What is Tango ?
The Argentine Tango is both a couple's dance of Rioplatense origin and a music genre, born around the Rio de La Plata river at the end of the 19th century and resulting from the multicultural mixing that characterized Argentina and Uruguay at that time. Some would also say that it is a culture and a way of seeing the world... The Tango constitutes the large label in which we classify all the different styles of music that make it up, which can be divided into 3 categories: the Tango, the Waltz, and the Milonga.
Here are some examples of tango music and tango style:
What is Argentine Vals ?
Argentine Vals is one of the three types of music that make up the Argentine Tango. It originated from Viennese Waltz, and it retains the three-beat measure but is heavily influenced by the steps and movements of the Tango dance. Vals often calls for a very circular energy composed of turns (giros) or chains (cadenas).
Here are some examples of Vals music:
What is a Tanda ?
A Tanda is a grouping of 3 to 5 tangos that are coherent with each other (of the tango, vals, or milonga style, if you have been following :D), during which the dancing couple will dance together. Generally (but not always), a Tanda of Tangos will consist of 4 pieces, and a Tanda of Vals or Milonga will consist of 3 pieces.
What is a Cortina ?
The Cortina is what separates two tandas from each other. It is often made up of a piece that has nothing to do with tango (like... Woooh! I feel good!). It lasts between 30 seconds and 2 minutes, depending on the size of the room and a lot of other parameters... It is during this time that the couples separate, return to their place, and start looking at potential future dance partners for the next tanda.
What is Mirada and Cabeceo ?
The mirada (the look, in Spanish) and cabeceo (the nod, in Spanish) are important elements of the tango dance culture. The mirada is the eye contact that takes place between dancers to initiate a dance. When someone wants to dance with someone else, they look at them, and if the feeling is mutual, the other person looks back. If the eye contact is maintained for a few seconds, it's almost certain that they will dance together during the next tanda (set of songs). Typically, the mirada starts during the cortina (the short break between tandas), but the invitation is only confirmed once the tanda begins to ensure that the music is suitable.
Sometimes, the mirada is provoked by the first notes of music, which make us want to dance with someone in particular.
The cabeceo is the nod that accompanies the mirada. Traditionally, the cabeceo is initiated by the leader (usually the man) and then reciprocated by the follower (usually the woman). After the cabeceo, the leader approaches the follower to invite her to dance. Nevertheless, nowadays, the mirada and cabeceo can be initiated by both the leader and the follower, and they are usually simultaneous. However, in a crowded milonga (a place where tango dancing takes place), it can be challenging to be sure that the invitation is for us and not for the person next to us.
So, after the cabeceo, the eye contact is maintained as the leader approaches the follower, making their mutual intentions clear. It's usually the leader who approaches the follower, as a sign of courtesy and to avoid any confusion. This also helps prevent followers, who are often wearing high heels, from walking long distances unnecessarily. However, sometimes the mirada is perfectly clear, and in that case, the two dancers may meet halfway on the dance floor. Nonetheless, the general rule remains that the leader comes to pick up his partner at her place.
And an example of cabeceo that followed the mirada!
What is the spacial structure of a milonga ?
Tango is a walking dance (if you have ever taken a class with us, it's probably the first thing we told you!).
So, in a tango dance, we move, and not just any way. We move in a circle, counterclockwise (which unfortunately doesn't make the evenings go by any slower), in a perpetual movement. This is called the ronda. We never step back. Thus, the dance floor is composed of several concentric circles which we call dance lines. Generally, the outer circle is supposed to move faster because it is larger. In practice, this is rarely the case, but to be faithful to the sacred rules of tango, I will explain here how things should be:
The most experienced dancers therefore dance on the outer circle which moves faster, and the least experienced dancers dance on the inner or even central lines, so they don't get in anyone's way by standing still... The more dancers there are, the more lines are created, so that we can dance without bumping into each other. Normally, when the first line becomes too crowded, a second line is created, etc. When the dance floor empties at the end of the evening, the lines disappear until there are often only one or two lines left.
In practice, everyone is too lazy to go on the inner lines, or doesn't know the rules, or wants to be admired by the gallery, everyone enters the dance floor at the same place at the beginning of the tanda which creates a big traffic jam on the outer line, which then stops moving, and the good dancers move to the inner lines to be able to move forward. Yes, theory and practice, all that jazz...
What's the difference between a Practica and a Milonga?
Pratica refers to the place and time where we come to practice and work on our tango. Depending on the organizers, there may not always be cortinas or real tandas, but rather a continuous sequence of tangos. Dancers come to practice, so there are generally not the same codes as in milonga. It is allowed to stop in the middle of the dance floor to work on a step, and it is also allowed to come and practice only with one's partner...
On the other hand, Milonga is the place for the dance, it is a social moment that is not intended for practice as such. Thus, the explained codes apply, we invite with mirada and cabeceo, we respect the dance lines, we do not stop in the middle... And most importantly, we do not give advice to our partner while dancing :).
Some practicas closely resemble milongas, both in form and atmosphere; some dancers come not with the intention of practicing, but simply to dance. That is why it may seem a bit complicated to distinguish between milonga and practica at first glance...
What does "leading" and "following" mean?
Ouch, what a thorny question I have set myself...
To begin with, everyone would agree that tango is danced by two people, and that originally, the man "leads" and the woman "follows". That being said, today, no rule obliges men to be leaders and women followers, everyone can choose to perfect themselves in the role they prefer, or learn both roles equally. One could say that the person who leads sends a signal, information, and the person who follows interprets it, transforms it, puts it into their body. Since tango is danced by two people, the person who "follows" will never have a perfectly literal interpretation of the information sent by the person who guides. She can embellish this information, intensify it, slow it down, sometimes, unfortunately, uglify it... This is what makes tango beautiful. Therefore, the same guidance will never be interpreted in exactly the same way by two different followers, for the simple and good reason that we are not robots and we have different bodies and personalities. There is absolutely nothing pejorative about preferring to "follow" rather than preferring to "lead": these are two very different things, two sides of a coin. There is not one role easier than the other, contrary to what one might think; simply, at the beginning of tango life, it is true that learning to lead requires more time and effort. But to become an excellent follower, it takes years: following is by no means a passive activity. People who tell you that guiding is more difficult than following are often not excellent followers.
What does having good musicality mean ?
It's very subjective! Musicality is a bit about how the dancers' bodies transform and interpret the music they hear. There isn't just one way to interpret tango music, which is so rich and composed of so many different instruments. However, we can say that a dancer with good musicality adapts their dancing to the music they're dancing to; the opposite would be to always dance the same way, regardless of the style, era, intensity, or speed of the tango being played. Perhaps we could also say that a dancer with good musicality doesn't just stick to the strong beats but seeks to listen to the other musical layers, such as violins or pianos, and anchors their originality on the changes in dynamics that the music offers. But, once again, it takes two to tango, musicality is a two-way effort, and it's also about how the two dancers harmonize their distinct perceptions to create an osmosis.
What is a Tango DJ (TDJ)?
The TDJ is the one without whom no milonga would exist today! In the past, tango was played by live musicians in bars and restaurants. Nowadays, tango is played through recordings of those orchestras from the past. And the one who chooses, arranges, and plays the tandas and cortinas is the tango DJ. It is the DJ who decides the order of the songs, the energy he want to put into it, and it is his decision that will depend on the mood of the dancers. A good DJ will know how to adapt to his audience, capture their expectations, vary his collection and proposals according to the level and energy of the dancers, so it's an important job! The TDJ is that person leaning over their computer, tinkering with something in a corner of the room, and everyone applauds at a moment of the evening when the organizer presents him, then everyone forgets and goes dancing just after. A good DJ should make himself forgotten because when you notice him, it's a bad sign, it means he's making questionable choices... In reality, when you notice the DJ, it's either because he's quite bad or because he's good enough for you to realize that it feels good to dance to good music!
DJ caught red-handed playing tatitatita!
What is Tango Escenario, or Stage Tango ?
Tango Escenario is often the misconception that people have before starting to learn how to dance tango. Skirts with high slits, spectacular lifts, a very macho attitude from the man, and absolutely dramatic music... Whether you love it or hate it, tango escenario often has a strong impact! It is usually performed by professional dancers who come from other dance disciplines (modern or contemporary dancers, gymnasts, etc.) and, above all, it consists of choreographies elaborated with the help of a coach and designed to be danced on stage, during a show, only with the partner with whom the choreography has been prepared. Tango Escenario is therefore completely different, even opposite, to the spirit of tango de bal: far from being a universal language that can be shared with everyone, it is selective, exclusive, and choreographed. Therefore, it is not intended to be danced in a social setting. This is generally not what is taught in tango classes! For example, here is a very nice demonstration video of Tango Escenario:
And in contrast, here is a very nice demonstration video of tango more adapted to the "milonguero" style, better suited for the dance floor:
What is a Tango Maestro?
The Maestro is the tango teacher. He is the one who imparts his knowledge, and is supposed to love transmitting his passion. In France, there is no official degree for Argentine tango teachers. Therefore, anyone can claim to be a maestro as long as they dance to some extent... As a result, the term maestro has become a bit of a catch-all term, in which you can find anything and everything, good, excellent, or bad... To make a choice, it is best to inquire around and, if possible, test different teachers in order to make an informed choice after being able to compare.
What does it mean to be grounded ?
This is the phrase that all tango teachers use and the phrase that makes many students pull their hair out! To be grounded is a sensation to be felt, a feeling of deep anchoring, as if we were a tree with deep roots, allowing us to be solid on our support, as if we were the bridge between earth and sky. Describing it is almost impossible with words, it's a sensation that, once worked on in class and acquired, is understood, lived, danced. And savored!
What is a ... Tangasm ?
Ah! The best question for the end... A tangasm is a portmanteau, a word created by mixing tango and orgasm, to describe that wonderful and magical sensation that sometimes happens when you dance with a very good dancer. It's hard to explain but it's the cause of the addiction of many tangueros to this dance... Because once you've had a tangasm, you only have one thing on your mind, to find that delicious and unique sensation again! It's a perfect mix of all the ingredients that make a good tanda: the right music, the right partner, the perfect abrazo, the perfect emotion, the perfect floor, the ideal sound, the perfect ronda... Everything is there to have a blast like never before. A tangasm cannot be seen from the outside, it can only be felt as such, and by the way, it's not necessarily reciprocal between the two dancers, even if sometimes, the magic works both ways. You count your tangasms on the fingers of one hand, it doesn't happen often and rarely twice with the same person...
PS: I'm told in my ear that you can also encounter the term Tangazo instead of Tangasm. It's the same thing. Whatever you call it, what's important, and what I wish for you, is that you experience it one day!
What is Milonga?
Milonga is both the name of the Argentine Tango dance party and one of the three types of tango music - Tango, Vals, and Milonga. The Milonga music style is generally faster and more cheerful than Tango. It is danced in a less straight and serious manner, with a lot of use of syncopation, crosses, and fewer pivots.
Here are some examples of Milonga music:
So, if we say that we want to go to a milonga tonight, we are referring to the Argentine Tango dance party. But if we say that we really want to dance this milonga, we are talking about the Milonga music that is currently playing.
The Milonga is a social gathering place that not only allows people to dance but also to spend time with friends, laugh, and be together.
What is the musical structure of a tango dance party ?
The musical structure refers to the order in which tandas are arranged. Generally, the structure is as follows:
Tango - Tango - Vals - Tango - Tango - Milonga - Tango - Tango...
If you have been following, each dash corresponds to a cortina (you know, the "Wooow! I feel good!" music).
This structure is often written as follows:
In itself, it's not the most important thing in this FAQ, but if you see it written like that elsewhere someday, at least you'll know what it is. :D
Knowing this structure allows you, when you arrive at a milonga, to get a little bit of a sense of where you are in the evening and what is coming up next.
An example of mirada captured during a tango marathon...
Why is it important to respect the invitation with the mirada and cabeceo ?
The mirada and cabeceo are the most respectful ways to invite someone, regardless of their gender. It avoids a verbal invitation, often made by the man who would impose his desire in a somewhat frontal manner on his potential partner, who finds herself in the delicate position, in the case where this desire is not reciprocal, either to accept a tanda that she did not want at that time, or to refuse verbally, which can be misunderstood by the man, awkward to pronounce for the woman, and just embarrassing for both. And besides, it's 2023, it's time to understand that men's desire is no more important than women's, and that it's important to be able to ensure that the intentions to dance are truly reciprocal for both. It's still nicer to dance with someone when you're certain that they really want to at that moment, isn't it?
PS: Neither Alain nor I (Lune) are blind😉. We both have perfect vision. We take advantage of this FAQ to reassure you about our visual abilities, since some people find it useful to approach us at 50cm to make their mirada when it didn't work from further away...😉
What should I do if the person I'm interested in doesn't respond to my miradas ?
... Invite someone else! Move on! There are plenty of reasons why someone may not respond to your miradas: they may not like the music; they may want to have a drink quietly; watch the dancers; they have sore feet; they want to chat with their friends, they have pains somewhere; they're too hot; the dance floor is too crowded; they hope to be invited by someone else at the same time; they prefer to dance with you on another type of music... or maybe they just don't want to dance with you, perhaps because they didn't appreciate the last time... It happens, and it's not a big deal, you can't please everyone. If the situation is widespread and you can't invite at all, either you've stumbled upon the snobby milonga in town, or you need to take some classes to improve. If it only happens with a particular dancer, then just let it go and invite someone else. In the group of dancers, there are probably gems, incredible people. Believe us, don't waste your evening trying to invite someone who ignores you; it's a lost cause, and generally, the more you try insistently, the less that person will want to give you a dance.
What are the codes of Tango ?
The codes of tango are the object of much debate! However, it's not rocket science, and it greatly simplifies circulation and respect for the dancers, in our opinion. So, the rules we've already covered concern the mirada and cabeceo for the invitation. Then, to enter the dance floor, some common sense rules apply: when entering, the leader makes sure to be seen by the dancer in front of whom he inserts himself to avoid colliding with them. To ensure this, it's always better to wait for a small nod from them, a nod meaning "I see you," a bit like in Avatar, you know what I mean?
Then, a more or less applied rule depending on the place (hello Parisians!), is that normally you don't dance fifteen tandas in a row with the same dancer. That is to say, if there are cortinas, generally it's not just to hear "Wooow, I feel good!" but also to change partners! In case of an excellent tanda, absolute crush and urgent need to continue dancing with this person, it's still accepted to do a second tanda with them. Legend has it that from 3 tandas in a row with the same person, we're going to put them in our bed... But that's just a legend of course... I've done 4 tandas in a row and yet I promise you, we didn't sleep together after :D.
Other rules, in bulk: we avoid overtaking the dancers, except when we're a pilot; we don't step back, risking colliding with the dancer following us, we prefer to enter the dance floor from the corners of the room rather than in the middle of a line, we escort the follower back to her seat at the end of the tanda, we avoid forcing our way onto the dance floor when the line is already crowded, we avoid leaving miles of space in front of us, risking a traffic jam behind us, so we move forward, so that the ronda (the dance floor and its dancers) rotates in a pleasant way... And then the most important rule: we respect our partners by arriving at the milonga with impeccable personal hygiene, as we are going to share bodily fluids and our body odors should not be disturbing for our partner.
What is a social dancer?
A social dancer is the opposite of a snobbish star in tango lingo. This means that they are a dancer who allows their natural curiosity to take over and is willing to dance with a variety of dancers, not just those they already know. In contrast, the snobbish star is an extremely selective dancer who only dances with people they already know. These snobbish stars create a particular atmosphere at certain events: impossible to invite, they dance among themselves like a clan excluding other dancers, and often have a contemptuous attitude that is unfortunately quite harmful to the atmosphere of the milonga. The challenge for any organizer is to try to limit the formation of this type of group at their events. Social dancers are a godsend for organizers because they will dance with everyone, including those who remain seated or who have difficulty inviting others.
My favourite social-dancer ❤
What is the abrazo?
The abrazo (pronounced in Spanish, halfway between the "s" and "z", closer to the "s"!) is the Spanish word for embrace. So, in tango, it refers to the way we hold each other in our arms. It's the way your partner will make you melt with happiness (or not). In your hopefully long life of dancing tango, you will experience all kinds of abrazos, from tender to light, firm to tense, sturdy to soft, loving to passionate, intense and more. There is an abrazo for every taste. Our abrazos, Alain's and mine, are often described as light and soft, but some may prefer more powerful or held abrazos, there really is something for everyone, and how an abrazo is perceived can vary greatly from person to person.
While the embrace can be more or less closed (when the chests touch) or open (when there is space between the two chests), it is often elastic. The closed embrace (or abrazo cerrado) is the one we personally prefer, for all the wonderful sensations it provides and for the intimate connection it offers with your partner. But expanding this embrace allows for certain special figures through the space it creates between the partners.
How to start when you want to listen to tango music?
First, download the Shazam app if you haven't already and head to a milonga, it will be of great help. Then, you can start by searching for the four great orchestras of the Golden Age, the four most mythical and also the most well-known with the most international hits (yes, really), which are Juan d'Arienzo, Anibal Troilo, Carlos Di Sarli, and Osvaldo Pugliese. The Golden Age of tango is between 1935 and 1955, so if you hear really bad stuff from these orchestras, it's probably because you've found either too old or too recent versions. Or, you don't yet like tango music... but it will come, don't worry😊
If you are really determined, you can also look into secondary but also very good quality orchestras such as Rodolfo Biagi, Edgardo Donato, Miguel Calo, Pedro Laurenz, Francisco Canaro, Osvaldo Fresedo, Tipica Victor, Lucio Demare, Alfredo de Angelis, Angel d'Agostino, Domingo Federico, Ricardo Malerba, Francisco Lomuto, Juan Maglio, Donato Racciatti... Okay, I'll stop there... No? Alright, a few contemporary orchestras as well: Solo Tango Orquestra, Tango Bardo, Romantica milonguera, Sans Souci, La Juan d'Arienzo...
You can also start from our selection of favorite videos, Shazam the songs and then look for the corresponding albums in your favorite music app.
What is Canyengue ?
Canyengue is, in a way, the ancestor of the Argentine Tango that we know today. We previously mentioned that tango comes from a multicultural mix, so it draws partly from African rhythms. Canyengue takes inspiration from African drums and percussion, with a heavy and strongly marked rhythm. The flute and tuba are also characteristic instruments in Canyengue music. It developed during the early days of tango and was danced mainly to music from the Guardia Vieja until the 1930s. Francisco Canaro's orchestra is the greatest representative of Canyengue with high-quality recordings. Roberto Firpo, La Tipica Victor and Francisco Lomuto also have good examples of Canyengue-sounding songs. Today, some orchestras bring it back to life by replaying pieces with a very marked Canyengue style. La Tubatango or Mandragora tango Orchestra, for example.
Canyengue is danced in a notably different way compared to traditional Tango: the faces of the two dancers look in the same direction and their hands are joined at waist level, the steps are short, heavy, and the walk is very grounded with exaggeratedly bent knees. The two partners share the same axis. Canyengue is a more teasing and joyful dance than Tango in general. Canyengue is said to be a "rogue" dance, and it is one of the reasons why we love dancing Canyengue!
You may have seen us dancing Canyengue in milonga... It's one of our specialties!
What is the Salida?
The Salida is a teaching tool developed by the Dinzel. It is a basic structure of steps, in eight counts, comprising different directions and a cross, and allowing for a base in which to anchor improvisation. The Salida has many variations and is a basis from which many tango teachings originate.
The Dinzel method is the method used in our classes, which are based on the Salida and the ways to exit and transform it to learn how to improvise. While it is not the only way to learn how to dance, it is the method that has seemed the most efficient to us so far.
To remember my first tangasm as a leader... with the beautiful Liva!