Turning and Tipping
Dealing with traffic is the same everywhere. Whether your driving on a crowded street in Buenos Aires, or a freeway in Los Angeles, you need to be able to stop, accelerate, swerve… and then accelerate again. And, dancing tango in crowded conditions requires the same tactics. But in fact, it is more than just a tactic. Because tango was born and raised in this environment, crowding has affected its very nature. The ways of moving, the ways of stepping and expressing the music, and the connection between the couples, are all a direct result of dancing in the heavy traffic of the milonga. They have become part of tango. In fact, they have become tango. These conditions define what tango is.
Now, you could describe tango in several different ways. You could say tango is made up of one part technique and one part passion. Or you might say dancing tango is expressing the cadence of the music with the feet, and the melody with the upper bodies. Or you could say good tango means being “bien parado” and “en el compás” (a discussion of these terms will come later). Each would be correct—but let’s look at tango in another way. Suppose you know absolutely nothing about tango. You might watch a milonga for a while and say, well, this activity is obviously made up of two things. The people walk for a bit, and then they stop and move around in place for a bit, and then they walk again. And really, that’s all there is to tango. To be able to dance tango it is essential to be able to move well in one spot (giros, weight changes, foot play), and then accelerate into a smooth and elegant walk to another spot. If you can repeat this process over and over without running into anyone… and, of course, stay within the compás of the music… then you will be a good tango dancer.
The “dance and move” nature of tango is a direct result of dancing to the music of the great orchestras in crowded milongas, and it has affected the very core of tango—posture, embrace, and step. This is a difficult thing to explain without video, but try an experiment. Stand in one spot and turn smoothly around once or twice. You will need to stay straight up and centered. At the end of one or two rotations, take a large smooth step to accelerate forward. But to do it right, you must begin to move with your chest first, which means stay up tall, and then tip forward with your upper body to take the large step. Your weight should fall onto the foot with your leg straight, and the next few steps should begin to bring you back up straight over your center again. Let’s try to see it in some pictures. Here is Carlos Rodriguez—a great milonguero with a classic style dancing with Alej at Lo de Celia’s.
Carlos and Alejandra at Celia’s showing how to dance in place, lean, and go. In each picture
from left to right, you can see the forward lean increase as Carlos starts forward.
In the first two pictures Carlos and Alej are playing and turning in place. Then Carlos begins to tip forward, leading Alej with his chest, and preparing to accelerate into a long first step (see arrow). The lines in the last picture show more lean between the partners, and increased foot separation. Carlos dances with the forward posture of many milongueros—but this varies from dancer to dancer. Most maintain chest contact in the dance-in-place/giro phase of the dance, maintaining just enough forward lean between the couples leave room for the feet to move. Some are more upright when dancing in place, and a few separate completely at times (see pictures below). But tipping forward to lead with the chest into the first step of the walking phase is almost universal among good dancers.
In this series, you should be able to see what Carlos and Alej are doing without the lines or arrows:
Here are more milongueros demonstrating a more upright posture while dancing in place, and then leaning forward into the walking phase:
Osvaldo Buglione plays in place, and then tips forward, and leaves.
Sometimes it’s more subtle. See if you can spot Alito tipping forward in the second picture.
Finally, here is a series of Pinocho and Graciela. They are very active and unorthodox dancers.
Sometimes separating to do things...
...but in the end, Pinocho leans forward and leads away with the chest. This series was taken at
Cacho’s in Avellaneda in 2003—two years later they won the BsAs city concurso de tango.
So, good tango is characterized by smooth, tight giros while marking the compás in place, and a smooth transition into, and out of, the walking phase. This first walking step is a very important part of tango, both on the stage and in the milongas—and tall dancers like Duplaa and El Chino are masters of it. They literally stand above the crowd. You can see them surging forward elegantly with the music, moving as space opens up on the floor. The practical necessities of tango in tight spaces have created art.
Sr. y Sra. Duplaa at Sunderland, El Chino y Ophelia at Banco Provincia.