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 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.

June 13, 2017

Dancing to Rhythm and Melody in Milonguero Style

Rhythm, the duration and accents in music characterized by interrupted and steady beats, is the most essential element in music, which can exist without melody, as in the drumbeats of primitive music. Rhythm is what makes us dance because we dance to the pulses of the music. (See Tango Music and Its Danceability.)

But music is more than rhythm. It also has melody, the coherent, fluid and sweet tone that adds feelings, beauty and continuity to music. Melody is what causes our dance to be emotional, graceful and lingering, as we try to express the feelings, beauty and fluidity of the melody. (See Dancing to Melody - Poema.)

Some tango songs, such as D'Arienzo's and Biagi's, are very rhythmic and easy to dance to. Others, such as Calo's and Pugliese's, are more melodic and difficult to follow. Rhythmic music is best suited to the milonguero style of tango danced in close embrace because it enhances the motions of the body and generates a sensation and feeling that is pulsatory, intimate, comforting and soulful, which makes the style popular among feeling-oriented dancers.

Melodic music is best suited to the Villa Urquiza style of tango danced in a loose embrace to facilitate fancy movements. The style, often being described as stylish and showy, appeals to impression/movement-oriented dancers. (See The Styles of Tango.)

The milonguero style is the dominant style in Argentina, Uruguay, Span and Italy due to the cultural ties between these countries. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts.) In recent years it also gains popularity among European, American and Asian dancers. The following video is a good representation of this style.

This video has been used by this blogger previously so you probably have seen it. But for the purpose of explaining how the milonguero style is danced, I want to call your attention again to few fragments highlighted below.

17:24 - 19:33 (129 seconds)
This fragment is a classic example of how the milonguero style is danced. It is danced in simple and rhythmic steps. Please pay attention to the rhythmic pattern used by the first couple. It sounds like: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and, 5 6 7 and 8 9 10 and, or: slow and slow and slow and slow and, quick quick quick and quick quick quick and. The steps are simple, but the speed, direction and length of the steps are varied. Most steps are small, sometimes a big step weaves in, and rock step, forward step, back step, side step and turn are blended to make the choreography interesting.

As you can see, although simple, the dance is mesmeric. The woman obviously is intoxicated with it. She snugs in his arms and dances in complete agreement with him, totally comfortable with everything he leads her to do no matter how simple it is, and not acting in excess of her role to cause complication, noises and disharmony. Her steps are simple and inconspicuous. No adornment is made to impress. The attention is focused on the music and feelings. One can tell from her facial expression the power of such simple and rhythmic steps.

13:40 - 14:04 (24 seconds)
Here is another good example, also danced in rhythmic, simple and synchronized steps, focusing on the oneness of the union, not the performance of the individual.

If these are the representations of the milonguero style, then our tango, although danced in close embrace, is not the milonguero style. The tango that most Americans dance is too fancy, less rhythmic, and not synchronized. Even the music selections in our milongas are often too melodic, reflecting only our perception of tango.

I don't think myself, or even a milonguero, can dance the milonguero style with most women in this country, because that degree of coherence takes a woman who is well versed in synchronization. (See Driving and Synchronization.) In order to dance as one body with the man, the woman must overcome her independence, ego, habit of acting on her own, and desire to show off, etc., surrender to the man and follow him unconditionally.

I mention this because many women in this country have a different philosophy. They do not buy the idea of surrender, obedience and submission. They are not comfortable with intimacy. Their femininity, or gentle and quiet soul as the Bible put it, has been corrupted by ideologies that encourage women to be self-centered, rebellious, independent, disagreeable and aggressive. They only know how to be themselves, but don't know how to be one with another person. They try too hard to impress but overlook the one thing that a woman must do well first in tango: surrender. Consequently, they miss out the magic that tango can offer them. 

3:30 - 3:43 (13 seconds) and 5:45 - 6:13 (28 seconds)
The milonguero style is a rhythmic dance, but it can also be danced melodically, as demonstrated in these two fragments. 

Songs suitable for the milonguero style of dancing generally have lucid beats, accompanied by a sentimental melody. The beats are strong, steady and easy to follow. But sometimes the emotions take over and the beats weaken or hide into the melody. In such case the dancers need to adapt to the changing mood and dance melodically. Dancing to rhythm, the movement is vertical, forceful and interrupted. Dancing to melody, the movement becomes horizontal, emotional and continuous. Slow motion and pause are often used to suspend a step in order to match the lingering note or to wait for the next phrase to start. It is a moment of emotional display and exchange.

My personal take is that many women in this country do not follow melody well. When the beats fade away and melody takes over, they feel lost. Many women don't know how to dance to melody. There is certain impatience and anxiety in their movements when the music tells them to slow down or wait, because they still struggle to catch the beats. This is not surprising given that most people are only taught to step on the beats and are not trained to follow melody. But dancing to melody is an essential skill a tango dancer, especially a tanguera, must have, for melody is beautiful and emotional, represents the feminine mood of the song. (See The Gender Expression in Tango.) 

In conclusion, the milonguero style is a rhythmic dance. It appeals to the senses pertinent to the motions of the two intimately connected bodies. It is danced with simple, compact and rhythmic steps in close embrace, and is fully enjoyed when the partners surrender to each other, immersed in the feelings, and move together to the music as one unified body. It is best danced to music that is rhythmic. 

Given the intimate nature of the style, it can also be danced to music that is melodic. But dancing to melody in the milonguero style is different from that in the Villa Urquiza style. The latter uses fancy and stylish steps, the former uses slow motion, pause and suspension to maintain its simplicity and soulfulness. As the milonguero style becomes increasingly popular in this country, we need to learn the correct way of dancing it in order to fully enjoy its magic power.

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