This series of classes focuses on popular steps for use on the social dance floor. We have compiled a list of popular moves that we have seen used by some of the very best Argentine Tango Dancers. If you travel to Argentina and visit some of the milongas, you will see these moves being used by the Milongueros. Here are some of the criteria we used for putting together these steps:
They keep you moving in the line of dance without disrupting others.
They are musical and express the rhythm of Argentine Tango.
They are full of expression without being flashy or dangerous to others.
They feel great to the leaders and the followers.
While these moves are great for tight spaces and crowded dance floors, they also require a high degree of skill, balance and communication between partners.
Milonga has two meanings to tango dancers. A milonga is a tango dance party where tango dancers gather to dance with one another, as in "Let's go to the milonga and dance." It is also one of the 3 primary rhythms that tango dancers dance to: Tango (4/4 time), Vals (3/4 time) and Milonga (2/4 time).
The milonga rhythm derived from the habanera rhythm and is in 2/4 time and is generally danced faster than tango. For more on the History of the Milonga Rhythm go here.
We use many of the same steps in milonga that we do in tango, but there are also many steps which fit especially well into the milonga rhythm. This class introduces students to these basic steps of milonga.
The box step is a very basic pattern used in Milonga and we examine several variations of this step in the milonga rhythm.
Here are two very popular steps used in Milonga. The first is the zig zag step or "the grapevine." The second is the pendulum step.
Traspie means "stumble" and this step gives the illusion of someone stumbling down the street.
There are many differences between beginner, intermediate and advanced dancers, but one is musicality.
Beginner's step on the beat and maybe throw in some double times here and there.
Intermediate dancers change their rhythm, cadence, tiempo, energy, etc tanda to tanda depending on the orchestra being played. For example, you would not dance the same way to D'Arienzo that you would dance to Fresedo or Di Sarli. Very few dancers get to this level. I see so many people dancing exactly the same regardless of which orchestra is playing.
Advanced dancers change their rhythm, cadence, tiempo, energy, etc within the same song. There are clear shifts in most Tango songs and to be able to hear them coming and adapt your dance to them is what makes a dancer great to me.
Watch this video of Chicho and watch where he changes in energy... 22sec with the violins he goes from very energetic to much more calm and his steps get smaller and more controlled. You might even see some changes before this, but a big change again at 1.16 his energy really picks up again and he starts doing bigger and bolder moves. Around 1.57 he shifts again. Last major shift at 2.08.
BTW... To me there are two Pure Genius moments in this dance as far as musicality are concerned: The short runs at 1.10 and the foot stomps at 1.43.
The first generation of tango musicians are commonly referred to as "La Guardia Vieja" (The Old Guard). The first Period of "La Guardia Vieja" lasted from approximately 1895 to 1910. These songs are a type of habanera blended with African and European music and are sometimes referred to as "tango-habanera," "tango criollo" or "tango-milonga."
This period saw:
Tango being born from local, habanera, African and European influences
Formations of musical trios
The introduction of the bandoneon
A formal structure for Tango emerging
Academias y Cabarets and other public dance spaces opening
Men learning with other men
Tango travelling to Europe
The introduction of recorded tango.
The music originated in the "Rioplatenese" or Río de la Plata region of Argentina and Uruguay. Some of the origins of the music would be candombe, vals criollo, habanera, flamenco, polka, milonga (different from the milonga we know today and was a type of "battle" poetry), mazurka and contradanse. In essence, you had European immigrants with their instruments being influenced heavily by Latin American and African music.
It is true that only about 8,000 black argentines existed out of a population of over 400,000 in 1887, but all it took was a few to have a great impact on tango. The best example of this was Leopoldo Ruperto Thompson. Get this, he was a bass player who played with Firpo, Canaro, Arolas, de Caro and Cobián. Many of the first bandoneon players and guitarists were black. Also, some of the earliest composers of tango including Mendizábal and Carlos Posadas, as well as many of the earliest dancers and teachers.
At this time Tango was played by solo guitar or piano, small ensembles (conjuntos) and municipal marching bands. The ensembles were usually trios and would often consist of some combination of flute, clarinet, guitar and/or violin. The guitar would often play the habanera rhythm while the flute, clarinet and/or vilolin played the melody. Sometimes, these groups would be accompanied by male or female singers. They would play in cafés, beer houses, courtyards of conventillos (poor apartment houses) and also in brothels. The music would also have been played around the city by organitos or organ-grinders who went around the city playing portable player-organs.
Towards the end of this period we also saw the signature instrument of tango, the bandoneon, introduced to the ensembles. The bandoneon was a concertina type of instrument created in Germany for churches that could not afford an expensive organ. It made its way over to Argentina and Uruguay with the huge influx of immigrants.
During this time, tango begins to take on structure. In 1897, Anselmo Rosendo Menizábal composed, "El entrerriano (The Man from Between the Rivers)" which was the first tango structured in three distinct sections. The 1st and 3rd sections had 16 measures and the 2nd measure had thirty-two measures.
In the early 1900s, many academias and cabarets began to open around the city. Academias were places were people could learn the choreography of tango and other dances. Cabarets were public places where people could dance and play tango. Armenonville, at the corner of Avenida Alvear y Table, was one of the first of these places. Other establishments were also opening and promoting tango like Hansens which was a restaurant/café on Avenida Sarmientos. The picture on the left was taken in March of 1905 at a carnival at the Pabellón de las Rosas (Rose Pavillion), a popular dance venue in Buenos Aires.
This period also saw men dancing with other men. The primary reasons for this was that men greatly outnumbered women and so the women had their pick of the men to dance with. So, the men would get together and practice and learn from one another in order to improve so that the could attract the few women dancers. This was a time when women and men could not associate as easily as today.
Many early pioneers of rioplatense tango travelled to Europe including Angel Villoldo, Alfredo Gobbi, and his wife, Flora Hortensia Rodriguez to record ind France and Germany. Below are some of the earliest recordings of tango. These recordings are from vinyl LPs and 78s. I am working on getting them all recorded and posting as much historical information about them as possible.
Between 1906 and 1910, 850,000 immigrants arrived in Buenos Aires and the population grew to 1,500,000, setting the stage for the next period of tango's growth.
Special thanks to Allan Ditzel for helping with translations. Some of the content below and much more can be found on the Antología del tango rioplatense. Vol. 1 by the Instituto Nacional de Musicología "Carlos Vega."
“La Morocha” (?) Composer: Enrique Saborido
Performed by: Recording of an orginal Barrel Organ (Organito)
The original sheet music describes the song as "tango criollo." There is some debate about whether or not this or "el choclo" was the first tango to be exported to Europe. Saborido travelled to Paris and was there in 1911 teaching people how to play and dance tango. Of course, this version is an instrumental, but Angel Villoldo did add lyrics to the song.
"El Sargento Cabral" (1907)
Composer: Manuel O. Campoamor
Performed by: Banda de la Guardia Republicana de Paris
The pianist and composer Manuel O. Campoamor numbered all his tangos and "El Sargento Cabral", dating from 1898 or 1899 is number 1.
Campoamor was born on November 7, 1877 in Montevideo, Uruguay, but he grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He learned to play the piano by ear and never learned to write music. He composed tangos from 1898 to 1905 and kept playing piano publicly until 1922, but according to his wife he would still play at home every day until his death in 1941 of Lung Cancer. He is quoted as saying, "I didn't compose any more and don't even think of doing it; I neither have the enthusiasm nor the time to devote to that. Today the output is overwhelming and the number of composers is great. The present generation has adopted a different beat for tango, which is warmly welcome by the public; we, those who feel tango in quite a different way, have to withdraw to allow the new trends to express this new sensitivity."
"El Sargento Cabral" was published in 1899 by Gath & Chaves house where Campoamor worked for 25 years, eventually becoming manager.
It was edited by J. A. Medina e Hijo and it as dedicated to the composer Leopoldo Corretjer. According to the author, this work owes its title to a common occurrence in local dance spots of the time. Following a competition someone from the winning side would exclaim, "We have beat the enemy!" in parody of what Sargent Cabral said shortly before his own death in the battle of San Lorenzo.
The recording of Paris' Republican Band belongs to a series of recordings made specifically for the recording house, Gath & Chaves. They sent several pioneers of rioplatense tango to Europe including Angel Villoldo, Alfredo Gobbi, and his wife, Flora Hortensia Rodriguez to record because there was no recording studio in Buenos Aires.
Campoamor also worked as a pianist in the famous house of Maria "La Vasca" which can still be found at the corner of Carlos Calvo Street and Jujuy Street.
"Mordeme la oreja izquierda" (Bite my left ear) (1908)
Composer: Eugenio M. de Alarcon
Performed by Banda Española
This edition of the tango dates from 1906 and belongs to the composer himself, who dedicated it "Al amigo Cesar H. Colombo" (To the friend Cesar H. Colombo). It has the odd subtitle "Canto de dos ruiseñores" (A song of two nightingales) and the classification of "tango criollo." A footnote on the cover warns that any sample that does not have the author's signature should be considered a falsification.
Alarcon, director of the national theater orchestra, enjoyed using many italianisms when indicating how to express the music; on this piece one can see words such as "expressivo", "legatissmo", "scelti", "ben ritmato", etc.
"El Club Z" (1908)
Composer: Anselmo Rosendo Mendizabal
Performed by: Orquesta del Teatro Apolo Dir: Enrique Cheli
The "Z Club" was composed of a group of revelers headed by Esteban Banza and J. Guidobono. This was an exclusive group formed by forty individuals with the sole purpose of organizing a monthly dance for its members. This group existed from the end of the nineteenth century to the first decade of the twentieth century. The dances were generally held in the house of Maria La Vasca, and it was rented for the entire night for 3 pesos per hour per person. The Afro-Argentine pianist and composer Mendizabal was the usual musician, both as a soloist as well as when he played with his band, which was composed of two violins, a flute, a piano and two guitars. Mendizabal composed many tangos including "El Club Z" where an instrumental call and response surmounts a habanera accompaniment.
Due to prejudices of the time, Mendizabal signed his tangos with the pseudonym "A. Rosendo". The original score included in this anthology is edited by the author by the musical press Ortelli Hnos. Has the dedication, "A los distinguidos socios del Z Club" (To the distinguished members of the Z Club).
“El Pechador” (1909) Composed by: Angel Gregorio Villoldo
Performed by: Linda Thelma (canto) y Arturo de Siano (piano)
Edited by the house David Poggi e Hijo, it was dedicated by Villoldo “Al celebrado autor nacional don Nemesio Trejo” (to the celebrated national author Mr. Nemesio Trejo), who was the singer and author of comic sketches (1862-1916); it was a popular tango in its time and it was also recorded by Alfredo Gobbi.
Like most, if not all, of Villoldo’s lyrics they are written in the first person and exalt the virtues of the compadrito. Although it may seem inappropriate this title is sung by a woman, the singer Linda Thelma, who has deep roots in Spanish tiples [I have no idea what this is]. She was accompanied on many an occasion by Villoldo himself while recording. Arturo de Siano, a musician who plays with Linda Thelma in this version, was a prominent musician in the theater.
“El Purrete (The Kid)” (1909) Composed by: Jose Luis Roncallo
Performed by: Banda de la Policía de Beunos Aires Dir: Mtro. A Rivara
Basically, all bands incorporated tangos into their repertoires during the first two decades of the century. You can hear the habanera being heavily dramatized as the cymbals clash during the song. These types of bands reached their peak during these years as is demonstrated by the elevated number of recordings made. Some of the most well-known ones include: the 1st Infantry Regiment, the 5th Infantry regiment, the Atlanta, and the Buenos Aires Police.
“El Purrete”, edited by Breyer Hnos. and dedicated to “El Senor Eduardo Oliveri” (Mr. Eduardo Oliveri) was the first tango written by this author. His style was methodical and consistent with a musician trained in a conservatory. According to unverified claims, the song dates from 1901 and the score dates from some time after, 1903 to 1904.
“La Bicicleta” (1909) Composer: Angel Gregorio Villoldo
Performed by: Angel Villoldo (canto y castañuelas) y Manuel O. Campoamor (piano)
The primitive form of singable rioplatense tango suffered great influences from Spanish zarzuela tango. This is very clearly detectable in the version of “La bicicleta” by Angel G. Villoldo. It has a piano accompaniment by Manuel O. Campoamor purely for melodic purposes as well as castanets played by Villoldo.
Cycling and pelota vasca were the favorite sports during 1895 and 1910, where one could find extensive bicycle caravans traveling to be exhibited in the forests of Palmero after first riding in the city center.
According to Robert Farris Thompson, "Villoldo's 'La bicicleta' (The Bicycle) of 1909 began, nobly, to mix cultures. From the famus black payador Gabino Ezeiza, Villoldo borrows jump-cuts from singing to speech. He hits certain words, like damas and ramas, with flamencolike trills, Arabized melismas that add savor to rhyme. And while he's singing, Villoldo plays castanets!"
The second part of the Guardia Vieja period lasted from approximately 1910 to 1935. I say approximately because the styles and changes of this period blended very smoothly with the preceding and following periods. It is not as if on January 1, 1910 people started composing and playing differently.
This period saw:
Tangomania sweep Europe and the US
Greater acceptance by the middle and upper classes of Buenos Aires
The formation of the Orquesta Tîpica
Tango-canción take off with Carlos Gardel
The advent of the women's orquestas.
Up until the early 1910s, tango had largely been a past time of the lower classes. It had been played and danced in cafés, bordellos, restaurants, conventillos but not in the salons of the elite. After Tangomania swept Europe and the US, this all changed and tango began to be embraced by the middle and upper classes of Buenos Aires. It is impossible to understate the popularity of Tango in Europe. It was the rage of the salons and made headlines in newspapers.
Enrique Saborido, the composer of many tangos including "La Morocha," also travelled to Europe to teach people how to properly play tango and ended up also teaching people to dance:
"The marquise Reské, widow of the famous tenor Jean Reské, was willing to popularize Argentine tango among the French. It was around 1911 and I accepted such formal invitation; when in Paris, at the beginning I devoted to teaching tango playing, so that it would be correctly performed. As I had spare time and I had noticed that the high society people were really interested in it, I taught them how to dance it.
One night at the marquise palace where a reception was held I organized, with the approval of the attendance, a pericón (traditional Argentine dance) whose steps proved to be very attractive for everybody and were warmly applauded.
On another occasion I was appointed referee to demonstrate that the forlana was not more decent than tango; the dissent was even reflected in the chronicles at the papers and the Catholic paper "Le Gaulois" finally regarded tango as a beautiful graceful dance.
Thereafter the outbreak of war forced me to come back to Buenos Aires."
It is also impossible to understate the influence that Europe's acceptance, particularly France's, had on Buenos Aires. It is joked that, porteños were Italians that spoke Spanish, thought they were British and wished they were French. Anyone who visits Buenos Aires cannot deny the influence of French architecture.
In 1911, Vincente Greco was asked to record some tangos by Columbia and he created the first Orquesta Típica Criolla. Over time the "criolla" was dropped from the name. The original Orquesta Tîpicas were sextets which consisted of two bandoneons, two violins, a double bass and a piano (sometimes a guitar or flute were substituted). Eventually they grew to include a string section (with violins, viola, and cello), a bandoneón section (with 3 or more bandoneons), and a rhythmic section (with piano and double bass). The piano was first added by Roberto Firpo in 1913 and the double bass by Francisco Canaro in 1917.
Around 1916, Firpo re-wrote a march by Gerardo Mattos Rodriguez as a tango. It would become the most famous of all tangos, "La Cumparsita."
"La Cumparsita" (1916) by Roberto Firpo
Carnivals were huge events where massive amounts of people would come to hear the most popular orquestas of the day. Orquestas would save their best new pieces to debut them at the carnivals. Carnivals were very popular with dancers. Many dance academias would advertise to dancers, "Come and learn the best new figures for the carnival."
Up to this point, tango lyrics had been dark, but humorous. In 1917, Carlos Gardel recorded Pascual Contursi's "Mi Noche Triste." Now Contursi could have meant the lyrics to be ironic but Gardel sang the song with melodramatic longing and sadness. This song struck a cord with the newly arrived immigrants, who were missing their countries, families and wives and was hugely successful, launching a new genre "tango-canción." Tango-canción was full of drama, sentimentality, sadness and nostalgia.
"Mi Noche Triste" (1917) by Carlos Gardel
In 1920, the first tango written as a song, "Milonguita." Up until that time, tangos had been written as music first and then lyrics added later. This was the first time that a song was written as lyrics first. It was turned into a movie in 1922 and was the first to feature the theme of the poor, country girl who leaves home to go to the big city of Buenos Aires and becomes a prostitute.
Paquita Bernardo was the first professional female bandoneon player and Carlos Gardel said she was, "the only woman who has mastered the macho character of the bandoneon." The debuted her sextet in 1921. There were many women's orquestas and they were popular between 1920 and into the early 1930s. They often played in confiterías, cafés, bars, for weddings and parties. To the best of my knowledge, no women's Orquesta was ever recorded, but there is some film footage of one from the 1933 film, "Tango!"
“Cara Sucia” (1917) Composer: Francisco Canaro y 'El Negro' Casimiro Alcorta
Performed by: Francisco Canaro
Some song titles and lyrics were changed because the originals were so vulgar. "Concha Sucia" was a traditional song believed to have been composed by 'El Negro' Casimiro Alcorta, a black violin player from the earliest days of tango. The title literally translates to "Dirty Shell," but concha (shell) was a common, obscene term for vagina. Canaro registered this tango, under his own name, and changed the song title to "Cara Sucia" in 1916. Canaro is believed to have done this with several of the old tangos. The name change was probably to conform to the changing audience of tango, which was including more women and the middle class.
Vals is one of the rhythms that we dance to at Milongas (Tango Dance Parties). This class will focus on understanding the rhythm of Vals, how to incorporate your existing steps into Vals and new steps that fit nicely into Vals.
Synopsis: This class focuses on using Cross Steps in the rhythm of Vals.
Teachers: Clint Rauscher & Shelley Brooks
Dual Molinete or Giro 20 Second Mark of Video Demo Description: All in Cross System, MBC & WBC + MOS & WOS + MFC & WFC + MOS & WOS Tip 1: This move is usually repeated twice and works best with a quick quick (Double Time) on the MBC & WBC + MOS & MOS then slow slow on MFC & WFC + MOS & MOS. Tip 2: After the Back Crosses and Forward Crosses both the Man and Woman collect their feet and Change Weight instead of taking real Side steps. Tip 3: This is a very circular move, so the Man and Woman should very much step AROUND the other never stepping away from one another. Tip 4: Do Not skimp on the Forward Crosses, take real forward steps around each other.. not tiny ones. The Man’s Forward Cross can also go deep to get a Sacada.
33 Second Mark of Video Demo Description: MFC & WBC in Parallel System + MOS & WBC in Cross System: Man performs a MFC and the Woman a WBC and the Man collects and changes weight to his Left and pivots the Woman clockwise and perform a MOS & WBC in Cross System, The Man then collects and changes weight to his Left and REPEATS from beginning. TIP 1: The Man always collects and changes weight to his Left on every step. He is always stepping with his Right. TIP 2: The Man always steps with his Right on the downbeat and is double timing every step. The Woman is not changing weight with him, she is just stepping on every downbeat.
Drunken Ochos 12 Second Mark of Video Demo Description: In all Cross System, MOS & WBC + MOS & WBC + MOS & WBC: From Back Ochos in Cross System, as the Man leads the Woman in a WBC to the Open Side of the Embrace, he takes a tiny step forward with his left turning counter clockwise 90 degrees. Then he takes a large Open Side Step (MOS) with his Right as he leads her to a WBC to the Close Side of the Embrace. REPEAT Tip 1: This is all in Cross System and the Man and Woman are both stepping on the downbeat of the music. Tip 2: The turn happens with the Man’s Left foot, his Right foot only goes side ways. Tip 3: The Leader must lead ochos which require the Woman to pivot, not walking or non-pivoting ochos.
Arrepentida with a Cross Over Step. This is a very musical move and is very helpful for changing directions if you need to in order to avoid a collision with another couple.
Figure 1: Arrepentida with a Cross Over Step In Demo at :28 of Video Demo
In Slow motion at 2:36 of Video Demo
Step 1: The man takes a Side Step with his left and does a quick weight change to his right (double time). The woman takes a Side Step with her right. They are now in cross system.
Step 2: The man then takes a Forward Open Step with his left to the open side of the embrace and leads the woman to take a Back Cross Step with her left. His upper body is turned slightly clockwise to her.
Step 3: The man then takes a Forward Cross Step with his right to the open side of the embrace but does not complete that step, rather he rebounds off of his right as he steps back and counter-clockwise with his left. This results in a change of direction of about 180 degrees. Then he crosses his Right foot in front of his left. The woman takes a Back Open Step and then rebounds off of her right foot and takes an Open Side Step around the man with her right foot.
Step 4: The man changes weight to his right foot which is now crossed in front of his left. Both the man and woman collect.
Step 5: Repeat Step 2
Step 6: Repeat Step 3
Step 7: Repeat Step 4
Step 8: Repeat Step 2
Step 9: The man takes a Forward Cross Step with his Right and leads the woman to take a Back Open Step with her right and to perform a Forward Cruzada and to change weight to her left. The couple is back in Parallel System.
Tip: There are double times (quick-quick-slow) for the man on steps 1, 3 and 5. There is a double time for the woman at step 9.
Tip: On step 3, the man needs to contain the woman and give a lot of energy to the rebound and to bring her around in the change of direction. He does going slightly down in his right leg to get more energy from the floor for the rebound. He also makes sure not to collapse his embrace. he needs to keep his embrace solid so that she does not get behind him.
Tip: On step 3, the woman should feel the man lower in the rebound and that should be an indication of a large step coming. She will need to take a large side step around the man in order to stay in front of him.
"The secret of tango is in this moment of improvisation that happens between step and step. It is to make the impossible thing possible: to dance silence. This is essential to learn in tango dance, the real dance, that of the silence, of following the melody." Carlos Gavito
One of the great things about Tango is that you don't have to move all the time. In Tango, it is perfectly fine to take a side step and pause... standing completely still for as long as you like. You can gently rock back and forth or rotate your body back and forth slightly... or just be completely still and quiet.
The quote is not just talking about this stillness.. but also about the connection with our dance partner. Our connection exists during the whole dance and goes far beyond the steps that we do.
At the end of a milonga, the women will not remember what steps you executed with them but rather how you connected with her, how your embrace felt and how you stepped rather than the pattern you stepped in.
Embellishments (Adornos) are small foot, leg or body movements that dancers work into their dance that are not functional, but rather embellish their steps. Since women do not dictate the steps, rhythm or direction of the dance, they use embellishments to express their personality within the dance. Men can also perform embellishments to add flavor to their movements.
Teachers: Clint Rauscher & Shelley Brooks
In the video below, we show some basic embellishments which can be accomplished from just walking.
El Lapiz (The Pencil)
Playful Weight Changes
Heel Taps (Taconeo)
Tuck and Tap by Him
From a Side Step
In the video below, we show some basic embellishments which can be accomplished from a side step.
El Lapiz (The Pencil)
Tuck Behind before Side Step
Double Side Step for Him
From Back and Forward Ochos
In the video below, we show some basic embellishments which can be accomplished from back and forward ochos.