Posts Tagged ‘cortina’

Clearing the dance floor

June 12, 2011

Those who have taken on the task of programming music for their community milonga want to know how long to play music for the cortina,  the music played that signals dancers that the tanda has ended.  The length depends on how long it takes all dancers to return to their seats.  I filmed a cortina at El Arranque — see how long it took for everyone to sit down before the next tanda began.

It’s common to see a couple dancing the cortina music, and they get strange looks.  Those who program a different cortina after each tanda are keeping the dancers moving on the floor, not off it.

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Milonga 101: hugs and kisses

March 13, 2011

Hugs and kisses are a normal part of life in Buenos Aires.  Foreigners gradually adapt to the Argentine way.  Handshaking is rare, but used as a more formal greeting between men.  Here are some tips for the milongas.

The milonga host:  If you are attending a milonga for the first time, allow the host to take the lead.  Be prepared for a cheek-to-cheek greeting because it’s the most common.  Once you have gone several times, you’ll be greeted like a regular.  A male host will greet women with a kiss to the cheek, however, he’ll have to decide the comfort level of foreign men individually.

On the way to the table:  A host takes you to your table.  It’s best not to stop along the way to greet friends.  The host wants to return to the door to greet others.  You’ll see dancers who greet and kiss everyone on the way to their table; it’s their way of showing who they know to win the milonga popularity contest.  Women who make a point of greeting men when passing do so with the hope of dancing later. 

The first tanda with a stranger:  You have a nonverbal agreement to meet on the floor for a tanda.  You haven’t been introduced.  You share the embrace and dance until the cortina.  A kiss at the beginning isn’t appropriate, nor is one at the end.  

A tanda with a regular partner:  Those with many years in the milongas begin dancing.  A hug or kiss is superfluous for them.  Foreigners and new dancers have changed this tradition by kissing each partner at the beginning and the end of a tanda.

Greetings on or from the floor:  One doesn’t have to kiss and hug friends on or off the floor between dances.  It leads to conversations.  A smile or nod is enough.  Then it’s back to dancing. 

Leaving the milonga:  If we had to kiss every dance partner before leaving, it could take us a half hour to make an exit.  A thank-you to the host is enough.

Milonga 101: Pay attention to the music

January 4, 2011

The standard format in the milongas of Buenos Aires is two tandas of tango, a tanda of vals, two tandas of tango, a tanda of milonga.  The deejay combines four tunes by the same orchestra (not always possible for valses) from the same recording year for each tanda.

First you decide whether the tanda is tango, vals or milonga.  After identifying the orchestra, you decide whether you want to dance that tanda, then begin looking for someone with whom to dance.  There are those who are looking around the room during the cortina music, and once the tanda begins, they have already made and accepted an invitation without any regard for the music.

Most invitations come during the first dance of the tanda.  If you aren’t dancing the first tune, you have a chance to dance the second or third.  It’s important to listen to the music.  You should know how many tunes were played in the tanda.

Many invitations come after the first dance of a tanda, so don’t give up.  I saw one of my favorite partners at his table.  The second dance of the D’Arienzo tanda began, and I really wanted to dance with him.  I kept looking in his direction, and he finally turned his head to invite me.  I accepted and entered the floor to join him before everyone began dancing.  We had only three dances that tanda, and they were great.

I know that milongueros viejos invite a woman as late as the third tune of a tanda for the first time.  Then, if the woman dances well enough, a milonguero viejo may invite her later for a complete tanda.

It’s difficult to miss those who aren’t paying attention to the music during the tanda.  They are the ones who begin dancing halfway through the fourth tune and seem surprised when the cortina comes so soon.

Milonga 101: A quick getaway

January 1, 2011

You’re dancing tango, and you know you have come to the end of the tanda when you hear the cortina music.  What do you do next, guys?

  1. Break the embrace and make a quick getaway to your seat to look around for your next partner;
  2. Say thank-you and hang around another woman’s table for the next tanda; or
  3. Escort your partner to the edge of the floor where she entered and then return to your table.

A gentleman escorting a lady to her table after dancing is standard ballroom dance etiquette in the milongas of Buenos Aires.  Men in the milongas walk their partners to the point where they entered the floor to dance.

I had this experience in Club Gricel.  An Argentine who lived in North American left me standing in the center of the floor while he made a quick getaway at the end of the tanda.  I made a mental note that I would not dance another tanda with him.  He hadn’t noticed how all the men were escorting the women off the floor.

Recently at El Arranque I saw a foreigner leave dance partners on the floor while he went directly back to his table.  It didn’t occur to him that it would be a courtesy to escort the women off the floor before going to his table.  All he had to do was see the men at this milonga to know proper dance floor etiquette.  He was the only man changing his shoes at the table.

Let’s suppose that when the tanda ends, a man is closer to his table than the woman’s table.   It seems logical for him to go directly to his table, and let the woman return to hers.  After all, women know how to take care of themselves, so returning alone is no big deal.  There is so little effort involved in walking those extra steps.  Be a  gentleman and escort every partner off the dance floor.

How-To:  When the woman leaves your embrace, place your hand on her back or take hold of her upper arm with your hand.  Walk side by side to the edge of the floor where she entered to dance with you.  This simple courtesy gives you time to say something before returning to your table.

A woman walking off the floor alone is rare since older men in Buenos Aires have followed the custom for so many years.   They especially like to finish the tanda ending up at the same place where they began it.   The cortina music is for clearing the floor, and it’s not the time to stand in the middle of the floor having a conversation; that is done outside the milonga.

It’s the same for couples who sit together at milongas.  The man escorts his partner off the floor; the only difference is he returns to the table with her.

La pista sagrada

October 22, 2010

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, as we all know.  So when you want to talk with a friend on the other side of the dance floor, you walk a straight line to get there.  Well, that is unless you know you are crossing sacred territory .

On my very first visit to Buenos Aires in 1996, I didn’t walk, I ran across the floor when I saw a dancer I wanted to greet.  I was impulsive in my behavior without noticing that the floor of Club Almagro was clear during the cortina.  I cringe recalling my blunder that night.  I can only imagine what the milongueros were saying about la extranjera.  In those days, no one paused to talk or crossed the floor during the cortina. 

Things certainly have changed.  Newcomers aren’t aware that the aisles behind rows of tables are paths for getting to and from a table, and the floor is for dancing.  The only time men should walk across the floor at a milonga is after the tanda begins and a woman has accepted his invitation.  Imagine someone trying to get to their front-row table against the flow of dancers on the floor.  It doesn’t seem to occur to some that they could wait until the end of the tanda before walking to their table or even wait until the pause between dances.  This code of respect is too often forgotten.

I recently saw a foreign woman walk along the edge of the floor with her taxi dancer following behind her.  The floor was crowded, and there was no room for them to pass.  It obviously never occurred to her to use the aisle behind the tables or wait until the end of the tanda.  She wanted to get to her table as quickly as possible.  She wasn’t escorted by the hostess who seats people at the milonga.  It appeared she decided where she wanted to sit and went there on her own.  Her taxi dancer didn’t direct her to the aisle behind the tables.  It was interesting to see how they both worked their way against the flow of dancers like salmon swimming upstream to spawn.

Dancing in the dark

September 30, 2009

I have read about dance venues abroad where dim lighting is used to create a romantic atmosphere for tango.  Unfortunately, it also prevents men from inviting women to dance with the cabeceo.  It seems like an interesting way to avoid its use.  Here is another post in favor of lights.

Salsa tanda Lo de CeliaThe other night I took this photo during the cumbia/salsa tanda in Lo de Celia.  Dancing begins with normal lighting for the cabeceo that is turned off for the rest of the tanda. This is a standard procedure in the milongas in Buenos Aires for tropical tandas only.  The lighting is returned to its normal setting for the cortina.  Dancers circulate around the room to salsa, cumbia and merengue music.

This topic reminds me of a tune sung many years ago by Bing Crosby:

Dancing in the dark Till the tune ends,
We’re dancing in the dark and it soon ends,
We’re waltzing in the wonder of why we’re here,
Time hurries by, we’re here and gone;

Looking for the light of a new love,
To brighten up the night, I have you love,
And we can face the music together,
Dancing in the dark.

The milonga floor

September 12, 2009

The daughter of a friend of mine has become interested in dancing tango in the past year.  She and her partner came to a milonga one night where I was dancing.  She noticed everything including how men crossed the floor after the invitation by cabeceo had been accepted.  I was pleased to learn that how to cross the floor is being taught where she attends classes, because it is something men have to know when they enter the milonga.  She commented that the man who came to dance with me didn’t walk along the edge of the floor, but rather he crossed directly in the center.  I knew that he hadn’t done anything improper because he crossed at the beginning of the tanda.  Our conversation got me thinking about all the things men need to know about walking across the floor before they begin dancing at a milonga. 

During the cortina music:  I learned years ago that the floor is considered sacred in Buenos Aires.  One isn’t supposed to cross an empty floor like it’s shortcut to see a friend on the other side of the room nor should one dance during the cortina. Yes, there is always someone who disregards this rule.  An aisle between rows of tables is provided to enter and leave the room without disrupting the dancing.

At the beginning of a tanda:  Men walk from their tables directly across the floor to where their partners will enter the floor or in front of the table if the woman is seated in the first row of tables. 

During the tanda: While others are dancing, men must circumvent dancers by walking on the outer edge to arrive where their intended partners will enter the floor to meet them.  This is most easily accomplished at the end of a dance when everyone is standing still on the floor.  Merging into the crowd is an easier transition when everyone begins the next dance.

At the end of the tanda:  Men escort their partners back to the point where they entered the floor.  This is an important part of ending a tanda, so that women aren’t left stranded in the middle of the floor to walk across it alone.  There is nothing stranger than seeing a woman returning to her table unescorted.  After one’s partner has left the floor, the man returns directly to his table.  Everyone is crossing to exit the floor at the same time when the tanda ends after four dances during the cortina music.

Tandas at the milonga

July 22, 2008

A tanda is a set of four dances followed by a change of music (called the “cortina”) for dancers to return to their tables. The deejay selects four pieces of music by the same orchestra with the same singer that were recorded around the same time in order to provide continuity in style and rhythm. The orchestras that played specifically for dancing recorded enough tangos for an entire night of tandas. Those who liked the recordings of Troilo would go to dance where the night was dedicated to his music. However, some orchestras have very few recordings of valses and milongas, so a deejay often has to blend different singers of the same orchestra to form a tanda.

The music of the milonga today is programmed differently from the way it was in the 1950s during the “golden age of the milongas,” (1948-1960) even though mostly the same recordings are used. The format of tandas was changed in the 1970s. Today, the common format is two tandas of tangos (alternating rhythmic and melodic), four valses, two tandas of tango, a tanda of milongas, etc., with only one tanda of latin (salsa, cumbia, merengue) and one tanda of jazz in the course of six hours. About three years ago, the city government restricted the milongas to playing only tango, vals, and milonga, but that law was changed to allow once again for other music to be played for dancing as it had been during the late 1940s and 1950s.

By questioning milongueros, I learned that there was a wide variety of dance music played in the milongas during the 1950s. The milongas of Buenos Aires originally included other dance music, including foxtrot, rumba, bolero, salsa, and jazz. In the 1940s, recordings were made on 78rpm vinyl discs that had to be carefully turned or changed for each dance. In the confiterias bailables, the deejay announced the orchestra, singer and titles for each tanda. For example, “vamos a bailar a Anibal Troilo con Francisco Fiorentino–Yo Soy El Tango, Toda Mi Vida, Cachirulo, Milongeando en El Cuarenta—two vocals with the same singer and then two instrumentals. The first three tangos I’ve mentioned were recorded on the same date—March 4, 1941—an example of how deejays carefully programmed a tanda for consistency of style and rhythm thereby providing a high quality of music for the discriminating tastes of the milongueros. They selected their partners according to the tanda.

Young milongueros went to the confiterias bailables in downtown where they could hear the recordings of their favorite orchestras. In the 1950s, there was competition among the milongas. The milongueros wanted to hear different music each night of the week. The deejay’s knowledge and music collection was key to a milonga’s success.

The cortina music was played very low while dancers were returning to their tables, and it continued for five minutes in order to allow dancers to rest, smoke, retire to the ladies’ or men’s rooms, or have a drink. The atmosphere of the milonga was certainly more relaxed than it is today. People dressed elegantly. Men always wore suits and ties, even in the summer months when there was no air-conditioning, so they needed time to rest. It’s common today for deejays to play 30-45 seconds of different music for each cortina at a high volume like nightclubs. There is no thought of resting after a tanda these days where the milonga is more like a gymnasium for a workout. Sweat on the brow and the perspiration-soaked clothing proves it.

There is tango for the milonga (i.e., Troilo), tango for dancing (i.e., Osvaldo Pugliese), and tango for listening (i.e., Carlos Gardel). A deejay has to know the difference in order to provide quality tandas for a milonga. The orchestras of the milongueros are Anibal Troilo, Ricardo Tanturi, Miguel Calo, Carlos Di Sarli, Angel D’Agostino, Pedro Laurenz and Enrique Francini/Armando Pontier. The orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese performed for large dances every Friday night at Salon La Argentina on Rodriguez Pena. The orchestras of Osvaldo Fresedo, Lucio Demare, and Julio De Caro performed regularly in the downtown cabarets where there were two orchestras alternating half hour sets between tango and jazz. The orchestras of Rodolfo Biaggi, Juan D’Arienzo, and Roberto Firpo were popular in the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Of course today, the music of these orchestras and others are included in tandas at the milonga.