Cybertango Dicussion from the Tango Mailing List


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This list was an idea of Stephen.P.Brown <Stephen.P.Brown@DAL.frb.org> who first posted it in the Tango-L mailing list. I added some additional points suggested by Larry Carroll
Many of us who dance Tango aspire to be the complete milonguero or milonguera (social dancer of Tango). In my opinion, good instruction can provide crucial elements in the education of the milonguero and milonguera.
Stephen.P.Brown

I doubt if the worst show-offs, athletes, close-minded, & cold-hearted will change, no matter what teachers or acquaintances do. But many people are simply never taught these elements.
Larry de Los Angeles

Some of the elements necessary to be a complete milonguero or milonguera are:

  1. Understanding of the difference between show & social tango.
  2. Understanding of the range of legitimate styles.
  3. Understanding of the importance of emotion in tango.
  4. Understanding of and feeling for the music
  5. Knowledge of steps
  6. Good style/technique in executing steps
  7. Ability to improvise on a crowded dance floor while moving fluidly from one dance step to another.
  8. Leading and following skills, as appropriate.

Each of you may have his/her additional ideas about what should be added to this list. Please do add!

In my observation, various teachers place a different emphasis on the elements of my list, which suggests that relying on more than one instructor (or style of instruction) may be essential to accelerate learning. (My comments are not designed to endorse or criticize any particular teacher or approach to teaching Tango. Indeed, many instructors combine approaches!)

  1. Understanding of the difference between show & social tango.
    So many dancers do dangerous or obstructive figures as if they had the floor all to themselves that this needs to be explicitly taught.

  2. Understanding of the range of legitimate styles.
    To me the complete tango dancer knows & respects several styles, even if s/he can't dance them well.

  3. Understanding of the importance of emotion in tango.
    To me this is what makes tango different from almost every other dance. It's not just an acrobatic or aerobic experience the way swing or hustle or salsa or most of the ballroom dances are.

  4. Understanding of the feeling for the music
    Many, but not all, teachers usually conduct warm-up exercises to music and emphasize musically rhythmic movement. Rebecca Shulman of New York (and perhaps others) goes a bit further and offers instruction about the rhythm of Tango music and its relationship to movement. (I mention Rebecca only because, I have found her relatively unique in this respect.)
    some more ideas about this

  5. Knowledge of steps
    Some teachers emphasize new steps and embellishments. This approach can work with beginners because it gives them the steps they need without the clutter of other distractions. (Personally, I prefer an approach in which beginners also learn some of the underlying structure of the dance.) The "steps" approach can also work for more advanced dancers who have a good understanding of Tango and are just trying to add new steps or embellishments.

  6. Good style/technique in executing steps
    Some teachers emphasize the relationship between the technique of movement and the dance steps. This approach helps the dancer to develop good lines.

  7. Ability to improvise on a crowded dance floor while moving fluidly from one dance step to another.
    This requires an understanding of the footwork structure underlying the steps and the doors connecting the steps, as well as knowledge of and experience with the possibilities of the connections between the steps.
    Some teachers emphasize what Lester Buck calls "the Gestalt of Tango." That is, they teach the footwork structure underlying the steps and the doors connecting the steps. Mariela Franganillo refers to this as "the System" (of Tango).
    This approach offers a good understanding of Tango, and provides the basis for the milonguero and milonguera to meet many of the improvisational demands of dancing Tango socially on a crowded floor. It is particularly useful for someone who wants to lead steps. With experience, some dancers may develop this knowledge without formal instruction as an intuitive feel for what works on the social dance floor. In my experience, however, instruction accelerates the learning immensely.
    In what can be a complementary activity to learning the Gestalt of Tango, some teachers emphasize choreographed combinations of social dance steps in their classes. This approach can show the possibilities of the connections between steps and provide the dancer with experience in making those connections.
    In my opinion, this approach is often used to teach social Tango because it allows the woman to learn the steps too, and in doing so, eliminates the need for strong following and leading skills in the classroom. Unfortunately, many dancers who have received most of their instruction under this approach neglect developing their understanding of the Gestalt of Tango, as well as leading and following skills. Instead, they attempt to execute memorized routines (ganchos and all) that cannot be completed safely on a crowded social dance floor.

  8. Leading and following skills, as appropriate.
    Few teachers seem to emphasize leading and following skills in their group classes. In my experience, beyond a few general comments, private lessons seem to be the rule here. Good leading and following require so many elements (such as, good frame, the leader clearly marking the steps, shoulders leading feet, the leader providing the space for the follower to step, the follower knowing where to step, the leader and follower adhering to the conventions of the dance, etc) some of which are fairly subtle that private instruction may be preferable.


Some more ideas about Understanding of the feeling for the music

My experience with a large number of teachers is that no one teaches anything about music. Rebecca is the one exception. The most I've heard anyone else say is that you should "dance IN the music, not TO the music." And they never explained it, as if it was a Zen koan or Sufi paradox.
It's not unusual to have students practice to music, but usually everyone is struggling so hard to learn/use some really difficult pattern that the music becomes meaningless background noise.
I suspect the lack of music teaching is because (1) teachers usually don't know that much about music, (2) they believe students would be bored or baffled if music was taught. And frankly if my livlihood depended on teaching I think I'd err on the side of caution, too. (When I teach it's for free or for expenses.)
But a little instruction on music shouldn't be badly received, if done right. - What about something like this?
First the students need to know a pattern so simple they can do it without thinking, so they can focus on something else--music in this case, maybe leading/following in another class.
I prefer one I call the Conversation pattern. MEN STEP FORWARD LEFT THEN FORWARD RIGHT, WOMEN BACK RIGHT THEN BACK LEFT. Then repeat. If someone blocks you, walk around in circles to the left (or right), or do the rock step: MEN SIDE LEFT THEN SIDE RIGHT, WOMEN SIDE RIGHT THEN SIDE LEFT. Then repeat the rock step, turning in place to the left (or right).
Next I'd have them dance once or twice around the dance floor to several different kinds of music, giving them only the absolute minimum of info about dance style for each kind of music. I'd tell them to open up a space inside themselves & let the music come in & guide their dancing. This way each person is more likely to really listen to the music, & to develop their own style rather than learn some "One Right Way."
I might arrange the music in a chronological sequence. I'd start with the milonga, explaining that it's the ancestor to the tango & uses many of the same figures. The difference is that in dancing milongas you typically step on every beat with a bouncy, swaggery style. Then I'd play one of the slower milongas and have them go around the floor a time or two with their partner.
Then I'd explain that the first tango dancers began to step on every other beat with a smoother, more flowing style, but that the early tango music still had a milonga flavor. Then I'd have them go around the floor a time or two, again telling them to let the music "take over." I'd play something from the early Juan D'Arienzo orchestra because of the strong, steady beat.
Next I'd explain that later bands kept the steady beat but de-emphasized it, focusing more on the melody & song lines. The next time around the room I'd use Francisco Canaro's band or something similar.
This would also be a good time to introduce the tango vals. I'd say that vals tempo is almost as fast as the Viennese waltz, so that you tend to step just on the ONE count of the ONE-two-three beats, but that the dance style is pretty much the same as tangos in 4/4 time. Canaro would also be good music for this.
Lastly I'd say that more modern tango bands introduced volume & tempo changes to emphasize the dramatic elements of a work. I'd let them spend more time on two or three examples of this more complex music.
All this, plus the mechanics of group classes (arranging partner changes, etc.), would take the most part of an hour.
I'm not sure what other info could or should be taught. Any ideas?

Larry de Los Angeles


Garrit Fleischmann 28.Jul.96
Email: kontakt(at)cyber-tango.com