Tango with a Touch of Class

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The Hidden History of Tango

Beginners - Warren Douglas - August 11, 2017

EXPLANATIONS:TANGO Terms, Conventions & Practices.

Some THOUGHTS on learning & dancing the tango (by Mark Hoeben)

In the beginning there is so much to learn that it is good to work on what you have learned in class and practise it between classes on your own, or together with a partner, and then try to repeat it again and again. I ask that followers, and some leaders, be patient with leaders especially as, like  good red wine, they take a long time to mature.
Leading in Tango requires good movement, navigational skills, musical awareness and interpretation, allied with the ability to be calm under pressure AND to give your partner, and yourself, a good time! A tall order,but it is possible and much easier than you think.
Following also requires self awareness and presence, gentleness from the follower and the ability to maintain balance all the time and to respond, but not too eagerly or anticipatorily, to the leader’s suggestions. With a sense of calmness and not too much judgement of the novice leader (in class and in a social setting).

RE [email protected] EVERY 2ND SAT from 5.00-8.00pm

This is a fortnightly early evening Milonga that I host. It is a good opportunity for you to try your dancing out in a protected environment as well as to see what other people are doing and how little one can, & needs to, do on a crowded dance-floor. Remember, we all took a long time to learn to drive, and yet we did. It’s the same with tango. And the quicker you try it out and relax while you are doing that, the better for you and for the Tango scene.
Come and try it out on a Saturday afternoon. It will only cost you R30pp. You can drop in for 1 hour, for 3 hours, anytime between 5 and 8pm and if your courage fails you, as it did me my first time overseas, then simply watch. But come.
And if all else fails, listen to the wonderful music, try the special Salon Tea or Coffee or Tango-themed sandwiches on offer very cheaply at the restaurant and enjoy yourselves.
Dancing is in the DAKAR room or the FRONT of the restaurant  and there will be only a certain amount of chairs there-not enough for everyone to have ‘their own ‘ chair. However, you can also sit in the restaurant and enjoy your tea or snacks and then come in when you want to dance. The object of a Milonga is to dance,  but always when you want to: dance when you want to, chat when you want to and watch when you want to.


This is the name for a regular Tango social attended by tangueros/tangueras (people who dance the Tango) and where milongueros/ milongueras, (dancers who have mastered the art of dancing in an extremely small space in a very close hold and who have a personal style) can be found. (Note: The Milonga is also a dance in 2/4 (meaning 2 beats to a bar) that is part of the Tango lexicon. It is possibly the fore-runner of the Tango and is fun with the focus on the rhythm. This dance was most often danced outside, on the cobblestones.)
At a Milonga one observes the Line of Dance and the rules of not interrupting the flow of the dance by stopping, chatting on the floor, showing steps to others or dancing in a way that puts others in potential danger.

This is the name for a grander affair than a Milonga. Some people use Milonga and Salon interchangeably, but I prefer the term Salon for a more formal evening that is not weekly or very regular. The term Salon occurred when Tango was first exposed in the French “Salons”.  During a Salon one also observes the Line of Dance and the Rules of the dance-floor.

This word is Spanish for practice and it is a session during which people can stop and start the dance and practise. Some form of teaching/guidance happens and one can try out steps one is not sure of or still learning before dancing them at a Milonga or Salon with ease.

Tango dancers, and especially the ‘portenos’ (people from the port of Buenos Aires), are extremely proud and do not like to be embarrassed. They have developed a system of asking a partner to dance that does not expose one to ridicule.

The invitation to the dance, in Buenos Aires in the more traditional milongas, is quite formalised and happens with the ‘cabecita’ ( nod of the head) also called ‘cabaceo’. The follower will agree to dance with a Leader by maintaining eye contact across the floor and then nodding slightly in assent to his unspoken request. When he begins to cross the floor she rises from her chair but stays at her table till he fetches her and leads her onto the floor. One then remains dancing with this partner till the end of the ‘Tanda’, or set of 2,3 or 4 Tangos, Milongas or Valses most often performed by the same orchestra, at which the man walks the lady to her seat. Tandas often end with a  ‘cortina’ (short piece of Salsa, swing or other music, a curtain to clear the floor after the tanda) .
If one does NOT want to dance with someone, one simply avoids his/her eye or looks away.
If during the Tanda the experience is unbearable, really unbearable, one says “Thank you” signalling the end of the dance together. (Be warned therefore: Do not say thank you too quickly at a Buenos Aires milonga.)
A man, or woman, will NEVER walk across the floor and ask someone to dance. It is difficult to refuse someone when they are standing in front of you and embarrassment will not be avoided.
Note: Women in Buenos Aires who want to dance are not passive either. They sit very alertly and attempt to catch the eye of the leader with whom they desire to dance.

In Cape Town we are more relaxed about the invitation. Men and women can ask a partner to dance, if they wish.
Many women asking a man to dance, are actually commanding him. This is not right. However, I would like to stress that we are all adults and should behave as such.
If you do not want to dance with someone, politely refuse them.
And accept their refusal!
We are all entitled to dance with whomever we want, especially at a social. Forcing someone to dance with you does not result in a pleasant and heartfelt dance experience.
Keep in mind, though, that it is still difficult to be refused.
And extremely difficult to refuse!
And it is not easy to ask someone to dance with you.

Be very careful as a leader of STEPPING BACKWARDS EVER on the dance floor-unless you have eyes in the back of your head. Be aware of following the couple in front of you and maintaining your lane on the floor and be wary of overtaking. The skill is to remain in the order you began in and find a variety of steps/ways of having an interesting and exciting dance experience. Do not stop and execute your favourite dance-move/combination if it holds up the flow of traffic on the floor. This does not display your skill as a tanguero! The focus of each leader should be on the music, one’s partner and not disturbing other people on the floor.

ENTERING AND EXITING THE DANCE FLOOR must also be done with care. Do not interrupt the flow of the people already dancing and do not walk backwards on the dance floor. If there are people already dancing then slip onto the floor, as one does onto the freeway from a slip road.

Keys to Learning Tango for Beginners & Not-Such Beginners

A Tango only truly happens when the feelings in the music move you and your partner into its realm.

So the first way to seek its beauty and its rewards is to listen to the music a lot – even when you are not
practising or dancing. In the kitchen; in the car; as you prepare for sleep. A certain familiarity with the music
is the key to getting your body to move nicely with it. It has to be inside you for it to work. If you notice you
never get tired of listening to it as the months go by, you will find many pleasures and rewards in Tango for
the rest of your life.

1. The first responsibility – of both the woman and the man, is to really listen to the music. The more open you are to its influence, the sooner it will carry you along to its Heart. Listen before you move. Every song.
Always bring yourself back to this basic starting point.
2. Slow down. As you get excited, you lose it. So I mean slow down your inner workings. Thinking is not doing.The time to concentrate on details is in your own practice time. On the floor, it is only time to lose yourself in the moment. That calls for a certain unconscious competence. Here’s the practice part coming in …
3. Only practise will get you going smoothly. And each Beginner must practise regularly alone at first to get sure of the basic movements. Your solitary love of moving with the music is the beginning point for being able to enjoy the dance with another. The follower must be able to do her ochos, for instance, without holding on to someone or something. The leader must work out in his mind what he will lead next – and compose little combinations he likes of the figures he has learned. Fluidity will come. Keep your “frame” up at all times when you move by yourself. Act a bit – move as if you were a great dancer already. Be one in your mind!
Tango isn’t about your feet, it’s about all of you – spirit , mind and body. A good frame supports your desires.
Now practise with partners. Don’t just always dance with the same partner.
Remember it’s your Body Memory that is most important. The moves have to become automatic for it. Figures or “steps” are for your body memory, not your head. In this way, it becomes automatic and you’re on your way.
4. Go social dancing often for the fun and pleasure of it!

A Milonga is not for teaching on the dance floor but for the enjoyment of both the leader and the follower.
The follower will follow the lead that is there and most misunderstandings are the result of an unsure or unclear lead. The lessons are for learning while the milongas are for pure enjoyment.

There is a place between steps where you are leaving the last step, but have not committed to the next. You find it by not getting excited, not being in a hurry, not thinking. You find it when completely lost in the music and feeling where your partner’s weight is NOW. Don’t anticipate or guess. Feel it precisely “now.” Waiting – suspension – is the key for both followers and leaders. In this place of almost nano-second suspension, tango magic happens. The real communication. The conversation.
When I lead, I’m always waiting/listening for my partner. In every beat, more-or-less. When following, it’s all about where is the leader’s weight. I say this from my bias of believing tango is essentially a walking dance. One foot, then the other. But not in a hurry. Even in milonga – feel it in slow-motion.
So, think about not automatically committing your weight to another step. Make nothing “automatic.” Find the nuance of the suspension moment, and when you are there, there are no “mistakes.” Only adjustment, communication. You’ll feel – sense – the direction your leader’s weight is going to.

Most people are nervous as they progress through the stages of becoming accomplished. So first of all, remind yourself that everyone else has felt this too – it’s OK to be nervous in the first instance.
Of course the two things you want to get control of are your body and your mind.
Your body problem can be helped when you breathe properly. Before you start, consciously take a couple of relaxing deep breaths. If you are tight, and you don’t breathe, your nervousness will grow. Keep breathing as you dance. Make sure your neck and shoulders (while your arms are strong in the frame) are relaxed.
Proper breathing is with your diaphragm. Breathing into your lungs will leave you wanting air and tense. (If you had a chronic breathing problem, I would recommend you take a few singing lessons. A vocal coach can show you how to breathe properly).
Your mind is under your control via your meta-mind. So remind yourself that you love to dance; that this is going to be FUN; that by dancing this song in-tune with the music you will make a break-through to being the dancer you want to be.
One other reason for being nervous is because of how you think your partner is going to react to you.
Most of us leaders worry that she expects more or better (perhaps we feel intimidated because there is a better male dancer on the floor).
In fact your partner only wants to enjoy the music and the experience of dancing with another partner. She doesn’t expect you to be anyone other than yourself.
My then-woman teacher once told me something that was very helpful when I worried about variety, etc.
She said: “I would rather you only do 3 ‘steps’ all night as long as you do them well.”

So just relax, sink into the music, and dance for the pure joy of what Argentine Tango offers.Remember that not all of the excitement you feel is necessarily because you are nervous. Some of that tingling feeling is part of your reward for learning how to do this!

The Hidden History of Tango

The history of Tango is fascinating and complex. The evolution of the dance has profound implications for the way we dance today, and Tango music has become one of the great World Music genres.

For the first century of its history, while Tango music struggled for and then achieved respectability, the dance was neglected by historians and academics. The articles on these pages (www.history-of-tango.com) are based on many years of research in areas sometimes not covered by the official histories of Tango. The aim is to get to the heart of the Tango from a dancer’s perspective, but not forgetting the rich history of the music.

They examine the story of the dance, from its earliest stages, through its worldwide success before and after the First World War, the Golden Age from the mid 1930s until the coup in Argentina in 1955, the dark ages of Tango when the dance was pushed underground and persecuted, and the fabulous Tango renaissance which has spread the dance once again all over the world. An overview of the history of the music will examine its evolution and the influences that formed it, putting the great Tango artists in context

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