia Ferrari's article The place of woman in tango (or Is tango macho?) elaborates on what is required of the woman, as well as perhaps challenging some macho men who may see themselves as good tango dancers.  Thanks for sharing these articles, Andy!

Just take a look at Adela dancing with Gaston at the start of Dany and Lucy's milonga.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Just follow the leader

Have your ever heard the expression: Ladies, all you need to do is follow the lead ?  In this day and age of gender equality you might perhaps sense that the woman's role in the dance is diminished through this terminology - such an inadequate descriptor of the woman's role in tango, which is quite different to the man's role, but no less significant.  (By the way, I do believe that the complementary [man-woman] roles in tango may be a major factor in the popularity of the dance.  Perhaps western society's political correctness and inclination towards gender neutrality may be nudging people to the traditional gender roles in tango, as described by Paul Yang.)

Probably not all women in tango will agree with me, but when the music calls, and I'm in the embrace of a dance partner whom I trust, I love being taken on a short but memorable journey courtesy of my partner.  He is the principal guide to the music, while I contribute to that tour in my response to him and to the music.  But for him to treat me to his personalised insider's tour, he needs to feel my appreciation of his efforts by relaxing in his embrace, and by being present just for him and the music.  A delightful quality of Golden Age tango music is that it is multi-layered, so, each tour guide will show me different highlights of his appreciation of the music and perhaps some hidden surprises.  How good is that?  Every tanda offers the potential for a new journey.  Why wouldn't I enjoy the woman's role?

I am curious to know what men feel about their role in the dance.


Thursday, 7 April 2016

More higher order skills for men

Dancing in El Beso can be challenging, but need not be, provided yet another higher order skill for men is employed.

Yes, the floor gets crowded, with couples closely sandwiching you at front, back and side, but the standard of dancing is high, so navigation skills are fairly well refined.  In fact, it’s this knowledge that gives me confidence – I rarely have to worry about dancers behaving inappropriately or with poor control.

But there is something else that happens – I not only dance with partner, I dance with the couples around me, particularly those directly in front and behind.  We need not be interpreting the music in exactly the same way or utilising the same small batch of figures, but there is and ebb and flow as our movements resonate with each other.  While I’m dancing with my partner, I’m constantly adjusting my position so that the other couples can use their ‘space’ relatively unimpeded; and they afford me the same courtesy.

Certainly, I am ‘in my own world’ with my partner – listening to her, responding to her, picking up the rhythms, cadences & moods of the music and responding to them too.  However, I connect with ‘my other world’ – surrounding couples, by dancing in my space and respecting theirs, which means walking and pausing, ochos cortados, vaya ven, lots of small turns, and whatever else my body (not my head) decides to do.

“Dancing in the ronda" is therefore much more than moving around the floor anti-clockwise parallel to the walls, it’s about dancing with others. 

Saturday, 26 March 2016

A higher order skill for men

What do I mean by higher order skills relevant to the male role in social tango?

Responding appropriately to the music, using the body to effectively communicate your intention and responding sensitively to your partner, are all essential. But these I consider bread and butter skills. In other words, skills which are absolutely fundamental to dancing tango.

So what is a higher order skill? Tricky figures executed in performances may come to mind, but here I'm thinking about tango only in the social context. I'm thinking of the challenge (and the pleasure) in putting those bread and butter skills into action in a busy milonga.

Early in their tango journey, most men probably feel somewhat anxious (and rightly so) at the prospect navigating a dance-floor, let alone a crowded one! A number of skills and factors come together to produce good floor-craft in a male dancer. Not least of these is self-confidence balanced with respect towards the other couples on the floor. Without both of these, even the most musical and skilled male dancer becomes a hazard to others at a milonga.

Master good floor-craft, gentlemen, so your partner can have complete confidence in your ability to protect her and to respect others. It's worth it. Do this and she will surrender to you in the dance. Now that's tango!

Just take a look at a video-clip of Lujos, one of my favourite milongas, to see what I mean.


Saturday, 27 February 2016

Is milonga etiquette passé?

Casting my eyes over the reader statistics of this blog, I was surprised by a stand-out trend over the years. The most read and commented posts had a clear theme in common. In the popularity stakes, these two posts were head and shoulders above the rest.

On reflection, the high readership should have been easily anticipated. Considering the social nature of milongas, it should come as no surprise that a topic such as Partner-poaching is a popular post, and that the most read and commented post is How to choose a dance partner.

Not all the comments were in agreement with the sentiments expressed in the posts. In fact, some hearty online discussion resulted. Nevertheless, these real-life situations (humorous, embarrassing, perplexing) in the milonga certainly resonated with many readers.

Surely the popularity of those posts tells us something. In my opinion that message is that milonga etiquette, respect & courtesy, codes of behaviour - call it what you will - still serve a useful role in 21st century milongas, both here and in Buenos Aires.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Can another body be seen as an extension of your own?

Have you experienced a strong connection with a partner when dancing tango? Ever wondered where that might come from?

Well, there seem to be some scientific explanations for the phenomenon. Thanks Alex Tango Fuego for sharing this fascinating Scientific American article.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Favourite milongas

Great music, a good standard of social dancing, respectful & harmonious dance-floors and friendly organisers. That's what we look for when attending milongas in Buenos Aires.

Thanks to Carlos Neuman of Milongas Buenos Aires, you can get a taster of what to expect.  It will help you decide where you would feel comfortable. He has thoughtfully put together videos of many of the popular milongas for the entire week!

They're all delightfully different in character. Venues vary. Some cater more to solo dancers (cabeceo skills required), whereas others, especially the outer-suburban milongas, are more group-oriented. DJs play a big role in attracting regular dancers. You may see the same faces in more than one of them.

Here are a few of our haunts:

El Beso (Thursday) - watch out for the cabeceo at the start of the video

La Milonga de Buenos Aires (Friday)

La Baldosa (Friday)

Lujos (Sunday)

El Maipu (Monday):


Thursday, 7 January 2016

Food for thought

Ever wondered why some people don't seem to look in your direction when a new tanda starts?  There are so many possible reasons, quite apart from lack of confidence with the cabeceo-style of invitation.

Many of these possible reasons would be beyond your control eg. your height, the person's mood, musical preference, etc.  So, no need to take their lack of interest personally.

However, there are some things we can influence. In any social setting, personal hygiene, dress and the way we conduct ourselves will affect how others respond to us, of course.  And in the tango social event which we call a milonga, additional factors come into play, not least of which are your social dancing skills.  (By the way, I don't mean how many volcadas, ganchos and decorations which you can squeeze into one tango!)
  • Are you easily able to dance with the music and with your partner? 
  • How comfortable and enjoyable is your dancing for your partner? 
  • Can you dance on a busy and disciplined dance-floor without collision or kicking someone ... and enjoy it? 
If your answer to any of these questions is in the least bit negative, then possibly you  have found an answer to the very first question.  And these things you can change ... if you want to, that is.

Veronica Toumanova has some food for thought for all of us in her piece called Why tango dancers lose interest in improving their skill.


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