Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of humanity, connection, love, unity, harmony and beauty, 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, accommodation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.
September 20, 2021
We have resumed our weekly milonga since this June, which shows our determination to face the Covid-19 pandemic with a more positive attitude, our confidence in coping with the situation, and our willingness to put trust in each other in the group. Covid-19 will continue to be a fact of life for a long time. We cannot let it stop us living and dancing. But in order to do that we must be vigilant and take precautions to protect ourselves from the virus.
Unfortunately, what we are dealing with is not just the virus, we are also dealing with the selfish and irresponsible attitude of many people in this country. They put their personal liberty above the safety of others, continue to travel, party and attend public events, etc. They resist any precaution that may restrict their personal freedom, including wearing masks, social distancing, quarantine and vaccination. America is the richest country with the best medical facilities and best medical staff in the world, yet there have been more than 50 million confirmed cases and more than 700,000 confirmed deaths in this country already, the worst record in the world. While in China, a country of 1.4 billion people, the virus has been contained long ago, in the US, with only a quarter of China’s population, the number of confirmed cases still exceeds 200,000 per day. The Americans are clearly more victims of their own crazy ideologies than coronavirus.
While the pandemic is still so severe, many public tango events, including festivals, marathons and encuentros in this country, have already resumed or are preparing to resume. We do not think that is a good idea under the circumstance. Letting a large crowd of people who come from various places and don’t know each other packed in a room dance tango in close embrace increases the risk of spreading the virus. It takes oly one carrier to infect the entire herd, who then will bring the virus to the hotels they stay, restaurants they eat, airplanes they fly back, and to their homes. We believe the best way to enjoy tango during the pandemic is to hold small private milongas among dancers who know each other well and are taking precautions. Different groups should not interact with each other to avoid cross-infection.
Out of these considerations, this group has formulated the following rules for our gatherings during the pandemic:
1. Participants must be vaccinated.
2. Wear masks and sanitize hands frequently during the gathering.
3. Do not bring people outside the group to participate at this time.
4. Do not attend dances of other groups to avoid cross-infection.
5. If you have to participate in risky activities (events organized by other groups, flying, staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, etc.), you must quarantine yourself for 14 days and be tested negative before returning to the group.
6. Stay home if you have suspected symptoms until tested negative.
7. Be vigilant and responsible team players.
November 17, 2020
Tango involves intimate physical contact and emotional exchanges. It can affect people deeply on many levels, thus must not be taken lightly. The enjoyment of tango relies not only on the dance skills of the dancers but also on their relationship and the dance environment impacted by each and every participant's conduct. With the development of tango, codes of conduct have also been established and become an important part of the dance. Learning these codes and mastering the proper way to behave and treat each other in the milonga is an essential part of a dancer's education. The following are things you must know when you go to a milonga.
Part One: Preparation and Seating
1. Personal hygiene
Tango is danced in close embrace, therefore personal hygiene is important. You need to take a shower, wash hair, brush teeth and change cloth before going to a milonga. Smells from your hair, mouth, body or cloth can make your partner uncomfortable.
You should not use oily hair dye, hair styling cream and heavy makeup because your head will touch your partner's body and outfit and both of you may sweat in the dance. Wear perfume with a pleasant fragrance and avoid odd scents. Be mindful that some people may be allergic to certain chemicals.
3. Dress code
Your outfit should match the beauty of the dance, not reduce it. Men look better in suits, not T-shirts and jeans. Women look better when dance in dress or skirt - not too long or too exposed. Do not wear ornaments that may rub your partner's chest in close embrace. Men should wear leather shoes. Women should wear high heel tango shoes. Sneakers and sandals are inappropriate.
When guests enter the milonga, they are cordially received by the host, who then takes them to their seats. In a small venue, men and women are seated separately on different sides of the room. In a large venue, men and women sit at different tables but the tables are mixed to facilitate cabeceo. Unless a request to sit together is made, couples and friends who come together are seated apart to ensure everyone the same opportunity to invite others or be invited by others.
Women change in the ladies' room, not at the table. Men, too, go to the men’s room to prepare for the dance or to fix themselves between tandas. This is not only for looking good but also for showing courtesy and respect to others and the dance.
6. Dating couple
A couple who come not to date bur to dance should not sit together, otherwise others may avoid inviting them out of respect for their relationship. A dating couple only dance with each other, thus should not occupy a table that is easily accessible. Such seats should be left to people who need to do cabeceo. In Buenos Aires, a dating couple usually sit at a quiet corner. They do not dance with others, neither do other people bother them.
7. Equal opportunity
With the exception of dating couples, all dancers have equal opportunities to dance with anyone else in the milonga. There should not be discrimination and coterie. Cliquing is inappropriate in the milonga because it causes segregation, making it difficult for others to invite the members of the clique. Women should not sit with their male friends and dance only with them. Separate seating helps to prevent cliquing.
Part Two: Invitation
1. Verbal invitation
A verbal invitation may put a woman in the dilemma of either accepting it unwillingly or saying no to the man, thus is not the best way to invite a woman to dance. But in places where tango culture is not established, that often is the way men use to invite a woman. In that case the woman should respond in an amicable manner, especially if she does not accept the invitation. Arrogance and rudeness do not conform to the spirit of tango.
The correct way to invite a woman to dance is nodding at her from a distance. The woman may nod her head to accept the invitation or she may turn her head away to decline. This way of inviting a woman to dance is called cabeceo. Cabeceo gives the woman the freedom to accept or reject the invitation without being obligated to dance or causing public embarrassment to the man. (See Women's Role in Cabeceo.)
3. Active participation
For cabeceo to work women must participate in the invitation process. Women should not sit there chatting, browsing their phones, or wearing a blank face and ignoring men. Rather, they should actively make eye contact with men and be responsive to men's cabeceo. (See Tango Etiquette: Eye Contact, Talking, Clique and Hierarchy.)
The light in the milonga, therefore, must be bright enough for people to see each other and do cabeceo. Some milonga organizers set the light too dim, or use the flashing light of a disco room in order to create a romantic air, which only does a disservice to the milonga.
5. What if you made a mistake
When doing cabeceo, you need to make sure that the person is nodding at you and not someone behind you or next to you. However, in a crowded milonga errors could occur. Sometimes a man thought that a woman has accepted his cabeceo, only to find that she goes to join another man. In that case he has to quickly cabeceo someone else while on his way to pick up the woman, or go to the men's room instead. Sometimes two women at the same table both think they are cabeceoed by the same man. To avoid confusion, the man picking up the woman should look into her eyes while walking towards her and avoid making eye contact with the other woman. (See The Issues on Cabeceo.)
6. Rotating seat
Cabeceo could be hindered by distance, crowd, dim light and bad eyesight. As a remedy you may rotate your seat in different parts of the room during the milonga, if the seats are not fixed. If the seats are fixed, you may temporarily leave your seat and walk to where you are able to make eye contact with the person of your choice, and then do cabeceo.
7. How to invite a woman who is talking
A gentleman does not interrupt a woman when she is talking. If you want to invite a woman but she is talking with someone - which unfortunately is a frequent occurrence in the US, you should move closer to where she can see you and wait there patiently while look into her eyes until she notices you, and then seize the opportunity to cabeceo her. If she keeps on talking without paying any attention to you, then you should give up on her and search for another woman.
8. Do not oblige a woman to dance
If a man tries to cabeceo a woman but she turns a blind eye, what does that mean? "She did not see me, I should go to ask her directly." Wrong. She turns a blind eye because she does not want to dance with you. If she wants you she will let you know. You should not force your way to her seat to ask her, as which may put her in a dilemma that she might want to avoid in the first place. Instead, you should stay where you are and wait until she makes eye contact with you, and then cabeceo her to see if she will accept your invitation.
9. Listening to what she means
If a man verbally asks a woman to dance and she replies "I am resting my feet", what does that mean? "She wants me to allow her few minutes." Wrong. No matter how tactful her words are, so long as she does not immediately join you, that is a decline. You should give up on her for the moment and turn to someone else. Do not linger there waiting, as which, if she is expecting someone else, could make her feel uneasy.
10. Acting in good faith
The woman who said "I am taking a break" to one man should not accept another man’s invitation right away. She should at least wait until the next tanda. Otherwise she would hurt the feeling of the man who asked her first. Neither should another man go immediately to invite her. You would break her faith with the first man if she accepts your invitation. Or, you would bring contempt to yourself if she keeps her words.
11. Practicing good manner
You should avoid being inconsiderately blunt. For example, instead of saying "No" to a verbal invitation, you may say, "I am taking a break now, may I dance with you later?" Such polite decline gives the inviter a way out without feeling being rejected and humiliated in front of other people. Women who are resting may take off their shoes. That way, no men will bother them.
12. Going all out
Some women accept an invitation for fear of hurt the inviter’s feeling, but then they dance perfunctorily without emotionally involved, letting the man feel disappointed. That is also improper. If you do not want to dance with the man, you should not accept his invitation. If you accept the invitation, then you must spare no effort to assume your role as his partner. Declining an invitation is normal. Perfunctoriness, on the other hand, antagonizes the spirit of tango. Of course, all such errors could be avoided if cabeceo is used as the way of invitation. (See How to Get More Invitations in the Milonga.)
Part Three: Dancing
1. Taking a detour
The woman who has accepted the cabeceo should sit at her seat and wait for the man come to take her into the dance floor. To avoid interrupting the people already dancing on the dance floor, the man picking up the woman should not walk through the crowds but should take a detour around the dance floor to where the woman is.
2. Seeking permission
Before taking the woman into the dance floor, the man should make eye contact with the leader of the approaching dance couple and get his permission. Forcefully squeezing into the floor is impolite. If the oncoming couple are novices who cannot slow down, it would be better to let them pass. Dancing in front of them does you no good because they are likely to cause a rear-end collision. Experienced dancers will leave a gap for you to enter, and it is safe with such people dance after you.
3. Dancing social tango only
There are different styles in tango, some are suited to social dancing in the milongas, others are not. (See The Styles of Tango.) Dancers should avoid styles that are not designed for social dancing. Using the milonga to demonstrate and promote performance tango does a great disservice to the milonga. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.)
4. Tanda and cortina
Tango music is played in a set of three or four songs, called a tanda. Between two tandas is a short interlude, called cortina, which is used to clear the dance floor and change partners. One should dance the entire tanda with the same partner. Unless you have a very good reason, calling off in the middle of the tanda is impolite.
5. One tanda a time
You have danced one tanda with a woman and felt very good, could you ask her to continue for another tanda? While this is up to the two of you, keep in mind that other people are waiting for dancing with her also, and that her male companion may feel uncomfortable because dancing multiple tandas in a row with the same woman indicates you like her. For a woman, accepting such a request signals the reciprocal feeling. It is wise not to encourage the man if you have no intention to get involved.
6. Brief conversation
Dancers often start the dance after the prelude of each song in order to figure out the rhythm of the song. While waiting they may engage a small talk. This brief conversation, however, sometimes becomes too long. Some people stand there talking even after others around them all started to dance. As a rule of thumb, when the rhythm of the song becomes clear, or when people around you start to dance, you should begin to move to avoid causing obstruction to traffic.
7. Do not advise your partner
Criticizing or correcting your partner while dancing puts yourself in a superior position and may hurt your partner's feelings. Milonga is where people come to enjoy dancing with each other. Teaching should be left in the classroom. If you admire a master, attending his/her class is a good idea, but do not ask him/her to teach you on the dance floor, as that could oblige him/her to do the thing they should not do in the milonga. (See The Art of Love.)
8. Complying with navigation rules
The outer edge of the dance floor is divided into two or more lanes like the tracks of a indoor race arena. These tracks or lanes are for skilled dancers who can keep up with traffic. Dancing couples should dance in their respective lanes in a counterclocwise direction, known as line of dance. Those who want to practice new steps should do so at the center floor to avoid causing obstruction to traffic. Zigzagging between lanes or dancing against the line of dance can easily cause collisions with others and should be avoided. (See Spot Dancing in Tango.)
9. Keeping a proper distance
Each dancing couple should maintain a proper distance from the couple dancing in front of them and not be too close or too far apart. Beginners often focus on doing steps in place and forget to follow up with the traffic, or follow too tightly and leave little room for the dancers in front to move, or forget to stop when necessary, causing collision with the dancers in front. These are all inappropriate. (See Cadencia and the Flow of Tango.)
10. Safety first
The man who leads the woman has the responsibility to protect her and prevent her from being bumped, kicked or stepped on by others. For the same reason, he should not lead her do things that may hurt her or others, such as high boleo, kick, gancho and lift.
11. Maintaining a healthy dance environment
All dancers should behave in the best manner - friendly, respectful, polite, considerate, cooperative and accommodating. If someone behaved disrespectfully to others, the rest of the crowd should boycott him/her for a while to let the person feel the public disapproval, as milongueros all do in the milongas of Buenos Aires. This will help to keep the dance environment amicable and healthy.
12. Evacuating the dance floor
The cortina between two tandas lasts only for thirty seconds or so. This very short interval is used to clear the dance floor and change partners. Dancers should leave the dance floor during the cortina. Lingering and talking on the dance floor will hinder the preparation for the next round of dance.
13. Escorting the woman to her seat
Some women may become disoriented on a crowded dance floor. Escorting them back to their seats after the tanda is a common practice in Buenos Aires. However, the man should not talk with the woman after sending her back lest delaying her being invited for the next tanda.
14. The last tanda
Close to the end of the milonga the DJ usually will announce the last tanda. If you sit near a couple, it would be nice to let the couple dance the last tanda and not preempt the invitation to the woman, unless her male companion is too tired but she still wants to dance. Your good manner will be a blessing to the milonga and the community.
October 28, 2020
I have been introduced to tai chi, a slow-motion Chinese martial art, and was immediately hooked by its attributes pertinent to tango - flexibility, balance, rhythm, precision, control and beauty. Here is an example of tai chi.
Tai chi is practiced in a half squatting posture that requires the strength and flexibility of the legs to enable one to move like a cat. The body weight is placed on one leg and slowly transferred to the other leg back and forth while the torso remains upright in the movements. All body parts, including arms, hands, torso, waist, hips, thighs, knees, ankles and feet, are used in the making of the movements, demanding good coordination, balance and control. Every movement is well defined to meet the aesthetics and must be done precisely according to the standard. The request on the strength and flexibility of the legs is extremely high due to the slow motion in half squatting posturing, which can help to develop the strength, flexibility and control of the legs.
All these are relevant to tango because, like tai chi, tango, too, is mainly a leg exercise, although all parts of the body including arms, hands, torso, waist, hips, thighs, knees, ankles and feet are used and must be well coordinated to form the steps. Tango dancers often do not realize that their lack of lightness, balance, control, coordination, precision and elegance is a result of the lack of strength and flexibility of the legs. Those who want to overcome these shortages can benefit tremendously from practicing tai chi.
Although tai chi does not need to be done to music, it has its own rhythm, as you can see from the first video. Tai chi is deliberately designed to be played in slow motion for health and fitness purpose, which can help tango dancers to improve their ability to dance in slow motion. However, tai chi can also be practiced in fast motion to help develop nimbleness and speed, as showing below.
All these traits make tai chi an excellent exercise for tango dancers to build up their body strength and improve their dance ability. The following video teaches you some basic tai chi movements if you are interested.
October 10, 2020
Broadening your horizons, or being petty, the result is different.
Zooming out to see the whole picture, or zooming in to see yourself as everything, the result is different.
Thinking from the perspective of the whole, or thinking from the perspective of the individual part, the result is different.
Being compassionate, or being self-centered, the result is different.
Focusing on what's in common, or focusing on the differences, the result is different.
Taking the concerns of others into account, or rejecting different views, the result is different.
Being agreeable, or being disagreeable, the result is different.
Cooperating, or being uncooperative, the result is different.
Accommodating, or fighting with each other, the result is different.
Being one with your partner, or being yourself only, the result is different.
Moderate and balanced, or rabid and extremist, the result is different.
Meeting in the middle, or having your own way, the result is different.
Building bridges, or building walls, the result is different.
Working for the common cause, or working for self-interests, the result is different.
Striving to achieve harmony, or striving to win competition, the result is different.
The former is magnanimous and patriotic, the latter is selfish and narrow.
The former, which is germane to tango, leads to a better society.
The latter, pertinent to individualism, leads to dissension, disunity and failure as a nation.
December 21, 2019
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 short 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. A lot more still wait 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 mission, 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 dancers 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 educated dancers, without whom one alone cannot enjoy tango no matter how good his/her dance skill is. That is why we must not just think about ourselves but work as a team, help each other to grow, and join hands to build a strong home group together.
That is easily said than done of course. 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 go out to dance on their own. When we put personal interests above our common cause, we lose the perspective, 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 but to improve ourselves. History will be made by those who stick to the cause, work together and don’t give up.