Tag Archives: Musicality

Got No Rhythm

Among Tango dancers, there are those who have played instruments, have gone to university to major or minor in music, and/or are music aficionados.  While some have proven to have excellent beat perception, we have been continually amazed by Tango music’s ability to make one “deaf”.

All that we have observed, read, and heard (not to mention, using a little plain old “common” sense) have led us to understand that ignoring the “compas” (ie, the beat) while dancing Argentine Tango is absolutely unacceptable.  The music, in Tango, is king… and within the music, the “compas” is king.

While in Buenos Aires, whenever the late Osvaldo Zotto’s name came up, the following comment almost always followed: “muy sordo” (very deaf). Did he feel the music and move within the music?  Sure.  But he had an ability to miss/avoid the beat like no other well-known dancer we have ever seen.

There’s no doubt that Tango music is very complex and oftentimes the beat is very elusive.  For those of you who have difficulty finding the beat, maybe this will be helpful. However, if this doesn’t help, maybe you have an actual case of beat deafness.

Tango in Buenos Aires (Part IV)

The Elusive Embrace

Now the mother of all dances was the one K had the night she had 5 dances. This far older man (maybe mid 70s) came in much later. He danced maybe one tanda, K saw him and thought, “Shit!  I wanna dance with him.” :) His posture was amazing, he was so smooth, and so musical. Well K couldn’t believe that when she looked at him, he said yes (with a bit of surprise on his face :). The minute they went into the embrace, K knew that THIS was The Elusive Embrace she has been looking for and only felt (slightly) once before.

An Argentinean was visiting Toronto and he went out dancing one night.  K had the pleasure of dancing with him three times that night.  He was not a very advanced dancer, but he had “the” embrace… an embrace that is not felt in Toronto.  It is this embrace that Jorge & K are on the hunt for and plan to discover before leaving this Tango land.

So as we were saying, K knew that this was going to be THE dance of the night.  The embrace and the dance were like honey… It was like dancing on clouds. K felt so protected. The embrace was so soft, as was his core. He didn’t use his left hand much with K, but it’s likely that he uses it with the women he needs to. He definitely uses the right arm (using the elbow to lift or place) and he uses the right hand which in all honesty, was more than K needed or likes, but it was fine by her :) He complimented K after the first dance and then asked if Jorge was the novio or esposo. Then he said Jorge’s dancing is muy lindo… muy milonguero!?!? Holy crap! That was such an amazing compliment coming from him. After the second dance, we were stopped right in front of Jorge’s area and Carlos (the milonguero’s name) looked over at Jorge and gave him a thumb’s up regarding my dancing!! After we finished dancing, he then spoke a bit with Jorge and he kissed us goodbye at the end of the night.

We also experienced the same Elusive Embrace in our private lesson with our very young Tango teachers here.  One dance with each one of them and we were in Heaven… and truly determined to find this embrace for ourselves.

More about “The Elusive Embrace”.  The best way we’ve been able to describe it is this way:  A leader with The Elusive Embrace feels soft and light, but is very strong, is very present, takes care of the follower completely, and leads gently, but with 100% intention.  A follower with The Elusive Embrace also feels soft and light, is very present, is always right “there” never anticipating the next step, and has a soft strength in her core.  The Elusive Embrace is pure Tango Heaven.


In Toronto, Jorge (and also K at times) have been told that everyone in BA would call us out on our dance background.  We were warned that our posture would be slightly criticized for being so straight (hmm… like Todaro?!) and being “ballroom-like” (we have been criticized in Toronto for our posture… as well as complimented).  We are happy to report that Jorge is being told over and over again by locals at different milongas that his posture is really good. Not one single person has asked us if we have a background in dancing or ballroom especially.  We are truly happy about this because we were slightly worried that something was “wrong” with our posture.  Our private lessons here also confirmed that our posture is good – only that we need to relax the tension in our arms and shoulders, keep our cores activated and strong (but soft tummies!), and continue to be soft in our leading/following.

Overall Comparisons Between Hometown and BA Tango

Truth: No one owns Tango.  Truth: We, in particular, do not own Tango.  Truth: Tango comes from this city – the city of Buenos Aires (no need to nit-pick and bring up Uruguay).  We are currently in this city and we have danced at (only) six different milongas.  Here is what we are observing so far:

1)      American/Alternative version of Tango do not exist here, except by foreigners and young dancers who like dancing at places like La Viruta (a post will follow soon on our thoughts at viewing the dance floor at La Viruta)

2)      Nuevo Tango is either not being danced at all in the traditional milongas or it is being danced by one or two couples in the middle of the floor (while the older locals look on in disgust)

3)      SOS musicality does not exist in the traditional milongas

4)      Local dancers who have been dancing for years respect the dance.  Even the younger locals who have obviously been attempting to truly learn Tango are respecting the dance.  What this means is that dancers are not trying to create their own personal version of Tango (which is seen over and over again in North America).  They all dance ARGENTINE TANGO.  They dance musically, they dance for themselves, all to the best of their ability.

We have only been here for 2.5 weeks and we are baffled by the amount of dancers in our own tango community who have been to Buenos Aires and return home only to continue dancing the way they do.  They have witnessed how Tango is danced here.  Did they not take in anything while they were here?  Or was their goal simply to come here and watch how other foreigners dance and then pick and choose what they wanted to take from their observations?  That said, after having spent a night at Canning followed by La Viruta where the floors are packed with foreigners, we have a better understanding (since so many foreigners spend their time dancing only at these places).

Read more about our experiences in our previous posts: Tango in Buenos Aires (Part I), Tango in Buenos Aires (Part II), Tango in Buenos Aires (Part III).

Morse Code Tango

We’re referring to musicality here. This is a term that came up almost by accident as we were discussing with some friends the “musicality” most often seen on the dance floor. Our friend referred to this musicality by saying, “Taka taka taka tak tak.” To which we replied, “Oh, you mean Morse Code Tango?”

This can be more appropriately named “S.O.S Tango”. This is most often seen in the American/alternative versions of Tango and Nuevo Tango. There are some who do it better and Chicho is an obvious example. What makes him different is his continuous movement with his body… However, his feet still dance S.O.S. style. It’s one-dimensional musicality that “anyone” can do if they know a song inside-out and have a decent tango movement vocabulary. No, we’re not saying that person will be the best at it, but there’s a reason you see far more of these dancers than those who (can) actually interpret the music and continue to dance through each step. It is much easier to dance the music literally.

This is a difficult concept to explain (or even show) to people, especially those who do not understand music and/or dance at some level. We can only point out that if the steps are arriving early or at the beginning of the beat and arriving on the beat “dead” (the step “ends” there – sort of like a wedding march), there’s a good chance the dancing is S.O.S. style. Continuous movement through the walk, for example, is not S.O.S. style. Movement INVITES movement – lack of movement or movement that is jerky/cutting kills the movement.  Furthermore, S.O.S. musicality often relies on a “lunging” walk where the leader waits until the last minute to “lunge” forward (also arriving dead on the beat).

We shared some interesting back-and-forth comments with En La Milonga regarding musicality. There was some difficulty explaining the difference between the musicality found in Nuevo and that found in Argentine Tango. She states that, “It’s in Villa Urquiza in the 40′s that appeared for the first time the pause and the slight movement between steps.” This is very fascinating and informative (thank you!), however, we are not speaking of the pauses. We are talking about the dancing or movement that occurs in between each step. We see a HUGE difference between the musicality of Nuevo dancers and Argentine Tango dancers (regardless of “style” – as long as it’s traditional).

As well, it is going to be very difficult for people who dance to non-traditional Tango music to learn how to get inside the complex (traditional) music.  And why are people dancing Argentine Tango to non-Argentine music anyway? This is no different than dancing a Cha Cha to a Quick Step or a Jive to a Tango… You might be able to get your steps into that foreign music, but you are not dancing Cha Cha or Jive anymore. And let’s not forget that tango is a culture – not just a dance. You’ve removed one of the biggest parts of Tango when you dance to something other than Tango music.

Nuevo Tango is NOT Argentine Tango

This topic causes us much grief. We do not understand why we constantly have to explain to people that Nuevo Tango is NOT Argentine Tango. It’s the same grief that many Tango dancers feel when they explain to their non-dancer friends that the “Argentine Tango” performance they saw on “So You Think You Can Dance” is not real Argentine Tango (We almost pulled our hair out when Nigel of SYTYCD said that A.T. is danced by men who have cigarettes hanging from their mouths and a glass of Jack Daniels in their hands – say what?!).

Nuevo Tango is no more a style of Argentine Tango than Modern Dance is a style of Ballet. Nuevo is derived from A.T. but it requires very different technique, it is often danced to completely different music, it has completely different musicality, and it has moved in a different direction where it is not a culture embedded with codes. Many people in our community attempt to dance to both (or something in between) and they never excel at either one since they haven’t taken the time to work on one or the other for any extended period of time.

In a perfect Tango world, people would know whether or not they dance Argentine Tango and they would be telling the truth when they said they danced it.