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 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 possible. 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 the basic steps like walk, eight-count steps, 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.

October 24, 2018

Pluralism vs. Monism

Pluralism posits that the world is composed of many entities independent of each other, in contrast to monism which views the seemly independent parts as connected fragments of an integrated whole. Pluralism is used by individualists to underscore the individuality, independence, liberty and sovereignty of the individual, and to promote personal freedom, diversity, unconventionality, alternative life style, LGBTQIAPK, same-sex marriage, multiculturalism, etc., against the monist view regarding individuals as dependent parts of a coherent human society, emphasizing unity, connection, integration, harmony, common values, common cause, responsibility, and the well-being of the society as a whole. (See A Wise Voice.)

Aristotle said, "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Before modern times, monism was the dominant philosophy throughout human history. (See Meeting in the Middle.) Early humans understood the importance of unity and cooperation to their survival. That is changed when modern science and technology empowered the individual and made him/her increasingly self-sufficient, resulting in the rising of individualism and pluralism that lead to divergent personal choices and lifestyles, multiculturalism promoting different cultures and values, relativism denying the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, and civil and uncivil, affirmative action protecting marginal cultures, minorities, heterodoxies and alternative lifestyles, reversed discrimination against mainstream culture and orthodox tradition, and the aggrandizing fragmentation, division, disunity and polarization of the society. (See The Spirit of Tango.)

What pluralism and individualism fail to take into consideration is that as a people and species we rely on each other for survival and our success depends on our cooperation. (See Tango and Individualism.) Human societies must be based on philosophies that unite people rather than divide people, and some forms of government, organization and order. Turning people into egocentric rivals could only create conflict, animosity and chaos, as attested by the unrest resulted from the US led efforts to "free" people, and the consequent refugee problem, aggravated by the open-border policy and multiculturalism at home. The situation could only get worse if we keep propagating radical liberalism, asserting absolute personal freedom, putting the self above the society, opposing any order that we consider authoritarian, calling democracy "the tyranny of the majority", fragmenting the society into more and more conflicting entities, disparaging mainstream culture and tradition, labeling one gender the sex predator of the other, and politicizing and radicalizing education, media and law. (See Tango and Equality.)

Neither authoritarianism that deprives personal freedom nor individualism that rejects commonality and cooperation can lead to a harmonious society. A healthy and coherent society is based on unity, love, sharing and collaboration of its people who are united, agreeable, cooperative, accommodating, putting common interests above personal interests, and can work as a team. (See The Lessons of Tango.) -- That is how a nation wins a war. That is how a country becomes strong again. And, that is how we dance tango. Despite the negative influence of pluralism and individualism, tango gives us a new perspective to see ourselves as interdependent members of the community. Tango teaches us to cherish, love, cooperate and accommodate with each other, and has demonstrated that is the only way to a better world. (See The Freedom in Tango.)

September 8, 2018

Champaign Milongueros

Champaign Milongueros is a group of local tango dancers committed to the milonguero style of tango. We chose this name for the group because we want to carry on the milonguero tradition and distinguish ourselves from the existing tango culture in this university town. Champaign is one of the earliest tango communities in Illinois, yet for more than two decades Champaign tango remains small and weak because it has only focused on university students, the part of the population who would leave the town after graduation and are interested in things that are not appealing to older local dancers.

We want to depart from that path and try a new approach.

1. This group is mainly aimed at the locals. We believe that only with local dancers as the mainstay can Champaign tango community meet the needs of the permanent local residents, deviate from the current culture, achieve sustainable growth, and in turn have a better impact on university students.

2. We are dedicated to the milonguero style of tango that features close embrace, feelings, gender roles and classic tango music, not the Nuevo style featuring open embrace, exhibition, gender-neutrality and alternative music. In contrast to the ideologies that unduly promote pluralism, diversity and difference, we emphasize authenticity, standardization, conformity and milonguero tradition. (See Pluralism versus Monism.)

3. By observing the tango protocols practiced in the milongas of Buenos Aires, including milonga etiquette, dress code, separate seating, cabeceo, and navigation rules, we want to create an integrated, respectful, friendly, pleasant, elegant and orderly environment in our milongas. (See Milonga Codes.)

4. We emphasize team spirit, brotherhood, love and responsibility within the group against the individualistic tendency that focuses on the independence, rights, liberty and freedom of the individual. A milonguero is not an individualist but a team player. He/she belongs to a group of like-minded dancers who understand the interdependence of people and the importance of the community, who regularly dance together, conform to the group standard, observe its protocols, participate in its administration, and are role models for novices and newcomers. We want to continue that milonguero tradition and work as a team to make our group a home for all like-minded dancers. (See Tango and Individualism.)

5. To secure the quality of our milonga, this group opens only to selected dancers. To become a member of the group newcomers need to complete a 20-hour training course on the fundamentals of the milonguero style and milonga codes with us. We welcome new people to attend our classes, but only those who meet our standard may become members of the group and visit our milongas. Students who have failed the course may repeat it until they qualify.

6. Members need to continue their training and actively participate in group activities to retain membership. Members may lose membership if they fail to keep up with the standard of the group.

April 20, 2018

Tango Music and Its Danceability


Classic tango music is quadruple time. Each note is a quarter note and there are four quarter notes in each bar, counted as 1, 2, 3, 4. The first and third beats are strong beats, on which we step. The second and forth beats are weak beats, on which we do ancillary actions, such as weight change, hip rotation, pivot, embellishment, pause, etc.

Each quarter note can be evenly divided into two eighth notes. We count the resulted 8 eighth notes in a bar as 1-and, 2-and, 3-and, 4-and. Similarly, each quarter note can be evenly divided into four sixteenth notes. We count the resulted 16 sixteenth notes as 1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a, 3-e-and-a, 4-e-and-a.

The ability to divide the notes and to predict where the subdivisions fall is important, which enables the dancer to feel the rhythm of the song and take advantage of increased footwork possibilities. Feeling rhythm is internal. The rhythm must be in your mind before it can happen on your feet. Without rhythm there is neither music nor dance.

But feeling rhythm becomes not so easy when syncopation is involved. Syncopation is the way musicians spice up the music by shifting, splitting, adding, or omitting beats. Examples of syncopation include shifting the accent from the odd-numbered beat to the even-numbered beat (1, 2, 3, 4), extending a beat (1 - -, 4), starting a note on an unaccented beat and continuing it through the next accented beat (1, 2 -, 4), splitting a note and accenting the subdivision (1-and, 2-and, 3-and, 4-and), adding accents (1, 2, 3, 4), omitting a beat and replacing it with a rest, etc. Syncopation modifies the rhythm and makes the music more interesting yet challenging to the dancer.

Nevertheless, dancers welcome the challenge. As long as the rhythm is consistent with the speed specified by the clef, the music is danceable. In fact, songs that we like to dance most are neither mono-rhythmic nor arrhythmic, but complex yet still have regular, recognizable and predictable beats, which is the characteristic of classic tango.


That is changed when musicians started to experiment new ideas like improvisation, counterpoint, cross-rhythms, poly-rhythms, asymmetrical rhythms, complex harmonies, odd numbered meter in which the notes are not evenly grouped (such as 5/4 time and 7/8 time), mixing duple time, triple time with quadruple time, ensemble of different instruments or instrumental part and vocal part of the song with different rhythms, etc. These methods, though creative and may provide new listening experiences, made the rhythm too complex to dance to, which becomes characteristic of modern music.

Musicians still produce classic music in modern times; therefore, not all contemporary music are modern music. Only those contain unconventional elements are modern music. There are gray areas, of course, but modern music all incorporated at least some nontraditional elements, which made the rhythm of the song, or sections of the song, irregular, unrecognizable, unpredictable and undanceable.

Some people argue that any music is danceable if it is playable. That argument is untenable. Perhaps any music that is playable with the feet is danceable, but fingers can move much faster, and an orchestra of dozens or even hundreds of fingers could make the music extremely complex, especially when it is intended not for dancing, but only for listening.

For music to be danceable, it must have recognizable and predictable beats. Dance is the body's response to rhythm, not noise. We feel comfortable with rhythm because it facilitates our movements. Our rhythm echoes regular occurrences, seasonal changes, biologic clock, heartbeats, and muscle memory of rhythmic motions such as walk, etc. Millions of years of human evolution made rhythm aesthetical and musical to our senses, and our body naturally responds to rhythmic sound. Although it is possible that with practice and rehearsal some people can step on irregular and unpredictable beats that they memorized, ordinary people without special training can't do that. DJs should be aware that the music they play at the milongas is for the ordinary social dancers to dance, not for a few highly trained individuals to show off their skills. The DJ must keep the majority of dancers in mind and not yield to the pressure of few individuals. (Being a DJ myself I am fully aware of such pressure.)


It must be pointed out that the changes in modern music are not coincidental. We live in a society where capitalism and commercialism constantly pushes for innovation, impression, exoticism, repackaging, eye-catching boldness, etc., in order to increase sales. Innovation improves life, but it also causes unintended problems. Every time I bought a smart phone, a smarter one is created the next day. In economic terms that is called "creating demands", so consumers would throw away their perfectly functional old phones and keep buying new ones, causing tremendous wastes. People grown up in this culture exhibit a lack of depth and lasting quality. They confuse novelty with beauty, focus too much on the flashy form rather than the substance, and constantly seek for changes. The following quote from a reader's comment reflects such a mentality.

"Most of us did not start doing the tango in order to get the ocho just right. Most of us saw elegant, dramatic and erotic moves in a performance that took our breath away. Then we take tango lessons and dance among older people who look down their noses at beginners for not doing the details as well as they can, who are quite conservative in their tastes, who are uptight about the eroticism, who are offended when attractive young people look better at the erotic movements than they do, and who are too weak, inflexible, heavy, and cowardly to do the more dramatic moves... The idea of dividing tango into social dance and 'show' dance trivializes efforts to be more creative and to actually do the dance that we were attracted to in the first place. Performance is not just for tourists. It includes ballet, modern dance, jazz and other rich, culturally important forms. It can be brilliant and revolutionary, changing the way we think. It can give tango dance its Isadora Duncans, Sergei Diaghilevs, Merce Cunnihams and Astor Piazzollas. Tango and dance have always included a conversation between performance and social dance. Both should be respected at spaces in which creativity can take place. That's how art and culture evolve in living ways."

I'll not get into why the milonga is not the place for performance here (See Social Tango and Performance Tango), but will concentrate on creativity. No doubt, creativity has changed our way of living. But despite its contributions, we should not overlook its drawbacks. Human creativity is a double-edged sword. It provides us with cars, computers, GPS and beautiful, danceable music like classic tango; it also provides us with narcotics, weapons of mass destruction, high-tech crimes and undanceable noises. Creativity can improve life if we use it wisely; it can also destroy life if we foolishly think we can do whatever we like just to be creative and ignore the power of the force beyond our control that produced and conditioned us, whether you call that force the Cosmos, Nature, Law, Tao, or God. In fact, human creativity has already caused many problems to our very existence such as the irreversible damages to our home planet, pollution, climate changes, environmental catastrophes, the exhaustion of natural resources, the collapse of the Eco-system, the astonishing number of death caused by automobiles, drugs and guns every year, cyber crimes, the chemical, biological and nuclear threats, the disintegration of family, LGBTQIAPK, same-sex marriage, toilet dispute, polarization and dysfunction in our governments, etc.  

The obsession to creativity is also the cause of the relentless efforts by many DJs to make their music selections unconventional. They collect songs that are rare, abnormal, exotic and hard to follow. They try to be different from others, but pay little attention to the danceability of the music. They flaunt the banner of creativity and look down at the classics, despite that the classics are the time-tested quintessence embodying the common human perception of what is beautiful and danceable. They ignore the fact that sixty years after the end of the Golden Age dancers today still love classic tango whereas the "revolutionary" music created during the same period has long been forgotten. They are blind to the fact that in every generation there are people who have created lasting classics and who have created fleeting rubbish. They don't understand that creativity must serve the best human interests, needs and aesthetics to have a lasting value, which in case of dance is danceability, not outlandishness. Although they love music and may have collected a big number of songs, they don't know what constitutes danceability and what does not. And worst of all, they tend to play rare, abnormal and undanceable songs in the milonga since the danceable ones are traditional.

Dancers don't reject creativity and innovation. In fact, that is what we do on the dance floor. We welcome challenges that make the dance more interesting. But we also desire music that is danceable. We want our DJs to put danceability above anything else in their selection of music. We want them to carefully listen to every song from beginning to end to make sure it is entirely danceable before playing it at the milonga. We want them to play music according to the law of dance, which gives leeway for creativity, but also requires danceability. And, we want them to play for us, the majority and average dancers at the milonga, not only for a few elites or weird dudes.