Tango is not only a fascinating dance, but also a fascinating philosophy, culture, and lifestyle. The pursuit of tango is the pursuit 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 people and species. 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.




July 26, 2019

How to Dance Milonga


Among the three genres of tango music, milonga is the fastest. Milonga music is 2/4 time with 16 sixteenth notes in each measure, counted as: 1-and, 2-and, 3-and, 4-and, 5-and, 6-and, 7-and, 8-and, which is twice as fast as tango. 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 milonga Lisa, in which the dancer uses two feet alternately to step only on the downbeats, that is, right foot on 1, left foot on 3, right foot on 5, left foot on 7, in even speed.




Milonga Lisa is the simplest way to dance milonga. But it feels a little monotonous.


Complex timing

Another way to dance milonga is using complex timing to let the two feet step alternately on both downbeats and upbeats in different speeds: slow, quick-quick, slow, quick-quick; or quick-quick, slow, quick-quick, slow; or slow, quick-quick, quick-quick, slow; or slow, quick-quick, slow, slow, or quick-quick, quick-quick, slow, slow; or slow, quick-quick, slow, slow; or slow, slow, slow, quick-quick; or quick-quick, quick-quick, quick-quick, slow, etc., which requires very good handling of the rhythm of the music. Using complex timing to dance milonga is more interesting, but it is busy and could be tedious if the whole tanda is danced this way.






 Milonga Traspie

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

When the foot is blocked by an obstacle, it would either cross over to land on the other side of the obstacle, or rebound in the opposite direction. Similarly, there are two ways to do milonga traspie.

The first 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 allow the other leg to be free.






The second is rock traspie, resembles the foot rebounds in the opposite direction after meeting the obstacle. In rock traspie, the dancer uses a rock action to transfer weight from one foot to the other foot back and forth three times in quick-quick-slow timing: (1) steps forward/side/back with one leg and transfers 50 percent of the body weight to that leg on the downbeat, (2) pushes with that leg to transfer weight back to the standing leg on the upbeat, (3) pushes with the standing leg to transfer weight completely to the other leg again on the downbeat to free the standing leg. 






Whether using tap or rock, traspie cuts down the movements to allow the dancer not always have to busily change weight from one leg to the other leg on every beat, thus makes the fast-paced milonga easier to dance. 

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








July 20, 2019

Learning Tango: Imitating Steps vs. Developing Skills


One reason beginners are eager to learn new steps is that they want to succeed in the milonga as soon as they can. Many of them only regard learning tango as imitating steps. Once they can imitate a step, they think they have learned the step, and their attention is shifted to imitating another step instead of spending time to temper the step. They believe in this way they can learn faster and be able to dance sooner.

What they don’t know is that whether they can dance well is not decided by the number of steps they know, but by the behind the scene skills on which the steps are built: posture, embrace, connection, communication, torso leading and following, lightness, flexibility, balance, stability, pivot, dissociation, gear effect, cadencia, musicality, and basic steps like walk, salida, resolucion, cross, front ocho, back ocho, media luna, molinete, giro, rock and traspie. These are the building blocks of all tango steps. Those with a good grounding in these basic skills can dance beautifully even with few simple steps. Those 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 a step is not just teaching the step, but more importantly training basic skills. For example, when teaching back ocho, the teacher instructs the students to use dissociation, because that skill can benefit them in many other tango steps. But students don’t understand that. They only focus on imitating the step by crossing one leg behind the other leg and leave out the hard work of swiveling the hips. Instead of taking the pain to develop the skill, they take a short cut to get quick results. Consequently, even though they may have touched many steps, they have mastered none, their basic skills remain poor, and their dance does not look good.

The eagerness to succeed is a big obstacle to learning for beginners. Students must understand that it is not the fancy steps but the basic skills that decide the quality of their dancing. They need to focus on developing skills rather than copying movements, so that what they learn in each step can become the building block for the next step. By proceeding in an orderly and gradual way, by carefully following the instructions and paying attention to technical details, by taking pains to practice, and by obtaining a solid grounding in basic skills, they will be able to achieve twice the result with half the effort overall. This is the only way to become a good tango dancer. (See Tango Is a Language (I).)

April 21, 2019

Changing Direction with Rock Steps


Rock refers to using a rebounding action to transfer weight from one leg to the other leg when the two legs are apart and not collected. It is a three-step sequence typically done in a quick-quick-slow rhythm: (1) step forward with one leg, (2) push with that leg to transfer weight back to the standing leg, (3) collect the free leg and change weight again. The first two steps are rock steps, carried out when the legs are apart. The last step is a normal weight changing step to allow the other leg to take a new action. Rock can be done in various ways: back and forth, left and right, forward and side, back and side, vertical or diagonal, linear or circular, on spot or drifting, with or without turn, with or without pivot, with or without dissociation, etc. Rock steps are often used to alter the direction of travel in dancing. The following video show you how.




This lesson includes three parts. In the first part, the man starts with the basic forward-back-collect rock pattern: He rocks forward with the left leg, transfers weight back to the right leg, and collects and changes weight to the left leg again. He then repeats the sequence with the right leg. This pattern can also be done diagonally by stepping to her left with his left leg and stepping to her right with his right leg. The woman mirrors the man’s movements. Notice that she does not collect the free leg but lets the free leg remain in place as her weight is transferred back to the standing leg. She keeps the knee of the free leg straight and tilts up the foot to make the movement stylish.

In the second part, the man changes the rock pattern to a forward-back-side pattern: (1) steps forward with the left leg, (2) transfers weight back to the right leg, (3) steps sideward with the left leg. He then repeats the sequence with the right leg. Notice the 90-degree turn of his body when he rocks to either side. The woman keeps her standing leg in place, but moves her free leg side to side as she mirrors his movements.  

In the third part, the man demonstrates how to use rock steps to change direction at position 5. He first leads the woman to the cross, then uses a forward-back-side rock pattern: (1) steps forward with the left leg, (2) transfers weight back to the right leg, (3) steps to the side with the left leg. The last step changes the direction of travel 90 degree to the left. He then adds a forward-turn-collect pattern: (1) steps forward with the right leg, (2) transfers weight back to the left leg while pivots the left leg 180 degree counterclockwise, (3) collects and changes weight to the right leg. The two rock patterns are combined to form a revised version of ocho cortado, which is done on his right side instead of on his left side, though. Notice that in doing the second rock pattern the woman steps forward with her left leg, pivots 180 degree to the left, then steps back with her right leg, which is a common technique used in the change of direction.

Other rock patterns could also be applied at the cross, as shown in the following clip.




In this example the man starts with a forward-turn-turn rock pattern: (1) steps forward with his left leg to lead her step back with her right leg, (2) turns right 90 degree and changes weight to his right leg to lead her change weight forward to her left leg, (3) turns right 90 degree while collects and changes weight to his left leg to lead her step forward with her right leg. On her part the woman uses a back-forward-forward rock pattern: (1) steps back with her right leg, (2) transfers weight forward to her left leg, (3) steps forward with her right leg. Notice, again, as her weight is transferred to the standing leg, she does not collect the free leg but lets the leg remain in place, keeps the knee straight and tilts up the foot to make the movement stylish.

The man then uses a right-left-turn rock pattern: (1) steps diagonally forward to the right with his right leg while turns his upper body 90 degree to the right to lead her right leg pivot 180 degree and her left leg step on his right, (2) pivots 90 degree to the left with his right leg while transfer weight to his left leg to lead her transfer weight to her right leg, (3) continues the pivot with his left leg to lead her left leg to step forward and pivot 180 degree to face him, while he collects and changes weight to his right leg. The woman uses a left-right-forward rock pattern: (1) pivots 180 degree on her right leg to let her left leg to step on his right, (2) transfers weight back to her right leg, (3) steps forward with her left leg and pivots 180 degree counterclockwise to face him. Notice the dissociation of her upper body and lower body when she walks back and forth on the side of him. The whole sequence is another creative variation of ocho cortado.

The couple further exploit rock patterns in another video.




This time, the man uses a forward-back-back rock pattern in a circle. After leading the woman to the cross, he (1) steps forward in a curve with his left leg to lead her right leg to step back to her right, (2) steps back in a curve with his right leg to lead her transfer weight forward to her left leg, (3) steps back in a curve with his left leg to lead her right leg to step forward to his right. Notice that his upper body is turned to the right to allow her walk in circle around him. He then uses a back-side-turn rock pattern: (1) steps back in a curve with  his right leg to lead her left leg to step forward, (2) steps to the side with his left leg to lead her right leg to step to her right, (3) pivots to the left with his left leg to lead her left leg to step forward and pivot 180 degree to face him, while he collects and changes weight to his right leg. The result is a circular version of ocho cortado. It is the most interesting variation of ocho cortado that I have seen.

Rock steps are featured steps of tango milonguero that contribute to its simple, compact, rhythmic and elegant style. The patterns described above are only a few in a pool of rock patterns commonly used by the milongueros. Familiarizing yourself with these patterns can help you improve your dance.