Tag Archives: Floorcraft

How We Teach & Promote Argentine Tango

... Tango Awareness, that is.

1. We play only traditional Argentine Tango music AND we only dance to this music.

2. We teach our students to dance counter-clockwise, in one lane, and to not pass other couples (unless absolutely necessary – and NEVER on the right side of a couple) AND we dance with these proper floor skills.

3. We teach our students to keep their feet on the ground as much as possible AND we keep our feet on the ground as much as possible.

4. We do not teach ganchos or other unnecessary movements AND we don’t dance with these kinds of movements.

5. We teach social and improvised Tango that is conducive to dancing on a milonga floor AND we dance a social and improvised Tango.

6. We teach the “cabeceo” (reminding our students that it is done from your seat and not at the corner of the woman’s table) AND we actually use it.

7. As teachers, when we go to Buenos Aires, we go as students ready to learn more. We take classes, we learn more about the music, we dance socially, and we live Tango.

8. We teach our students about the music and the importance of it. We tell them which orchestra/singer/era will be playing during the class. We even remind our students that they should not embrace until the song has begun in order to develop a feeling for what is being played.

9. We teach our students that a “cortina” is a small piece of non-Tango music used to CLEAR the floor between “tandas” and no one should dance to the “cortina” or remain on the floor during this time.

10. We tell our students to go out dancing, to dance with various partners… but we also let our students know that they are allowed to decline dances for whatever reason.

*Although we teach and promote these concepts (and more) with the hope that we’re positively influencing our students, we are often reminded that people will eventually make their own choices – for better or for worse.


Javier Rodriguez, Castration, and More

Oh Javier… how we love thee.

If you haven’t been fortunate enough to have learned from Javier Rodriguez, let us share some of his wisdom with you. But first, let us give you a mini-summary of Javier in his role as a teacher.

Javier is blunt, has no shame, and shares all that he has learned and knows about Tango without apology. We’ve heard that (North) American Tango dancers/communities have found him to be too abrasive and too frank (ex., he has no problem telling women to stop squeezing their “chichi“) and he doesn’t work as a teacher so that he can lie to you and tell you how good your tango already is.

In North America (and we’re starting to think in all English-speaking countries) everything needs to be sugar-coated and oh-so-positive. That’s why anything goes in North American Tango. We don’t want to be told what Tango is or how to do it. We’ll tell people to follow Gavito’s advice when he tells a class to only speak positively about Tango and to only say what we like  about a person’s dance (although we don’t know the circumstances behind that comment and in fact, he has told dancers to also notice what they don’t like),  yet we won’t listen to Gavito when he says the embrace and the walk are what make Tango what it is. We think we can do it better and we think we should change it to make it our own (while calling it by the same name).

Meanwhile, in Asia, many of the cultures may be more direct (How old are you? Are you married? Do you have children? Why not?). However, they sure as hell aren’t used to hearing about “chichis”. Yet it’s these same Asian communities that embrace the traditions of Argentine Tango and will happily do as they are asked. They respect and look up to their teachers.

With that said, let us divulge some wonderful insights Javier and Andrea shared with the class in Seoul:

Don’t Castrate Your Partner Women, pull your hips back and make room for the men. When you keep your hips flat, you castrate the man you are dancing with by stripping him of his freedom to walk forward without restraint.

Javier demonstrated this with multiple men and we don’t think there was a person left in that class that doubted this assertion.

Hierarchy Among Dancers  Javier & Andrea were asked about a problem that exists in various communities. What happens when the best dancers only want to dance with the best dancers, the mediocre followers only want to dance with the best leaders, and the mediocre leaders are left wanting? Javier responded (in a way that most of us North Americans don’t like to hear) that this is the way it is everywhere around the world… and this is the way it should be. If the mediocre dancers want to dance with the best dancers, they need to become better dancers. If the best dancers are already dancing with them, the mediocre dancers have no reason to improve.*

* There are too many dancers who no longer take lessons OR who only take lessons that teach new sequences rather than those that improve (BASIC) technique (which is where the problems lie).

Hierarchy on the Dancefloor  Many dancers understand the dancefloor setup now. There’s an outer lane and one or more inner lanes. Javier & Andrea told all of us what many people learn after going to Buenos Aires: The outer lane is for the best dancers. It’s for those who understand floorcraft and who can dance well. Those who cannot follow the rules of floorcraft and, more importantly, are not very good dancers, should dance in the inner lanes.*

*Swallow your ego and place yourself accordingly on the dancefloor. In the same token, deal with the crappy floorcraft and try to dance in the outer lane if you’re one of the better dancers in the community.

Our Thoughts on What Others May Consider IDOLIZATION

We’re not sure where the loathing of “idolization” has come from. We understand that some people take their idolization too far… and obviously a teacher is not a god. But it seems that people are loathing the fact that some dancers look up to their teachers as mentors – with respect and adoration. Those dancers who respect and learn from/follow one or two professional teachers tend to be the best dancers in a room. It’s those dancers who learn from anybody and everybody who CLEARLY show no progress in their dance.


We *HEART* the Seoul Tango Festival

Lydia, from the super positive blog “Toronto Tango Blog”, contacted us the day we returned from our trip to Beijing (purely for travel) and Seoul (purely for Tango… and food :)  She asked the following questions:

  • What did you miss most about T.O. (Toronto) tango while you were in the Far East?
  • What new ideas did you get for your students here?
  • What are some major differences between the Seoul Tango Festival and the Toronto Tango Festival?
  • What do you see as the strengths of our Toronto scene
  • What’s coming up for MIM tango?
  • Oh yes, and did Kristina buy any shoes?

We already had plans to write a blog post about our experiences in Seoul.  We had such an amazingly perfect time that, truth be told, we simply were not looking forward to returning to Toronto’s Tango scene.  These questions left us with knots in our stomachs because the answers that came to mind only solidified the feelings and thoughts we already had.  After spending seven amazing nights in Seoul in order to partake in the Seoul Tango Festival and experiencing foreigner gringo Tango that had been pretty close to Buenos Aires Tango…  we were actually feeling quite depressed about our return.

So let us start by telling you about the festival.

The Seoul Tango Festival

The festival took place over five days with 300 people attending (maybe more?). Three couples were invited from Buenos Aires as “Maestros” to teach nine workshops each over the span of four days. There were seven milongas (five evening milongas, one daytime milonga, and one after-party milonga).

Over half of the workshops were sold out, but this did not mean there were 100 students in each class.  The numbers were kept fairly reasonable although perhaps a slightly larger studio space would have made classes even better.  We took all (nine) of Javier Rodriguez & Andrea Misse’s workshops and they were fantastic.  For those of you who believe that this couple do not represent the Tango of the milongas found in Buenos Aires or that they only teach sequences and non-milonga movement… perhaps you’ll rethink this after we give a little background info.

Before leaving on this trip, we had the great fortune of learning, once again, with the milonguero Alberto Dassieu here in Toronto.  This man is an incredible dancer, an incredible teacher, and an incredible person.  During both his visits he took the time to specifically point us out to everyone in the class in order say some very kind words about our dance and to tell everyone that we are the future of Tango.  Now here’s the reason we’re bringing him up: to make a quick and simple comparison.  In Javier & Andrea’s classes, we were taught fewer steps and sequences, reminded to dance smaller more often, taught more concepts, and taught even more culture than we were taught in Alberto’s classes.

Now if you can keep that in mind, imagine how incredible the Seoul Tango scene is… especially when we tell you how obvious an impact Javier & Andrea (among other traditional teachers from Buenos Aires) have had there. Javier & Andrea have been invited to teach in Seoul for the last five years.  They are, in large part, responsible for developing the Tango scene in Seoul; a scene infused with the tradition of the dance and a deep respect for it.

The milongas were jam-packed.  It was like being in a milonga in Buenos Aires… and we mean that on multiple levels. The milongas were held in beautiful studios with gorgeous, dark, hardwood flooring and the Grand Milonga was held in an amazing conference centre (with terrific food!). Everyone was dressed to the nines – no cargo pants, no sneakers, no hats, etc.  Many of the codigos were being followed… in ways we had never seen outside of Buenos Aires.  Perhaps 50-75% of all dancers were using the cabeceo, but among the best of dancers, 100% were using it.  Most men were walking women back to their seats after a tanda.  Only traditional Tango music played and in the traditional manner (i.e., TTVTTM with cortinas in between each tanda). Full tandas were danced too and rarely did a couple stay on the floor during the cortina.  No one tried to dance to the cortina.  Men were dancing with women… women were dancing with men.  The level of dance was very high. Everyone danced in “un abrazo” (an embrace)… and by that we mean close.

On the night of our performance, it was clear that everyone was extremely excited about the demos – demos by international dancers… NOT the maestros.  For us, our demo couldn’t have gone any better. We were actually calm and for the first time, we enjoyed dancing while being in front of an audience.  We ended up choosing our Tango song only a few hours earlier after finding out that no other couple was dancing to Di Sarli.

The audience was amazing. After each couple performed, they clapped long and hard so that each couple could bow to all four sides of the room – just like in Buenos Aires! Plus we didn’t stop hearing compliments for the rest of the weekend!? We’re not stupid or blind, we know that our performance is nowhere in the realm of the Maestros AND we were performing alongside some incredible international dancers/teachers.  And yet, we were sincerely told how beautiful, lovely, and elegant our demo had been.

Our demo in Seoul... Photo by Peilun Li

As for the dancing in Seoul… It was great! Jani’s “worst” dances (and there ended up being no bad dances) were still some of the best dances he’d ever had.  There are two main reasons for this.  The women who were in Seoul embrace fully and they create space between themselves and their partner’s hips.  On top of this, dancers know the music and are excited about it which puts pressure on the DJs to play really good music with no repeating playlists. And the DJs played great music. The dancers also completely understand floorcraft – although the huge issue that we observed (and funnily enough, Javier and Andrea later brought it up in their workshops) is that the floor doesn’t progress forward. You could dance a whole tanda and stay on only one side of the floor the whole time. However, leaders rarely if ever passed… and NEVER did a leader pass on the right side!

Now that we described the festival, let us answer Lydia’s questions:

What did you miss most about T.O. (Toronto) tango while you were in the Far East?

We were having an absolutely fantastic time in Seoul that we simply weren’t missing anything.  We had it all in Seoul: great workshops, great milongas, great music, and great dancers.  However, we really wished our friends and students could have seen and experienced all that we were experiencing.

What new ideas did you get for your students here?

Most of what we learned in Seoul only further confirmed that we’re on the right track with our students.  The focus of every class we took was the embrace and the walk – and that’s exactly what we focus on in our classes.  However, we realized that we need to help our students develop a critical “eye” for Argentine Tango.  There is simply too much out there being passed off as “Argentine Tango” when it clearly isn’t.

What are some major differences between the Seoul Tango Festival and the Toronto Tango Festival?

We think the Toronto Tango Festival is a really fun event.  Truly.  But it isn’t a festival completely committed to the promotion of Argentine Tango.  We just experienced an Argentine Tango festival in Seoul and it included traditional music, traditional dancing, and traditional teachers.

What do you see as the strengths of our Toronto scene?

The Seoul Tango scene showed us how a commitment by local teachers to teach (traditional) Argentine Tango can really influence a Tango scene… and it showed us just how far behind Tango is in Toronto.  We think Toronto is about 10-years behind. Yet Seoul Tango has likely been around for far less time.  The reason we think 10 years is because a radical shift in thinking is required and we’re not very optimistic about a radical shift occurring.  It means that IF there’s going to be a change, it’s going to be a long, slow process.

We ourselves are Tango infants in regards to the amount of years danced, but we were thinking about Toronto Tango’s history and we made the following observation: Toronto Tango’s foundation is heavily based on the teachings of stage/performance Tango dancers.  Don’t get us wrong, we have respect for some of those dancers, but we would like to see Toronto embracing the tradition of the social improvised dance of Argentine Tango.  All the elements that made the Tango in Seoul so incredible are the very elements that are missing in Toronto’s Tango.

We do think it’s really fabulous that Paradiso has brought great teachers like Enriqueta Kleinman, Graciela Gonzalez, Susan Miller, and Alberto Dassieu to Toronto.  However, we think Toronto is in need of an injection of youth (in the improvised social dance of Argentine Tango)… and I suppose that’s what we’re here for!  Unfortunately, it’s hard to get people (young and old) excited about Tango when the visiting teachers are “old” or not so supple.  That’s not to say we agree with that.  However, it takes most people a long time to see within Tango… and in Toronto, there is still a huge proportion of the community who continually demonstrate their preference to learn from stage/exhibition dancers and/or other young non-traditional dancers.  The other issue is that Toronto dancers need to stop learning from so many different teachers and choose just one or two.  As ex-ballroom and ballet dancers (which are standardized dances), we know that students are never encouraged to learn from multiple teachers.  So now take Tango (a non-standardized dance where teachers have different styles and technique) and we cannot even fathom why students don’t understand the importance of sticking with one or two teachers when they learn Tango (or any art form for that matter).  Actually, there’s a *3-part interview with Ney Melo that came out recently and he makes a comment about this which we completely agree with:

I say ‘If you try to be everything, in the end, you are nothing’. You cannot mix technique. If I want to dance like a certain teacher, then I will take classes from that teacher and do EVERYTHING that they do. I will copy everything about their dance and stick with their technique for a long time.

Those with no dance or body movement experience somehow think they suddenly understand all body movement and that they have excellent body awareness… when in fact these same people can barely get through the most basic 8-step sequence… alone!  One of the reasons a better dancer dances well is due to the combination of technique they use.

*Ney also makes some really keen observations about Tango in North America that are well worth the read:

Part I
Part II
Part III

What’s coming up for MIM tango?

We’re going to continue doing what we’ve been doing… and that includes offering TRADITIONAL Argentine Tango which is made up of a dance and a culture.  We refuse to sell out and we’ll continue to teach the Tango of Buenos Aires… the Tango of Javier Rodriguez & Andrea Misse… the Tango of Alberto Dassieu… the Tango of Andres Laza Moreno (our Maestro). We’ll also continue to teach our students the codes of Tango AND floorcraft.  Finally, we’ll continue to share our love for this dance while guiding our students on their Tango journey.

Oh yes, and did Kristina buy any shoes?

Yet another wonderful aspect of the Tango in Seoul is the fact that they have their own Tango shoe designer and maker in the city!!  Unfortunately, Koreans tend to have cute little feet and there weren’t any in Kristina’s or Jani’s sizes!


Floorcrap…Oops… Floorcraft.

Floorcraft has, without a doubt, improved in Toronto.  We’re not saying it’s good or even remotely good, but it has improved dramatically since we first began.  Then again, we knew nothing about floorcraft back then because no one taught us about it.  Nowadays, SOME dancers are grasping the idea of inside and outside lanes, and not passing.   That said, the biggest issues we see in our city are:

i)  The Snails: leaders who forget that a line of dancers exists behind them and that their execution of stand-still “parada”, after “parada”, after “parada”, is unacceptable.  Especially when the music is not asking for pauses of any kind

ii)  The Sprinters: leaders who don’t know how to turn or dance on the spot and only continue to move forward ramming themselves and their partners into the couple in front of them.

iii)  The Drive-By Shooters: these are usually the Sprinters who do not know how to turn or dance on the spot and therefore “have to” pass every couple they encounter.

Constant passing is bad enough, but what is completely unacceptable, is passing on the OUTSIDE RIGHT (especially if you’re already dancing in the outside lane).  There are only a handful of these leaders who think (or rather don’t think) that passing couples on the right in a man’s BLIND SPOT is acceptable.

The analogy is that Tango floorcraft is like driving.  When you’re driving in the right lane, you don’t pass cars on the right on the gravel siding or sidewalk.  If you pass, you do so using the left lane.

In general, leaders cannot see to their right and as a leader, you should know this. So PLEASE stop it now.*

*We are not talking about beginners or dancers with limited experience.  These are people who have been dancing a year or many more.


Chicho This. Chicho That.

The topic of the month seems to be Chicho and the interviews he had with the ATDRC and El Tangauta magazine.  Personally, the interviews irk us on so many levels – starting with the fact that Chicho refers to himself as a milonguero!?  However, there’s no point in discussing that.  What we did want to bring up deals more with Chicho’s floorcraft and that of Nuevo Tango dancers (although Chicho claims to dance straight-up Tango).  It’s been said that Chicho dances “properly” like the other dancers in a traditional milonga.  Anyone who has been to Sunderland Club in Buenos Aires has most likely seen Chicho show up to dance towards the end of the night.  This means they’ve also seen how he goes into the middle of the floor, claims his space, and dances there for most of the night.  He may move around, but what you will definitely see is people making space for, or steering clear of, him and his partner’s flying legs.  It’s true, you can see he’s aware of the people around him and ready to adjust his movement, but nonetheless, he’s taking up more space than any other couple on the floor and he’s not following the unspoken rules of the milonga such as keeping your feet low to the ground.

All this to say that Nuevo Tango dancers may be very aware of the dancers around them and ready/able to adjust their dance, but it doesn’t change the fact that the very dance they’re dancing is not conducive to a small or crowded dance space.  Simply by being in an open hold, you are taking up almost twice the space of a couple in an embrace.  And when the most common nuevo move (the boleo, or volcada, or colgada, etc.) is inserted into an open hold dance, you are taking up a load of space and infringing on someone else’s space.

By the way, there’s also a fantastic example of Gustavo Naveira’s questionable floorcraft on Tango and Chaos.


Learning to Dance Again: Floorcraft and the “Buffer”

We’re back in Toronto after spending a year in South America – 8 months of which were spent in Buenos Aires.  There’s so much to write about still… our observations and experiences of Tango in Buenos Aires, how it feels to be back “home”, and everything in between.  Let’s see if we ever get around to it.

While away, we were happy to hear that floorcraft and navigation skills had become issues that teachers and milonga organizers were more frequently addressing in our Toronto community.  The reason for this?  The Tango floor is a sad site in Toronto.  We did not fully realize this until we experienced the milongas of Buenos Aires and saw for ourselves what it’s supposed to look like.   Generally, Toronto dancers move anti-clockwise in a somewhat homogenous group… at best.  There rarely exists and inside and outside track, and dancers are constantly passing each other in a zigzagging fashion.  Teachers are rarely teaching their students floorcraft skills and etiquette, and IF they are, the milongas do not reflect this.  In addition, learners/dancers actually fight against dancing with proper floorcraft skills.  No one wants to wait behind the “slow” dancer… no one knows how.

Before leaving for Buenos Aires, we did our research and knew the rules of the milongas.  We understood the seriousness of it.  Dancing in milongas where people respect your space and understand the movement of Tango was fantastic.  Dancers stayed in their own lanes, they didn’t try to pass one another (although there were exceptions – the infamous Tete being one of them), their feet stayed on the ground when there was little space, and couples were hearing and moving to the music in a similar way.

One of the biggest “lies” we heard about floorcraft was the no-steps-backwards rule (or the no-steps-against-the-line-of-dance rule).  We’ve observed this rule to be incorrect… or rather, inaccurate.  HOWEVER, there are two conditions that apply:

1) You cannot take more than one step backwards.

OR

2) You can only take more than one step against the line of dance if you can see the space and people in that direction.

One important fact we never heard about was the existence of the “buffer”.  This is the space that encircles a couple and always exists if you are dancing around good dancers.  This buffer allows dancers to move one step in EVERY direction (at a minimum and of course, depending on the crowd density of the floor).  Many tourists are not aware of this buffer and are usually the ones crowding the couple ahead of them.  They are also the ones getting mad at other tourists (or even locals) for going against the line of dance.

There is a mistaken belief that you are responsible for ALL the dancers around you on the dance floor.  However, our experience in Buenos Aires has taught us that you are only truly responsible for the couple in front of you.  When you are following all the other rules involved, the floor will take care of itself if you take care of the couple in front of you.

Take downhill skiing as an example.  If you are skiing straight in one track, you do not worry about the people skiing behind you.  You pay attention to the skiers (and the hill) in front of you.  The people behind you will keep their eyes on you.

Without all these “strict” rules and codes, leaders would be left in a man-eat-man world defending his territory.  If you have to worry about every person around you on top of listening to the music, feeling your partner, AND dancing, you would have a stressful situation on your hands.  It has not been fun having to relearn how to dance in the crowds of the Toronto milongas.  Believe it or not, it actually takes a special type of skill to dance in TO!