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 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.

June 13, 2017

Dancing to Rhythm and Melody in Milonguero Style

Rhythm - the duration and accents in music, characterized by interrupted, steady and repeating 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 tap and dance when listening to a piece of music - we dance to the pulses of the music.

But music is more than rhythm. It also has melody - the linear, coherent, fluid and sweet tones in music. Melody cannot exist without rhythm, but it adds emotion, sweetness and continuity to music. Melody is what causes our steps to become elegant, graceful, sentimental and lingering, as we try to express the beauty, emotion and fluidity of the melody.

Some tango music are more rhythmic, such as D'Arienzo's and Biagi's, which are easier to dance to. Others are more melodic, such as Calo's and Pugliese's, which are more difficult to follow.

In social tango, the milonguero style is more rhythmic. This style focuses on the sensation and feeling caused by the motion of two intimately connected bodies. It suits to music that is rhythmic. The simplicity and rhythm-generated feelings, often being described as intimate, comforting and soulful, are what make this style popular among feeling-oriented dancers.

On the other hand, the Villa Urquiza style is more melodic. This style is danced in a loose embrace, emphasizing the visual impression of the steps. It suits to music that is melodic. The style, often being described as fancy, stylish and showy, appeals to movement-oriented dancers despite its short on intimacy and soulfulness. (See The Styles of Tango.)

The milonguero style is the dominant style in Argentina, Uruguay, Span and Italy - perhaps due to the cultural ties between these countries. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts.) In recent years it also starts to gain popularity in Europe, North America and Asia. The following video is a good representation of this style.

This clip has been previously used in this blog, 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 some 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 motions.

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 achieving that degree of coherence takes a woman who is able to synchronize. (See Driving and Synchronization.) In order to dance as one body with the man, the woman has to 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 and simplicity. Their femininity, or gentle and quiet soul, as the Bible put it, has been corrupted by ideologies that encourage women to be 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: to 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 being demonstrated in these two fragments. 

Songs suitable to dance the milonguero style of tango generally have lucid beats, accompanied by sentimental melodies. The beats are strong, steady and easy to follow. But sometimes the emotions take over and the beats weaken or hide into the background. In such case the dancers should adapt to the changing mood and dance melodically. Dancing to rhythm, the movement is vertical, forceful and interrupted. Dancing to melody, the movement becomes emotional, horizontal 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 and melody takes over, they feel lost. Many women don't know how to dance to melody and express emotions. There are certain impatience and anxiety in their movements as the music tells them to slow down or wait, because they still struggle to catch the beats. Which 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 ability a tango dancer must have, especially if you are a woman, for melody represents and can better express emotions and femininity. (See The Gender Expression in Tango.) 

In short, the milonguero style is a rhythmic dance. It is designed to stir up sensations and feelings pertinent to the rhythmic motion of the two intimately connected bodies. It is danced in close embrace with simple, compact and synchronized steps, and is fully enjoyed when the partners surrender to each other, immersed in the music and feelings, and move together 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, suspension and pause 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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