I Should Have Known Better …

6 08 2010

I climbed the stairs from street level to El Beso at around 10:30 pm on Thursday; I should have known better. It was a great night with the Lujos milonga and excellent dancers, including some of the old milonguero, but everyone was leaving when I got there. I should have known better with this being my 4th trip to Buenos Aires in three years; the had started at 6:00 pm. Some of the wonderful milongueras I had studied with were heading out the door after already dancing for a few hours, so I missed tandas with some of my favorite partners in Buenos Aires. And I missed a wonderful tanda with my primary teacher because of a communication mix-up using the cabaceo. I thought she declined a dance with me, when, instead she declined a dance with someone seated nearby and wanted to dance with me. I should have known better; after all, haven’t I been dancing for a number of years? Haven’t I been successfully using the cabaceo for a while? Oh well, they say … everything for a reason. Chill — relax and enjoy! It was 45 minutes before I got my first dance. But meanwhile I watched, I listened, I observed and absorbed. It was probably a good thing.

The dance floor was packed. After warm greetings from a number of teachers and friends, I was seated and immediately noticed something unexpected. There was a pulse on the dance floor I hadn’t remembered, perhaps something to do with the embrace, the steps, the music and the overall energy of the room .. tbc


Current Milongas in Buenos Aires

27 07 2010

I’m going to Buenos Aires for few weeks in August and recently ran across a website link that provides a great comprehesive and updated list of current milongas in Buenos Aires.


The list not only includes the necessary event details, but also includes dates when the milonga descriptions most recently updated and notes when other ongoing milongas have been canceled. While I can’t personally vouch for this list today,   I’ll learn a lot more in the next few weeks while I’m in Buenos Aires, and will update my readers, accordingly.   I did notice that the list includes milongas that have recently been recommended to me through word of mouth.    Let me know your own experience and whether or not anything is missing or listed when it shouldn’t be.

I also recently discovered a blog post of a visiting milonguera’s recent experience at various milongas in Buenos Aires — why she went to that milonga in the first, what she expected to find there and she actually experienced


It would have helped me understand the differences in some of the milongas in Buenos Aires before my first visit a few years ago.  It should be helpful getting of sense of the what a visitor experiences at some of the milongas, and would be particularly helpful to the uninitiated.

Tango Códigos & Milonga Floorcraft

11 07 2010

Tango Códigos & Milonga Floorcraft

Here are some guidelines that I recently developed for a local tango festival attended by about 300 people.    People generally responded favorably to the guidelines — being helpful and not too intrusive — which may also have helped bring some sanity to the festival’s milongas.  When preparing these guidelines, it was hard to know exactly what to include, as some of the guidelines are common sense for both experienced, as well as beginning tango dancers.  And whether fitting or not, some people either believe that tango etiquette only apply to others and not themselves, or that such guidelines only apply in Buenos Aires — where people can get kicked out of milongas for a minor breach of etiquette.  Other people seem to arbitrarily chose to ignore them or perhaps don’t even know that they exist.

The most most interesting comment I received in reaction to the Códigos was that next time,  I should make sure and get them  translated into at least two other languages, after English – not intended to pick on anyone in particular, but at least removing a language barrier, where it may exist.

Tango Códigos:

  1. Typically, the man asks the women to dance, instead of the woman asking the man.
  2. If possible, use the cabaceo method to find a partner, which helps people ‘save face’ when choosing a dance partner.   (The cabaceo is agreeing to dance through the subtle inclination of the head, through eye-contact or a wink.)
  3. The man should then approach the women while she remains seated, and stop near where she is sitting so they can meet on the edge of the dance floor.
  4. More experienced couples dance on the edge of the dance floor.  Less skilled dancers dance in the middle.
  5. When dancing, don’t confuse the social dance floor with a stage (see below).
  6. At the end of a tanda, the man accompanies the women to her seat, before chatting with others or  returning to his seat.

Milonga Floorcraft: Respect the line of dance

  1. All tango social dances have a line of dance, as dancers slowly circle the dance floor in a counter-clockwise direction.
  2. Dance counterclockwise on the edge of dance floor.
  3. Couples should stay in their lane until the song ends.  No zig-zagging in and out of the lane.
  4. Avoid passing the couple in front of you.  NEVER pass a couple on their right side (your left side) while in the line of dance.  (It continues to amaze me that some experienced dancers routinely do this.)
  5. Don’t teach (particularly for leads), don’t ask for tips (particularly for follows) or offer suggestions (everyone).  Lessons or tips are for practicas or classes.  Milongas are social dance events where people should be able to relax and enjoy themselves, instead of calling attention to what they’re doing wrong.
  6. During a dance, keep all of your feet on the floor.  No boleos on a busy floor.  That helps avoid injuries to other dancers with a mis-directed spiked heel.
  7. Respect the space of others in front of you and others behind you in the line of dance.  There is a small amount of space around you that’s yours, while the rest of the space is shared space.  It’s up to you to know the difference.
  8. Don’t disrupt the dance of others.  Your responsibility in the line of dance is to keep circulating without disrupting those around you.  If you want to stop and work on something special, go to the middle of the floor.

“Tango at a Crossroads?” — an interview with Mariano ‘Chicho’ Frumboli

25 04 2010

A passionate debate continues in the tango world about dancing styles of tango – primarily between proponents of the ‘milonguero’ style of dance from the Golden Age of Tango with a primary focus on a passionate and sensual embrace (feeling) and the more contemporary ‘nuevo’ style that often has a focus on steps with a more theatrical performance for others.

Here are some insightful comments from one of the founders of Tango nuevo. He speaks of the essence of tango, whichever style you chose.

From El Tangauta (December 2009:

Mariano ‘Chicho’ Frumboli
Essence and teaching

M: I would like to talk to you about the contribution that dancers and teachers can make from our experience to those who are learning.
CH: Each day that we go to a milonga, do an exhibition or a show, we are writing tango history, and this is a contribution. Many young people have gotten involved with tango; we are living the beginning of a powerful era. The genre is here to stay, there is no way that it will become hidden or marginalized again. It is constantly evolving.

M: But sometimes those who are starting lose themselves in all the multiple options.
CH: They are completely lost! I learnt with the last great milongueros, I took the information directly from them. Those who are starting to dance don’t have this experience, they learn instead from an intermediate generation that I am a part of; we are a nexus between these old dancers and those who are younger. The problem is that we missed something in the teaching, I take total responsibility, and other colleagues should do so as well. I can’t pass on what I have learned. I was crazy about creating, because I saw a new vein in the evolution of the movement. I threw myself into that, and I lost the way to be able to pass on the tango essence that I have very much inside. Because of this I feel that lately there are a lot of people who don’t understand or know what the real essence of this dance is.

M: You have been dancing for fifteen years. What changes have you noticed in the dance?
CH: Before, people worked with precision and a particular aesthetic, in a functional and mechanical way that gave it a form, and a style. Making a movement or taking a step implied an expression of the entire body. Currently, not only has the essence been lost but the weight of the dance as well, its density and importance. To me, this new tango lost a bit of the respect for what tango is.

M: The knowledge that the milongueros passed on to us intuitively, the indescribable flavor in the way they moved is lost …
CH: Yes, it took me five months to get on the dance floor of the milonga of Almagro, I didn’t dare to, and I went every Sunday only to watch. One breathed an air of respect that cannot be found now. Maybe I still feel it in some milongas like Glorias Argentinas, La Baldosa or in places that are further from the circuit of younger tango. I also took that essence from you and the dancers of your generation. I feel that the people of today are not motivated, they don’t want to work or research.
They don’t want to go to the bottom of the situation; they stay on the surface. This also has to do with the new movements and dynamics that are used, if they are not performed with some power they turn out cold.

M: The internal discourse of the movement is as important as the external form.
CH: Ten years ago, when I went to milongas, I could stay watching a couple go once around the entire dance floor because there was something that attracted me, made me keep my eyes on them. Today I don’t watch for more than twenty seconds because they are all the same. You see a couple circling and the next one behind them is doing the same thing, and the rest as well. There isn’t anything that attracts me, which excites me. Except if I go to the few traditional places that are left.

M: Do you think that the people who dance automatically or repeating formulas could do it in a more internal way?
CH: This demands a lot of things! You know it, because you are a teacher as well, that currently, the available tango pedagogy is much more decoded than ten years ago and so it is easier to learn. Today you do a volcada and a colgada and it is the same because they are there, commercially speaking, in the same package. Then, between doing a sandwichito or a volcada… people do a volcada! Because it’s more eye-catching. In tango people are self-centered, there is much individuality. They are not going to make a sandwichito to enjoy that moment, but whatever shows them more and better. In the musical field Astor Piazzolla broke with everything but you listen to it and it is tango. And today in the dance many think that they are Piazzolla and they aren’t. I see men and women that only worry about how they are seen from the outside. It is a pretty complicated situation because it has to do with a very porteño personality and identity.

M: But the milongueros from other times were also porteños!
CH: Yes, but those milongueros had respect, delicacy and sensibility, it was totally different. I know my role is contradictory, because I also collaborated in generating this young movement. In its moment I got tired of the strict milonguero codes that didn’t correspond with my time and to rebel I tried to make my way. Today I’m a milonguero again (laughter); I’m against the people who do not cabecear (nod), who don’t have codes or respect. The value of tango has been diluted. That is why I say that many dancers are lost, they barely hold on to each other to dance and for two hours like zombies, it is very sad.

M: Sometimes I notice a competition between new currents that allow more ample movements, where the dancers use more space, and those who defend traditional tango with a closed embrace.
CH: There’s something surprising about that. There are the traditionalists who defend roots to the death and then there are those modern or alternative dancers, in other words, new tango. But if you think about it there is nothing in the middle. The traditionalists complain about the modern ones contending that they don’t dance tango, instead they do gymnastics, and the modern dancers complain that the others got stuck in time. There is no fusion, it is one group against the other, and it makes me sad because in reality we are all together.

M: Do you have any wish in relation to tango? Any pending undertaking?
CH: I’m going to tell you a story. I was into rock-and-roll; I had long hair and played the drums. I hated tango, I didn’t like it one bit, I couldn’t even listen to it. But when I went to take a class with Ricardo Barrios and Victoria Vieyra, I embraced my dance partner for the first time and I got goose bumps. I said, “there’s something going on here…” and I never stopped. That magical moment was my beginning. On the other hand, a few years ago I went to the “La Trastienda” milonga organized by Horacio Godoy. I walked in and I saw you. I wanted to dance with you but second-guessed myself. I went back and forth until I asked you. I remember we were talking, then we embraced each other and in that moment I felt 40 years of tango. In the embrace, do you understand? We hadn’t taken a single step! It was simply from the way in which you held me. For me that was the most powerful moment of the tanda. Then we danced for a long time. It was great, we did all sort of things, I enjoyed myself. But the moment of that embrace, like the one of my first class and some others, have marked me in regards to my relationship with the dance. I’m talking about the intimacy of the embrace. With very few people have I been able to feel the same way, much has been lost. My wish for the dance of tango, then, is that the shared intensity returns, in the soul. Not to stay in the surface, but to feel it inside. That the genre evolves from that intimacy. The essence of tango is in the embrace and the person you are dancing with.

M: What else can I say? Thank you!

Improvisation and Music

M: You are a great improviser and it fascinates me to see you create. Can guidelines be transmitted to improve creativity in improvised exhibition?
CH: Maybe I am a ‘kamikaze’. What provokes in me sensation or emotion makes me move. Every tango is a different and powerful moment. I have designed choreographies, not many, because after repeating them a couple times I can’t find any more risk and, when I don’t have it, everything seems too easy. What motivates me is being on the edge, on the verge of falling, and getting away with it. Improvisation has that. Every time I’m going to dance, I choose the music and the number of songs at that moment. I try to connect with Juana Sepulveda, my partner, to create and artistic moment, of transmission or expression, right there, in that moment. I do not prepare it nor do I think about it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

M: There is no design or pre-established plan?
CH: No, I never did that. Maybe I do some steps that I experimented with in the milonga, which is my place of practice. If something doesn’t work, I don’t insist, because I might loose the connection I have with myself, with my partner and with the people. I have danced with orchestras of great prestige, in theatres all over the world, without doing choreography. Depending on the case maybe I prepare the entrance and the exit, but not the dance in itself.

M: Sometimes, when I see you dance it looks as if the structure of your dance was thought of for its harmony and musicality.
CH:: It has to do with the fact that I was a musician for many years, which is why I understand its structure, whether it is Osvaldo Pugliese, Anibal Troilo, Piazzolla or Electronic tango. The only thing I plan is a selection of tangos that I know well, to be able to play at precise moments. I try to always give what I think belongs there.

M: All of this happens on the spot? There are times when you do a sequence that has a certain duration, that has been made a certain way with a determined phrasing, where in addition to creating you are leading your partner…
CH: I know that phrase and how long it lasts, I know when it has to end and I prepare the movement along the way so that it fits perfectly with the music

M: So the value of knowing the structure of the music is important.
CH: It is crucial. Many of the professional dancers know the tangos but not in depth. There should be a stronger research of the music. I’m not talking about the rhythms, the phrasing or the duration, but the structure, the nuances and the colors. There is richness to be learned in relation to the music. It is infinite!

M: Also, what’s interesting is for the musical interpretation not to be literal. You have a style and many people follow your way to managing the music, but I see a certain lack of comprehension. It’s not about marking every little accent! (laughter) What’s marvelous about tango is the possibility of using the music in a random and personal way. How do you see the new current in relation to exhibition dancing?
CH: There are many professionals who have captured this new information and want to put it in their choreographies. But this material is not refined yet, it needs time to mature until it consolidates itself and can be used as an element of expression.

M: What one still sees are the steps instead of a fluid expression
CH: I think it is a question of giving it time.

The Essence of Tango – Feelings or Steps?

19 03 2010

What is the essence of tango? What generates the passion that makes tango both seductive and addictive at the same time? Does the same motivation that gets us started in tango dancing continue to generate the emotion and excitement to sustain it?

One of the ongoing debates within American tango communities is a focus on feelings vs. a focus on steps. The discussion goes back to the introduction of tango in America. At the time, Americans were captivated by what they saw on stage, and wanted to learn that stage dance, to dance socially. Many tanqueras and tanqueros have come to understand tango social dancing as what was performed on stage, when in fact these same performers danced a very different style socially – and still do today.

Yet the trend persists. Social dancing for some as become synonymous with learning steps, steps to perform for others. Yet most traditional tango social dancing in the salons and barrios of Buenos Aires is a much more understated style that focuses on feelings generated by posture, embrace and musicality. That dance is commonly called ‘milonguero’ style, though it’s sometimes confused with ‘salon’ or other ‘close embrace’ variations. ’Millonguero’-style social dancers feel what stage dancers see. They’re inspired in their dance by their connection with their partner and how it feels to them, instead of how their performance looks to others.

Is there a natural growth or progression? Only time will tell for each person. As in in many types of artistic expression, the best artists may never feel like they have finally arrived. Instead their art continues to evolve through their own understanding, inspiration and interpretation.

Good tango dancers can only aspire to the pinnacle of tango; they never reach it. Some of the best dancers in the world feel like they’ve only just begun.” As recently stated by older and wise ‘milonguero’ who has been dancing tango in Buenos Aires most of his life, “After over 60 years of tango dancing, I think I’ve finally learned how to walk.” How humbling for those of us who have only danced a few years, while sometimes feeling that we have already learned how to walk.

As perhaps best stated by Daniel Trenner — one of the early pioneers in bringing ‘milongueoro’ style social dancing to North America:

“It took years to get past being fascinated with the steps, which were my first draw to the dance. The dancers who were doing less footwork were uninteresting to me and I just didn’t see them. Then, years of advice from the milongueros to feel the dance, not just learn steps, began to take effect. I started to notice the dancers for how they stood, embraced and felt the music. It isn’t like I didn’t know about these things before, I just didn’t see them… even though they were right in front of me.”

How long does it take to learn Tango?

14 03 2010

‘People often ask how long it takes to learn how to dance Tango. For most people, it takes a few years to learn how to dance Tango, but it only takes a few months to be able to teach Tango’ ….. some scuttlebutt recently overheard in the Chicago tango community.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

9 11 2009

My ongoing growth and development of my Tango dancing seems to carry with it a certain rhythm – unlike other partner dances I’ve experienced. I’ve heard the expression “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” for years, but I’m still trying to figure out what it means. After all, taken literally, it would mean you’re going backwards, instead of advancing in your Tango dance. And yet, like I’ve experienced over the last few years, I do continue to advance — although at times the key growth spurt comes when I seem to be moving in the wrong direction.

I felt the impact of a true growth perhaps most profoundly during the last few months. At the beginning of this period, my dance felt comfortable, in fact too comfortable. And when I really started to pay attention to how I was dancing, I realized that I had a lot that needed to be fixed. Luckily, my teacher from Buenos Aires was coming to town and I was looking forward to taking a few private lessons with her so she could help me fix what was wrong.

The list of things to correct wasn’t totally surprising, but it was profound. And as I spent the following few weeks working on those things, I felt was dance retrenching and getting worse at the same time. I was dancing fewer interesting steps, I was losing my musicality and I wasn’t feeling grounded any longer — all of which are needed for a good dance. And the harder I worked at it fixing the other stuff (e.g, core, axis, walking) — the worse my dance seemed to become. I had briefly felt this before for perhaps a few days to a week or so, but never for this long a time. Three of four weeks after my private lessons, nothing seemed to have improved. And while I was still dancing with most of my Tango partners, I temporarily lost a few along the way during this transition.

Out of frustration, I checked in with a few of my Tango mentors who’d been dancing Tango for a long time. They were reassuring, but I still felt like I was stuck on this downhill slide that I struggled to recover from. My teacher returned 3 weeks later – 3 weeks after my private lessons with her — and we dance together at a Saturday Milonga (tango social dance). It didn’t go that well, and after the dance, we both acknowledged that I actually didn’t dance with her as well then, as I had a few weeks earlier — even though my private lessons were supposed to help fix all of that. Yes, I was actually dancing worse. What to do?

I considered taking more private lessons with her, but decided that I was too off-center to take in any more input and needed to find myself on the dance floor. Fundamentally, I felt that I had the tools to fix what I needed to fix and get everything out of my head and internalized into my body, but I just couldn’t seem to make it happen. The following week, I danced with another tango teacher visiting from Buenos Aires and something special started to emerge. Although I continued to concentrate on the basic technique of my dance, I felt some of those magical moments start to return, things that had been missing for over a month.

I savored the moment, took a few more days off from tango dancing, and then visited a new milonga in the northwest suburbs where I danced with some old friends, as well as some new. I started to feel my dance re-emerge, not just where I had left it weeks ago – but I seemed to be dancing better than ever before. So perhaps this is what is meant by the expression “One step forward, two steps back” is literally that. It’s not a figurative concept about the need to regroup, but a more literal concept — where I literally had to go backwards in my dance before I could advance. And despite all of the insecurities I felt during that time, I had to trust the path I was on, even when it was uncomfortable — trusting that I would re-surface in a new spot dancing better than I had ever danced before. My experience last weekend with yet another group of dancers confirmed that for the moment, I was in a good spot and all of the stuff I had struggled earlier with seemed to come together and I was able to share my embrace and musicality in profound ways I hadn’t been able to do earlier.

While my recent growth and development felt a bit disconcerting at the moment, I realize how important and necessary it was for me to go through the process to get where I wanted to go — for now!

And yes, with Tango:

< To go backwards, is to move forward.

< When you think you have it, you lose it.

< Seek tango, and it will elude you.

< Dance tango with humility and respect, and it will embrace you.

< Be vulnerable, and feel it’s power.

~ …

Wow…One of the best tango valz performances I’ve seen–with Alberto Dassieu and Elba Biscay

26 10 2009

Ah … to return to Buenos Aires soon!

21 10 2009


Originally uploaded by RichardMiller

Tango is Fragile

15 10 2009

I continue to experience how fragile it is to dance Tango, particularly at this early stage of my tango journey (i.e. years 1-5).  For the last number of months, I feel like I’m cycling on and off with my dance or perhaps I should say forwards and backwards. When I have my ‘A’ game, every tanda with each ‘follow’ is wonderful – no matter how good the music actually is or how experienced my partner. I may be ‘on’ for as little as one tanda, one night, or if I’m lucky, for a week or two.

Then suddenly, it’s as if it’s over and the clock is rolled back to a time weeks, or even months earlier and lasts perhaps another a week or ten days. Some partners I recently had fabulous dances with as little as a few days earlier, may suddenly seem to me to be out of my league and I may not have the necessary confidence to even ask them to dance, yet alone re-create that oh so wonderful experience. And even with those I do dance with, the dance may seem to be mechanical or in our heads and we don’t come close to creating the magic we felt so recently.

And as I continue to work hard to improve my dance and continue to go through these cycles, I’ve concluded that growth and development of my dance requires humility and vulnerability. When you feel good about how well you’re dancing and think you know everything, you loose it all. Yet, when you may feel a bit uncomfortable with your dance, less confident and perhaps a bit fragile AND you approach each milonga and each partner with a good dose of humility and that humility carries you along and can result in perhaps a very good dance.  It provides an avenue for growth and may give you and your partner your best dance of the week.

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