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About Tango

About Tango

There's rather a lot of info. here. Just browse the questions most useful to you.

When you have been dancing for a while, you might want to read some reference books on the subject. Michael Lavocah's book: "Tango Stories: Musical Secrets"  is, in our opinion, the best intro to the music but you need to build up your music collection to get the best out of it.
"The Quest for The Embrace" is a brand new publication by Gustavo Benzacry Saba is a thoroughly researched examination of the history of the dance and the dancers through from its early origins. For those of you passionate about the dance and its history, it is an essential.
Ask us about other references as you feel the need.

Argentine Tango

Argentine tango is really a family of dances. There is the tango itself, there is a slightly faster and more quirky dance called the milonga and the romantic vals – or waltz. The tango is played and danced to a count of four beats repeated with the emphasis on the first and third beat.

Milonga is also based on bars of four beats  but for this  they are split into half beats. There are emphases on the first and the third beats, none on the second beat and emphasis between the third and fourth. You can count as: "one two PAUSE and four". However, this only makes clear  sense listening to it.

Vals is in waltz time, three beats repeating with the emphasis on the first beat: One, Two, Three One, Two, Three. It is closer to the Viennese Waltz in terms of its speed.

A less well known and older member of the family is the canyegue which is often heavily syncopated and danced almost as a caricature of a dance with partners leaning heavily on one another.


So what exactly is Tango?

It is an improvised dance between two partners: a leader and a follower who hold each other in a very light but close embrace. It is the leader’s job to navigate around the ballroom keeping his follower safe from bumping into others, using his chest to indicate directions, rhythms and steps and trying to ensure the follower has an enjoyable dance.

He must be constantly aware of what his follower is doing and where her feet are as in tango, the pair is not necessarily stepping in unison. In effect, to create a dance enjoyable to both, the leader also follows the follower: he cannot initiate anything new unless she is ready.

For her part, the follower must concentrate on the information she receives from the leader’s chest so she can move how and where he wants her. She is not passive in this role though, she may decide on how fast or slow she moves and may wish to ornament her step with little movements of her feet and legs.

This leads to people dancing with serious concentration – but when the music stops the ballroom bursts into laughter and discussion which often continues a few moments into the next song.


I’ve seen women being thrown around on “Strictly” and on Youtube videos.

What you’ve seen is show dancing or fantasia: not salon dancing. There isn’t room on a crowded floor for such activities and they are almost always choreographed and so are not really tango at all. However, it’s nice to have a couple of slightly flamboyant moves in your repertoire ….just in case you find an empty corner on the dance floor.


How difficult can this be?

In just a few lessons beginners can get the feel of the connection and dance round the floor just executing a few simple steps. Yes, there are steps in tango; but they are not really very important. More important is learning how to communicate within the partnership and this involves a lot of practice and body learning. It is necessary to hold a posture that is unfamiliar to most people and to learn a way of walking that is so close to how we generally walk that we find the subtle difference difficult to achieve. There is a saying in tango that it takes ten minutes to learn a step but ten years to learn how to walk; but it can take two years to realise that there is a lot of truth in this.

It normally takes beginners a few weeks to decide whether or not tango is for them. It does become challenging and like any skill that has to be learnt, you can’t do it until you can do it and then it seems easy …..but even then there is always something new to be learnt.

Where can I dance it?

Buenos Aires is the Mecca of tango and there are opportunities to dance it every day and at almost any time. However, most local people there don’t dance it but those who do are generally good and almost fanatical about it. As a visitor,you might attend a milonga every day and see the same faces dancing every night of the week. It is easy to find places to dance tango in most of the world’s big cities. In fact, visiting a tango venue somewhere else means that you very quickly have a lot of new acquaintances. In England, most people can reach a tango venue within 40 minutes. In some cities you can dance tango several nights a week and in London it is every night with choices of venues too. Surprisingly, it is not just the big cities where you can find tango:  for example, Penzance, Shrewsbury, Hereford, Upton Magna, Stoke on Trent, Newport Shropshire, Nottingham, Preston, Wilmslow and Malvern all have good tango scenes.


Up and down the country you can find regular weekends or even weeks of tango workshops and dances. The tango community is not very big and so it’s not long before you turn up at an event and find that you know lots of people. As an example, the “Tango Mango” is a week long tango experience in rural Devon which runs five times in the year. Participants live and breathe tango with anything up to a dozen internationally renowned  teachers;  they eat communally and some even camp at the venue. Also in Devon is the “Tango Feast” in the Torbay area which runs for a long weekend several times a year. Teachers also arrange tango holidays not just to Buenos Aires but to beautiful holiday locations around the world where you can combine your tango with all the normal holiday activities.


What’s the age range?

I suppose you could just say it is an adult dance although younger dancers sometimes learn the dance in a more open hold. Apart from that, if you attend a tango lesson or a ball you’ll probably find every age represented from early twenties to eighties. Tango keeps you healthy and mentally alert so dancers don’t give it up.


What about my two left feet?

Good start! A tango couple has two left feet. People who say they can’t dance often find that they can dance tango. At its heart it is a walking dance with couples travelling round the dance floor in a counter clockwise direction. If you can walk you can learn tango… I’m not saying it is easy though.


What if I’m not very musical?

Musicality can be learnt as long as your hearing is OK – but there are good dancers with hearing impairments. The more you listen to a particular type of music, the more the rhythms and melodies just become natural to you. In your lessons you will be directed towards particular songs and albums that will help you.


What if I’m just not keen on that old fashioned music?

Familiarity plays a great part in how we find ourselves preferring particular music so exposure to a new type can sometimes change your tastes. However, there is a lot of music to which tango can be danced. Once you have learnt to communicate to your partner how the music is telling you to move, a wide range of music can be used even if it may not be strictly tango.

There are also new forms of tango such as Nuevo Tango for which a lot of new music is being written.  Try listening to “Gotan Project” or “Kevin Johanssen” or “Paolo Conte” or “Otros Aries”.

In your classes, it’s likely your teachers will mix the music you use between traditional tangos and music that is more accessible to you. However, it's also likely that your tastes will change to preferring to dance to traditional music which is generally more complex and richer. You're likely to discover that the traditional songs carry a story that resolves at the end whereas more modern music is repetitive and often just fades out or stops; there is nothing to resolve.

Personally, I found myself a bit jaded about traditional music in the western world but have discovered thousands of new songs that excite me and will last me the rest of my life.



So how do I start?

Get in touch with the teachers or just turn up at a tango class/practice. I'm sure you will be made welcome; other dancers are almost certain to welcome new members to the community and, hopefully, you'll find their enthusiasm infectious. If the activity grabs you, it will not be long before you find it is more of and addiction than a hobby.


Shoes and Clothes

If you have them, wear footwear that will allow you to slide and swivel on the balls of your feet. If they are not too bulky, that can be kinder to partners as there is inevitably a bit of stepping on toes in the first couple of lessons.


You’ll be surprised at the variety of dress modes at a tango lesson. Some dress up and some wear jeans. Almost anything goes but loose fitting can be more comfortable and remember that there is going to be quite a lot of physical exercise even if it is gentle; people get quite warm. Quite a lot of guys take an extra shirt if it’s going to be a long session.


How will the first few sessions go?

This will depend on whether you are learning through classes or guided practicas. Both can be valuable.

After introductions and a few warming up exercises, you are probably going to start by walking around the room to the music without a partner then gradually changing the style of your walk to a tango walk with a tango posture.

There will be some talking, demonstrating and explaining from your teacher but hopefully not too much. The emphasis is on you trying to get your body to remember the feel of the tango walk.

Next, pair work using a practice hold, holding one another along the arms to the elbows or at the shoulders. This stops you worrying about being too close to bang feet.  At first you’ll just be walking round the room trying to keep the connection then stepping sideways and pausing and changing weight from one side to the other. You’ll change partners a few times to help you to recognise that every partner and every dance in tango is different.

This doesn’t sound a lot for the first lesson but believe me: it is. You’ll be shown a few practice exercises that will help you if you have time before the next lesson and you should see a demonstration of what your own dance will, hopefully, include at the end of the series of lessons.

The next few lessons will follow a similar pattern with the gradual introduction of a few more steps. The second lesson will involve changing to the open hold. The connection between partners is powerful and quite addictive. Particularly for those of us who are Brits, it is a new experience to have so close a relationship with someone almost a stranger. Many other nationalities just don’t see what we are worried about.

Eventually, we will explore the close embrace which is at the very heart of Argentine Tango. There is no need to worry about this as we deal with it sensitively: in a mainly British class, reservedness is sometimes quite characteristic but most people, once they have enjoyed the traditional hold, prefer it.  However, some dancers do just dance in an open hold although we feel something is lost.


Milonga and Vals

Almost unconsciously, you will find some of the tracks you are practising to have a waltz rhythm: 3/4 so this dance will just be an extension to your tango. We will find ways of altering the timing of the vals dance to make it more intersting

The milonga is generally, but not always, faster; so you can use many of the steps you have developed – they just need to be a lot smaller so you can do them faster.

Eventually, you will learn some new steps that fit into the 2/4 rhythm.

Soon you will find that your dancing will improve by adding in some regular exercises - particulartly for balance, core strength and torsion. Gustavo Benzacry Saba's exersise for men and Maria Olivera's exercises for women will help a lot. Ask us about these - or better still, take a lesson on this when they visit us in September.