As one of the most difficult social dances, learning tango may seem impossible. Don’t give in just yet! It will be, I promise, one of the best things you ever did in your life. So where to begin? Right here!
History of tango
Tango survives an historical journey dating back centuries. Today, despite world wars and other social turbulence tango is danced and played by millions of people around the world.
So where does Argentine Tango originate? Read the History of Tango to discover this inspiring story.
Traditional tango music comprises of three musical genres; TANGO, VALS and MILONGA.
During the Golden Age of Tango (1935-1952) some of the most influential tango orchestras were formed. Their music was incredibly popular and dominated both milongas and radio stations throughout South America.
Today their recordings have been restored and continue to be adored and played in milongas all around the world. Some of these orchestras include: Carlos Di Sarli, Fancisco Canaro, Osvaldo Pugliese, Rodolfo Biagi and Juan D’Arienzo among others.
Everything begins with Tango Music. It is the inspiration for all your expression. Learn as much as you can about the orchestras, composers and the music you will become very familiar with as you continue.
Finding a teacher
There are many approaches to learning tango and no formal teaching qualification so finding a teacher that is right for you may take a little experimentation. Tango is not just about learning steps. Find someone who is passionate about the culture and music of tango. You are looking for a mentor, someone who has substantial dance experience, who inspires you, and whose approach suits you and how you like to learn.
Once you have found a teacher you like, stick with that teacher for a little while at least. In the early stages of learning tango, establishing strong basic skills and knowledge is essential. Starting with one teacher will give you the consistency and focus you need.
Your first lessons in tango are your chance to learn the basics well. Practise at home and keep taking lessons regularly until you are ready to dance socially at the milonga. From your first milonga onwards, you will never look back.
Your teacher will most likely focus on the ABRAZO and get you thinking about the language of tango often described as the CONNECTION.
Next, the COMPAS and along with it, the most basic of all tango steps but equally the very foundation on which you will build your whole dance – the CAMINADA. Some renowned MAESTROS consider that the ‘caminada within compas’ is where tango begins and that it can take years to truly accomplish. Once you learn this discipline well, and can do it with balance and control, all the other steps and decorations you will learn as you continue with classes are simply a matter of choice and expression.
Do I need a partner?
Quite simply: Not at all. At tango classes your teacher will likely rotate partners during the class as it is important that you learn to dance with many different people. Tango is a social dance and being able to dance well with anyone is key to enjoying the Milonga. If you want to take a friend/partner with you, of course, that is perfectly good too. To start, do what makes you feel comfortable.
Is there an age group?
Goodness no! Tango is for everyone, in any walk of life and any cultural background. Tango somehow sets aside the familiar superficialities of age, gender and social classes, just for a moment. Many people begin learning about tango from birth as they are born into a tango culture and others take their first steps much later in life. In the Milonga you will find people of all ages dancing together. Wherever you are in your life, and for whatever reasons, now is a good time to start.
What to wear?
For tango classes the most important thing is that you are comfortable and free to move. By the time you are ready to dance at the milonga, traditionally a more formal occasion, you will know what is appropriate. What you wear to milonga is up to you. There are some wonderful tango designers out there if you want to splurge a little on something special. Vintage is an ongoing theme. Ladies, skirts to the knee are considered elegant and you will find you are more comfortable with a secure fitting top. Gentlemen, loose fitting trousers and a long sleeve cotton shirt is ideal. Jackets are appropriate but not absolutely necessary. In any case, the milonga is an occasion to make an effort.
You won’t need tango shoes when you first start lessons. If you can, try to wear heels or shoes with a slippery sole to help you to pivot. If you decide to continue with tango then it is time to purchase a proper pair of dancing shoes.
Tango shoes are especially designed for dancing tango. The last is slightly flexible to bend with the movement of your foot. The sole is covered with superior quality leather to help you pivot perfectly and equally, not slip as you walk. The shoe structure supports your balance. Different brands will place your balance in different places. Some towards your toes, some centered. It is a matter of preference.
For ladies, the heel generally comes in various heights and widths. If finding your balance on heels is difficult, don’t be afraid to choose a lower heel to start. Some brands cater to wider feet and some offer a b-last for those with particularly slim feet. You should try a size smaller than your everyday shoes so that your toes reach the end of the shoe and the fit is very snug. Experienced dancers judge a correct fit by whether they can ‘feel the floor’.
Tango shoes are not cheap but they are a necessary investment. An ill-fitting shoe can cause serious damage so do take the time to buy well-made shoes that fit you correctly. Your shoe supplier will have the knowledge and experience to help you make a good decision. Go to classes and practise at home in your dancing shoes. Get thoroughly used to them. Happy feet. Happy dancing.
The MILONGA is the social, cultural and historical hub of Argentine Tango Society. Milongas generally run on a weekly basis and often late into the night or early the next morning. Some milongas and often PRACTICAS run earlier in the day. Its good to use the practicas to review and practise what you are learning in class in a constructive environment where teachers are their to help if you need.
The music is usually played by a Tango DJ. TANDAS, are separated by CORTINAS. The cortina gives time for everyone to leave the dancefloor and/or find a partner for the next tanda. Sometimes live orchestra or tango bands perform on special occasions.
The dancefloor may look chaotic but it is far from it. Dancers follow the RONDA. Depending on the size of the milonga there can be multiple inner circles. Leaders have responsibility for maintaining the ‘line of dance’ with clearly defined codes of conduct. Your teacher will help you prepare for this discipline.
Often, the evening will pause briefly for a performance by an experienced and celebrated couple. During the performance, everyone gathers around the dancefloor to watch and be inspired.
One of the most interesting elements of milonga culture is the CABECEO. This is the traditional way for a leader to ask a follower to dance from a distance and without speaking.
There are many reasons for the cabeceo but in short, during the CORTINA the cabeceo provides a quick way to ask and accept or decline that protects the dignity of both parties.
At the milonga, TANGUEROS and MILONGUEROS will ask and be asked to dance in this manner so keep your eyes open and your body language sending the right signals. Its incredibly good fun and the traditional way to secure a dance.Read The Art of Cabeceo to learn more about how it works and why it’s so important.
When the DJ shouts ‘Last Tanda!’ the Milonga ends with this piece. A most beautiful tango to share with your partner, loved one, friend or favourite dancer. There are many versions and here is one particularly awesome example performed by the renowned ‘Rey del Compás (Rhythm King)’, Juan D’Arienzo and his orchestra:
Tango is something special
Learning to dance tango is undoubtedly a unique experience. It will challenge you and teach you so much about yourself. It’s more than just steps to music. It is much much more than just dancing.
Ready to take your first tango steps?
The best way forward is to find a class and give it a try. You have nothing to lose!