Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of connection, love, unity, beauty, harmony and humanity, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us as individuals, but tango unites us as a team, community and people. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.

October 10, 2020

The Lessons of Tango

Having a broad vision, or being petty, the results are different.

Viewing from the perspective of the team, or viewing from the perspective of the individual, the results are different.

Zooming out to see yourself as a part of the whole, or zooming in to see yourself as everything, the results are different.

Focusing on what's in common, or focusing on the differences, the results are different.

Being sympathetic, or being unsympathetic, the results are different.

Taking the concerns of others into account, or rejecting different views, the results are different.

Being agreeable, or being disagreeable, the results are different.

Moderate and balanced, or rabid and extremist, the results are different.

Meeting in the middle, or having your own way, the results are different.

Accommodating with each other, or fighting with each other, the results are different.

Cooperating, or being uncooperative, the results are different.

Building bridges, or building walls, the results are different.

Working for the common cause, or working for self-interests, the results are different.

Striving to achieve harmony, or striving to win competition, the results are different.

Teamwork, or self-display, the results are different.

The former are magnanimous and patriotic, the latter are self-centric and small-minded.

The former, which are germane to tango, lead to a better society.

The latter, pertinent to individualism, lead to dissension, disunity and failure as a nation.

December 21, 2019

Never Forget Why We Started

As our second anniversary is approaching, we can be proud of the progress we’ve made in the past twenty-two months. Our number is steadily growing. Our dance skills have improved a lot. We now hold our own milonga on a regular base. When we go out to dance as a group, people are impressed by us. We start to have an impact on the tango community in this city.

But there are no grounds for complacency. We are still far away from our goal. Our number is still small. Our dance skills are still not adequate. We are still a marginal section in the local tango scene. The entire community remains in the shadow of the Nuevo influence. There are still a lot for us to do both in terms of personal growth and community building.

But some of us feel so good about themselves already that they don’t want to remain low profile. They want others to see what they can do. They want to experience new things with new people. They start to miss classes when there are conflicting events to ours. Some think they are good enough to be on their own and don’t need the group anymore. Some left already.

While exploration is commendable, we shall not forget why we started. This group has a mission. We are not individualists who come only for personal gain and leave when that goal is reached. We are here for a much bigger cause: to build a strong tango community, to promote the milonguero style of tango, to reform the tango culture in this city, and to bring more people into our cause. (See Champaign Milongueros Group Charter.)

This requires teamwork, commitment, discipline, responsibility, grit and personal sacrifice. If we only think about ourselves and neglect our duty, we will end up repeating the mistake of those before us who have wandered in tango for many years and still do not have a place to dance. People seeking independence will discover soon or later that they need a home group to study, dance, improve themselves and enjoy tango.

Gathering a group of like-minded people is important because we cannot enjoy tango with just anyone. We can only enjoy tango with people who share the same philosophy, use the same embrace, dance the same style, know the same steps, and reached the same level of proficiency. Tango is the collective work of a group of like-minded and equally educated dancers, without whom one alone cannot dance tango no matter how good his/her dance skill is. That is why we must not just think about personal gains but must also take the responsibility to help each other to grow and to build a strong tango community together.

That is not an easy task. People are different and unleveled. Some are quicker learners and better dancers than others. It takes time for everyone in the group to reach the same level of proficiency. Meanwhile, those who are better may lose patience and think it’s just easier to dance on their own. When we put personal interests above the group, we lose the vision, the group suffers the consequence and we all pay a price.

But if we remain united and work together to support and encourage each other, the group will grow faster and become better sooner, and we will all benefit as a result. It takes committed people to make a strong group. It takes a strong group to make an impact. Until we become such a group, we cannot convince others to join us, and we cannot make a real difference. Therefore, the most important thing for us to do now is not to flaunt ourselves but to improve ourselves. History will be made by those who stick to the cause, work together and don’t give up.

September 6, 2019

Learning Tango: Two Perspectives

The following behaviors are common among beginners: (1) They are eager to learn fancy steps but overlook basic skills. (2) They want to run before they can walk. (3) They imitate the steps but pay little attention to the techniques. (4) They focus on themselves but neglect their partner. (5) They lean back to avoid bodily contact. (6) They use the arms and hands to lead and follow. (7) They overlook the connection, posture, balance and communication. (8) They grasp hold of the partner to do steps. (9) They don’t listen to and follow music carefully. (See Imitating Steps vs. Developing Skills.)

These are all due to one reason: they regard tango only as steps. To them, learning tango is learning steps, and they think if they can do the steps, they can dance tango. This perspective leads them to overlook many other aspects of the dance.

Students need to understand: tango is not steps but a feeling that is danced, and that feeling comes from the music. In other words, what we dance is the music and the feelings stirred by the music, not the steps. In tango we must first pay attention to the music and let the music lead us to dance. Our movements are but the expressions of the music and feelings, without which there is no tango, only gymnastics.

Tango is also a teamwork. The man leads the woman with his body and the woman follows the lead by moving her body in concordance with the movement of his body. Her attention must be placed on following him rather than on the steps. Focusing on doing the steps could cause her to dance on her own and overlook the lead.

Different leads carry different messages. For example, when the man’s right chest becomes pushing and his left chest becomes pulling, that indicates he wants her to swivel her hips to his right, and when his left chest becomes pushing and his right chest becomes pulling, that indicates he wants her to swivel her hips to his left. Often, the leads of his body are so subtle that they cannot be seen and must be felt. Tango is a sophisticated body language. Learning tango is not primarily learning steps but learning that body language, learning to feel, communicate, lead, follow and comfort the partner with the body. (See Tango Is a Language (1).)

This perspective requires the dancer to focus on the body, embrace, connection, communication, music and the feelings stirred by the music, to use the body to feel, to listen to the inner voice of the partner, to share with the partner what you feel, to move in harmony with the partner, and to please the partner with your body. Tango is the dance of love. It is created to feel and to comfort. (SeeTango Is a Feeling.)

The transformation from a step-oriented, self-centered and single-focused beginner to a feeling-oriented, partner-centered and multitasking team player is a long learning process. Beginners will not fully understand the essence of tango until they have accumulated enough knowledge, skills and experience. But the right perspective from the outset can shorten the process and save them from taking wrong approaches. Unfortunately, many students get this too late. (See The Four Stages of Your Tango Journey.)

July 26, 2019

How to Dance Milonga

Milonga music is 2/4 time. There are two quarter notes in each measure, each quarter note receives a beat, counted as 1 +, 2 + (1 is the downbeat, 2 is the upbeat, + is the subdivision), which is twice as fast as tango. (See Tango Music and Its Danceability.) How well one dances milonga depends on one's ability to handle its fast rhythm.

There are three ways to do that.

Milonga Lisa

The first way is called milonga Lisa, in which the dancer steps only on the downbeat of each measure and ignore the upbeat and the subdivisions, that is, right foot on 1 of the first measure, left foot on 1 of the second measure, right foot on 1 of the third measure, left food on 1 of the forth measure..., in even speed.

Milonga Lisa is the simplest way to dance milonga, but because it skips the upbeats and subdivisions, it feels a little slow and monotonous.

Dynamic timing

The second way is using dynamic timing to step on both downbeats and upbeats in different speeds.

For example, you may step on 1 of the first measure, then on both 1 and 2 of the second measure (slow, quick-quick), or vice versa (quick-quick, slow), or on all downbeats and upbeats (quick-quick, quick-quick).

You may also step on the subdivisions in addition to the downbeats and upbeats: left foot on 1, right foot on +, left foot on 2 (quick-quick, slow); or left foot on 1, right foot on 2, left foot on + (slow, quick-quick); or left foot on 1, right foot on +, left foot on 2, right foot on + (quick-quick, quick-quick).

Using dynamic timing to dance milonga is more interesting, but it is busy and could be tedious if the whole tanda is danced in this way.

Milonga Traspie

The third and more advanced way to dance milonga is called milonga traspie. Meaning stumble, traspie refers to the stumble like steps used to reduce the weight change, thus slows down the pace of the dance.

When the foot is blocked by an obstacle, it could either cross over to land on the other side of the obstacle, or rebound back. Similarly, there are two types of milonga traspie.

The first type is double-step traspie, in which the dancer steps twice with the same foot on two consecutive downbeats in slow-slow timing. The first step resembles the foot meets the obstacle. The second step resembles the foot crosses over the obstacle. The first step is not an actual step but only a tap, carrying 50 percent of the body weight. The second step is a real step, carrying 100 percent of the body weight to free the other leg.

The second type is rock traspie, resembling the foot rebounds back after meeting the obstacle. The dancer uses a rock action to transfer weight back and forth three times in quick-quick-slow timing: (1) stepping forward/side/back with one leg and transfers 50 percent of the body weight to that leg on 1, (2) pushing with that leg to transfer weight back to the standing leg on +, (3) pushing with the standing leg to transfer weight back to the other leg completely on 2 to free the standing leg.

Whether using tap or rock, traspie allows the dancer to follow the rhythm of the music without having to change weight on every beat and subdivision, thus retain the flavor of milonga but make it easier to dance.

Experienced dancers mix all above methods to make their milonga more diversified, interesting and fun. The following are few examples.

July 20, 2019

Imitating Steps vs. Developing Skills

Beginners often regard tango only as steps and think if they can do the steps, they can dance tango. That is why their attention is placed only on copying the steps. As soon as they can imitate a step they start to imitate another one. They believe in that way they can learn faster and be able to dance tango sooner.

What they don’t know is that what makes one a good tango dancer is not the number of steps one knows, but the behind the scene skills upon which the steps are built, such as embrace, posture, connection, torso communication, musicality, lightness, flexibility, balance, stability, pivot, dissociation, gear effect, cadencia, walk, rock, giro and traspie. These are the building blocks of all tango steps. Those who have a solid grounding in these basic skills can dance beautifully with few simple steps. Those who lack these basic skills, their dance looks awkward and ugly even though they may know a lot of fancy steps.

The purpose that the teacher teaches steps is not just teaching the steps, but more importantly teaching the basic skills. For example, the teacher instructs the students to use dissociation in ocho because that skill is not only crucial to ocho but also to many other tango steps. But the students do not understand that. They only imitate the ocho by crossing one leg in front of or behind the other leg and leave out the hard work of dissociation. Instead of taking the pain to develop a skill, they take a short cut to get a quick result. Consequently, although they may have gone through many steps, they have mastered none, their basic skills remain poor, and their tango does not meet the standard.

Another purpose that the teacher teaches steps is to help the students correct bad habits, such as bending the torso, bowing the head, curving the knees, breaking the embrace, using the arms and hands to lead and follow, etc. These bad habits accumulated in their lifetime are not easy to overcome, and until they break away from these bad habits and internalize the good habits they cannot dance tango well. But the students do not understand that. They focus on copying the steps but pay little attention to correct old habits. Consequently, although they may have learned to imitate many steps, they cannot dance well.

The eagerness to succeed is a big obstacle to learning. Students must understand that it is not the number of steps they know but the basic skills and good habits they have obtained that decide the quality of their dance. Instead of focusing on imitating the steps, they should focus on laying the foundation, so what they learn in each step may become a building block for the next step. By carefully learning each simple skill, by proceeding in an orderly and gradual way, by following the instructions and paying attention to technique details, by taking pains to do drills, and by obtaining a solid grounding in basic skills, they can achieve twice the result with half the effort overall. That is the only way to become a good tango dancer. (See Tango Is a Language (I).)