Waltzing in a Crowd
Let's look at the problem of dancing waltz in a crowded milonga:
1. We want to express a type of music (fast tango vals) that has
a sort of flowing, high-energy feel to it,
2. our available space is limited by other dancers,
3. we want to communicate with our partner only from the center
of the embrace, and,
4. we'll dance only by walking to the cadences of the music.
Granted, we're placing some limits on our dancing—but we need to be able to work with what we have. Much of this site is based on the idea that the tango of the milongas is primarily a "walking" dance, in which both partners walk to the cadences of the music, rather than performing stage figures... and also, that this traditional Argentine way of dancing is actually both richer in possibilities, and closer to the music, than academic tango.
There is tremendous variety in the way the Golden Age tangos were sung and played. Different tangos can be fast or slow, smooth or jerky, light or heavy... and we should be able to express these differences in our dancing. For me, a fast tango vals falls into a sort of smooth-flowing, high-energy category. So one way to dance to it might be to vary our speed through a lot of smooth, connected curves. This allows us to express the music with plenty of energy and movement, but it also let's us stay within the few square meters of space normally available for social tango. Here's the short demo from the last page with tick-tocks added to show the cadence:
Tango vals curved into a small space, using runs of 7 and 4 consecutive steps.
This is an example of tango dancing as the solution to a problem. We've taken straight, two-dimensional corridas (runs of steps), and curved them down to fit into the kind of irregular, shifting space available in a crowded milonga. It allows us to move with a lot of energy in a limited space, and also to express the sentiment and cadence of the music. In this case, we mark the cadence with runs of 4 and 7 consecutive quick steps, while the general theme of the music and melody is expressed by speeding up and slowing down through the curves—and also by the natural up and down movement of the walk. For me, it's a simple and practical solution that allows for artistic expression within the physical limitations of a milonga. And it can all be communicated naturally through the chests of the partners.
The curves are made up of steps. If you think of steps as the points that make up a curve, then the more points you use, the smoother and tighter your curve can be. That means that rather than taking a larger step only on the strong beats, we create smoother, tighter curves by dividing our movement down into smaller segments. So if we step on both of the two weak beats that occur between the strong beats of vals, as well as the strong ones, we'll take three times as many steps in the same time interval—and we'll be able to bend our vals into a smaller space!
Now, let's add a couple of more things. There's no rule that says the man has to walk forward, while the woman walks backwards. Alej and I reverse directions all the time, and it's a very useful tool for optimizing the use of available floor space. In fact, it effectively doubles it. And in addition to walking backwards, we'll tighten the curves down to a single point, and turn them into giros. Here's how it looks:
Tango vals danced in a small space by walking backwards, using 7, 4, and 2 run corriditas.
In Chapter 5, we discussed how corridas can be curved down until they turn into giros—and this is an example of it. Here, corriditas of 4 and 7 consecutive steps curve tighter and tighter until there's no way to tell where the curve stops, and the giro begins. This is a very useful technique for a crowded milonga, because it allows you to follow the music with a rhythmic corrida in almost any direction, curve it to avoid other dancers, and then continue curving all the way down to a giro around a single spot if you get boxed in.
This video begins with a 7 step giro, followed by two curving 4 step corriditas—but then you'll notice that there are no tick-tocks during the last giro. The reason there are no tick-tocks is because there are no steps. The last giro was done with an enrosque. To do an enrosque, you place your weight evenly on both feet, then pivot on both of them at the same time, and let your legs wrap around each other. It’s useful in a milonga, because it's absolutely the tightest (and smoothest) giro you can do. Finally, the video finishes with a backwards walk out of the enrosque, with two crosses. This is like a role reversal, with the woman walking forward, while the man walks back, doing crosses where the woman would normally do them. (You can hear the tick-tock of the consecutive steps on each of the crosses.)
Should I Learn This?
Earlier, we looked at how the “strong- weak” cadence of tango means we need to do an odd number of steps in a corrida. That is, to get back on the strong beats, we need to do a run of 3, 5, 7, or 9 consecutive steps (or on up). The “strong- weak- weak” cadence of vals, however, is more complicated. In fact, it’s a lot more complicated.
The way vals is normally danced by milongueros is to step on the first of the two weak beats, which gives the kind of natural flow that we demonstrated in the earlier pages on vals cadence. Here, we’ve used longer runs of quick steps. I think it's best to do runs of 2, 4, 5, 7, 8… and on up, avoiding multiples of three. (I don’t like runs of 3, 6, or 9 because… well, because they feel odd. A vals corrida of 3s ends up on the second weak beat, without stepping on the following strong one. It can be done, but to me, it just doesn’t feel right—and I don't know of any milongueros who do it.)
You may have noticed that we included linking runs of quick steps in our list of the basic elements of social tango on page 19—but the truth is, you really don’t need to master them to dance well in either vals or tango. I think it's very helpful to think of tango in terms of curving your walk down tighter and tighter to a point, but learning to do long runs of consecutive quicks isn't really necessary. We've covered it mostly to show its possibilities, and to help analyze what some of the dancers are doing—but most milongueros only do it at certain times with certain music, and many don’t do it at all. In fact, if you look at the best dancing in the last two chapters, you’ll see that much of it is done without long corridas of quick steps.
About the jersey: No, we're not advertising Quilmes. The idea was to put on something with a spot on the chest to show chest movement in the demo, and the only thing I could find was a Velez Sarsfield jersey. It’s not bad beer, though.
In the next pages, we'll return to look more closely at stepping technique, and add an important variation.