Carolina Tango is your center for the style of genuine Argentine Tango danced in the intimate dance halls of downtown Buenos Aires. Milonguero style differs from the "showier" and more gymnastic styles of ballroom tango, stage tango and tango nuevo by focusing on the connection between two dancers. It is a gentle, sensual dance that can be danced to any type of music.
I slept 13 hours after our very successful grand opening Milonga Monserrat in Greensboro this week. On April 1, 2017 Greensboro hosted a large tango dance attended by 80-100 dancers (we lost count at 80) who drove in from around the State: Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Pilot Mountain, Asheville, Statesville, plus more from Columbia and Charleston South Carolina, and three more from Georgia. One delightful tanguera flew down from Boston to stay with family in order to attend.
On Sunday April 2, Clint Rauscher, our professional and talented DJ from the evening before, led an amazing workshop on Improvisation. We all learned a lot from that great teacher.
Here are some photos taken by Ahmed Mohammed of the Triangle area of North Carolina. He honored us so much with his stunning photographs.
I spent years of my tango journey dancing badly. Not because I had bad teachers, but because I learned many little bits of technique and some complex figures without really understanding how to weave them together, and without a foundation of fundamentals.
In an effort to help the young dancers at Tango in the Triad to avoid the same confusion, I recently asked great tangueros to help to create a Top Twenty list of skills for every student embarking on or seeking to improve their tango journey. Big "thank you" to my collaborators on this post:
Susana Miller, Marcela Duran, Alicia Pons, Clint Rauscher, Pablo Rodriquez, Eva Garlez, Jae Youn, Daniel Arredondo, Marcelo Hector Solis, and to Steve Neely, who first gave me a list of skills for beginning students.
Beginning tango students will advance steadily if they have as a foundation the first ten of these twenty skills. I've been working on these skills for years, ever since Enriqueta Kleinman, Nestor La Vitola, and Susana Miller broke me out of my bad habits.
I'm constantly working on keeping my Posture, with balance and groundedness.
CHANGE OF WEIGHT
Carrying that balance and groundedness into every Change of Weight is crucial for dancers as we move from one foot to the other, sometimes together sometimes separately.
CONNECTION & EMBRACE
Two dancers discover the quality of their Connection or Embrace when they successfully enter the embrace and change weight with posture and connection intact throughout the dance. Easier said than done.
LEAD & FOLLOW
Keeping connection becomes a building block of the Lead/Follow skill. Leading, at its core, means to change the follower's weight from one foot to the other with sensitivity and musicality. Following means both interpreting the lead and interpreting the music.
Neither the leader nor the follower will have a successful dance without the next skill, variously called Intention, or Lightness, or Fluidity. Nestor La Vitola was the first to show me that movement from one foot to the other can be performed over small or great distances (small and big steps) quickly or very slowly, without jerking or jumping from one weight change to another. The power behind these highly-controlled movements, for the leader and the follower, requires the desire to control the movement (intention), and sufficient groundedness and balance to feel light while doing it. Like a deep great river has tremendous power, while every lap of water against the shore is light. This is the paradox and beauty of well-grounded Intention. It results in lightness and fluidity.
This fluidity finds its ultimate expression in the Walk. Landing the foot properly, moving together through space. As we've all discovered after dancing tango for some time, our most delicious tandas are those with plenty of fluid walking.
OK, by now we are walking together with a partner. That begs the question of how we properly get a partner, find our place on the dance floor, and behave respectfully. The Códigos play a huge role in the success of any tanguero/a. I've always been surprised at how little most teachers emphasize the etiquette of tango. Without it, an evening of dance can be a disaster. Here are some of the Códigos appropriate for a crowded dance floor.
We've respectfully made it to the dance floor with a partner – now enters the third member of our tango triad: Music. Stepping with the beat, stepping quick-quick-slow, playing with the music, pausing with the music -- all are essential elements to any dance, even the most basic. Early in our tango journey, we should all learn how to "dance the pauses" and to move in staccato and legato motions.
An important step that adds depth and color to the beginner's dance is the side step. Few simple movements can enrich a dance as much as a silky side step performed with varying sizes and tempos.
These fundamentals bring us back again to Posture. When posture and movement are combined, they produce the elegant pivot. The ability of a dancer to pivot -- slightly during the cross or dramatically during a front ocho or giro -- is a skill that pays dividends over and over.
I discovered, after years of dancing, that my fundamentals got better whenever I was honest with myself about my own shortcomings and turned my face toward improving. Susana Miller said wisely, “When you are relaxed and have a peaceful mind, you can incorporate technically those skills such as balance, posture, change of weight. Similarly,” she adds, “connection, embrace, lightness and fluidity are the consequences of honesty and some happiness.”
Teachers should work on these ten fundamentals until students are consistently successful. I've always wished my teachers repeatedly reinforced these ten while teaching the next ten. The great teachers who helped me with the blog post remind me that these skills have dimension and nuance that only qualified teachers can convey to students. Nuances like Relaxation, Navigation, Tension, Torque, Dissociation and Variations. Nevertheless, this list represents the closest thing to a consensus among profesores del tango that I've ever come across.
TANGO TOP TWENTY
These are the Tango Top Twenty skills
Achieve consistency with these twenty skills, then add a variety of turns, paradas, sacadas and higher level musicality. And keep improving!
Tango is fun, even when the floor is crowded. But dancers who don’t follow the códigos can ruin the fun for everyone.
Follow simple rules of etiquette and everyone can have happy, willing dance partners, and a safe, respectful, and fun experience on and off the floor.
Here in North Carolina, we use these códigos:
We dance with a warm, respectful and close embraceWe invite women to dance via “Cabeceo” from a respectful distanceWe enter the dance floor, Leader-first, also using “Cabeceo”We follow the line of dance, in a counter-clockwise directionWe do not zig-zag around the dance floor, nor do we obstruct the flowWe try not to step against the line of dance, always moving forwardWe avoid hitting other dancers by keeping our feet near the floorWe do not teach or instruct or correct on the dance floorWe avoid dancing above our partner's comfort levelWe always treat each other with great respect
1. Finger poking or hand jerking (absolutely no hand action on the back is necessary unless we are about to bump into someone).
2. Blocking (if you led us, keep the door open and let the energy flow. Don't block us).
3. Followers normally don't start back-leading if they are sufficiently entertained by the leader who doesn't miss musical moments (don't bore us when the music is gorgeous--this may be the only moment that lightning-fast Bandoneon solo plays in the entire milonga...Don't waste the music)
4. Skilled leaders can always find the follower after she has stolen a moment. Have you seen Carlitos getting flustered after Noelia goes in and out? Never. Followers are not the only people who are responsible for listening. Leaders must listen to the followers as well.
5. Musicality, oh, musicality, yeah, please don't dance D’Arienzo like Di Sarli.
6. The Delusion of Advanced Leader Syndrome (DALS). I know this is a terminal disease, but if you can, get over it.
7. If you haven't brushed your teeth, don't breathe with your mouth open or even worse, sing.
8. Secret weapons: Close shave unless your life depends on your stubble. After being exposed to sweat, rubbing against your stubbles burns our skin.
Another parallel outside the tango world: I read that seeing-eye dogs can immediately feel if the handler has enough experience in handling or not. If they feel that the handler doesn't know what the heck he is doing, I heard that the seeing eye dogs go straight into the play mode. Milongueras are the same, if we respect your musicality and lead, we will listen to you, but that has to be earned. Otherwise we may just go into the play mode.
She teaches that a leader must not "obligate" the follower to perform some movement or step. Instead, every movement is an invitation with clear preparation by the leader. think of the invitation as the leader opening a door, inviting the follower to walk through it the way she likes. I've written about the invitation in my post "The Five Jobs of the Leader."
The preparation, which is also an important key to fluidity, is the leader's way of communicating intention to the follower. The leader may raise his chest slightly, or gently drive forward with a shoulder to indicate to the follower where they are about to go. These little cues inform the follower and help her to relax and enjoy the dance.
It takes two to tango
Good leaders never would want the follower to feel like she is constantly deciphering obscure leads and being pushed from place to place. Instead, she should be relaxed and free to listen to the music and add her lovely contributions to a truly mutual dance.
You've seen it. The guy who barges onto the dance floor and starts dancing oblivious to how he's affecting others around him. Or the couple who zig-zag around the floor in any direction. Koos de Wit made a handy guide to tango floorcraft on YouTube highlighting many of the keys to an enjoyable night of dancing.
Leaders make eye contact with the oncoming leader to enter the dancefloor
Leaders enter the dance floor first
Keep moving forward
Don't crowd or tailgate the pair in front of you
Don’t zig-zag between lanes
Outside lane is for experienced dancers and inexperienced dancers using simple moves they execute well
Extend the circumference of the outside lane by using available corners
Keep the dance small
Leaders: think "linear" when walking forward. Think "circular" when doing turns or figures. Change places with your partner in a turn.
Short moderate conservative moves. No complex 6- or 8-step sequences or very long strides.
Followers: keep your feet on the ground and your legs under your body.
Alicia Pons paints lovely images with her words when she teaches tango technique. I especially like how she described to me once the "hinges on the door." As a leader, my right shoulder and right hip are like the two hinges on which my partner pivots. With this idea, I may "open the door" to invite my partner to move freely in, say, a front ocho. After which, we gently swing the hinges closed.
I've found this concept very helpful in maintaining constant connection with my partner.
The great tango musicologist and DJ, Osvaldo Natucci, shared these bits of wisdom.
"La Marca," he said, is "el cambio de peso, solo esto" -- The lead is the change of weight, only this.
He went on to say that there are many fundamental elements of the lead: posture, balance, axis, frame, embrace. But only one thing constitutes the actual lead, and that is cambio de peso.
It took me some time to understand what he meant, but now I've come to understand that the Leader's primary job is to change his partner's weight from one foot to the next. From this foundation, the rest of the leader's jobs flow naturally.
The five jobs of the leader
Lead - change her weight with care
Navigate - move musically in the line of dance
Protect - never let her make contact with anything
Invite - open the door for her to move as she wishes
Show Her Off - The best leaders make the followers look like angels
We just learned that the first job of the leader, To Lead, means really nothing more than "to change her weight from one foot to the other." The lead is communicated to the follower by subtle preparations in the leader’s body, such as elevated chest, rise and fall of the torso above the knees, dissociation of the torso and more.
Navigate is a much more complex job. On one hand, it has the obvious meaning of steering the pair around the line of dance, around obstacles, and so forth. But at its core, Navigate means to convey the pair through space. Combined with Leading (changing her weight), Navigation drives the couple with acceleration, deceleration, pauses, and changes of direction. A leader who navigates well adds much to the experience of the follower. Just as a poor navigator takes away even more.
Confident navigation is evident in fluid motion that makes the follower float like an angel with rhythm and safety, permitting her to get lost in the movement and music.
The poor navigator not only denies the follower of those delicious feelings, he also creates danger for her and those around them. Collisions, missteps, hard landings, tension, fear, pain, boredom and lack of trust -- Good leaders hope never to create these negative energies during a tanda.
Protect also has two aspects. The leader uses the embrace and frame to create a safe and protective place for the follower, while also making sure nothing bad happens to her. That includes maneuvering the pair around slippery spots on the floor, away from dangerous couples throwing boleos, servers carrying trays of champagne, posts, walls, and anything else that could disrupt the peace of the dance. However, Protecting begins with the embrace. there are different embraces in the various styles of tango. We will discuss them later. But all of them are designed to help the follower to feel safe, respected and grounded.
Invite, the part of the Leader's job that I best learned from master teacher Alicia Pons, comes from the notion of opening the door so the follower may move through it herself. Sounds like good ol' fashioned chivalry. Yet it is much more. For both partners to be fully involved in the dance, they must share a bit of themselves with each other. The invitation is the leader's way of asking the follower to help him to hear the music through her ears, feel it though the movement of her body.
Finally, Show Her Off emerges as the job of the leader that is the most fun for both dancers. Natucci is adamant,"The leader should never appear to dance, but should be a column supporting her. He must not show himself off. He must show her off." Showing her off simply means to dance for her. We've all seen those leaders who through showmanship and lightning fast gymnastic footwork declare to the world that they themselves are the star and the center of attention. These fellows might be in business of selling private lessons, so it's marketing. I understand. However, the rest of us can dance for our partner. She dances for him. He dances for her.
Gentlemen, let her have a tango vacation for 10 minutes in your protective embrace.
Want to take your tango to the next level? Attend the Chicago "Mini" Tango Festival in April. Dozens of workshops and almost non-stop milongas give you a unique opportunity to develop skills under the instruction of the best teachers in the world of tango such as Alicia Pons, Mundial champions, Maximiliano Cristiani & Jesica Afernoni, Cristian Palomo & Melisa Sacchi. There is also a beginner’s Intensive Weekend Workshop led by Milonguero Masters Pablo Rodriquez and Eva Garlez.
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