Performance Tango or Tango Milonguero?
Collected notes :
Two styles of Argentine tango, performance and milonguero, bring about a controversy in the dance community. Some attribute a false dichotomy between these styles. False because, in reality, they are complimentary. In a certain aspect, performance tango and milonguero tango are two sides of the same coin.
The Milonguero, or "close embrace" style is danced in the crowded clubs of Buenos Aires. It evolved to compensate for large numbers of couples dancing in limited space. The Milonguero style is a rich and complex form of body signals and incorporates deep respect for the music and its varied rhythms. The result is a form of Tango that allows for simplicity of steps while encouraging a natural connection between the dancers.
However, tango is known throughout the world because of performance tango. The beauty and splendor of its figures are spread by TV and on the stages of theaters across great distances to far away places. In this tango the couple separates in order to execute complicated figures and steps that have more visual appeal. They separate because it would be difficult to see the "closed" tango in a large theater of 500 or more people. The body work, particularly the leg motions, would not engender great interest. In the performance tango the steps are based on milonguero style, but are enlarged and embellished, and become choreographies that cross the stage diagonally, creating displays and making full use of the ample space available. The tango is known throughout the world thanks to the artists, very fine and expert dancers, and thanks to their inspiration and the hours of daily work that they devoted to their talent. Thus, the tango was saved from remaining an exotic popular dance of a remote country. The far away Buenos Aires brought the heart of its culture near the heart of the world.
However, the origin of tango was in the salon, where it still lives. This tango relates to the passion which is awakened and grows within the couple, including a specific manner of manipulating the space, and a special combination of rhythmic beats. This is what the people who come from other lands discover in Buenos Aires; another tango. Then they understand that the true place of performance tango is on the stage. This is why the best performance dancers always go to the salon, to immerse themselves in its foundation, to invigorate their choreographies and enrich them with the spontaneity of the salon. After all, for the choreography to be thrilling and exciting, it must not appear to be rehearsed. Instead, it must translate the spontaneity and heat of the salon.
In the salon the couple dances for their own enjoyment, and not for show. The steps are a method to circulate within the space, which is very limited. It is a "closed" tango, with erratic figures that vary within the necessities imposed by the place. The milongueros can dance on four tiles, one tile, or even in place, while preserving, with great passion, the rhythm and contact with the other body, with a mixture of relaxation and tension both physical and emotional. The man offers his musical consciousness to the woman, and she follows him as if she was his shirt. Her creativity flows through her interpretation of the manner of enjoying in her body, and giving back what the man proposes.
Anyway, this explanation is ineffable, and the emotion of the "salon" is non-transferable. It's only verifiable with that wink that characterizes all communities that share a passion a little secretively. The beauty of this style is its simplicity, the great energy that flows on the dance floor. The couples are as in a trance, in a kind of "beyond consciousness". The body language is extremely rich. The feelings give meaning to the steps and to the movements of the bodies.
The vocabulary that this dancing elite communicates with permits a view, a gaze at the meaning of this dance: "to walk the tango". "apilarse", "to sleep the woman", "to move her", "to dance her".
The performance must have spectacularity, but it needs the "salon" as inspiration because otherwise it would be showing something that does not exist. The "salon" also needs the performance tango to disseminate itself and transmit itself to other generation. But even though everyone can dance "salon" not all of us can dance "performance". Sooner or later, anyone who intends to will learn the "salon" tango, which is something feasible and more near to the expectations of those who begin to take classes.
The people are a solitary community which seeks love, to love and be loved. The embrace of the tango, la franela, the excitement it contains, are an emulation of love, a relief for the soul and an act in which the man and the woman tell each other without reservation their joy and passion in an embrace.
1. Apilar means "to stack". In this context it suggests to stack the woman on the man, and the man on the woman. It refers to the leaning posture used in this style of tango.
2. "Franela" is a Lunfardo term that has no word in English. Literally it means "flannel", but the Lunfardo meaning is a subtle and sensual caress of the woman's body by the man's body. In tango when the man rocks the woman in place, he enjoys the feeling of her body against his. Also, a tight caminata, with the legsbrushing together is franela. "sleaze" dancing has franela, but the word "sleaze" might have a vulgar connotation not implied with "franela".
Susana Miller has probably put more people on the dance floors of Buenos Aires' milongas than any other single teacher. In a 1999 article in the Buenos Aires daily paper "Clarin," she was named one of the four most important contemporary influences in tango. Susana is internationally noted teacher of the Milonguero style of Tango.
Daniel Trenner :
In the spicy night life of Buenos Aires city center, the close embrace that we foreigners have been less familiar with until lately became popular. This helps to understand why it was frowned upon in the neighborhoods where elegance implied a paper thin separation of respect between gentleman and lady. Even so, it could be that there were neighborhoods where the close style was preferred.
Exhibition tango was first developed within the warfare between different neighborhood schools.
For the most part it was danced as a kind of loose warfare between different neighborhood schools, at the social dances, in breaks between the social dancing. In the fifties, Juan Carlos Copes led the development of tango for stage dancing, which culminated in Tango Argentino and modern show dancing. With this development, the tango style branched again, and the show
dancers quickly broadened and evolved their vocabularies creating even more stylistic diversity.
In the modern epoch, after the return of democracy, stylistic differences in social tango still loosely exist by geography. The best known style is from the north and west, based on the style originally developed in the Devoto neighborhood by Petroleos circle. More recently popular among younger students is the close embrace style, danced mostly downtown. And, while there are certainly other styles, these two styles dominate the Argentine social scene of today.
So finally we get to names.
This is not an easy subject, tango dance history being for the most part an oral one; there have been many names.
Canyengue, refers to the late twenties and thirties neighborhood styles. Dancers tell of how the canyengue died out and the forties social style tango took hold. Then tango actually had two divisions: Salon, the walking dance, and Orillero, the one with the turns. (Styles were also identifiable by orchestra allegiance). Also, some dancers were known best for their milongas. In the forties the word milonguero was not all that flattering, as it referred to one who was addicted to the night life, never worked, and was often begging for a loan.
However, in the modern epoch Salon and Milonguero have become more interchangeable in describing the more vaguely defined styles of a now older generation. They are now allied in being contrasted to the stage fantasy tangos, inside and out of Argentina, and foreign social dance forms.
Hence, dancers from each of these two major stylistic groups in Buenos Aires today refer to what they do at their most elegant, i.e. when walking the salon as opposed to showing off figures, as either Salon or Milonguero. It is a matter of oral history. What words you use to describe what depends on who you learned from first. But history marches on, and the meaning of these words
seems to be diverging again.
The modern proponents of the style from the North West are all first or second generation followers of the early group led by Petroleo . This group includes the social dancers, Fino and Miguel Balmeceda (passed on), and Juan Bruno and Mingo Pugliese (living). The fantasy artists including Todaro and Virulazo (both passed away), many performers still working from the Copes generation and many important youngsters. They all seem to be most comfortable calling the root of what they do Salon Tango, although Lampazo, for example, still uses Milonguero to describe this style, while Juan Bruno continues to insist on dividing this style into Salon and Orillero styles.
Then along came Pedro Rusconi, "Tete" (the first proponent of the close embrace to arise to prominence as a teacher) and Susana Miller, who has coaxed several other milongueros of this style to teach with her. They all would be comfortable with salon as the label for their style, but most people in Buenos Aires are calling it milonguero style.
So, for the most part, the salon and orillero styles of Devoto have become combined into salon style tango. The closer embrace style, which went untaught for longer, has taken milonguero style tango by default.
Nobody yet is talking about the style of the south or of the neighborhoods ringing the capital, where the younger Argentines often go on their own spelunking expeditions. One thing that I am sure of is that these neighborhoods offer fertile ground for further explorations in Buenos Aires.
As for myself, while I have been attracted to all these distinct "styles" of tango as I've seen them danced in Buenos Aires, I have not yet formed personal preferences for any of them. I didn't even start noticing close embrace, "Milonguero", style until I'd been in Buenos Aires for a while. It took several years to get past being fascinated with the steps, which were my first draw to the dance. The dancers who were doing less footwork were uninteresting to me and I just didn't see them.
Then, years of milonguero advice to feel the dance, not just learn steps began to take effect. I started to notice the dancers for how they stood, embraced and felt the music. It isn't like I didn't know about these things before, I just didn't see them even though they were right in front of me.
I awakened when I saw Tete dance.
I watched him for two years without ever being able to steal a single step or copy his style, but with great envy for his ability to express the tango feeling, sensuality and music. He could do this with his partner Maria, Mingo's wife Ester, who is a mistress of the other style, and a plethora of young tango starlets.
Two years ago Tete began to teach, albeit with all the pedagogical glitches of a beginner teacher, and I finally had a chance to get into it. Here was a style that challenged from the inside out. If I couldn't make heart-to-heart contact I couldn't dance.
As I made my first breakthroughs I started to gain a much deeper understanding of what I call tango trance, that is the state in which one dances a set at the milonga in a timeless space. Becoming one with the music and my partner was no longer an abstract, intellectual concept to be related somehow to my footwork. The music in its simplest syncopation, came into focus as the basis for my connection with my partner.
After that experience in milonguero style my other tangos have also improved. My "salon tango" is ever richer as I learn to stand tall and make elegant my footwork and musicality. My "Orillero tango" keeps offering more and more complexity and variation as I improve my strength, agility, and concentration. It is also easier to try the vintage canyengue styles and, several distinctive versions of milonga. Most importantly, I am winning the sensual attention of the good dancers I partner.
“Cabeza” means “head” in Spanish, and “cabeceo” is the castellano word that refers to the nod of the head that is used to signal the offer and acceptance of dances at a milonga. The cabeceo serves a couple of purposes. First, it minimizes public embarrassment... because it’s a long walk back to the table for a man who has just come all the way across the room and been turned down for a dance. But more importantly, a crowded milonga simply couldn’t function without it. Hundreds of offers and acceptances must fly back and forth across the room each time a new tanda of music begins, and the cabeceo is really the only practical way for everyone to quickly and efficiently find the right partner.
In the milongas of the 1940s, the men often stood in the middle of the dance floor and looked for dances with the young women who were usually seated around the edge of the room with members of their family. (I know this because I’ve talked to milongueras who attended these milongas). In this situation, continually walking from the center of the floor, across the line of dance to invite ladies to dance would have been impossible, so the cabeceo was the only option. Could this have been the birth of the custom? I’ve never heard it discussed, but it seems possible. Today, no one stands in the middle of the floor anymore, but in most popular milongas the tables are jammed together very closely, and there is barely enough room to get on and off of the dance floor, so it makes very good sense that offers and acceptances should be signaled from a distance.
Because I spend most of my time dancing with my wife Alejandra, I’m not especially good at the cabeceo. But she is a master of it, and she asked me to discuss it here. So here is a story. It wanders around a bit, but in the end it should put the art of the cabeceo in perspective, and also say some things about the mysterious codigos of tango. Then I’ll give some practical tips from Alej on the right way to use the cabeceo.
When I first began to go to the milongas with Alejandra, I kept a very low profile. In some of the out of the way places we danced a lot, but when we went to the high powered afternoon milongas I preferred to sit back and watch. And without realizing it I was observing an unusual phenomenon. Alej would arrive, sit in the front row, and begin to dance. She would dance every tanda with each of the older gentleman sitting in the front row across the room. After three or four hours passed, and she had danced with them all, she would leave. She never waited for dances. At first I thought this was how everyone did it, but after awhile I realized that most of the women sat a lot. Even the best milongueras only danced about half the time, and many only danced a few tandas.
How did she do it? The milongas are governed by a set of codigos that apply to the conduct of both the men, and the women. Our friend Julie Taylor is one of the most knowledgeable people in the world about BsAs tango. She is a professor at Rice University who has studied tango for more than 20 years, she has written the best known book in English about it, and she has been dancing and living in Argentina for most of her life. She's one of very few foreign women (maybe the only one) who are really respected in the milongas... but she and I have a fundamental disagreement about tango. I see the codigos as basically a logical and efficient way to keep order, while she has a slightly more negative view. For her, they are somewhat repressive —especially for women. Our argument on the subject always comes down to two things. First, I tell her, I have never personally felt any repression, and second, if women are so repressed in the milonga, why does Alej always do pretty much whatever she wants? Julie, who has watched her for years, agrees that the rules don’t seem to apply to Alej, and she thinks it’s because of her dancing skills. Some of the milongueros call Alej Flaquita, which means skinny. Others call her La Pluma or Plumita. It means feather… but it’s also a play on words that means a writing pen—so I guess they’re saying that dancing with her is like drawing with a pen. Both names refer to the light way she dances. The milongueros want to do as much as possible with the music, and they value a partner who is “light”.
A couple of pages back I showed El Gallego doing an incredible milonga step where he turns 360 degrees balancing and pivoting on only one foot. To be able to do this unrehearsed on the floor of a milonga is incredible, and he may be the only man in the world who can do it—but I neglected to mention his partner. It was Alej. She hadn’t danced with him for several years, and she hardly dances milonga at all (because I never dance it). Yet she was able to follow his almost imperceptible lead without even thinking about it. How many women in the world would El Gallego even try this step with? One ounce of unbalanced pressure from her and he would have tipped off his foot—but they went completely around, over the course of about 15 seconds, and stayed in the music. That's one reason she danced for years without ever sitting out a tanda. But I think it also may have to do with who she is. Because she’s from the neighborhoods, she grew up around the lunfardo dialect, so she understands it as well as the milongueros. For them, she’s a member of the family—and like a little sister who is a little spoiled, they sometimes let her get away with murder. DJ’s change the music for her, organizers change tables and bend rules so we can film, and she seems to be able to violate the most serious of all rules with impunity.
Make no mistake, beneath the surface a lot of power politics is being played in the milongas, but Alej seems to be able to ignore it. She's not afraid to turn down requests for dances from the most powerful milongueros if she feels like dancing with someone else who is lower in the pecking order, and at times I have seen her walk over to some scary milonguero that I wanted to film, and ask him to dance. I always hold my breath, because this should never be done... especially with one of the heavy hitters. But they always just laugh, shake their heads and grumble a bit about the codigos… and then they dance.
Flash back to about 7 years ago. It’s a weekday afternoon at Lo de Celia’s, and the power players of tango are all there, sitting along the front row on two sides of the dance floor, looking for some serious dancing. The women milongueras line the other two sides. For the milongueros an afternoon milonga is usually followed by dinner, and then a night of less serious tango. For many of them, the milongas at night mean champagne and a chance to kid around and fish for tourists or women—but the most important dancing is often done earlier in the day with dancers like Alej and many of the more accomplished milongueras. 7 years ago Alej was a competitive marathon runner who always got up early to train, so she never went out at night. And I think it became sort of a competition among the milongueros to see who could be the first to get her out for champagne. So around 8 o’clock, after dancing a tanda with each milonguero, Alej gets up to leave. As she passes the row of milongueros near the door, the banter starts:
Milonguero #1: “Mira! La Flaquita is leaving early again! She is breaking my heart!”
Milonguero #2: “Come with us to dinner, and then we will go to Gricel and dance all night!”
Milonguero #3: “She has a lover! She won’t go with us!”
Milonguero #2 “Yes, that’s it. She is going to her lover.”
Alejandra: “You know I don’t go out at night. I have to get up early to run.”
Milonguero #1: “Que loco! You are missing your chance. And you are making a serious violation of the codes!”
Milonguero #4: “Yes! If you dance with us, the codes say you must come and have champagne after.”
Alejandra: “Well, I can’t waste my time hanging out with you lazy guys. I have a busy life. If you want champagne meet me in Palermo at 6am and we’ll drink champagne after we run 10 miles.”
Milonguero #5: “This is a very serious violation! We may have to take action!”
It is at this point that Alejandra utters the words that made her reputation:
Alejandra (imitating Bette Davis): “Well, you have your codigos, and I have mine.”
This is a funny story (and believe it or not three milongueros actually did show up to run with her one morning), but things became much more serious when it
became clear to everyone that Alej was with me. I think there were some hurt feelings, and I know now that there were discussions about the situation. While
the milongueros sometimes bring foreign women into the group for short periods of time, a gringo dancing with someone of Alej’s status was different. In
fact, at one point we were told that the milongueros were talking about “punishing us”. I had no idea what this meant, but we both decided to stay away from tango for a while. Alej came back to the U.S. with me, and when we returned to BsAs, it was apparent that things had been worked out.
Nothing was explicitly said, and at the time I was pretty clueless about it, but looking back, I now see what was happening. Every time we went to a milonga, the ranking milongueros would come over, and hug and kiss both of us. Milongueros don’t usually go to another table to do this, and I thought, boy, suddenly everyone is really friendly! I can still remember standing on the floor of a crowded milonga one afternoon shortly after we returned. I was soaked with sweat, and x------ walked into the milonga. He’s a large, powerful man who is important in the BsAs gremios. These are the labor unions that have the power to sometimes bring the city to a standstill. He is a very nice man, but certainly not someone you want to cross. When he saw us, he did something unusual. He immediately walked out onto the crowded floor. He was dressed perfectly in a suit and tie, and despite my protests that I was completely wet, he grabbed me in a bear hug and kissed me on the cheek. In the milongas, everyone sees everything. A message was being sent, and a variation of this was repeated everywhere we went. I think that’s when I really began to love the milongueros and milongueras of Buenos Aires—and my feelings were reciprocated.
Tips for Success With the Cabeceo An
8-step tutorial from Alejandra Todaro
Tips for Success With the Cabeceo An 8-step tutorial from Alejandra Todaro
1. Have a plan and be disciplined. Know ahead of time who you want to dance with for each type of music.
2. Have a fallback position. Pick a second and a third choice ahead of time, and keep them in mind.
3. Try to quickly identify the music of the tanda, and then immediately begin to stare intently at your first choice for that type of music.
4. Do NOT take you eyes off that person, even for one second. (If you have a history, the rest is easy, because he or she will probably already be looking back when they hear the music).
5. If no eye contact is returned, wait a bit. If you sense the person is aware of you, but is looking elsewhere, immediately switch your stare to choice number two, and repeat the process.
6. If eye contact is made, any sign of recognition will work. Among the milongueros and milongueras, this is usually nothing more than a glance of a second or two, or maybe a slight nod, or a cutting of the eyes toward the floor.
7. If you happen to make eye contact by mistake with someone you don’t want to dance with, show no reaction at all, and look away quickly!
8. Once the dance offer has been accepted, both partners should maintain eye contact while the woman remains seated, and the man crosses the floor and stands in front her.
9. Only when you are standing face to face, eye to eye, should the woman get up to dance. (This prevents crossed signals, where the intended partner may be sitting in the line of site, but one or two rows back).
10. When the dance is finished, the man always walks the woman back to her table, and then returns to his own.
(You may have noticed that although these tips are from Alejandra, they apply equally to both women and men. While the cabeceo is one of the traditional codigos of tango, it is completely "gender neutral". A woman doesn't need to sit and wait for a man to come over to ask her to dance, because the opportunity to either make or accept offers is exactly the same for both men and women.)
The cabeceo is a powerful tool, but be careful. Once I casually smiled and nodded at a well-dressed milonguero across the room. To my surprise, he appeared a moment later at our table, ready to dance with Alejandra! The codigos are complex, and I had essentially contracted a dance for Alej without either of us even knowing about it. So the wisdom that says everyone sees everything in a milonga is especially applicable here. The milongueros have spent so many years watching each other, that they seem almost telepathic.
What is Good Navigation?
After the discussion of the benefits of good dance floor navigation I want to describe what good navigation is. Here are guidelines that contribute to the best movement of the dance floor. They are inspired by my own experiences in Buenos Aires in the most crowded milongas. If these guidelines are followed everyone will have enough room to dance and everyone can share the floor and have a good time together.
On a well organized dance floor the outer part of the floor will be organized into lanes like a race track. The outermost lane will be the best organized because it is contained by the perimeter of the dance floor. As you move toward the center of the floor the lanes get less and less organized until the middle of the floor may be a bit chaotic. The dancers who like dancing in lanes and who navigate well will tend to be found in the outermost two lanes on a big floor. Those who need a little more space will tend toward the inner lanes. At times the center may be nearly empty. The dancers in the middle will use the space they have and not enter or disrupt the lanes near them.
When we dance in lanes it is best if we don’t change lanes. This means that the first thing to do when the movement of the lane stops is to dance in place. Turns are the key to dancing in place. A dancer who has a few left and right turning movements in their repertoire, and understands how to combine these turns will have plenty of things to do when dancing in place. Turning also gives you a view of what is going on around you. With practice it is possible to predict the movement of the dancers near you. Knowing when you can use space close to your neighbors, and when they may need space close to you allows you, and them, to effectively use what space there is.
As you move in your lane it is important to stay in your lane and not crowd the dancers in the other lanes. This way you are not disrupting the flow of the other lanes near you. It is frustratingly common for dancers to dance in what might be called lane 1.5. Dancers in the outside lane, and the second lane don’t have room to get by someone doing this. If this person is moving slowly then both the outside lane and the second lane will be effected.
Why shouldn’t we pass? Mostly we don’t pass because in passing we have to enter another line of dance. You will be entering the new lane coming from a direction that will not be easily visible to the dancers in the lane we are entering. This is especially true if you are moving from an outer lane toward the middle. Because of the position of the follower’s head in the dance frame, often the leader’s view to the right is blocked. If you move from an outer lane to the next lane in, the dancer you are moving in front of may not see you until you are really in the way. Then it is a big
disruptive surprise, and that dancer may have to react very quickly. At a minimum the flow of their dance is disrupted, and possibly the dancers behind them as well.
Sometimes you may feel that you have to pass, because, for some reason the people ahead of you have stopped to talk, or they are moving very slowly and there is a lot of space ahead of them and the dancers behind you are crowding you. Just make sure you won’t be blocking the space of someone in the next lane and keep moving after you change lanes.
Entering the dance floor in the middle of the song presents the same problems. Everyone does this so we all have to be aware of how it effects the existing line of dance. It is most helpful if you wait at the side of the floor to catch the eye of a dancer on the floor, to ask for space before entering the floor. Then the person most effected by your entry on the floor knows where you are, and since you are asking nicely, they shouldn’t resent your presence, or block your entry to the floor. If they don’t give you the space wait for the next opportunity. The dance floor isn’t a place to fight.
It is important to control your partner as you enter the floor. I regularly hold my partner’s hand so I can keep her from blindly backing onto the floor to dance. It is ridiculously common for followers to just step onto the floor without paying any noticeable attention to the dancers already dancing. Still it is a leader’s thing to manage, so you just start leading a little earlier than you start dancing. When you get on the floor, dance and get moving. It is very irritating to have someone ask for space to get on the floor, give them the space, and then have them take a lot of time getting ready to dance. If you are entering the floor in the middle of the song, enter the floor dancing.
How much room is enough when you have to change lanes, or enter in the middle of a song? This is a little more complicated than it might seem. When you move into a new lane, are you moving into a space that another dancer is in the process of moving into? If so there isn’t really room for the lane change. The other dancer will have to make room for you at the last minute, and you will be coming from an unexpected direction. You will be relying on the other dancer to make room for you. That dancer will have to stop briefly, or maybe even step a little backward, and that will effect all other dancers in that lane. Even if this doesn’t result in a bump, it still effects the flow of the floor. Skilled dancers can avoid bumping because they can change what they are doing at the very last instant. Because of this less experienced dancers may not be aware of disrupting the other dancers around them. If you watch the dance floor you can see this happening all night.
If we aren’t going to pass, then each of us has another responsibility. If there is space in front of us to move into, we need to move into that space and give the dancers behind us room to move as well. This is the secret to the continuing motion of a crowded floor. If everyone does this the dancers flow around the floor like a river. stopping briefly to circulate in an eddy but always moving on. When a dance floor circulates like this it is beautiful to watch, and it is an amazing feeling to be a part of this movement.
Moving forward as space becomes available seems to be the last thing people learn to do as they learn to navigate. They know how to stay in their lane when they walk, and they know how to make their turns small enough that they don’t enter the neighboring lanes, but they get focused on their turns, and don’t move forward when there is space. The floor behind them stalls, and in desperation, other dancers begin passing to get room to dance, and the floor becomes chaotic.
It takes time to develop the skills required to navigate the dance floor well. You have to want to do this and you have to practice. Step combinations are taught in class one way. It is up to you the dancer to figure out how to navigate the movement. You should always know where the line of dance is, and you should be able to control your turns so that you can always arrive back on the line of dance. You should make sure you don’t drift backward against the line of dance unknowingly. You should be aware of what the other dancers around you are doing, and where they may be moving next. It would be nice if all teachers addressed these skills in their classes, but in the end it still is the responsibility of the individual dancer to learn to navigate well.
These are not a set of firm rules, they are guidelines. I think the most important thing is to be aware of the other dancers around you, and to work with them so everybody has enough space to dance in and everybody has fun.
Copyright March 2006 by Robert Hauk
by Carlos Eduardo GAVITO (04/27/1943 - 7/1/2005)
Carlos Gavito developed the pause as a concept. One of his most famous sentences is: Tango is what happens between the steps.
In the first place, I dance for myself, not for others. If people like what I do, let them watch me, if they don't like it, let them not watch. In the second place I dance honestly, I don't fabricate anything. I am not a choreographer. I dance what I feel.
There are three types of tango dancers: The tangueros of the abyss, who are afraid to move, the fighting tangueros, who don''t mind if they bump into other couples and the cradling tangueros. He promotes the latter: the tangueros who don't seek to advance in space but rather to cradle the woman with their embrace, their lead, their softness, their feeling and their sensuality.
“A good dancer is one who listens to the music…We dance the music not the steps. Anyone who aspires to dance never thinks about what he is going to do. What he cares about is that he follows the music. You see, we are painters. We paint the music with our feet..” Carlos Gavito"
The Tango and Trapeze Acts
by Cacho Dante, Milonguero de Buenos Aires
Thirty years ago, the tango wasn't a trapeze act. It didn't have choreographies, and the woman was not just a follower, she was to whom the tango was dedicated.
Around that time, under the pressure of the dictatorship in Argentina, many milongueros stopped dancing. They were tired of getting picked up by the authorities every weekend to see if they had a police record.
Some milongueros went back to the neighborhood clubs where they had to dance with their neighbors, their cousins, the sisters of friends—all under the watchful eyes of mothers. It was an enormous bore.
The guys at that time had already surpassed the stage of steps. They had already passed through the filter: When they didn't really know how to dance, they did 20 steps; when the knew a bit more, they did 10; and when they really knew what they were doing, they danced five….but with real quality.
The rest they learned from the orchestras at the time: how to navigate the dance floor; how to lead the rhythm. They danced then to some of the best orchestras live every day, Osvaldo Pugliese, Anibal Troilo, Juan D'Arienzo, Francisco Canaro, Alfredo Gobbi, etc.
Later, everything changed. The tango climbed onto the trapeze and became choreographed. And it became a dance of the deaf. The dance floor today also sometimes seems like a war zone. Women don't even get the chance to choose their partners. Men snatch them from the tables as if they were fruit in a supermarket bin.
When some of the milongueros returned to dance, myself included, we wanted to be in style, to learn choreographies. But it was late for that because for us it was more important to be appreciated by the woman than to be admired by those who liked to be seen. Women chose the tango milonguero. They embraced the old guys and then later embraced the young ones as well. Even if we milongueros are fat and bald, we still carry our heads high and have plenty of women to dance with.
Sometimes you hear that tango milonguero will die with the last milonguero. But those who say that don't seem to be aware that the last one is only 17 years old and is already teaching the dance.
Nowadays, we dance to orchestras and singers that are long gone. The sons of the great orchestra leaders, as children do, did not listen to their parents. Today, unfortunately, there isn't really any new music to dance to. The orchestras now knock themselves out to follow the singers, whereas in the old days the singer was just another instrument.
The tango, some say, is growing. Others say it is getting fat. I believe it is swollen, like someone who has eaten too much. Luckily, the example of the milonguero exists and it is not by chance nor just because it is something in vogue that some young people here and other people abroad dance in a close embrace and fly. To fly, you must have your feet firmly on the earth. We Pugliese fans plant our feet on the dance floor and we fly with our torsos. There is no other way to dance the silences and the pauses. With D'Arienzo, you dance in fourth gear, with Pugliese, in first. For Pugliese, you must lower the turns and with D'Arienzo, lift them.
The tango is a feeling that is danced. That's why it is not choreographed, though it can have sequences, like all feelings. You can dance love, rage, happiness, pleasure, every mood. The tango is not a dance to demonstrate ability but rather an interpretation of feeling. It is not just moving your feet and posturing. The tango is Argentine, but it belongs to all those who understand its feelings and its codes.
Guys, to dance tango, you must listen to the heart of the woman.
written in November 1998 by Cacho Dante, milonguero de Buenos Aires