Far from the highly stylized, ballroomish, rose-in-the-teeth Hollywood
depiction, the tango is the ultimate social dance.
Why is Tango the ultimate social dance?
you go to a milonga (an event where tango is danced) with the expectation
that you may dance both with people you know and (if you are lucky)
with a person you have never seen before from another country perhaps.
You may observe these people before you dance with them, to see
how they treat their partners and how they express themselves in
the elegance of tango. Either type of partner on any given night
may inspire you to the point where a smile appears on your face
that is completely beyond your control.
so special about Tango as a dance?
tango dancer will bend your ear for hours on this one. Tango is
a dancer's dance. For instance, ballet dancers never die.. they
just move to the tango. The freedom of expression is virtually limitless.
yet, in its essence, the tango is as simple as a walk -- together.
The dance only defines some basic principles about how two people
can move relative to each other in space. After the "lead /
response" sensibility is understood, the rest is a journey
of exploration into your ability to express yourself with a partner
to music you both hear.
tango requires a connection between partners that is in addition
to anything they may be experiencing physically. In other words,
other forms of dance rely on frame and tension to maintain
a physical connection between partners. At it's best, the tango
turns every beat of the music into an interaction that requires
movement of each dancer independently in response to the suggestion
of their partner. For more on this, register here.
Tango is worldwide. If you know the principles of tango, you can
go to any major city on this earth (someone is working on a Lunar
milonga I'm sure) and many small cities and dance closely with someone,
with the mutual understanding that the affair is just for 10 minutes.
It is not at all necessary to know the verbal language of your partner
and tango well.
am a man... sounds like fun
bet. Two people can join with music, most often in an embrace that
is closer than in any other activity we can do in public in our
current culture. Register for class here.
am a woman... sounds dangerous
around 1920, the tango became popular and migrated from its seedy
roots in Argentina to the upper class both there and in Europe.
Over the subsequent 30 years the culture of tango evolved to include
a set of behavioral rules of civility that made the dance acceptable
to many if not most moms. These customs are unique to the tango,
are sometimes downright hilarious (see Cabeceo below), and persist
to this day. Women have control in tango. They decide whether to
accept an invitation to dance or not. At any point during the dance
or between songs, a woman may simply leave the floor
asked (this happens very rarely). Additionally there are a few reasons
why men will act with complete decorum in the dance. First, they
are most often gentlemen and cherish the privilege of dancing in
a close embrace with a woman. Second, any impropriety on the part
of a man will risk his reputation in the community. Given the investment
in learning the tango, the risk of becoming ostracized for this
reason is simply too great. Lastly, though alcohol is sometimes
a part of the usual environment of the tango, it is virtually never
abused there. Tangueros and tangueras love the dance so much that
they are unwilling to sacrifice any physical control at the expense
of their tango. Tangueras will spot the exceptions a mile away.
you are from, say, Maryland and you are not a mom but you have a
mom, you can pretty much be assured that your mom will look at this
activity with a cocked eye and a healthy, mom-sized dose of suspicion.
If you are a Maryland mom and you have a daughter, you can
pretty much be assured that your daughter will have exactly the
same thoughts about your tango as the tango would, on first
sight, appear to be scandalous. In either case, you can assure your
mom or daughter that there is a more "prudent" form of
the tango called "open embrace" that is becoming all the
rage and that they should not worry and go find their own sandbox.
you are still concerned, the Fundamentals A class is taught exclusively
in an "open embrace" so that students can "see"
what is going on. Subsequent classes in Fundamentals B will transition
to the posture and possibilities of a "close" embrace
that is the hallmark and standard of the tango.
reality, the "fear" of the embrace goes away all too quickly
and you are left with the marvelous feeling of closeness that is
unique to the tango. Soon, hugging someone becomes very natural
and you become sad for people who do not allow themselves the freedom
to do it.
does the Tango?
Well.. not quite. Let's just say there are certainly no demographic
boundaries for the tango. Every age, color, nationality and sensibility
is represented. That said, there are a few characteristics that
you can spot in tangueros (men who dance tango) and tangueras (women
who dance tango).
(Going far on a limb) Men who dance tango, whether they know it
or not when they start, like to dance. Men who have meeting
women as their only goal will usually not climb the investment
hill to learn - they will find a quicker (.com?) path with less effort
to accomplish that mission. Men who stick with it will always have
a combination of traits that include healthy doses of persistence,
curiosity, self-confidence and humility.
Women who dance tango have a need to express themselves with grace
and recognize that tango is a rare opportunity for this in our culture.
find out more about who does the tango, register here.
shoes should I wear to tango?
shoes with leather bottoms. Here's why. Pivoting is common
in the tango. You need a slight amount of traction to help you push
off the floor when you dance. However, if you have too much traction
it is more difficult to pivot. The torque it takes to make you pivot
gets communicated to your joints (especially your knees). Tangueros
wear a variety of different types of shoes.. but they all have leather
bottoms of some sort.
shoes for tango, almost always have a chroma suede sole. If they
do not, any shoe store can put apply a chroma suede layer to the
existing sole. The sole is applied to the front of the sole, not
the heel. The nap of chroma suede will naturally "lay down"
to become slick on the bottom resulting in a shoe that has some
traction but remains slick enough to pivot. However, if you encounter
a slick or "fast" floor, you can use a shoe brush
to raise the nap of the suede and provide more traction. It is,
therefore, an adjustable traction sole. Most experienced dancers
have chroma suede soles on their shoes.. whatever the style of upper.
men and women can get by with a standard hard leather sole. Women
pivot more than men in general, so a fast sole is often most comfortable
for them. Women sometimes carry more than one pair however, because
if the floor is fast (slippery) the hard leather sole does not provide
enough traction. The second pair is usually chroma suede.
shoes for either men or women most often have a heel that is slightly
higher than a normal shoe. Why? Because when the embrace closes
in tango, each partner will have a slight forward aspect to their
posture. The angle of this posture is created at the ankle. A raised
heel will decrease the amount of calf stretch required to allow
your heel touch the ground. In short, it is more comfortable to
dance in close embrace with a raised heel.
have other considerations for heel height that include style, comfort,
and the fact that a raised heel can offer an increase in height
of several inches. Height matching in tango is not essential, but
may make dancing close embrace more comfortable and connected.
is this thing called the Cabeceo and why en el mundo
would I want to do it?
cabeceo is one of several codigos (codes) that developed
in the golden era of tango. Describe the procedure to a friend who
doesn't tango and you are sure to get response that you may not
be able to hear... because the person is bent over laughing! /:}
one gets through our Fundamentals series without knowing what the
cabeceo is. At that time in one's tango journey, however, the process
may seem somewhere between cute and whacky. This may be the reason
why cabeceo/mirada is almost never taught in tango classes. Nonetheless,
cabeceo/mirada is an important concept in tango that is often misunderstood.
think cabeceo/mirada is stuffy or snooty -- a way to be exclusive
or cliquey. It is not. What may seem like a contrived ritual barely
worthy of a bad black and white movie-- is actually about courtesy
goes like this:
tandas (three or four tangos in a row where partners dance)
a cortina (curtain) song is played as a signal for dancers
to clear the floor. During the cortina, dancers look around to see
where others are sitting or standing. When the music of the next
tanda starts, each person who wants to dance that tanda (different
orchestras having different characters) will look to a person they
would like to dance with and try to meet their eye. If the leader
thinks he has captured the eye of a responder, he or she will give
a motion of the head (very unique to the person) indicating an invitation
to the floor. When the responder sees the cabeceo, she (or ok..
he if he is responding) will give a mirada, a head movement,
often a nod, of acceptance. The leader will then make his or her
way around the dance floor to the responder who will, only
then, rise to be escorted to the floor by the leader.
are made only between mutually and equally consenting persons. If
a person in either role does not want to dance with someone in the
room, they may simply avoid eye contact during the first few measures
of the tanda. Boom.
why is the cabeceo about respect? It's because this simple process
gives everyone some control over their tango experience on any given
evening, no matter where they are. A person can go to a milonga
without feeling pressure or the need to accept every (or any!) invitation.
They need not fear the embarrasment and perception of disrespect
that might result from verbally rejecting someone in front of others.
A person can choose when they would like to dance --and when they
would like to take a break for any reason -- without need for a
verbal explanation or apology. Anyone can "invite", whomever
they would like to dance with to the particular orchestra playing.
The cabeceo/mirada is efficient because everyone knows at a glance
who would like to dance. Anyone not looking up to make eye contact
during the first measure of a new tanda is explicitly saying they
do not care to dance at that time.
can't imagine not dancing with everyone."
Keep dancing. There will undoubtedly be people you would rather
not dance with. Inarguable examples include the person who will
not be happy with your dance and will take the opportunity to instruct
you on the dance floor. Then there is the leader who is dancing
with him or herself... only to judge the follower by how well they
execute their sometimes exotic and half-learned "test moves".
And how about the person who just accepts the dance but isn't really
"into it". The poor navigator. The leader/responder who
has years on the dance floor but is uncomfortable because he/she
doesn't know or care enough about her partner's experience to get
feedback from an instructor at least every year or so.
Though rare, unfortunately there are more poignant examples. It's
ok. The cabeceo is your friend!
say you go to a milonga where you know no one. You have high hopes
of dancing the night with new partners you will remember forever!
You want to do everything you can to make the experience great.
The first step you can take before you actually take a step is ....
and this is specifically for responders....... watch the dance
floor! Look to see which leaders are taking care of their
partners. Are their partners having fun? Are they in tango bliss
or are they wearing a mask of pain?! /:} Spot those leaders who
are not navigating well or who are seem to be man-handling their
partners. Mirada the leaders you want, avoid obvious bad actors!
cabeceo is required by many responders, especially at festivals,
who will give an automatic "No" to leaders who ask them
directly to dance.. simply because they don't know enough not to
ask verbally. This won't happen to you because you are reading this!
shy and I don't feel I can just say no if someone asks me to dance."
of a "no".. you might mention that you observe the cabeceo
and ask them if they know what it is. There are good leaders out
there who have never been to milongas where the cabeceo is used.
that you are doing neither yourself, nor a partner a favor by accepting
a dance you don't want. This is a situation in every social dance,
but is particularly important in tango. Both partners must be "all
in" in tango. If you're can't be "all in" for any
reason, consider not dancing with that person. Get excited! Dance
a leader. Will I dance less if I practice the cabeceo?"
may find that you don't get the partner you want -- when
you want -- as often.
off, not gaining eye contact with someone you are trying to cabeceo
has some (albeit temporary) degree of plausible denial as in "Maybe
she just didn't see me." However, beyond that, there are dozens
of reasons why someone might not want to tango with you at a particular
time.. but would be glad to at another. The music is a perfect example.
It might very well matter to someone with whom they tango to the
music of late DiSarli. Maybe the next tanda is a milonga and they
know milonga is not your favorite. Maybe they want your tanda to
be special and they're "not feeling it" at that moment
because their feet hurt. They would rather wait! It's important
to remember that if your gaze is not returned (and sometimes this
is obvious) it may simply mean that that person would rather dance
with someone else at that time. It's a mistake to think that
it means they never want to dance with you! Don't grow a tree over
it. Give it a rest for a while... but try again later. Who knows?
Tango cannot be about "getting" exactly what we want,
when we want. The cliche is true. It takes two.
your dances are far fewer...
robots get a lot better, it is an unfortunate reality that we cannot
experience what it is like to dance with ourselves. We are destined
to be on the side of the partnership where our head is! If you find
that practicing the cabeceo yeilds fewer dances, you may fairly
conclude that you have been using a few, "jungle tactics"
to get you dances. Ask an instructor how your tango can be a better
experience for your parnters. As your tango improves, you will feel
a joy in knowing for sure that the partner who has accepeted your
cabeco/mirada is "all in". Go ahead then... dance with
we would like reeeeaaaalllly like to dance with someone who never
seems to return our gaze. This is frustrating because the apparent
rejection is compounded by the fact that we cannot know why. There
may be a temptation to force the issue by asking directly. It is
important to realize that we can only be who we are and the best
dancer we can be... and that a tango with someone who does not,
for any reason, wish to dance with us, is a poor tango indeed! It's
are some cabeceo/mirada Dos and Don'ts.
must to be able to see. Do wear glasses if you need to
during the cabeceo/mirada. Alternatively, a cabeceo relay works.
A friend sitting next to you tells you that someone is trying to
meet your gaze.
cabeceo somone too close to you! Running up 10 feet from someone
and giving them puppy eyes is not a cabeco! A conversation can sometimes
be used as a means to the end of "getting" a tango. If
you are sitting with someone or talking to them and you want to
dance, cabeceo someone at a distance instead. You can cabeco the
person you're talking to next tanda. Alternatively causally remove
yourself to a distance during the cortina and then try to
burn a hole in your previously close prospect. Drilling the person
sitting next to you with your eyes not cool. You are too close!
the mirada. If you recieve a cabeceo, don't assume that the leader
will simply come for you! Do them the courtesy of accepting the
invitation with a nod. It tells them you're "in" and that
they should come escort you immediately. The more the mirada is
returned, the more leaders get that responders get to choose too.
respect the short time during which the cabeceo/mirada happens.
If you are talking with someone in a conversation, be sensitive
to the fact that both the cortina AND the first 20 seconds of the
next tanda is is the time when partnerships are made. If you or
that person would like to dance, suspend or lighten the conversation
so that you and/or your acquaintence can participate in the cabeceo.
This is a courtesy.
worry about or bother those who are in conversation during the first
part of the tanda. They are having fun and might like to tango later.
Anyone who is not scanning during the cortina and the first part
of the tanda is not dancing that tanda.
feel the need to explain why you do not want to dance to anyone.
You have your reasons and you are entitled to keep them private.
one "owes" anyone a tango. Don't feel pressured
to tango for any reason.
there be exceptions to the cabeco? What if I find myself in a milonga
where the cabeceo is not practiced?
should be rare... but it happens.
Buenos Aires, the cabeceo is practiced exclusively and held sacred
not just as tradition, but for the reasons discussed above. There
is a growing number of encuentros in the world these days
--festival events where all who participate agree to adhere to the
codigos of tango, including the cabeceo. At these places, there
are no exceptions.
you have a partner for which the casual encounter and barely neccessary
verbal suggestion to dance has become a habit... consider the cabeceo/mirada
exercise for them every once in a while.. as a courtesy. They will
appreciate that you are giving them choice.
many milongas, especially in the states however, the cabeceo is
either not practiced - or half practiced.
you are a leader in such a milonga, do you stand looking while others
ask verbally? If you are a responder, do you accept verbal invitations?
you find yourself in such a situation and you are a leader you will
not get as many tangos for sure. The early bird will
get the responder. If you are a responder who exercises her choice
in verbally declining a tango from anyone asking directly, that
person will think less of you and you may get fewer verbal invitations
as a result. Catch 22? Super frustrating!
If the cabeceo is a courtesy to others, should we foresake that
courtesy just to dance another tango? Or is tango the very place
where such courtesies should be offered and practiced... even at
the exclusion of a dance when courtesy is not extended by others?
(was) the largest Tango Festival on the East Coast held in Baltimore??
a milonga here in Baltmore raws about 50 people. The Tango Element
festival brought upwards of 500 people from all over the
US. In 2012, Alberto Podesta, one of the most famous singers of
the Golden Era of tango was flown first class from Argentina to
sing at the festival
. right here in Baltimore.
is fair to say that the event started out as a modest and purposefully
friendly Baltimore Tango Marathon weekend hosted by the Baltimore
Tango community as it existed in 2003. The event was to be a contrast
to the larger and more intimidating DC Tango Marathon (no longer
in existence). The first one was held at the Eubie Blake Center
on Howard Street. In 2004 the event, hosted entirely by community
volunteers, moved to "The Barn" at the Catonsville Community
College. It was successful in both 2004 and 2005.
the festival grew, it took more and more effort from the volunteers
-- whose numbers were shrinking because the local tango teachers
Carlos and Tova Moreno had moved from Baltimore to Boston in late
2003. Carlos and Tova connected with the talent (marathon instructors)
for both the 2004 and 2005 festivals, but they had to work at a
distance from the other volunteers in Baltimore
it a bit difficult to coordinate with the other elements of the
event. Even though the 2005 marathon was a big success, the volunteers
were worn. A unanimous decision was made to not continue the
following year. However, instead of just letting the festival
pass into history, it was decided to offer it to Anne Sophie Ville
in DC (organizer of many events in DC including the DC Tango Marathon)
to see if she wanted to organize it the following year on a for-profit
basis with help from the Baltimore community in exchange for attendance
to the event.
readily accepted the offer, and with the help of the Baltimore tango
community as volunteers, Anne Sophie ran the festival in 2006. Anne
Sophie, as much of a veteran tango festival organizer as anyone
in the US at the time, recognized Baltimore as a neutral, "nowhere"
location on the East Coast. The event could be separate from her
already successful DC Tango Marathon which needed no special headline
attractions. She took a huge financial risk and booked Chicho Fromboli,
Sebastian Arce and Marianna Montes from Argentina. This was big
and VERY ambitious of Anne Sophie to do. These instructors and performers
were recognized as the best in the world. The level of commitment
was just unheard of for tango in the US at the time. The risk paid
off and the festival was a success. Baltimore, of all places, hosted
the best and people came. Thus Baltimore became the kind of "Burning
Man" location for east coast tango.
2007 the festival was scaled back a bit with instructors from the
US and Argentina (Melina Brufman and Claudio Gonzalez), again hosted
by Anne Sophie with the Baltimore tango community's help.
2008 there were some important changes. Anne Sophie was no longer
living in the states and tried to organize the festival from abroad
with help from Callie Norton in DC. Anso decided to make the festival
even bigger than with the Chicho, Sebastian, Marianna dream team
and signed up Pablo Veron as the headliner for the festival. Pablo
was the star of the movie The Tango Lesson, and was undoubtedly
the most recognized name in tango at the time. Organization of the
festival from a distance, however, proved to be very difficult and
the festival was in danger. Baltimore's name was on the line and
the community, at this point completely uninvolved in the organization
of the event, was quite concerned at the time. At the last minute,
Callie Norton and Julia Schiptsova stepped in to save the 2008 festival
with financial backing and last minute organization. The festival
was a success, but a narrow escape from both financial and organizational
points of view.
the festival was virtually "saved" by Callie and Julia,
there was a degree of unwritten "ownership" conferred,
so in 2009 Callie and Julia decided to take over the festival.
thinks big and dreams bigger. She wanted to continue the concept
of Baltimore as a neutral and convenient location for the festival.
Barn venue at the Catonsville Community College was becoming unavailable
due to College policy. Callie and Julia searched for a new venue
in Baltimore. Several were found.. but when Julia saw the Tremont
Hotel (now Embassy Suites Baltimore Downtown), she had to have it.
The only problem was that it was expensive. In order to move the
festival there, it would have to be bigger
Julia convinced Callie that they could make it THE place for tango
to happen in the eastern half of the US. A lot of what Tango
Element is today, is a result of doing what was necessary to ensure
that the event was a success
making it bigger.
Sophie had some roots in Baltimore as an early instructor here and
as a general pied piper of tango in the area. When the festival
transitioned to a bigger event, with larger financial considerations..
and a different perspective on the event and who would attend as
a result... there was a concern by at least one person in the Baltimore
tango community that the "flavor" of the festival was
no longer what the Baltimore community started with. This extended
to a suggestion that the Baltimore Tango Festival no longer be used
to represent the event. This was immediately accepted by Callie
and Julia and Tango Element was born.
Some of us wax nostalgic about the community effort and experiences
of our years building the Baltimore Tango Festival. I think it's
fair to say that anyone who was there understands that any festival,
let alone one as big as Tango Element, is a huge undertaking in
both effort and financial risk. Tango Element is not the Baltimore
Tango Festival of 2004. Love it or hate it, it is a different animal.
That said, it is a tango force
. and any force that has had
the wherewithal to bring Alberto Podesta here to sing, at the very
least, has the distinction of historical significance. Our Baltimore
Orioles hats are off to organizers for that.
wish someone had given me A CLUE before my first few tango festivals.
I'm hope this FAQ will help folks to participate
or at the
understand what's going on a little better!
with the description of the Frustration. There is light at
once got a note from an excellent dancer in DC saying she wasn't
coming to a local DC festival because she found that "she just
stands around trying to catch someone" and that "nobody
will dance with a local".
a shame, eh? What's wrong with this picture?
who attend big festivals can experience Frustration when
they see so many dancers having so much fun, yet are themselves
relegated to the sidelines. Guys may get refusal after refusal for
seemingly no good reason. Women may simply not be asked to dance.
The real Frustration occurs when even the usual Tango
Jungle parameters don't apply! At a big festival it may not
seem to matter how well you can dance or how young, good-looking,
well-dressed or even how well shod you are! /} The whole environment
may seem "cliquey" beyond belief
to the point where,
as a local, you feel like your space has been invaded and there's
a party you're attending that you really didn't get a sincere invitation
to. You may find even your local partners will not dance with you
the ultimate blow!
the heck! An impossible Game you say?
dancers who attend festivals come from a distance with only one
or two feet and X amount of energy. Given their investment in time
and money, their goal is to optimize their experience by dancing
as much as possible with as many people as possible. They are
junkies and therefore as predictable as the night. They simply want
to string together as many of those effortless, Golden Tango
Experiences as they can.
has had a dance where the experience was not effortless. You know,
a dance that caused you to doubt your own skills the whole night
or even longer
because it was so, well, unfulfilling.
Secret to the Mystery. Experienced festival dancers are VERY
reluctant to risk their limited energy X... and, as important, their
even more important their Reputation
as a good dancer....and of prime importance... their Safety...
on dancing with someone new. Their refusals are likely not personal...
they simply do not know how you dance. They just aren't willing
to take a risk while they have a Field of Knowns.
that's it.. the Game is now officially impossible you say!
are some suggestions. I hope they are helpful:
Treat a festival just like networking event.
in business or sales know how this goes. You take some initiative
to make a conversation with a person who is not dancing to get to
know someone new. Sometimes this happens best when there is
clearly no presumption for a dance. Often, all it takes is
a few words to make you less anonymous. Then, somehow, things are
more friendly and an offer (or a possibility) to dance presents
naturally. This does not come easily to some dancers who are shy.
Know that it will not work 100% of the time and do not be discouraged.
Try again with someone else.
Make a networking opportunity of the dances you get.
you know when your partner is having fun dancing with you. If you're
confident this is the case:
are you from" (almost a given for chit chat, eh?)
there other folks here from River City?"
here's the kicker... toward the end of the tanda... the referral
really enjoyed our dance. You folks in River City really know how
to do it! Do you think someone else from River City might like to
answer to this question is obviously Yes cuz Everyone is there to
dance. The question of whether they want to dance with *you* is
and if you were right about your dance experience
with your new partner from River City he or she will be glad to
make another connection for you. Because: First, as cliquey as the
environment may seem, people really want to see everyone have fun.
Secondly, folks need someone to talk about on their trip back home
to River City. The best part is that your new partner is not
likely to steer you wrong. They don't want to get a bad rep for
connecting you to a bad dancer!
Consider coming late and staying late.
new dancers experience the Frustration and leave early. What
may not know, however, is that there comes a special period of time
between when experienced festival dancers decide that they have
had a sufficient string of Golden Tango Experiences to satisfy
their habit... and when they are so exhausted they cannot dance
one more song... when they might be willing to take a risk
on someone new. Adding to the possibility is that, later in the
evening, the floor clears to reduce the chance that poor navigation
will lead to an accident -- and the experienced dancer does not
have to worry so much about Safety with an unknown partner. Exactly
when this happens is specific to each dancer and each evening. The
more popular the dancer, the later the window of opportunity occurs.
For some it is -- quite unfortunately -- 4 AM.
If you yourself have limited energy, you may want to be relatively
fresh when the opportunity arises
so consider avoiding the
throng earlier in the evening.
Become a completely comfortable dancer.
my opinion this is essential... a sine qua non. Isn't it
really the first and most important goal for any tango dancer?
definition of "being comfortable" is a bit different on
a crowded festival floor.
we all know, in the Big Huge Line of Dance in Tango Heaven
has an upright and forward posture there is no tension, no
mousy lead, no neck hanging, no stepping backward in the line of
dance, no extension of the leg farther than what is lead or in any
other direction than what is lead. At a big festival, for leads,
being comfortable means being competent to navigate -- respectful
of the line of dance and the dancers around them to keep a partner
Safe on a crowded floor. For responders, it means being responsible
for posture and movement as interpreted from the lead so that he
can feel confident in navigating you Safely as a couple.
you are comfortable, there is no downside to dancing with you. It
is a pleasure for your partner wherever they are from. If you are
comfortable there will be a tendency to dance with you next time.
The memory of experienced dancer for the fundamental qualities of
a partner that might lead to a Golden Tango Experience at
some festival, somewhere, at some time in the future is often amazingly
we're home, we have a world of time to get to know one another.
At a festival, I think, it pays to go outside of one's envelope
at bit in order to get to know the larger tango population
that comprising the US and for some festivals -- the world. It will
take a bit of time to get to know the world, eh? It might be comfortable
to dance with your local friends in a sea of people from the rest
of the world but, in the end, it will feel a bit isolated. So maybe
whenever you dance with someone local at a festival, consider using
that as a marker to yourself to make use of the opportunity get
to know someone from out-of-town. Remember, there are people there
with your tango experience and ability, hoping to have a good time
as well. They are looking for you. Find them!
can be a opportunity to bring new life to your dance experience
and make connections that will last the whole of your life.
to Wear for Tango
for both you and your partner should be a consideration when selecting
your dance attire. Keeping the connection with your partner in tango
is a crucial step in becoming a comfortable dancer (which is what
will get you dances anyway!). The right clothes can help you maintain
the connection without distraction.
Women who dance tango are said to be some of the most creatively
and sexily dressed women on the planet. So start with that and make
it fit your style! With all the twisting and disassociating that
we do with our rib cages and hips it is important to factor-in the
stretch of the fabric when making your tango wardrobe selections.
The freedom to move in the dance is best achieved from both a supple
body and the fabric on top of it. Lycra blend is a staple in most
tanguera's closets and it seems to be in everything these days.
Try yoga type clothes and other clothes with a Lycra blended fabric
for optimal liberty in your molinetes.
Dress and skirt hemlines should not be past the calf or a heel can
catch on the fabric. With the aforementioned fabric a snap move
could result in a stretch that would put Gumby to shame -- treacherous
indeed! Often women will refrain from wearing a dress and instead
will opt for a tunic like top or short dress to pair with pants.
A lovely and danceable alternative.
A tango friend of mine told me that he was dancing with a woman
whose pants fell down in the middle of the tanda and before you
could blink an eye she had already pulled them back up. He was more
surprised than concerned by this until she said that these pants
always did that when she danced! Lest you wish to be mistaken for
Janet Jackson, leave wardrobe malfunctions for rock and roll royalty.
Pants have become a preferred tango wardrobe staple for their versatility.
Wear them shorter and tighter for fun (but remember the stretch
factor). Or enhance the line of the body with flowing cuts of pants
such as palazzo or gaucho style. The fabric surrounds the leg in
a way that adds a graceful quality when walking or executing a snaky
The bodice of a dress or top can be displaced during and after a
particularly intense close embrace tanda. To avoid an embarrassing
moment or the need for frequent adjustments; choose a style that
will stay put. A halter-top can shift to reveal more than you bargained
for when executing overturned back ochos and a strapless top could
need a chaperon to behave if a high boleo is led.
By all means express your personality with your attire. Funky or
elegant rule the fashion front in tango.
Practicas and class can best be accommodated with a relaxed outfit
that can keep you both cool and comfy during that 35th attempt at
the perfect colgada. Afternoon milongas are danced with a thought
to casual elegance in attire while the highly anticipated (by most!)
alternative milongas add that ever so cool twist of funk. Evening
milongas have a classy and elegant vibe. As long as an outfit is
functional for dance, it is almost impossible to be too dressed-up
for a weekend milonga, especially a grand milonga at a festival.
Late, late night dancing calls for comfort
even pajamas so
you can dance your way to sleep
Tango Tip: Get a mirror to see the back of your chosen attire.
Your back gets as much attention as your feet when you are in tango
rapture and the rest of the room is watching you. There are some
very unusual and attention getting backs on dresses and tops on
the market now to peruse. From spider web-like macramé to
costume jewelry designs, a top is just asking to be noticed when
you are coming or going.
Jewelry can enhance what you are wearing. Be mindful of chunky necklaces,
spiky bracelets worn on the left wrist, jangly wind chime and feather
earrings. Each has the power to give your leader an undesired reaction!
It is all about the feminine in us that enhances our movement and
flow on the dance floor. Accentuate your own feminine positives
with your clothing choices but keep it functional and simple.
The only reason dressing for tango is slightly easier for men than
women is that they have fewer shoes to start with!
For men, there are possibly four types of milongas:
Weekend evening or special weekday evening
Regular weekday evening and
rarely a milonga is specified as "formal." This means
black tie with a suit (not a sports coat) as the only, second best,
A weekend evening or special milonga such as a "grand milonga",
one held at an embassy, or any normal milonga held on Saturday night
calls for attire that is more "dressy". Slacks, usually
dark, and long-sleeved shirts are customary. Dark "dress"
cargo pants are fine, but jeans are not appropriate for a Saturday
milonga unless you are a young visiting rock star without room in
the rucksack for a better choice!
Whether you are twenty or eighty, unless the event is specifically
formal, it is always good form for a gentleman to wear a seasonal
sports coat to a milonga. However, consider removing your jacket
before you dance
. many women find the extra "distance"
created by the coat too great. If it's chilly though, you can always
ask your partner which they would prefer. Sometimes it's nice to
dance all dressed up!
Each weekday evening milonga has it's own character so they may
be more or less casual. If you don't know the nature of a weekday
night milonga, consider erring on the conservative side with more
dressy attire. If it's a milonga attended mostly by young people,
casual (like jeans) is cool.
Other milongas include afternoon and outdoor events. Attire spans
the gamut at these functions. Comfort is a factor.
Part of being comfortable is being clean and dry.
Tolerance for "stinky" is a somewhat variable from a worldwide
perspective, but survey says if you are in the states both you and
your clothes need to be clean when you dance tango.
Perspiration in the summer is a given and is not generally a problem.
However, if you sweat profusely at any time of the year, dry out
before asking another partner to dance. Pure cotton, especially
when it is not tightly woven is one of the coolest fabrics for summer.
Under Armour shirts that wick wetness are also good options. Any
material that doesn't "breath" well will be a problem.
A handkerchief is a good accessory to wipe your face with.
Tango Tip: Savvy gentlemen who sweat will bring two or three shirts
to milongas in the summer time. A change of shirt feels good and
is much appreciated by partners.
Short-sleeved shirts are common at outdoor milongas in the summer.
Finally, check the front of you. If you can, put your keys or anything
else that you would carry in your front pockets in your shoe bag
so your partner is not subjected to them when legs get close when
walking. Big belt buckles belong on gauchos, not tangueros!
with the heart and embrace each partner with the intention of being
present and connected. Let what you wear be the icing on that cake!
Tango represents an all too rare opportunity to "dress to the
nines" and express yourself with your clothing as well as dance!
Music: Part 1
is wrong with these people who only want to dance to traditional
tango" vs. "What is wrong with these people who disgrace
tango by playing non-tango at a milonga!"
The title is tongue-in-cheek but the viewpoints can be as passionate
as the tango itself.
Dancing tango to music created after "Golden Era" (~1935
- 1952) can be a hoot. It's fresh and many of us can identify with
it. Some of us simply appreciate that the lyrics are in English!
But although alternative tangos can be just as soulful as traditional
tango and although they almost always sound better, modern songs
are rarely as inspiring of tango as traditional music. For this
reason, experienced tanguer(o)as will most often prefer traditional
Well, it can take time for some people to love traditional tango.
Golden era tango starts and stops -- waxes and wanes - and can have
more complex phraseology than modern songs. The orchestration (many
instruments playing different musical parts) particularly can overwhelm
a new listener. Familiar instruments are missing -- ex. there are
no drums keeping a beat in tango. The recording quality is fair
to poor which can be off-putting to someone who has never listened
to older music. Tango lyrics are in a foreign language for non-Spanish
speakers. Some people are forward looking and have no time for sounds
from that far in the past. Some would not like to identify with
anything that is as "old" as tango. All of these things
can"gang up" on a new listener to make tango difficult
to appreciate at first. It's also frustrating that fervor of those
of us who love traditional tango is somehow lost on those yet to
anchor their experiences with traditional tango music.
And that's a lot of what loving traditional tango is all about.
The more times a person dances around the circle to the six or eight
hundred or so tangos that are played at milongas, the more he or
she becomes familiar with the music. When the music becomes familiar
to a person, they can associate it with good experiences to create
a "neural anchor". A neural anchor has the characteristic
that when the tango is played on another night, the feeling of the
previous experience is relived. Some of these anchors are deeper
than any Americans may know. If a person grew up in Argentina listening
to his grandfather sing Trasnochando in the shower, or his mother
singing Malena in the garden when he was a kid, you can expect a
strong opinion when T-Pain is played late night at a milonga. An
ensuing conversation on the topic (best avoided) might include the
word "respect". We're sure wars have been started over
Familiarity with songs is important in tango for other reasons.
Those of us whose tread is slightly worn to the outside of a counter-clockwise
circle expect to hear familiar songs at a milonga. Besides really
liking a really good tango, if a dancer knows what comes next musically,
he or she can better (or at least more comfortably) use their improvisational
skills to express that music. Experience with tango movement (ok,
vocabulary if you will) also allows a person's ears to open to dance
possibilities. The more a person learns how to express themselves
in tango movement, the more he or she finds in traditional tango
music for expression. So despite the lack of sound quality in the
recordings we inherit, there is often more in traditional tango,
more character that changes over the course of a song - more dynamism.
So fine, we get it, traditional tango is great. But does that mean
tango for ever and ever must be danced to music performed before
1952? Certainly not. Often when a new orchestra (and particularly
for Osvaldo Pugliese) would crop up in the golden era, dancers would
be in an uproar about how it was "un-danceable". Times
changed and now we dance to many tango styles, all in one night.
Dance is awesome about changing right along with the music. Witness
the evolution of dance to jazz, roughly at the same time as the
Golden Era of tango. Swing dance changed.. from Lindy right on through
to Be Bop with Jazz (watch Ken Burns documentary "Jazz")
right on up to the point where the songs were so improvisational
themselves, they could not be interpreted in real time by dancers.
If you can play a song the same twice, people will figure out how
to dance to it.
Here's a tango example. Colgadas. These are hanging movements that
swirl and suspend while each partner balances against the other
with a common axis. A tango instructor once told me after teaching
a colgada class that he didn't know why he was teaching them
because traditional tango did not inspire them. Understood (well
a little /:}). But play nearly any song by Zero 7 (like Destiny)
and there are colgadas all over the place in the music. Don't we
want to dance some colgadas to Zero 7?
Now unfortunately for tango, many current songs run out of gas on
the dancefloor, sometimes not making it to the first chorus. Pop
music specifically is geared around a soundbite like a few notes
of a chorus, a new synthetic sound (ear candy!) or a single concept
in lyrics. After getting used to listening to and dancing to the
breadth of traditional tango
the simplicity of some music
played for alternative is sometimes completely "meh" by
comparison. If the alternative music choice is unfamiliar, or worse,
the chorus of "Let's just dance traditional"
rises. It is completely understandable.
An upcoming FAQ will explore what makes a song good for dancing
tango. They're out there. Let's find them!