Posts Tagged ‘tango’

Does heel height matter for tango?

October 11, 2010

An Argentine teacher was asked during a tango class, “does heel height matter for tango?”  She answered, “no, it doesn’t.” 

I know that many women use comfortable practice shoes during tango classes, and then change into their heels when they dance in a milonga.  The problem is that our posture and our dance change depending on the shoes we are wearing.  Those who teach often wear flat shoes so they aren’t presenting the best example of their dancing.  Let’s face it, the female leg is more attractive wearing a high heel than in a sneaker.

Many women find it challenging to dance wearing high-heeled shoes because they aren’t accustomed to wearing them for anything except tango.  It takes practice to reach the point where one no longer pays any attention to the feet while dancing, let alone dealing with the  feeling of stilettos.  I hear women say that they have balance problems, so they avoid wearing high heels.  We don’t dance tango alone, ladies.

The best way to gain balance for wearing stilettos is strengthening the foot muscles with daily  exercises from the ballet barre.  These can be done at the kitchen sink or in front of a wall for support.  Place your fingertips on a flat surface that is waist-high or stand in front of a wall placing your hands on it. It’s best to do this exercise in bare feet, and it takes no more than a minute.  Standing with your heels together and feet in a very small V position, lift your heels up as high as you can, hold the position a couple of seconds, and then slowly lower the heels onto the floor.  Begin doing this simple exercise 20 times a day, working up to 40 repetitions.  This will strengthen your feet for better balance and for wearing those four-inch heels that are gathering dust in your closet.

I’ve listened to women say they can’t wear anything higher than a two-inch heel.  That’s because they haven’t found a shoe that fits well.  Any shoe that isn’t a good fit will be uncomfortable at some point while dancing.  The key is finding a shoe that fits your foot for dancing.  I saw a women the other day wearing two-inch heels who lifted her heels another inch while she danced at a milonga.  She is a candidate for a higher heel.  She didn’t know that tango is danced with the heels on the floor.   A higher heel puts our weight forward and makes all those pivots and turns easier.

You don’t have to be able to walk in your stilettos on the street, only get from your seat to the edge of the dance floor.  After that, your partner takes care of you.

So, does heel height matter in tango?  I say, it does.  That’s why I do the relevé exercises so I can wear four-inch heels to the milonga; I even dance Chacarera and Salsa in them.  It took time to be comfortable in them, and now I can no longer dance tango in low-heeled shoes.

There is no fast track to dancing tango

September 30, 2010

A friend was telling me the other day about a couple who are planning their first visit to Buenos Aires in a few months.  They asked her to recommend a teacher for them to take two-hours of private lessons for ten days.  It sounded to me as though they are seeking instant gratification and are willing to pay in order to achieve their goal.  I asked my friend how they were planning to get in enough practice time each day in order to be ready for the next class.   A class is for learning; practicing is what you do on your own.

Private classes aren’t going to transform students into good dancers, no matter who is in charge of teaching.  All the technique and steps in the world of tango aren’t going to make any difference unless the students have a foundation upon which to learn tango — knowledge of the music. 

It’s common for those who come to Buenos Aires for the first time to expect their dancing to be totally transformed in a few weeks.   Many come with great expectations only to realize that they have to start over from the beginning.  And we know what that is — lots of walking and listening to the music.  It’s the foundation of dance.  Knowing the music is key to dancing well.

Months of private classes or dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires won’t put anyone on a fast track.  There is no fast track for tango.  It takes years of listening to music so it will inspire our dancing.

Homogenized tango

August 31, 2010

I’ve been viewing this year’s Mundial de Baile rounds of salon tango.  The couples are well-dressed, attractive, slim, and trained dancers.  They all use a wide arm hold, have erect posture, long smooth strides, and execute turns and adornments with ease.  They come from different cities and countries, but they all basically look and dance the same.  No one in a group of ten stands out to me over another; they have been homogenized.  Not only do they all dance the same, they dance the same way to every orchestra.  They are performing for the judges rather than dancing a feeling for themselves.  Afterall, there is a title and handsome prize at stake.  

The tango I know and love is different with every partner.  I go to the milonga not knowing with whom I will dance that day or the orchestra.  One thing I do know is that our dance will be improvised in that moment for mutual pleasure.  I surrender to my partner and the music.  I don’t think about my feet or if someone is watching us.  That’s not why I dance tango.

There was a time when personal style was admired in the milongas.  All the milongueros who learned as teenagers created their own personal styles, and they remain true to them today.  A tango with Miguel Angel Balbi is unique from one with Roberto Angel Pujol.  Both have their own personal styles, dance differently to each orchestra and can dance well with any woman.  A milonguero gets bored dancing with only one woman.

Personal style and feeling have been thrown by the wayside and replaced with cookie cutter clones who follow what is pronounced as tango to the world and sold as the standard.  Tango Argentino is being standardized like other forms of ballroom tango known as International Standard and American Style.  Judges of those competitions dictate how those styles should be danced.  This is already happening for Tango Argentino in Buenos Aires.  The champions each year are trained by the same teachers.  Competitors are savvy enough to know they have to study with certain teachers in order to have any chance at the title.

A sweet seduction

June 23, 2010

On Sunday I went to dance as usual at my favorite milonga in Buenos Aires.  I was ready for a night of tango and felt great wearing a black dress and dangled earrings.  I had no idea what was in store for me. 

I decided to look around for someone new for the next tanda.  Carlos (not his real name) was seated at his corner table and directed his invitation my way.  I accepted.  We had only danced once before several months ago, and I recalled that he was a good dancer. 

He looked deeply into my eyes before putting his arm around me.  The seduction began with the embrace.  First he moaned and said how much he liked the perfume I was wearing.  I was trying to concentrate on the music, and Carlos was making it very difficult.  After the first dance, he never stepped back to release me from his embrace.  I was not uncomfortable.  He whispered sweet nothings, smiled and never removed his gaze from me.  I was totally unaware of others on the floor.  I was being served a delicious appetizer early in the evening.  I could only imagine how things would progress until he wanted dessert.

I decided to pay close attention to Carlos during the night.  I wanted to see with whom he danced and how often.  He never sat out a tanda and was one of the first on the floor for most of them.  I realized that he danced salsa, jazz, rock and roll, and even Chacarera. 

I heard the valses of D’Arienzo.  That’s a tanda I don’t want to sit out.  I directed my energy to Carlos, and he gave me the signal.  He knew by the third tanda that I was putty in his hands tonight.  When he wanted to dance with me, I was ready and his sweet seduction continued.  Once again, we hardly separated between dances and spoke briefly before dancing.  We were on a first-name basis by this time.

Later came a tanda of Di Sarli.  I knew we would dance this one.  It was our fourth tanda of the night.  He was working his way up to this moment, and Di Sarli was the perfect music for it.  After the first or second dance, he asked how late I was planning to stay and if he could take me home.  Although I was flattered by the attention I was getting from this very attractive man, I thanked him and said I was staying until the end of the night to dance and going home alone.  I was never on the receiving end of such a sweet seduction in the milonga.  Carlos didn’t waste any time.  The next day was a holiday, and he was ready for dessert.

If only he knew how much I appreciated his attention on this particular night.  He may never invite me to dance again, but it was a night I will never forget.

A follow-up: Carlos invited me for one tanda the next week.  He had chosen a new woman as his prime target for that night.  He is not discreet so it was clear which woman he was seducing.  She seemed to be enjoying every minute.

Prime time at the milongas

April 7, 2010

Prime time refers to the period when the largest audience is available for radio or television broadcasts. Programs scheduled during prime time have the largest audiences. Milongas in Buenos Aires have prime time hours as well.

Years ago there was an incentive for arriving during the first hour at an afternoon milonga — there was no entrada. There are always early birds who arrive during that first hour. The best dancers do not go early. The free entrada has been eliminated by the organizers since the cost of running a milonga is more expensive today.

The other advantage to arriving before prime time hours is seating. Unless you are a regular with a reserved table, you have to accept whatever table is available when you arrive. Making a reservation helps, but the table is at the discretion of the host or organizer. If they know or recognize you from previous visits, you get a better table and perhaps front row advantage.

There are dancers who never arrive at a milonga until prime time. They go regularly to that milonga, know the organizer, and have a table waiting for them at the edge of the floor. They dance with the best for two or three hours and then leave.

Generally, milongas accept reservations in the afternoon by phone for that evening. Reservations are held for one hour. If you do not arrive in time, your table will be given to other dancers. For example, the Sunday milonga in Lo de Celia runs from 18 to 24 hs.  Those with reserved tables phone the hostess Andrea if they will not be going or if they expect to be late.  The prime time hours are between 20 to 22 hs. when the largest number of dancers are there.  If you arrive at 20 hs, you may have to wait at the door for someone to leave.  Those who work the next day begin leaving at 22 hs. and some dancers arrive late to occupy those tables.  The floor opens up during the last hour when the best dancing takes place. 

After attending a milonga several weeks, you learn to gauge the prime time hours and plan accordingly either arriving early or making a reservation.


Celebrating two years of Tango Chamuyo.  Thanks to all readers and subscribers.

Some things never change

April 5, 2010

The American Dancer (July 1928)

The Waltz Tango

A Ballroom Dance Description

By John Frederick and Marion Dabney

If we may be permitted to write a few words about this dance before starting to describe it, I think our readers might be more enthusiastic about working it out, so many descriptions of steps, when written out, can only be understood by people who have made a study of dancing, and often times they are puzzled. My idea is to make it clear for anyone who has any sense of rhythm and can read. Miss Dabney and I wrote articles giving dancing lessons through newspapers in the East. Some people contend that lessons in dancing by mail is impossible, however, we have received thousands of letters from students all over the country who see to appreciate them. In this article, we are going to try to give you a general idea of what the waltz tango is like. Unlike the present day movie, the name really has some bearing outside of just being a name for a dance, and that should inspire any lover of dancing, for what have we ever had that could compare with the waltz? It has now become a classic and is improving with the years like old wine.

The tango first came to America as an exhibition dance for professionals, and was really too intricate for the average businessman to use socially. First impressions are lasting, and America’s impression of the tango is badly warped. The name scares them off before they start. In Europe you see an American doing the tango and thinking nothing of it, because there it is simplified for ballroom usage. The Waltz Tango is a mixture of our Waltz and French Tango, which I think is delightful. After all, the mad jumping around for the last few years with Charleston, Blackbottom, etc., it is like a breath of Spring after a hard Winter. Since everything else is blamed on the war, we will blame such hectic dancing on it as it is about the easiest way to explain. However, the war has been over long enough now for us to become sane again. I think the trend of dancing in general is going back to grace of movement instead of the acrobat going through his act to the tune of some popular song, very often out of time with the music.

There is a Dance Guild just started here by a group of professional dancers, who are proving that one can really dance without doing nip-ups and neck-spends. They are staging some very interesting and colorful program at the community Playhouse in Pasadena, which we both saw and appreciated very much.

In suggest these directions for tango, we take it for granted that one knows that there are three counts to each waltz step. Where the girl follows the man, we shall give directions for the man only; the girl naturally does the same step with the opposite foot.  [three step descriptions are omitted]

The waltz tango can be done to any dance music. Any reader of The American Dancer who would like to have any more definite questions answered, can send self-addressed envelope to us at the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, and we will be glad to help you with suggestions.

One thing leads to another

April 4, 2010

Years ago I went regularly to weekend house sales to buy what I needed to furnish an apartment in Buenos Aires.  House sales and consignment shops are for bargain hunters.  Yesterday I selected two sales since they were walking distance from one another.  One was a house that is set for demolition and had sheet music on the list of items for sale.  I went there to see if there were tango scores.

I waited about twenty minutes before I was permitted to enter the house.  There on a table in the garage were piles of all types of piano sheet music.  If one had to begin purchasing all this music  for study, it would cost thousands of pesos.   I began my search to see what I could find.

In one pile I soon found a handwritten note — tangos.  I was pleased to find tangos that I knew.  Some of the scores were originals, some were photocopies.  That did not matter to me.   I found one of my favorites — Dejame! …No quiero verte más.   I like to read and study the music while listening to recordings.  I paid ten pesos for about twenty tango scores. 

Today I looked over the scores and wanted to know more about one of them— Las cuarenta by Roberto Grela and Francisco Gorrindo.  I went to Todo Tango and found a biography of Roberto Grela.  He played a special role in bringing out the best in Aníbal Troilo.  The site also has a recording of Las cuarenta with a photo of the score.

One thing leads to another in the study of tango.

Misrepresenting tango is nothing new

April 3, 2010

Dance Lovers Magazine (November 1925)

Interpreting the Argentine Rhythm

by Addison Fowler and Florenz Tamara

We have illustrated in this article four figures of the Argentine Tango, all typical and easily mastered when one has learned the art of accenting the rhythm, which is such an important factor in accomplishing the Argentine style of Tango.

No dance has ever been so misrepresented as the Tango, due to the fact that almost everyone has thought it consisted of a lot of intricate steps, kicking and much swinging of the limbs.  In reality it is just a dreamy, gliding, simple series of slow steps.  That is the key to the Argentine Ballroom Tango.  The more moody it is, the more fascinating it becomes.  The slow steps are divided by quicker little movements here and there, which is perhaps the reason why everyone appears to tango differently.  There are no limits to the number of steps one may do.   In fact, it is possible to tango all night and never repeat a single figure.  Because of its variations, the Tango is one of the most interesting of all dance studies.

Figure one illustrates a step that should delight every ambitious dancer.  This is for exhibition Tango and to those who have not danced this type of step it is suggested that you first practice foot rhythm and heel stamping as it will help to acquire the proper style.  The stamping should be just loud enough to be heard above the music, but not to detract from it, and these steps should come in the dance at a time when the rhythm is broken and marked, rather than on a smooth strain.  Save the latter for the gliding and swaying figures.  This will make the dance moody and you will enjoy interpreting the music this way.

The second figure illustrates the type of step to accompany the more quiets strains of the Tango.  It suggests a feeling of relaxation and the sweeping movement of the step calls for the sensuous strains rather than a marked tempo.  Another important thing to remember about the Tango is this: never try to do too many steps in one dance, but repeat each step several times by dividing them up with Cortés (described in the October issue of Dance Lovers Magazine), or in dancing in different positions.  Tangos should not appear crowded.  In the Fox-trot or One-step you may do all the fancy steps you wish to, but half the beauty of Tango lies in its simple grace and restful charm.  When you can remember all this advice you have learned a great deal about Tango.  Above all things listen to the music.  It will tell you just when and where to do the steps we are offering you.

Every dance must have a finish, whether exhibition or ballroom dancing, and Illustration three is for the former–just an exotic touch of the Argentine.  It is one of our own personal tributes to “Tango el Gaucho,” at the end of which we endeavor to express, in this characteristic attitude, “Adios.”

Once when viewing a Tango contest, merely out of curiosity, we were greatly surprised to see how many couples danced a really beautiful Tango but failed to be considered for a prize.  The reason was a very simple one, however.

The beauty of the steps was lessened by the extremely tight skirt of the lady and her flat-heeled shoes–two things that will ruin the most beautiful Tango.  A full skirt gives lines to the body, especially in Cortés, and French heels give the final touch of grace to the dancer.  High heels are a necessity because of the many steps that are accented by the stamp of the feet or the clicking of heels.  In Spain and South America the high heel is exaggerated and always will be.  The Spanish dancer fully appreciates the value of high heels for her work, for there could be no Spanish dancing without them.

London Tango

April 2, 2010

The Art of Dancing

By Katie Smith (London 1925 – 1st edition)

Chapter VII – The Tango

This fascinating dance merits an interest which it does not receive from the general public.  This lack of interest and apparent unwillingness to dance the Tango is mainly due to two statements, which are frequently made: (1) That no Englishman can dance the Tango; and (2) That the steps are very numerous and complicated.

Let us take the former statement.  An Englishman is quite capable of dancing the London Tango, though he may be ignorant of the Spanish and Argentine Tangos, out of which the London Tango has been evolved.  At the present time the London Tango is definitely standardized, and any capable dancers who wish to learn it have an ample choice of professionals capable of teaching it.

A study of the original Tango is necessary for the student of the history of ball-room dances, but not for the ordinary dancer.

Take a parallel.  It is quite unnecessary to study Latin in order to learn to speak French; yet Latin is the “mother language” of French.

Then follows the latter statement that the steps are numerous and complicated.  Now, whatever may have been true a few years ago, at the present time the Tango is very simple, and anyone who can DANCE can learn it in three or four lessons.  It is an actual fact that there are more sequences of steps in the Foxtrot than in the Tango, as danced in the recent Championships.

The rhythm of the Tango is not “caught” at once, but anyone with a musical ear can soon master it.  The Tango rhythm is a mixed one, whereas the Foxtrot and Waltz rhythms are constant.  Take two instances.  The rhythm of the Reverse turn is: Short — Short — Long,  Short — Short — Long.  The rhythm of the Promenade is Long — Short — Short — Long.  It must be clearly understood that the above words “Long” and “Short” only refer to musical value, not to measurement.

The footwork of the Tango is different from that of other ball-room dances.  Whereas in the Waltz, Foxtrot, and One-step the feet glide along the floor, in the Tango they should be lifted and put down again by bending the knees.

Another point deserves mention.  Each step should be a separate and detached movement, made rather suddenly and as late as the musical beat allows.  Each step should be “held” and then the foot jerked forward into position at the last possible moment to be in time to the musical beat.

A few years ago the Tango was non-progressive, i.e., a couple danced the entire dance in the same part of the room, finishing within a few feet of the spot where they began.  The fact that there was so little progression in the Tango undoubtedly hindered its acceptance by the public as a ball-room dance.

The present progressive Tango, as danced in the recent championships, meets this objection, although the character of the dance necessitates progress which is slow when compared with that of the other ball-room dances.

No special partners are necessary for the Tango, because this dance has not been simplified and its steps standardized.  The old Tango, with its multiplicity of steps, belongs to the past.

Do learn to dance the modern Tango.  Don’t be frightened out of the modern Tango by the ghost of the old one.

Why the English fail at tango

April 1, 2010

If You Are An Englishman You Will Never Be Able Really To Dance The Argentine or Spanish Tango

by Ethel Gaskell, London 1925

The Englishman fails at the Tango for one reason–and for one reason only. We have always been brought up in the belief that to express passion in public–or to express any of our feelings in public, for that matter–is almost a sin. We hide all our emotions behind a veil of indifference and coldness. We are trained to conceal our feelings.

The Tango is essentially the dance of Passion.

It must be danced with intensity–not vulgarity, of course, but with feeling and romance. It must express soul and desire.

And this is where the people of southern countries score over us. Go, if you can, some time to Spain, and watch the men and women there dance, and you will turn away with a sigh and know that we shall never be able to do like them.

It was among Spaniards that I learned my Tango. Their movements were wonderful to watch–like a story being unfolded in dance steps. Ah, if only we could have more sunshine in Britain. I thought–more warmth and less coldness, more expression and less restraint!–then perhaps we too might learn to dance it.

And yet I have seen what I thought was good dancing of the Tango in England. There are thousands of English people dancing it to-day, and dancing it with considerable skill and a wonderful knowledge of the technique. But it is not skill that makes Tango: it is feeling. It is the power to forget even that you are dancing–the power to put into your movements what your heart is feeling. And Englishmen have not the power of expressing themselves in this way.

Some day, when we lose our stoicism and coldness, we may be like those children of the sun. Until then, however, there is no reason why we should not try to dance the Tango in our own way. Even from the point of view of skill, it is an enthralling dance with infinite possibilities.

Get a good teacher to give you lessons. Even the rhythm will seem strange at first to your Northern senses, but in time you will come to feel the passion of the dance, though you may not be able to express it.

In the select dancing spaces of Spain I have been thrilled with the Tango I had witnessed and had thought there could be nothing finer. But I was mistaken. The real Tango is not danced in these places. Very few visitors see the real thing. I did. I was taken to one of the most secret places in the city’s Bohemia, where the real Tango was danced, and where ordinary visitors are unable to gain admittance, unless personally conducted by one who knows.

I watched enthralled. Never before had I seen such dancing, such feeling, such passion, such abandon. Perhaps it is just as well that it is not danced like that in our unemotional country.

But to girl dancers who would like to go to Spain for their holidays let me say this: Do not go alone. In Spain it is not considered correct for a girl to sit down at a table in a restaurant alone. She will be annoyed by unpleasant attentions. The Southerners may dance the Tango to perfection, but they do not see things as we do.

Learn your Tango at home, and pick up new ideas if you like in Spain–but have an escort.

But if we English fail at the Tango, we hold our own, with interest, in the Fox-trot, One-step, and Waltz.

Don’t despair about the Tango, for a simple form–the Parisian Tango–is coming in, and the newest and best bands are going to play it to us. If we could only find another name for it, instead of calling it Tango, its success would be assured. But unfortunately the name “Tango” conjures up such visions of difficulties that many are prevented from trying. The Parisian Tango has but four steps, has little in common with the passionate dance of the Spaniard and the Argentine which I have described, and presents but few of its difficulties.

One of the things to remember is that you have to bend your knees slightly, which, in the Fox-trot, is unforgivable. The foot movement is different, an important point being that when moving sideways the feet do not point the way you are going, but remain broadside on. The French practice of including several accordions in their French Tango bands acts as a great impetus to the dance, and would contribute greatly to its popularity in other countries if it were introduced.