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.

July 26, 2019

How to Dance Milonga

Among the three genres of tango music, milonga is the fastest. Milonga music is 2/4 time. There are two beats in each measure and each quarter note receives a beat, counted as 1-and, 2-and (or 1 +, 2 +; 1 is the downbeat), which is twice as fast as tango. (See Tango Music and Its Danceability.) 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 downbeat of each measure, that is, right foot on 1 of the first measure, left foot on 1 of the second measure, right foot on 1 of the third measure, left food on 1 of the forth measure..., in even speed.

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

Dynamic timing

Another way to dance milonga is using dynamic timing to let the two feet step alternately on both downbeats and upbeats in different speeds. You can step on 1 of the first measure, step on both 1 and 2 of the second measure (slow, quick-quick), or vice versa (quick-quick, slow). You can also step on all beats and subdivisions: left foot on 1, right foot on +, left foot on 2 (quick-quick, slow); or left foot on 1, right foot on 2, left foot on + (slow, quick-quick); or left foot on 1, right foot on +, left foot on 2, right foot on + (quick-quick, quick-quick). Using dynamic 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, resembling the foot rebounds in the opposite direction after meeting the obstacle. 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 back to the other leg completely 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 completely 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 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 steps is that they want to dance in the milonga as soon as they can. They regard tango only as steps and think if they can do the steps, they can dance tango. As soon as they managed to imitate a step they start to copy another. They believe in that way they can learn faster and be able to dance sooner.

What they don’t know is that whether they can dance is not decided by the number of steps they know, but by the behind the scene skills upon which the steps are built: embrace, posture, connection, communication, torso lead/follow, 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 who have a solid grounding in these basic skills can dance beautifully even with few simple steps. Those who 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 steps is not just teaching steps, but more importantly teaching the basic skills. For example, the teacher may instruct the students to use dissociation or the swivel of the hips in front ocho and back ocho, because that skill is important not only in ocho but also in many other tango steps. But the students don’t understand that, they only try to imitate the step by crossing one leg in front of or 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, although they may have learned a lot of steps, they have mastered none, their basic skills remain poor, and their dance does not have a tango feel.

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