No lessons required

My sister Linda and I were regular viewers of American Bandstand, a television program of teenagers dancing to the rock ‘n’ roll tunes we heard on the radio. American Bandstand with its host Dick Clark was on five days a week after school beginning August 1957-1963, our preteen years. We listened to rock ‘n’ roll music on WLS-Chicago radio with Dick Biondi. We bought 45 rpm records of our favorites. We practiced dancing at home with the kitchen doorknob and each other. We aspired to dance like the teens on American Bandstand. There weren’t any dance classes for teenagers who wanted to dance to rock ‘n’ roll music. Teenagers just watched television and copied what they saw or their friends showed them how. We danced to the tunes we heard on the radio. It was our music growing up in the 1950s and 60s. My sister and I knew how to dance when we got to high school and attended Friday night sock hops. The problem was that the boys didn’t dance.
Teenagers on American Bandstand who have a nice embrace for tango

Teenagers on American Bandstand who have a nice embrace for tango

Dancing in Buenos Aires was entirely a different matter where teenagers were concerned. Tango was practically the only music on the radio in Buenos Aires during the 1940s and 1950s. Most families didn’t have a television in Buenos Aires until the 1960s, if at all. Boys wanted to meet girls, so the social activity of choice was dancing. Boys had family as role models at parties where dance and music were always present. They went to a neighborhood club to see others dancing. There weren’t any organized classes, so the boys in the neighborhood gathered on a street corner and learned from each other. Some practiced together until they were ready to dance with partners. Girls were escorted by an older relative to learn by dancing with the boys at a neighborhood club. They sat accompanied by their mothers or aunts at tables around the perimeter of the floor waiting for the boys standing in the center to invite them to dance. They learned tango and vals by dancing. No lessons required. The young men weren’t allowed to enter the downtown confiterias until they were 18, but that didn’t stop many from going with a relative or friend who had instructed them on the codes and introduced them to friends. As soon as they owned their first suit with long pants, they were ready to enter a confiteria where they observed for a year or two before dancing publicly. Then once they tasted the nightlife of downtown Buenos Aires they became regular inhabitants of the confiterias and cabarets lining the streets of downtown Buenos Aires. There they perfected their individual styles dancing to recordings of their favorite orchestras. A few of these men who danced in the 1940s and 50s are still dancing today. They are the milongueros—self-taught dancers who can dance well with any woman with musicality and elegance.

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4 Responses to “No lessons required”

  1. tangologist Says:

    It is so interesting to think of how people learn to dance. One learns by doing. The music teaches you how to move. And the example of others around you, of course, is so important.

    I wish I knew more about the process of learning for those men who became milongueros. Did they hang around with their friends and talk about it? Your mention of milonguero luncheons in another post makes me think that maybe the guys from that era had a tradition of getting together and talking about tango. Maybe they even discussed technique and steps?

    Thanks for the great post.

    Are you still of the opinion that “no lessons are required”?


  2. jantango Says:

    If only we could return to our adolescence and learn tango as the boys in Buenos Aires did. They were motivated to learn to dance well. Tango music was everywhere, and so were the girls they wanted to meet. They didn’t talk about tango, they practiced to dance well enough to be able to invite someone to dance. They each had to find their own dance.

    Tango isn’t as difficult as adults often think it is. Comparing ourselves to others and trying to be the best prevents us from just doing our best. That’s enough.

  3. Chris, UK Says:

    Tango isn’t as difficult as adults often think it is.

    Very true. The false belief that it is difficult to learn to dance tango is one instilled by the new-method beginners’ classes in which newcomers are partnered with others who cannot dance, segregated from those who can. That method makes learning very difficult indeed. The easy way is partnering someone who can already dance well. Traditionally that someone is a dancer amongst one’s friends or family. In places without a tango dance tradition, that someone is more usually one of the few available accomplished dancers – paid for one-to-one sessions.

  4. jantango Says:

    There were at one time classes in Buenos Aires with milongueros assisting. Students need to see where they’re going in the dance and what better way than to have milongueros or experienced dancers as first-hand examples. Luisito Ferraris and Cacho Dante were two of those assisting in Susana Miller’s classes.

    Most milongueros aren’t interested in teaching; they want to dance in the milongas. If they don’t pass on what they know from years of experience, it will be lost. Tango as a social dance will only be remembered on video.

    Men need to learn tango from other men, not from female teachers. Women learn quickly by dancing in the milongas with milongueros.

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