Foreword to Gotta Tango
By Acho Manzi (1933-2013)
During the establishment of the tango at the onset of the 20th century, things happened that formed the historical circumstances. The population of immigrants and their descendants had grown in such substantial numbers to take away the country from the conservatives, who had been ruling it at will. The immigrants won the first secret-ballot elections in Argentina, establishing the first populist administration. The people of that generation projected themselves toward the future with the wisdom of their neighborhoods as their most valuable tool. They read from the best texts and studied from the best professors from Europe.
Meanwhile, on the street corners, the music and lyrics that had become tango were accompanied by studied steps that sent immigrants and new citizens alike looking for partners at the milongas, the fabled gathering halls of early tango dancers.
In 1930, a military takeover snatched the homeland away from the majority and overthrew the government that had protected them. Martial law and a state of siege were the tools used for persecution and repression. That is when native cunning and cleverness resulted in the founding of the social clubs, havens where people could meet during that stifling political reality. To better disguise their activities, the Creole society hired musicians who, at the same time that the social clubs grew, contributed to the growth of musicians, composers, lyricists, and dancers. There, the milonga was protected while the participants spoke freely of politics and businesses.
Then Carlos Gardel arrived and forged into one all the nationalities. And when much later it seemed that everything succumbed to governmental order, tango was the popular thing that came to save the people. My father, the immortal poet Homero Manzi,1 showed me a view of the world of the tango at the apex of its golden age. At no other time did musicians, composers, poets in the form of the lyricist, and dancers converge in one wonderful rush of originality and influence. That is the way my father described the events, as we look at them turning toward the present, with many couples joining their efforts toward education.
Many have reinvented the Argentine tango, and it has even reinvented itself. Just when it had been written off as passé, pronounced dead in newspaper headlines, and ignored by a couple of generations, it came back full force and full circle. There has been a revival, a reinvention of sorts, of the tango in all forms. The golden age is surpassed in sheer numbers of dancers, because the tango has had a global explosion. Credit for this is often given to the most glamorous catalysts in the form of tango shows and tango movies. But a more grassroots influence exists in the form of a handful of protagonists who preserve and foster the tango for the love and respect of it.
Two such persons come in the names of Alberto Paz, an Argentine, and Valorie Hart, a tanguera from the United States. Having made the Argentine tango the leitmotiv of their lives, both personally and professionally, these two have promoted the tango to the thousands of students they have touched in the scores of cities and countries in which they have taught their classes. Add to that the thousands of words they have written on the history, the poetry, the music, and the dance in their magazine El Firulete and on their Planet Tango Web site, and you come to realize the profound influence these two have proffered to the benefit of the Argentine tango. Through their exploration, Alberto and Valorie have made the dance form something teachable by expanding on old ideas and codes that permeated the world of the tango when they and others found it languishing for lack of interest and understanding.
They have influenced the very language used in teaching the dance. Taking the ideas offered to them personally by proponents of the golden age, they have worked tirelessly to present a clear and accessible construction of the dance. They do this to empower one and all to embrace the enjoyment and benefit of it and to understand the culture and history that formed its music, poetry, and, of course, the dance.
Gotta Tango offers a concise, complete, and clear compendium of the dance of tango, a gift to you, the social dancer, and a must for anyone inclined to become a teacher of it. Nothing like it exists, and it is destined to become a classic, much like the tango itself. This is the fruit of Alberto and Valorie’s labor of love and a delightful result of their intelligence and expertise as master teachers.
1 Homero Manzi (1907-1951) was a critically acclaimed poet, filmmaker, author, and lyricist of such classic tangos as “Malena,” “Sur,” and “Barrio de Tango.” In his 44 years he also reached into journalism, teaching, labor, and political militancy with mixed success. The tango lyric was, nevertheless, his true claim to fame and is what keeps his memory alive.
Homero Luis (“Acho Manzi”) Manzione was born March 6, 1933, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is an elected member of SADAIC (Society of Authors and Composers in Buenos Aires) in a supervisory capacity on the auditor’s commission. He is well known as a composer of both music and lyrics of tango and folk songs. Acho is the author of tangos such as “El Ultimo Organito” (in cooperation with his late father, Homero Nicolas “Manzi” Manzione) and the lyrics for Cuarteto Cedron’s CD, Para que Vos y Yo, produced in Paris. He is also a compiler of poems dedicated to the tango and its influence in the broadcasting and film industries in Argentina. Acho has compiled the prose and short stories of his father, presented and displayed at the XXIV International Book Fair in Buenos Aires in 1998. He has worked in television production and participated in the movie Los Guardianes del Angel (2004).
He passed away July 27, 2013 R.I.P.
By Valorie Hart and Alberto Paz
Excerpt from Gotta Tango. Copyright (c) 2007-2013. All Rights Reserved
Sooner than later you will be visually attracted to the way some seasoned dancers seem to add another layer of expressiveness to their dancing. They use the whole body to interpret each piece of music, no matter which arrangement of a melody is played. What is it that they do that seems to enhance their dance?
In this book we have deliberately left out instructions on performing embellishments. However, you should know a few facts about them.
What is meant by the word embellishment? In the vernacular of the Argentine tango it is the action of adding a little something extra to the core movement of the body that produces the locomotion of the legs and feet.
Both women and men do embellishments. The addition to the core movement, the embellishing of a movement or step, is meant to be seamless. In terms of musical counts, it is movement within the main beat; it happens simultaneously within a step. As seen from the outside by someone with an uneducated eye, embellishments tend to look like the sole expression of a dancer’s legs and feet. This is an oversimplification.
Embellishments should not be “learned,” memorized, or copied. The mere replication of movements copied from an admired dancer, without a real understanding of what they mean, what they are used for, where they come from, and how they are crafted and created, will only produce insignificant and unpleasant results. Embellishments are not a just a woman’s thing to be done without context.
When the man knows how to guide and the woman knows how to be guided, and they both have a good ear for the music, each one of them may add embellishments with musical accuracy. There will be no disturbance to one another or any type of pull or vibration. Embellishments do not interfere with la marca (marking) of movements, steps, or sequences.
Unless the couple is dancing a prearranged choreography, the woman does not need to wait for the man to “give” her time if she wishes to embellish. While improvising, the woman relies on her intelligence, her ability, and her experience to know and decide if her movement corresponds to creating an embellishment. Dancers who have limited experience should be discouraged from attempting to embellish at a milonga; classes and practices are more appropriate places for acquiring technique and confidence.
Often, embellishments need and can be worked out technically and methodically. However, when it comes time to put them into action, they must be done spontaneously and appropriately. Both the individual and the couple will reflect their love and passion for the music of the Argentine tango when embellishments are created and used within the spirit of the dance.
Tango Improvisation – Part 4
We really hope that you have enjoyed the first four week seminar on tango improvisation, and that our goal of teaching you how to think has made very positive changes in the way you now will approach the enjoyment of dancing tango with a new attitude. We’d like to say that our first four week seminar on tango improvisation ended with a bang, but… we were so pleased with the results that we have added a lagniappe session to wrap things up. This will be a great opportunity for those who missed some classes to catch up, and for everyone else to review and reinforce the newly acquired improvisations skills.
At this stage of your tango awareness education, we would hope that,
- You make axis and embrace your foremost priority as you step on the dance floor
- You never refer to women as followers or follows again
- You never refer to men as leaders or leads
- You don’t think that you need to compromise your dancing by “adjusting” to whom you dance with
- You don’t respond to a compliment on your dancing by “blaming” it on a good “
leader” or a good “ follower.”
- You accept responsibility for what you can and can’t do
- You accept compliments on your superb dancing with kindness (and pride)
- You continue internalizing your knowledge by forcing your body to follow your thoughts
- You continue to master the concepts of body alignment and body positions
- You don’t invent “new” steps beyond the six root movements you can do with two legs.
- You never look at the feet but concentrate on the motions of the bodies in space
At least, give it a good try, and don’t fall back into the old habits of step collection and connecting dots dancing.
Every dance should a be a shared adventure.
In our last session, we moved from exercising the six root steps in place to use them in a very useful construction called La base, or The Base. No matter how deep into a complex combination you are, you will always be in one of the stages of La base, perhaps a different stage for the man than for the woman, but that is why we’re teaching you how to think. The moment the motion memory in your brain begins to understand and recognize that, you become another member of the improvisation club with all the perks that that entitles. Free upgrades and priority boarding are just a step ahead.
Please, raise your head and look at the bodies, do not memorize feet movements, but recognize the elements you have learned and start marveling at the seamless way of connecting them into coordinated patterns..
Thank you for your trust and dedication.
Mathematician and milonguero
Pythagoras made influential contributions to philosophy and religious teaching in the late 6th century BC. He was born on the island of Samos, and in his youth he traveled widely, visiting Egypt and other places seeking knowledge. Around 530 BC, he moved to Croton, a Greek colony in southern Italy, where he founded a religious tango sect. He was often revered as a great mathematician, mystic and scientist. But he is best remembered as a pre-Socratic milonguero who introduced a theorem to explain the inner workings of the giro with sacadas. The Pythagorean Theorem states that in any right triangle the square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares of the legs.
Most of the information about Pythagoras was written down centuries after he died, so very little reliable information is known about him. His followers pursued the religious rites and practices he developed, and studied his philosophical theories. The society took an active role in the politics of Croton, but this eventually led to their downfall as competing schools with alternatives views on dancing styles led to the burning of the Pythagorean milongas, and Pythagoras was forced to flee the city. He is said to have ended his days in Metapontum as a taxi philosopher.
In our book Gotta Tango we applied the teachings of Pythagoras to explain the interaction of the dancers in an Eight Count Giro. (Reference: GOTTA TANGO book and DVD)
A giro is a turning motion executed by the couple stepping on the vertices of a triangle with one dancer standing on two vertices of a triangle while the other stands on the third vertice. In a giro, each dancer performs different functions. The woman uses the cambio de frente, or change of front, to move around the man. The man normally advances forward in a triangular pattern into the woman’s space.
A giro is a series of compound body positions in which the man initiates a movement and the woman continues the movement into the next position. Successful turning patterns require that the dancers change axis clearly, correctly, and timely to ensure the proper mix of balance and centrifugal force that is generated at the pivoting points. As is the case for every step of the dance, it is even more critical that the man learn how to mark every step of the giro according to the particular pattern he desires to execute. To recognize and respond flawlessly to the man’s marks, the woman must allow herself to be moved from position to position. She must execute smooth transfers of weight and develop an instinctive sense of balance. She must understand her body positions in relationship to the man at every point of the code.
The accompanying video clip shows the set up for an eight count giro. Typically the complete eight count begins from the woman’s cruzada position. She is standing on one vertice of the triangle. The man stands at another vertice with his right foot crossed behind his left foot. The unoccupied third vertice is where the first step of the woman will step as the giro begins. The general idea is that the man will extend his free foot, in this case his left, to the vertice where the woman is standing. She will extend her right to the unoccupied vertice. As the man shifts his weight forward, he displaces her shifting her weight to her forward left and leaves his initial vertice unoccupied. This is where she will go, repeating the process.
“Complicated” is in the eye of the onlooker
Here is an example of taking an “easy” movement and making it look “complicated” by decorating or embellishing it with minor changes in foot placement and body alignment. The use of quote marks on easy and complicated is to emphasize the subjective approach many take when talking about tango dancing.
We’ll see that it is possible to teach and to learn tango using clear and objective concepts that can empower dancers to express their personality, talent and creativity within the frame of a simply but powerful structure. A dancer can be extremely technical but devoid of any feelings, utterly passionate but short on technique, or anything in between.
The core structure of the tango is best exemplified by what is known as the Eight Count Giro, a turning sequence to the right or to the left where the man displaces the woman as they go around each other twice, first using the parallel system and then the cross feet system. The name comes from the fact that it takes eight foot movements that involve the entire sole of the foot receiving the entire weight of the body. In “simple” terms, eight steps with weight change. (Reference: GOTTA TANGO book and DVD)
First we make a surprising and unexpected move during a salida cruzada to enter into the 6-7-8 steps of the Eight Count Giro to the left. Then we show a mirror image of the previous figure but entering into the 6-7-8 steps of the Eight Count Giro to the right. Finally we go downtown by linking the first combination that uses a decorated 6-7-8 to the left with the combination that uses a decorated 6-7-8 to the right.
The set up for the 6-7-8 is the woman’s outside cross or back step. Let’s look first at the decoration involving the 6-7-8 to the left. In this case, the point of entry is the second step of the salida for the woman. She takes a back step with her outside leg (right) to the left of the man (0:08″). The man steps and stops with his left outside her right foot instead of inside as in the standard 6-7-8 sequence. As the man stops, he creates an impulse for the woman who “falls” off her back step, opening diagonally into the left side of the man. That’s the modified, decorated “6-and” of the Eight Count Giro. After that, it continues normally with the woman stepping forward with her left and the man opening forward with his right on “7.” Next the man changes the woman’s direction and she steps forward with her right while the man turns a half turn in place on “8.” The 6-7-8 of the Eight count giro to the left resolves with a back step of the man (step 5 of the Base) so we end the sequence by having the man bring his right foot together (0:12″), changing the woman’s direction to his left, and ending with a resolution.
To use the same idea with a 6-7-8 to the right, we change the woman’s direction after she takes the second step of the salida (0:16″) so she takes a back step with her right to the man’s right. The man steps and stops with his right outside her left foot instead of inside as in the standard 6-7-8 sequence. That is the modified, decorated “6-and” of the Eight Count Giro. We continue then with the woman stepping forward with her right and the man opening forward with his left on “7.” Next the man changes the woman’s direction and she steps forward with her left while the man brings his feet together on “8” (0:18″). The 6-7-8 of the Eight count giro to the right resolves with a forward step of the man to a resolution.
Finally, to transition from one sequence to the next skipping the resolution, we pick up the end of the 6-7-8 to the left (2:01″) when the man brings his feet together and the woman steps forward with her left leg. The man turns to his left and provokes a lateral opening of the woman’s left leg. This is the beginning of the second sequence.
Enjoy the experience, and don’t discount the tremendous benefits of reading Gotta Tango to increase your understanding of the language of the structure of the tango.
Turning is something else
In 1889 Mark Twain wrote in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: “she was wise, subtle, and knew more than one way to skin a cat”, that is, more than one way to get what she wanted. This proverb, which suggests there are always several ways to do something, applies to the ways we teach people how to dance tango. Argentine tango is not just another social dance. It cannot be learned in one evening or a series of one evenings. It cannot be faked on the dance floor. You either know how to dance it or you don’t. Its historical and cultural context makes an intriguing and rich counterpoint in the learning process. Its music and poetry, in the form of lyrics, are unique and powerful. No other music sounds like this, and no other dance looks like the Argentine tango. Anything else is a version of choreographed ballroom lead and follow dancing. Some call it empty geometry, organized chaos, or a zipless tango.
Our success in developing good social tango dancers relies in the belief when you listen, hear, and process what we say in class and what we wrote in our book Gotta Tango, you learn the same way you have learned many other things that require coordination and knowing what you are doing. You probably forgot how you learned to use the gas and brake pedals in your car, but you go around in your car every day without having to call somebody every time you get in your car to asking him or her to show you “one more time how and when to move the feet in order to stop and go.”
During the new session started on the first week of August, we have been working with one of the rules that are embedded in the structure of the dance. The idea of taking two steps and doing something else. The two steps in question are either both forward or back, one with each leg. Something else so far has been crossing the feet, closing the feet, or opening the feet.
In this lesson we show that after taking two forward steps, one with each leg, something else is taking two back steps, one with each leg. This leads to another rule that is embedded in the structure of the dance. The woman dances around the man, while the man dances around the floor. As soon as the man stops, the woman goes around the man. She goes around by virtue of taking two forward steps one, with each leg, two back steps, one with each leg. If nothing changes, she would continue walking endlessly around the man like a windmill. Every time she takes a back step after the two forward steps, she is doing a change of front or cambio de frente. That is she turns herself around as she continues to advance in the same direction. As she does that on a curved trajectory around the man, the figure sometimes is called a media luna.
Observe at the 9″ mark that after starting with a simple salida, the woman takes two forward steps, one with the leg inside or closer to the man, and another with the outside leg or farther from the man. To mark and match her movement, the man takes two back steps, one with the outside leg, farther from her, and another on a diagonal, turning to her, with the inside leg or closer to her.
At the 14″ mark, the man brings his feet together (something else) while the woman takes a back step with the outside leg (something else) to the left side of the man. The man changes weight in place while she takes her second back step inside. As a result of the man staying in the same place, the woman’s second step is a wide back diagonal that places her body back on the right side of the man, at the same exact body alignment as the beginning of the sequence.
At 15″ initial two step sequence repeats, and at 19″ the man does something else, he interrupts the turn, he rocks back to his left foot, marking a similar rocking step for the woman to her right foot. The man closes right to left while the woman crosses left over right. This is a back alley Sally to get back to the cruzada position. The sequence resolves to the resolution.
The rest of the clip shows us dancing from various angles the linked sequences, salida simple to cruzada, media luna, turn with interruption, cruzada, resolution.
There is a very comprehensive Glossary at the end of our book, and you can have a look HERE.
One step at a time
Over the years we have learned that so called fundamentals are often and wrongly associated with the things people have to do during the first couple of tango lessons. For Argentine tango dancers, fundamentals mean posture, balance, and coordination. They include, foot placement, leg elongation, and upper and lower body dissociation. The goal is to being always on axis, and dance by changing axis with precise and clear weight changes. These skills can only be acquired by not using the feet for dancing but to provide the proper support to the moving body. Only then, tango improvisation is possible. Make sure you understand that, otherwise we won’t be able to help you.
We don’t learn fundamentals today and discard them tomorrow. It bears repeating, accomplished musicians do scales. Accomplished athletes do drills. Accomplished ballet dancers do daily classes at the barre. Accomplished artists draw every day. Accomplished writers write every day. This is how we use our fundamentals. They are the tools that we use every day as tango dancers. The more experienced we become, the more our fundamentals will look so spectacular that they will not be recognized as such by the untrained eye.
After a year and a half hiatus, we have resumed teaching weekly classes in New Orleans. We will be loosely following the teachings we have left for posterity in our best selling book and DVD Gotta Tango. The concept is relatively simple, and the proposal fair. First you must get tango fit, then master technique, then approach a partner.
Here is a snapshot of the Warm Up, Fitness and Technique segment of our class led by Valorie Hart. Valorie has had the extraordinary fortune of having being drilled on fitness and technique by the likes of Graciela Gonzalez and Esther Pugliese in the early years of our partnership.
Valorie Hart leads the Warm Up, Fitness and Technique session
We had a variety of dancing experiences ranging from none to a few years. That is always a challenge, but our experience has taught us that those who apply themselves to take instruction, to understand a concept, and to challenge their bodies to execute, blur the typical lines that segregates people into arbitrary levels. We have a lot of experience handling situations like that. So for purposes of give people a way to progress at their own pace, we present a particular topic in a progressive manner.
We begin with a simple three step walk with a rocking step to change direction, followed by two steps and another change of direction that ends on a cruzada (the position where the woman brings her left foot next to her right foot but on the outside of it). From the Home position (man on his right axis and the woman on her left axis),
1M. The man advances with his left leg on a slight diagonal to his left.
1W. The woman steps back diagonally with her left.
2M. The man continues with his right leg on a slight diagonal to his right as he begins to turn his upper body to his right.
2W. The woman steps back diagonally with her right allowing to begin turning to her right.
3M. The man steps forward with his left leg finishing the turning to his right, stopping with his weight on his left foot.
3W. The woman steps back with her right leg and allows to be stop with her weight on her right foot.
4M. The man rocks back into his right leg.
4W. The woman rocks forward into her left leg.
5M. The man takes a back step with his left leg bringing the woman to his right.
5W. The woman steps forward with her right leg into the right side of the man.
6M. The man steps back diagonally with his right leg turning his upper body to his right and stopping with weight on his right foot.
6W. The woman step forward with her left leg allowing her body to turn to her right and stopping with weight on her left foot.
7M. The man rocks back into his left leg and brings the right foot next to his left foot changing weight to the right foot.
7W. The woman rocks back into her right leg and turns her hip to her left sliding her left foot in front of her right foot changing weight to her right foot.
This is similar to the initial Home position except that the woman’s left foot is on the outside of her right foot. Otherwise it is similar to the Home position.
The previous sequence follows a salida simple replacing the typical tango close or resolution. So begin a salida simple and proceed to execute the walk with double change of direction back to cruzada, repeat the walk a couple odf times before ending with a resolution.
We challenge the most experienced dancers by adding an elegant ending to the previous sequences. To review, the man starts a salida simple with his body facing the outer edge of the dance floor so his left arm, extended points to the imaginary line of dance. At the end of the salida (cruzada position) the man initiates a walk with double change of direction. After he takes first back step with his left leg, he begins to turn to his right with a short back step with his right while guiding the woman to take her second step to his right. As the man continues to turn to his right, he sends the woman into a back step with her outside right leg. He steps forward with left leg into the right side of the woman following her right foot. This position is equivalent to the first step of a simple salida. Finish the salida to a cruzada, and resolve with a tango close.
It is important for both men and women to “see” the trajectory that their bodies follow much in the same way you know how to get the store using one of your favorite routes. We want you to get there, not to get lost trying to remember the sequence required to turn or to step on the gas. If you avoid looking at the floor and don’t insist on memorizing the “steps,” not only you will soon be enjoying your new skills, but you’ll be the kind of dancer who can really benefit from our book and DVD Gotta Tango.
Enjoy your practice and dance more tango.