Tracey Tyack-King on Improvisation versus Competiti… mamborambo on Improvisation versus Competiti… Linda on The Tango – the most dif… Cliff on The Tango – the most dif… Tracey Tyack-King on The Tango – the most dif…
1. Leo is Argentinian – born and raised in Avellaneda, Buenos Aires.
2. He started dancing Argentine Tango when he was 7 or 8 years old – his father taught him and for the first 7 years he only danced the Followers role.
3. His father – Leonardo Acosta Senior – was also a Tango teacher and milonga organiser. Some of Leo’s earliest memories are attending milongas as a small child and falling asleep under a table!
4. Leo’s family are a Tango family, so Leo remembers being constantly surrounded by dancers, poets, singers and musicians. He remembers the great Rodolfo Biagi coming to take tea at his parents house! Biagi arrived immaculately dressed, flanked by 2 enormous Doberman Pinscher dogs!
5. Leo is also a professionally trained Tango singer. He was trained by Alberto Podesta, a famous Tango singer who throughout his long career sang with many famous bands including Carlos di Sarli.
6. For 24 years, Leo was a nurse working in hospitals in Buenos Aires. At the peak of his career, he was assisting the renowned heart surgeon Favaloro, who pioneered the heart bypass operation.
7. Leo has danced Tango for over 48 years. He is a ‘Milonguero’, someone who embraces the culture of Tango in all its art forms to live.
8. Leo has taught Tango for over 25 years. he was persuaded to teach by his friends, who knew that he was one of the true milongueros in Buenos Aires and wanted to learn from him. Although reluctant at first, Leo started teaching and discovered his vocation in life.
9. Leo has been teaching in London for 16 years. He was the first teacher to introduce the milonguero style of Tango to London.
10. Leo is one of the most renowned teachers and organisers of Argentine Tango in the UK. As one of the founders of the London Argentine Tango School, he has now defined his teaching methodology so that more people can understand and enjoy the Tango he loves.
As publisher of his own book – the ABC of Argentine Tango – and creator of his own Teacher Training School, he carries on the legacy of his fathers memory and training.
Leo is a direct link to the many famous milongueros – friends of his fathers – that he met, talked with and learnt from. He has an extensive knowledge from his life experiences and is a true ‘milonguero’. He is very happy to have extended his activities to Bournemouth where he now lives and aims to turn Bournemouth into a centre for Tango in the UK!
There seems to be an interesting trend currently within the Tango community to become a parody of the Ballroom community, which ironically, is the very thing that so many Argentine Tango Dancers used to dislike.
Why do I say this? Well, when I started dancing Argentine Tango some 15 years ago, the Ballroom world was viewed with some disdain by many people within the Argentine Tango community and I heard frequent comments from people at that time, describing Ballroom as false and cheesy, with the dancers being seen as somehow inadequate because they danced choreography and had a strange, stiff hold.
At that time, there was a big difference between the Ballroom world and the Argentine Tango community. The Ballroom dancers were beautiful, glamorous and hard working couples who strove for perfection, producing beautiful choreographies, seen frequently in competitions. You can see an example of this at the Blackpool Open filmed earlier this year. https://youtu.be/Sq9Z9-qHKWE If you watch through to the end, you will see the eventual winners Michael Malitowski & Joanna Leunis performing their final dance, as they retired after their 8th consecutive Blackpool Open title.
In contrast, to my eyes, many of the professional Argentine Tango dancers at that time, seemed to be raw and had no sense of style or presentation. These Professional dancers would wear the same costume throughout their demonstration, that is if they bothered to change their outfit at all from the one they turned up in. With a Ballroom demo, the dancers tended to change costume for every one of their 4 or 5 dances, not to demonstrate how many costumes they had, but because they realised that the costuming was a big part of the presentation.
It seemed to me however, that this rawness of the Tango, was the very thing that set the Argentine Tango apart from the Ballroom community. As much as I loved the Ballroom community for it’s glamour and beauty, I also loved the Tango community for it’s reality and unpredictability.
Today however, the very thing I love about Argentine Tango, it’s improvisation and freedom seems to be being worn away and I’m worried that the authentic Argentine Tango is in danger of losing it’s very essence, the freedom that makes it so beautiful.
Why do I say this? Well, think about it. One of the main things that the Tango community hated about the Ballroom people was their obsession with competitions. To have a number stuck on your back and be judged by a panel of judges was laughed at by most people. Yet now we have a yearly London competition which acts as a springboard for the annual competition held in Buenos Aires. Whilst I appreciate that only one part of the competition is choreographic, there is something strange about the way that the Tango world is trying to copy Ballroom competition.
Another thing that the Tango community disliked were the movements that were danced and taught by Ballroom dancers – how they all looked the same. There is a type of Ballroom dancing called Sequence dancing whereby all the couples on the floor dance the same steps at the same time to the same piece of music. There are currently a number of student shows being performed by Tango Schools where the students are basically doing sequence dancing. Again, it seems the community is trying to parody the Ballroom world.
Of course I appreciate the amount of hard work that goes into creating a choreographed performance and I’m not trying to take anything away from the students that have been practicing hard at their routines. Doing a team event like this can be fun and rewarding. What I am saying however, is that the very thing that made the Tango community so beautiful, its freedom of improvisation, is being eroded.
Whilst I understand peoples love of competing, I would just offer a word of caution. If you look back at archive footage from the Ballroom period, you will see how the dance developed because of the competition. The style went from a more natural hold to the more formal, exaggerated, stylistic hold we have today because of the obsession of being bigger, more beautiful and ultimately better. Have a look at this short piece of archive footage here which demonstrates the progression of the hold with past champions of Blackpool: http://danceking.net/all-blackpool-champions-in-one-video-1931-2014-ballroom-2/
It could be said that this is already happening in the Tango world as well, with more and more dancers encouraged by professionals, adopting stylistic, unnatural holds, which have more to do with the Tango hold of the Ballroom world than the natural embrace with which Tango started. It could be argued that this is what competition encourages, do we want the social Tango to go down the route of competitive Ballroom?
Ultimately, whether you like it or not, competition is driven by ego, to have the satisfaction of being able to think that you are the best. But be careful, you may be the best on that day in front of that one panel of judges who all have their personal preferences but that’s about it. If you enjoy the element of competing and performing then do it – I know I enjoyed my time competing in Ballroom. It was fun and gave me something to work towards. If you want to perform, then enjoy that experience too, but can we keep it real so that we don’t become a community of sequence dancers?
Having watched the recent Championships in Buenos Aires, I have to admit I was slightly surprised at the Final. I was expecting to see a group of 6 or 7 couples, (as in Ballroom), dancing for the judges. Instead what I saw was approx 40 couples dancing in heats. I was even more surprised when they announced the winning couples from this huge crowd of dancers. The following evening I watched the final of the Stage category. As you would expect, the routines were choreographed so each couple had to dance individually but it did at least feel more like a final as you could focus on the individual couples skill. The conclusion I came to, was that there was more importance placed on a choreographed show than on the skill of the improvisation. It was almost like the Salon category was being brushed aside in order that it’s more important cousin, ‘the stage’ could shine. Don’t forget that many professional Teachers of Tango took part in the Salon category as well and they work just as hard as their professional counterparts in the Stage category.
I think it’s this that disturbs me the most, the idolisation of choreography, that it is somehow better. It’s not better. To me, improvisational dancing and stage dancing have different skill sets but are equally challenging. One does not deserve to be rated above the other.
I guess my message is really, “don’t lose sight of the real improvised Argentine Tango”. The dance is fluent and beautiful. It strives to be the ultimate expression of 2 peoples connection. Enjoy the competitions, enjoy the performances, but don’t lose the improvised beauty of the social art form of Argentine Tango.
How many times have you been to a Tango class and been told by the Teacher that, “Tango is based on walking”? If your answer is, “never’, then you might want to consider changing Teachers, as the principal element and foundation of Argentine Tango is walking!
Tango is considered by many, to be one of the most difficult dances to learn but I’m not so sure. I don’t think that the people of 100 years ago, woke up one morning and thought, “Mmm…tonight, after I get back from work, I’m going to get together with a few of my mates and create a really difficult dance, that no-one will be able to do for at least a couple of years!” Does this sound very likely? I don’t think so. It’s far more realistic that they took hold of each other in a natural hold or hug, (possibly after one too many!), and started staggering together to the local musicians, or guy who could play a guitar, to have some fun. Essentially though, what they would have done, was walk together. No technique, no posturing, no masonic hand holds, just simple, get together, walking.
Of course, I don’t know – nobody knows for sure how the Tango started, its origins seem to be buried in a world of cliches, but I don’t believe it started out to be a complicated dance. I think it’s become over-complicated, over time and this is rather sad.
I think it’s time that we all tried to dispel this idea of Tango being the most difficult dance to learn, for the sake of Tango, because I think that this actually discourages new people trying the dance. Plus, if they do try it and find that, like all dances, it’s a little challenging in the first lesson, the myth of Tango being the, ‘most difficult dance to learn,’ exists, which gives them a perfect excuse to give up!
To me, Tango is no more difficult to learn than any other dance, in fact, it could be argued that it’s a damn sight easier, because it’s not about movements or sequences. Instead, it’s about ‘tools’ like the crossed/parallel walking, the pivot, the rebound, giros etc, put together just like a conversation.
If you take aside the theatrical stage dancers with their highly choreographed routines, which of course, is a huge skill in itself, and you concentrate instead on the art of the social Tango, it’s essentially “walking with style”! Sure, there are complications with the rhythm elements, particularly in the rhythm of milonga, which can be difficult for the Western ear to hear at first. But have you ever tried to dance a Ballroom Foxtrot? It’s not easy! The Tango walk has a reputation for being difficult and it’s true that the technique of the Tango walk, has to be learnt and become natural, so that you don’t have to think about it. But again, have you ever tried to do Rumba walks? They’re not straightforward and require a lot of practice to execute them well. My point is – all dances are tricky to learn at the beginning. The fact that there are fewer rules in Tango however, in my opinion, makes it easier, as there is no right or wrong in so many ways. If you’ve ever done Ballroom dancing, there are huge technique books for every movement and there is definitely a right and wrong way to execute everything, otherwise it would be impossible to judge in a competition.
So why is the Tango today advertised as some sort of incredibly difficult dance, that only a few can ever hope to achieve? Why are embraces being developed that are so unnatural to look at and distort the body?
A student told me the other day she had been advised that the only way to do ochos in a close embrace, was to stick out your bottom, so the legs had room to pass! This is a recipe for extreme back ache for life, but she was happy to do it because the Teacher had said that was the way. If you look on ‘You Tube,’ there are unfortunately, hundreds of dancers who do exactly this. On another occasion, a student told me, that in Tango, there was no such thing as a diagonal, directional step. Steps could only be taken in straight lines, forwards, backwards and to the sides. Really?
I published a slogan recently which said, “Think nothing, feel everything, dance the Tango.” For me, this pretty much sums up the art of dancing Tango. If you over think and therefore over complicate the dance you may not be dancing Tango, but instead a caricature of the dance.
To me, the longer I dance Tango, the simpler it becomes. You might say, “Well of course! You teach, of course it’s easy for you!” It’s not about teaching however, it’s about realising that the fundamental component of the dance is ‘walking’!
When I met Leo, even though I was teaching at the time, he had to completely retrain the way I walked. Why? Because I wasn’t really walking – I thought I was, but I wasn’t using my feet properly. I was walking mainly on the balls of my feet, without the heel ever coming into contact with the floor.
This is a very common problem with ladies, because they have the wrong idea about the walk. So many women complain to me, that their feet or legs feel tired after an evening of dancing Tango. The problem is usually because they have been dancing on the balls of their feet and flexing their knees the entire evening. If you walk backwards normally, as you would on the pavement, you would never go back on just the balls of your feet, you would use the whole foot, you would put the heel down. It’s exactly the same in Tango because it’s a walking dance!
For the men, they have a different problem. Usually, one of the things you hear in a class or milonga is the ‘shushing’ sound of feet scraping along the floor. So, when you walk normally down the street, do you keep your feet in contact with the floor the entire time? Absolutely not! You use the heel and the ball of foot. It’s exactly the same in the Tango walk, there is no need to ‘shuffle’ around the floor. If you don’t lead or walk properly with intention, the lady may not understand what you would like her to do.
The reason I feel Tango is easier now, is simply because I walk more naturally!
There is a mysterious power at work in any dance form and it’s called the dance floor. This strange, flat space of ground, has the power to do magical things. It makes normal, well balanced and adjusted people who can move perfectly naturally through crowds of people in their normal, every day lives, become physically incapable of walking as soon as their feet touch it! If you say “walk naturally”, most people will suddenly develop a walking style that John Cleese would be proud of! It’s hard to counteract this, as people have this fixation of: (a), Tango is difficult, and (b), I know the Teacher just said to walk but this is a dance, so I can’t just walk, I need to do something different!
My point is, that if we continually create the myth that Tango is difficult and that it takes years to learn, this will become the norm. Most people haven’t got years to to try and learn a new dance, they want to go out and feel that they’ve made progress and can go to a dance and enjoy themselves. If, by the way, you think I’m advocating learning Tango sequences, then think again, because we passionately believe in the improvised artform of Tango. This is what we teach and dance.
The only way to learn Tango, is to try and walk normally with the technique of the walk. Listen to the music. Imagine you are embracing one of your good friends, so it’s a natural, relaxed embrace. Enjoy putting together the ‘tools’ of Tango to create a conversation on the dance floor – this does not have to be complicated! Forget long sequences and movements, this will just lead to frustration. Ignore all the myths you may have heard about Tango – come to it with an open mind and simply enjoy the experience! Above all, the next time someone says to you, “Oh, I’d love to have a go at Tango but it’s so difficult, try re-assuring them that if they can walk, then Tango may be the dance for them!”
There seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding about these styles, so I decided to have a chat to Leo, who, although he dances all the styles of Tango, describes himself as dancing ‘Orillero’.
As I described in my last posting, you have the 2 main styles of ‘Milonguero’ and ‘Tango Salon’. Remember, these are ‘styles’ of Argentine Tango. The Milonguero style was popular and danced by mainly working class people in the 1930’s/40’s. The Tango Salon style evolved when the Tango became more popular amongst the more affluent members of society.
They both use similar methods of getting around the floor, namely the Tango walk, but I think it would be fair to say that the Milonguero style gives more emphasis to bringing out the different rhythms of simple, syncopated and double time whereas the Salon style focuses more on making the lines in the walk, and, it could be said that it looks more elegant.
The complication comes when you start hearing the terms ‘Orillero’ and Villa Urquiza’, (don’t forget in Argentinian Spanish, a double ‘l’ is pronounced as a ‘j’).
The way Leo described it to me, is that in Buenos Aires, he comes from an area called Avellaneda, which is next to the port and the artist area called ‘La Boca’, which is also where the famous football team, ‘Boca Juniors’ come from.
These people were all working class people and they danced Milonguero Tango. They all went to the local dance clubs or milongas in the area and consequently they had a particular style of Milonguero dancing, a bit like a regional accent. As these people came from and danced in the ‘Orilla’, the style of Milonguero they danced became known as ‘Orillero’.
If you look at a map, you can see that the river called ‘Riachuelo’ or Rio la Matanza is on the edge of the Buenos Aires district. This area was full of working class people who worked in the port. Many famous musicians and dancers came from the river districts of Pompeya, Barracas and Avellaneda including Carlos Gavito, Pepito Avellaneda and Luis Grondona.
It’s a similar situation with the style of ‘Villa Urquiza’. This is a ‘dialect’ of Tango Salon because it was danced in an area of Buenos Aires called ‘Villa Urquiza’. If you look at a map you can see the district of Villa Urquiza in the North of Buenos Aires.
So, if we remember that Argentine Tango is a language, where we have a conversation with our partner on the floor, it all makes perfect sense, that within the ‘styles’ of Tango, you also have regional dialects, just as you do in any language!
The interesting thing is, that although many people dance the style of Milonguero, you can distinguish this regional dialect. I have seen a few people dancing from clips on You Tube and thought how they looked like Leo dancing, only to be told by him, “oh, yes, I know him, he’s one of the guys I used to go to the milongas with!”
Most Tango dancers whether they dance the Milonguero style or the Tango Salon style dance much the same, after all, it is a dance based simply on walking. However, when you see 2 people dancing essentially the same style but they still manage to look different, it may not just be a skill factor that makes the difference but simply a regional dialect!
Take a look at the video clip below of a couple that Leo thinks currently reflects the Orillero style. He says this because of the embrace, the way they walk and the use of the feet. However, don’t forget that Tango is personal, we all think we dance Tango, the style we dance or identify with comes later on in our journey! Check out the video of Alicia Pons and Luis Rojas here.
Thanks for reading!
Tracey – http://www.tango-fandango.co.uk
It occurred to me the other day when I was talking to one of our students, that there is quite a lot of confusion about various terms in the Tango.
This is not helped by the fact that many of the words used are Spanish. There is also the problem of words like ‘milonga’ having a dual meaning. The other confusion seems to arise in the milongas and etiquette, so, I thought I would write a short explanation which might help to clear up some of the confusion!
First of all, Argentine Tango has ‘styles’ and it also has ‘rhythms’. It’s a common misconception that Tango is just Tango. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked by people from other dance styles – “how can you just dance Tango all night? It must be really boring!” So, here we go!
Within Tango, you have the ‘rhythms’ of: Tango, Vals, Milonga and Foxtrot.
You then have the ‘styles’ of Milonguero, Tango Salon and Nuevo which are the main styles danced today. There are others such as Canyengue, (from the 1910s), Orillero, (from where Leo comes from in Avellaneda, Buenos Aires) and also Villa Urquiza but let’s not complicate matters further, this is another topic!
The rhythms of Tango, Vals and Milonga can be found within the styles. So, you can have a Milonguero Vals and a Tango Salon Vals, or you could have a Milonguero Tango and a Tango Salon Tango, etc.
The ‘style’ originates from the era that it was popular in. So the Milonguero style was popular in the 30s to 40s and was mainly danced by the working class people in crowded dance halls. The Tango Salon style evolved when Tango became more popular with the wealthier, upper class people who had their own Salons. The Nuevo style is a more recent addition which takes the ideas of the past and expands them focusing on the dynamic.
One of the other main confusions is using the word ‘milonga’. A milonga is a word used to describe a meeting place where people go to dance Tango, think of it like a ‘social club’. The milonga is also a rhythm of Tango. For more detailed info about this and all the rhythms and styles take a look at our web site here:
There are a few very simple rules in the milonga to ensure that everyone has a pleasant evening.
Leo comes from a Tango family in Buenos Aires and his father was also a milonga organiser, (see left), so, we run milongas in the UK in the traditional way. This means that the only rules we have are:
1. Dancers go anti-clockwise around the floor.
2. It is perfectly acceptable for dancers to overtake other dancers to maintain the flow around the floor as long as it is on the left side of the man.
3. Be respectful to all other people on and around the dancefloor. It is not acceptable to use high boleos/castigadas on the social dance floor. Nobody likes being kicked, so please don’t do it.
4. Use the ‘cabeceo’ as much as possible as it is a more friendly and less intrusive way to ask someone to dance.
5. Be hygienic and clean, it’s only polite to smell nice!
A ‘tanda’, is a combination of tracks that the DJ puts together for people to dance to. This can be 3 or 4. The tracks should be of a similar nature, but not necessarily from the same composer, or the music will quickly become boring. The skill of a good Tango DJ is to compile tracks that allow people to dance a certain genre and to keep them entertained throughout the tanda. At our milongas we play music in tandas of ‘threes’ which we find is better for everyone as it enables people to swop partners more frequently.
You do not have to dance the entire tanda. If you are not enjoying the tanda with the partner you are dancing with, for example, maybe the embrace is uncomfortable, then politely thank them and move on. I remember years ago, dancing with a man whose embrace was really uncomfortable – he had my hand in some sort of vice grip that activated a pressure point and made my arm go numb! All I could do during the break between each track was to rub my arm to try and get some feeling back into it! I didn’t feel confident enough to tell him it was hurting so I carried on throughout the entire tanda of four tracks! What made matters worse was that I was so stupid, I accepted another tanda from him later that evening because I didn’t want to be impolite! Never again!
A ‘curtain’ is played by the DJ to separate the ‘tandas’. This is the time when couples usually return to their seats before the next tanda begins, so that you can dance with someone new. Sometimes, the DJ will play another type of non tango music during this point so that people can enjoy dancing another rhythm. Leo usually plays Salsa, Cumbia, Rock n Roll, Ceroc, etc.
The milonga itself
Remember that Tango dances are supposed to be fun! I hear from so many people (unfortunately most of them women), of bad experiences they’ve had at milongas, to the point where some of them have contemplated giving up Tango.
One of the main complaints of course is that they are not asked to dance. Please see my previous article about this, but as I explained before if the cabeceo is used correctly, then it is totally acceptable for both genders to invite the other to dance.
The other problem is the music. If a DJ does not understand the music properly or insists on playing the same genre of music all night, then it will quickly become very tedious. Remember, the whole original idea of milongas was to go out and have a party. Somewhere along the way, this idea got hijacked, with the result that many milongas now have a limited playlist. I remember going to a venue that had a fantastic DJ which made you want to dance all night. The following night I went back to the same venue hoping to enjoy a similar experience but this time with a different DJ. The music was so boring, we left half way through the evening.
So, those are a few of the main confusions that we are constantly asked about. I hope this article has helped! You’ll find a lot more info on our web site at Tango Fandango
See you soon!
First of all, what is the cabeceo? This is the name for the way in which dancers, typically in Argentina, invite other dancers to dance. It is a method of using the eyes, to look at the dancer in question, he/she then returns the look and accepts with a quick nod of the head and then the man goes to the table where the lady is sitting, and escorts her to the floor.
It is a great method to enable people to be invited or to accept a dance without any embarrassment. It saves the man for example, walking to the table, to ask a lady to dance, only to be rejected. It saves the lady the irritation of being interrupted in the middle of a conversation by someone asking her to dance, when perhaps she is more interested in the conversation but is too polite to refuse.
However, in the UK, it is still rarely used and what is worse, something stranger seems to have happened. Rather than both sexes being able to ask someone to dance, even if the cabeceo is used or not, it now seems to be the right of the men, with the women lined up waiting for them to ask.
To be quite clear, the cabeceo is for both sexes to invite someone to dance. The fact that it has become ‘anglicised’ is irrelevant, it needs to be made clear in any milonga that it is perfectly acceptable for men and women to ask the other sex to dance.
Very often, it is made a negative by opponents of the cabeceo, that if you haven’t got good eye sight or if the venue is quite dark, then you can’t attract or make the eye contact. The point is, that you don’t just stay glued to your seat! You can move around the milonga so that you are in a position to make a connection with your intended partner.
For myself, when I first went to Buenos Aires, I found the cabeceo difficult to use because in this country very often when someone makes connection with you in the eye you look away. Somebody said to me recently that this was classic ‘Tube behaviour’! You avoid looking people in the eye because you don’t want to attract wierdos! I can understand this and it is a difficult cycle to break. However, if you stop this habit of looking at your feet, or anywhere else that is suddenly fascinating, instead of keeping your eyeline, then you will find the cabeceo a great way to interact and make your evening more pleasant.
In our milongas we always teach and make the students practice the cabeceo but I acknowledge that it is hard to break the natural habit of a culture. I am more concerned however, that the choice to ask someone to dance should be available to both men and women and not just the men and this is something that I want to encourage.
If you think of the milonga as what it really is – a social club – then the original purpose of going to one of these gatherings was to talk, meet your friends, listen to music and yes, dance! The main purpose of the milonga however is to socialise, it is not a place where men dictate the pace of the evening whilst women sit and wait!
A lot of ladies say the same thing to me – “Oh, I’d love to be able to use decorations in my dancing, but I don’t know where to put them in!” With the abundance of Ladies Technique and decoration workshops around you’d be forgiven in thinking that decorations are a necessity and the ultimate pinnacle of being able to dance Tango. To be honest I used to think the same way, I used to want to be able to do all the decorations I could because I thought it was what followers did. However, now I feel the truth is somewhat different.
I realise now that the decorations are there to help you with the technique and musicality. What they are not for is to demonstrate how flexible your legs are and how successfully you can probably kick ‘x’ number of fellow dancers on a crowded floor! I have actually been kicked by ladies a few times even when I have been sitting on the side talking to someone and it is not acceptable.
In a social Tango event there is not one good reason why high boleos or castigadas should be used by anyone. The ironic thing is, that now I am in a position to be able to do the decorations, I hardly ever do, because I prefer to feel the purity of the step with the music. For me, the absolute harmony of walking completely together with someone is an almost telepathic experience. However, working with decorations are what enabled me to get to this level in the first place.
When I first met Leo, he put me through a grueling exercise regime which involved hundreds of repetitions of the same exercises, probably the most annoying one being ‘the tap’ or ‘punteo’. Anyone who has been to any of our classes will know how difficult this very simple exercise can be. Dancers with several years of experience have been known to crumble when faced with what is a very simple instruction – to put a tap in between each step. To be honest, when Leo first gave me this to do, I didn’t see the point. I did it because I trusted him, but it wasn’t easy. What I came to appreciate however, is that this very simple ‘decoration’ is the beginning of understanding the musicality of Tango music plus it corrects the walking technique which is the most important thing. If you cannot do the tap, you are probably not walking properly. You can only do the tap if you are transferring your weight correctly. This is an excellent example of how the decorations help with the technique. Another one would be how the boleo or castigada help with the technique of the pivot. So many people think that the boleo for example is just a means to whip your leg around fast to look flashy and extravagant. But it’s not like that at all. The boleo is there to help the movement of the hip which in turn creates the pivot.
Another misconception is that the man controls the boleo so that the lady is not at fault if she accidentally kicks someone. Yes, the man can instigate the boleo, or the lady can use the boleo to help with the pivot but it is ultimately the lady who controls how high her leg travels. There is no excuse to do a high boleo on the social floor, there is nothing wrong in doing a low boleo, in fact, I think it often looks better and more elegant.
With regards to where you use decorations, this is a totally different matter. They are not there just to be flung in anywhere, it is not a competition ladies to see how many you can fit in! Less is definitely more in my opinion! To really understand when to use the decorations, I’m afraid we have to return to the dreaded ‘tap’ or ‘punteo’ exercise. By putting the tap into the moment of transfer of the weight, it automatically happens on the half beat and this is the magic moment when you can do boleos, castigadas, etc. It’s the moment when you can decorate or embellish without interfering with the mans leading and you will be completely ‘in the music’. Unfortunately, this ability to obtain the feel of the music can only be achieved through repetition of the basic ‘tap or punteo’ exercise. There is no short cut. However, the good news is that it doesn’t take long to get this feeling into your system.
When I dance now, I feel this musicality like a heartbeat in my head. Whether I choose to do any decorations at these points is then my decision. For me, learning the decorations through the musicality and the technique was the key to understanding Tango itself. Now, I can listen to all the layers within a typical Tango track and choose to express or not the musicality with my feet!