Archive for the ‘Learning tango’ Category

Use it or lose it: Dancing makes you smarter

March 4, 2015

Where do we have to make split-second decisions?  On a crowded dance floor.  Those decisions increase neural connectivity in our brains.

If you can’t take classes or go out dancing four times a week, then dance as much as you can.  More is better.

Read this article by Richard Powers


How to give a great hug

January 18, 2015

Our world is trust deficient.  People need to hug more.

We trust when we accept an invitation to dance tango with a stranger.  We bring our bodies together and hold one another for three minutes without speaking.  This simple act of trust, accompanied by the music of tango, is changing our world for the better.

Have you gotten your 12 hugs today?   We need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs for maintenance, and twelve hugs for growth.  It’s unfortunate that certain cultures are touch deficient, but tango dancing is helping to change that.  There is no deficiency in Argentina where hugs and touching are common.  Tango makes it possible for us to get our daily dose of hugs on the dance floor!

A good beginning for a tango class is teaching how to hug another person.   A hug isn’t common in all cultures.  Teachers can’t assume that everyone in class knows how to hug or that they are comfortable with putting their bodies close to others.

A good way to start is lining up the class participants in two rows facing each other.  Everyone raises their right arm vertically and extends the left arm horizontally. Then the two rows of people approach and give a full body hug with both arms wrapped around each other where they stay for a minute or so, taking time to breathe and feel the other person.  Then one row moves down one place to practice with another person, until everyone has hugged.  Men can hug men, women can hug women, too.  I recommend ten minutes of hugging at the beginning of each class.  Everyone will be more relaxed for class after their daily dose of hugs.

A hug requires trust and no holding back, but that doesn’t mean tight squeezing or discomfort.  A half-hearted hug doesn’t count.  It may take practice for some to relax and surrender to the hug from a stranger, but it’s worth the effort if one wants to dance tango.  Feedback to a partner is proper and often helpful.  This is good preparation for going to a milonga where you will dance with others for the first time.

I’m certain that most of you can recall attending your first class that began with the eight-step basic and trying to memorize the sequence.  You focused on your feet from the beginning and felt clumsy.  When you had to dance the sequence with a partner, it was worse.  You had no practice with the most important part of tango — the embrace.  If you’re uncomfortable in the embrace, you can’t trust.  And if you can’t trust, you can’t dance tango.

Our world needs more tango dancers.  Our world needs people who trust one another.

How to give a great hug.

One hundred years ago

January 15, 2015

After examining the subject of the Tango from many standpoints, I have come to two conclusions: one, that  it is not, as I have endeavored to show, really difficult  for an amateur dancer to learn; two, that it has qualities which display vitality to a very promising degree. It is likely to be alive as long as the waltz in this country, a  fact which means that its longevity is assured. It may  be a little fantastic, possibly somewhat bizarre, but it  has underlying features which cannot be ignored by anyone  considering the dance. For example, who can dispute  the value of a dance which requires only slow, if graceful, movements? The hallmark of genius belongs to the  people who started the Tango “snowball ” in its course  round the world. For they knew what the world wanted,  what it was waiting for. I have seen two couples dance  the Tango comfortably on a space only twice the size of a dinner-table.

. . . .

This result we find expressed in a  sequel, and the sequel is the Tango interest of to-day.  I have watched the dances of every professional dancer  of international repute, and the more I see of the Argentinos  the more I become impressed with their work. They seem  spontaneous, yet methodical. They achieve motions and movements calculated to win applause from the unknowing  as well as from the cognoscenti. In a word, this dance has  an appeal which is felt by everyone who has seen it properly  expressed. I will not say that indifferent and inebriated  performers are likely to arouse interest, but where intelligence and skill are embodied in the work, in exhibition work,  there can only be one outcome — general approval. The bad Tango dancers will extinguish themselves; they will not extinguish the Tango.

. . . .

As matters stand, or, rather, as we  may assume they now stand, anyone who has the slightest  aptitude for dancing can master a good expression of the  Tango. It lies, as I have said, as I say again, well within  the reach of every dancer. Perhaps, and this may appear a bold suggestion, some people may be found to dance the
Tango who dance nothing else!  The suggestion may seem  absurd; but, whatever one dances, one must begin with  some dance, so why not the Tango?

Secrets of the tango by Samuel Beach Chester (London 1914)

A special reunion

November 26, 2014


My first tango teacher was Jorge Bartolucci, an Argentine living in Mexico City.  He and his wife Monna spent the school year 1991-92 at the University of Chicago during their sabbatical from the University of Mexico.  I heard about their group classes at a Chicago dance studio and scheduled weekly private classes with them.  I was hungry to learn all I could about the dance and the music.  We attended the Stanford Tango Week together in July 1993, and they encouraged me to begin teaching tango.

I added tango to my teaching schedule in September 1993 and formed the Chicago Argentine Tango Society.  A few months later, Barry Jones from England was in town on business and heard about my classes.  His guidance was invaluable to me and the men in the class.  Barry encouraged me to go to Buenos Aires and dance in the milongas.

That’s the short version about my tango journey that continues in Buenos Aires.  Jorge and Barry were instrumental in my development as a tango dancer and tango teacher.

You can imagine my surprise when both of them were present at Lo de Celia on Sunday.  Both came to Buenos Aires this month on vacation.  They met each other in Chicago over 20 years ago.  The three of us were together again without any communication.  I was in awe for hours.

Her first pair of tango shoes

October 5, 2014

Tango shoes from Juan Perez Feria Americana in BA

Nisha wrote me weeks before her arrival in Buenos Aires.  She was coming for only a few days and wanted to learn tango.  I let her know she could find me at Lo de Celia on Wednesday.

I noticed a young woman dancing the salsa tanda with Roberto Segarra, but it didn’t occur to me she was Nisha from Mumbai.  A while later a milonguera who knows me as Pichi came to ask me about someone named Janis.  And that’s when Nisha and I finally met.  Nisha works for the Consulate of Spain in Mumbai, and she has no problem with the language.

Nisha wanted to take a class, but she didn’t have tango shoes.  I told her I’d take her the next day to buy a pair.  Nisha heard about Comme il faut shoes.  I suggested we meet first at a Feria Americana to see if they had shoes in her size.  I arrived early and decided to check the shoe rack for a pair in her size, and I found one pair.  When Nisha arrived, she tried them on and said they were perfect.  The price — 250 pesos.  We were only three blocks from Comme il faut, so we went for a visit.  Nisha tried several pairs and took her first steps in high heels.  The used pair was more comfortable than the Comme il faut shoes at 1,500 pesos a pair.  Mission accomplished.

We took the bus back to my apartment and bought some empanadas for lunch along the way.  We talked about the codes and customs of the milongas before the class.  Since Nisha has never worn high heels, I began with exercises to strengthen her feet for dancing.  She had only four tango classes in Mumbai without the essential equipment for tango.  Walking in high heels is different.  Her posture changed, and she started walking to the music.  Nisha knows she has to strengthen her feet and practice walking in high heels on her own before she can dance with a partner.

Two days later, we met at Milonga de los Consagrados to watch the dancing, listen to Dany’s great tandas, and talk more about the codes and customs.  It was her last day in Buenos Aires.

There’s only ONE tango, but…

May 12, 2014

When it comes to the dance, there are a few varieties.


That’s Entertainment!  Rehearsed choreography.  A professional dancer is well paid for dancing with a celebrity.  The music is never tango.  The goal is to impress the judges and the viewing audience so they’ll vote their favorite couple.  Flash is the key ingredient because they are the center of attention for the studio and viewing audience.  A director marks the camera shots  during rehearsal.  Millions of viewers believe they are dancing Argentine tango.


Again this is tango to entertain for those who don’t know much about tango.  It’s choreography for one selected tango night after night in theatrical productions.  Elaborate costumes.  It’s rehearsed so it’s technically perfect.  Dancers in this category do not know how to dance socially.  Their dance is always prepared for one tango. Couples dance solo or in a group choreography.  Tango is a feeling, but not when dancing on stage for an audience.


A committee makes the rules.  The dancers have to please the judges.  That means private coaching sessions with judges can help and competing several years.  They dance to three different orchestras in one round with only ten couples on the floor.  This has nothing to do with social tango. Winners of the tango championships immediately begin teaching careers abroad. Many are already dance professionals who add the title to their resume.  Festival organizers hire these professional couples to teach tango to social dancers.


They are “salon” dancers who dance only as a couple, therefore, you’ll never see either one dancing in a milonga with other partners.  Their exhibitions are in milongas, but the rules of the milonga do not apply for them, i.e., feet on the floor, line of dance.  They dance for the dancers at the milonga, not for each other.  There is a fine line between exhibition tango and stage tango.  The choreography is for a selected tango.  The women often wear stage costumes.  It’s all about the look to sell themselves to an audience, not about feeling or connection.


It’s a dance for a lifetime.  It’s hard to find these days, even in Buenos Aires.  There are rules to follow.  Going to a milonga is like mystery theater:  no one knows the actors or the story line which unfolds moment by moment for hours.  It’s not about advanced technique, years of training or who is the best.  There is no discrimination or stardom in the milonga.  Anyone can go to dance.  You won’t see any glittery stage costumes.  The milonga is where you dance a feeling and connect with a stranger for ten minutes on a crowded floor.

Natural or tense?

February 15, 2014


Tango dancing is as natural as giving someone a hug.  Then why are women’s left hands tense while dancing?  I’ve seen tense hands by dancers who never splayed the left hand before.  It looks like a decoration in the center of a man’s back, especially when there’s a large jeweled ring on her index finger.


I’d like to know if men can feel any difference.

Losing the feeling

February 12, 2014

Nelida Rodriguez, an original cast member of Tango Argentino, had this to say about young dancers in an interview for La Milonga Argentina magazine:

My objections are because I think the kids are too concerned with technique, and they’re losing the feeling and intensity.  They don’t reach me.

Are you fit to dance tango?

January 23, 2014

My friend John makes a good point — you need a level of fitness for tango just as any sport.  Dance classes aren’t where you get fit, they’re were those who are fit take class. The problem for so many adults is that they aren’t fit, so they have problems with balance, endurance, etc.  Social dancing is like any sport — it requires practice for improvement.  Adults who attend dance classes don’t dedicate time to practicing.  That’s why dance teachers begin classes with exercises that prepare one for the physical demands of dance.  The body is your instrument in dance, so keep it tuned.  Those with no dance training as adults are like toddlers learning to walk.

Life in the United States (as I remember it)  is not the most helpful for being fit.  Daily life centers around work that is usually sedentary.  One walks from home to the garage (seated for hours in a car), then from the car to the office, with little or no walking during the day.  I notice the results of this lifestyle in photos from two sisters.

If you’re not walking daily, it’s not doing any good for your social dancing.  Walking will help your posture and endurance, build strength in your legs and feet.  The result is something you’ll feel on the dance floor.  So get out of your chair and move.

John in Lo de Celia Tango Club

Tango has heart

January 22, 2014

I met Victorio Pujia, guitarist and dancer,  during my first visit to Buenos Aires in 1996.  He gave music seminars for dancers and currently lives in Italy with his family.  He has something important to say to tango dancers.

We know tango arose as a way of dancing, that dancers adopted milonga as  their favorite rhythm to dance tango.  Musicians adapted milonga to the needs of the dancers and so tango-milonga was born, from which tango and milonga portena came.

You need only three things to dance (at least a popular dance): a complete and functioning body; a floor; and dance music.

The dance music is the one that gives you the urge to dance.  Its tempo is andante moderato.  Its tempo is close to our heart beat.  Its compas is close to the pace of walking. Its phrases are close to the rhythm of breathing.  Then the body comes in touch with a sympathetic vibe, and we suddenly feel like dancing.

And the music that moves the body affects our emotions, and the dancer translates those emotions into movement.  The dancer is a musician whose instrument doesn’t produce sound, only movement.  He’s the one translating music into movement, with the emotion he feels from the music.

Tango is not a mechanical dance.  A tango dancer varies his choreography and the rhythm he does figures.  He performs not only the rhythmical aspect of music, but the melodic as well — the shape, tension and dramatic sense of music.

For the milonguero viejo, music is above all.  He doesn’t perform steps just because he knows how to.  He chooses them to express what he gets from the music in the best way he can.  He’s a music lover; he loves, knows, searches, enjoys and dances it.

Music is the dancer’s best ally.  When the language of choreography connects to the music, it becomes larger; when it doesn’t connect, it’s nothing. When the dancer interprets the music correctly, he becomes an artist.  When he doesn’t, he becomes a gymnast.  Steps alone lead to the gym.  Steps in accord with the music lead to art.

Bodies become one in the embrace, space unifies all on the floor, physical support of the body and movement.  Time is with the music, a temporal support of movement.

In Argentina, education is going through a crisis, and music is often put aside.  Many people arrive to dance lacking musical education.  This makes the teaching and learning of a dance very difficult.  Our education system (general, as well as artistic) leaves many things to the responsibility of the learner — what a school doesn’t offer,  you have to look for elsewhere on your own.

You can have tango without technique, but you can’t have tango without heart.  And the heart of the dancer beats to the rhythm of the music.

Victorio Pujia