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The quintessential definition of a milonga   Leave a comment

The quintessential definition of a milonga
By Valorie Hart and Alberto Paz

Excerpts from Gotta Tango. Copyright (c) 2007-2013. All Rights Reserved

Did you know that in Buenos Aires there is an official definition of what constitutes a “milonga?” You’d need to meet specific criteria to obtain a permit to operate a milonga. By definition, a milonga is a place where the dance of tango and its codes of conduct are taught and practiced.

In a milonga, the dance floor is clearly demarcated from and surrounded by the area occupied by tables and chairs where the public remain seated, except when they step onto the dance floor to dance.

The structure of this type of dance requires sufficient space for its execution as well as the additional space for the circulation around, which is also preordained by this dance. That determines its capacity. The number of tables and chairs needed to accommodate everyone in attendance and the need for circulation corridors for the waiters to take care of servicing the tables result in an especially low density of participants in relation to other popular dance venues, where agglomeration is the norm.

The public is mainly adult, with a certain level of education. They are local habitues and foreigners who come to practice or to perfect the knowledge of the dance.

The atmosphere is familiar, similar to a social club, where the majority of people know each other. There are particularly demanding codes of conduct and courtesy, which are as important as the knowledge of the dance itself.

The lighting, unlike in typical dance halls, must be relatively high to allow all the participants to get a good look at all the premises.

The music must have a low decibel level in order to avoid affecting the auditory capacity of the public engaged in normal conversations at the tables. (Normal is considered approximately 75 decibels; 130 decibels is the level at a disco, which is barely bearable for less than 15 minutes without causing a reduction in the level of hearing.)

The dance is done exclusively in pairs.

The presence of live music does not modify any of these parameters. The patrons remain seated at the tables or dance on the floor with conduct identical to that acceptable for recorded music. In other instances, when a singer performs or professional dancers give a dance exhibition, the duration does not exceed the length of a tanda and the patrons remain seated, without crowding any areas or exceeding capacity of a space.

All these conditions (lighting, sound level, characteristics of the music, quality of the dance, codes of courtesy, and age of the patrons) contribute to an atmosphere of intimacy at the milonga that is conducive to calm and friendly behavior, diametrically opposed to what is characteristic of other places of dance.

Most important, they contribute to create something unique to any other social dance. It is called the dynamics of the “milonga.”

Now, we don’t live in Buenos Aires, we live in New Orleans, and let me digress by saying thanks God. So our promise to you is that we’ll work hard to recreate the dynamics of a “milonga” every Thursday night at the Planet Tango milonga.

Buy Gotta Tango HERE

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The proof is in the pudding   Leave a comment

The proof is in the pudding

The concept of structure in tango sometimes is met with a certain skepticism, if not downright cynicism when it comes to assume responsibilities and conform to a fundamentals codes that go are rooted in the very essence of the Argentine tango culture and tradition. Generally the excuses fall under the umbrella of freedom of expression. In some cultures it is fashionable to show aversion to authority figures. Teachers and their concepts of structure may be framed as the works of the tango police. After all, the battle cry is “We are not in Buenos Aires.” You might find them everywhere, recklessly using empty geometry, crude acrobatics, and clueless attitudes that endanger those who are trying to mind their own business on the dance floor.

Their ignorance of a culture and values that are part of a rich tradition makes some people an eyesore on every dance floor they choose as their playground. It is only through education and proper learning that one can avoid becoming a clueless dancer, and instead set the standard of excellence for others to follow.

Tango dancing is a dance of people showing their pride in the way they dance by respecting each other, the music, the dance floor, and the rest of the dancers. The fact that the man is responsible for dancing around the floor makes him more accountable for the behavior of the couple on the dance floor.

The role of the woman includes elements that contribute to the safe circulation of the couple around the floor. One is the judicious use of the code of the tango; another is the correct way to let her legs follow her body as her body is carried in her partner’s embrace. We can’t put enough emphasis on the fact that dancing around the man is what produces the look of legs being crossed, as seen from the point of view of the man.

In reality, the woman legs are moving forward or backward on a circular trajectory around the center axis provided by the man. Her upper torso is always turned in the direction of her partner to maintain connection with his upper torso. The effect, from where the man stands, is that in between lateral openings, one of the woman’s legs is alternatively crossed inside the couple (between them) or crossed outside the couple (away from him).

However, the responsibility of circulating around the floor without causing harm falls directly into the man. Polite and civilized behavior on the dance floor is to be expected from everyone who claims to be a good tango dancer. It’s not how many steps you can do but how many you can do without infringing on the right of the rest of the dancers to enjoy their time without risking injuries and abuse. The purpose of learning to dance the tango is not to collect steps to impress the foolish but to learn the rules and codes of conduct that are faithfully followed by seasoned dancers around the world.

To that extent, in this session we decided to test the ability of our dancers to go around the floor respecting the line of dance while using three simple sequences we have worked on in weeks past.

Observe how the simple salida to cruzada is used to get onto the line of dance.

If you use the Pause button on the video at 0:44 you will be able to see why the woman finishes the salida with her left foot crossed in front of her right foot. As the man opens to his left in order to free his right leg to step forward on the right of the woman, their body positions change with the dancers being relatively to the right of each other. Were the man to stop, the woman would continue dancing around him to his left as this is her purpose during the dance, to dance around the man. When he steps with his right foot he doesn’t allow her to dance around him to his left, so she walks straight back with her outside leg, stepping with her left foot.

Again, were the man to stop, the woman would continue dancing around him to his left as this is her purpose during the dance, to dance around the man. But the man continues to advance so the woman can use her inside leg, the right, to step back on a diagonal continuing her intention to go to the left of the man to dance around him. If the man chooses to call for a “cruzada” he will match her diagonal by stepping forward with his left foot and stopping his forward motion. As the man stops, the woman for the first time has a clear path to the man’s left but since her body was going back the only way she can position herself on the left of the man is by crossing her left foot over her right foot without turning her hips. It’s important to understand that the trajectory of the man is a straight line while the woman’s trajectory is a diagonal in the following her shoulder line.

The illusion of walking back on a diagonal is what creates the need to cross. The man calls for a cruzada on his forward step with his left foot going opening forward to his left on a slight diagonal, stopping, and gentle bringing his right elbow straight in front of him. It is extremely important that the woman embrace properly so her body is guided in the embrace as the man’s elbow extends forward. As a corollary, if the man wishes not to call a “cruzada” he will step straight into her body with his left foot closing the space for her left foot and taking it to his right as in a resolution or base.

Changes of direction using the forward step for the woman (forward ochos) allow the couple to turn in place and end the combination with variations of the resolution. Using the shape of the dance floor, the ochos and the resolution allows the man to steer the couple so the repetition of the three sequences keeps them progressing along the line of dance.

References, Gotta Tango by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart

Next window, please   Leave a comment

Next window, please

If you or people you know are looking to experience the DRAMA. The PASSION. The LOVE. The HATE!

If you are hot to learn the best INTENSE FACIAL EXPRESSIONS to wear while you FLING and SPIN!

If you want the dance floor to CLEAR for YOU, yes YOU, so you will be the ONLY ONE THERE, the STAR of the show!

If you want onlookers to narrow their eyes, sneer and scoff because they are JEALOUS of your cool tricks and flicks!

Sorry, next window please…

To say that we are excited with the way the Thursday Argentine tango sessions are shaping up, would be a major understatement. Really. Can’t tell if the moon is in the seventh house and Mercury aligns with Mars, but it really feels like 2001 again…

Fundamentals are not something we learn today and then discard tomorrow. 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.

Our classes will be 2 hours long. Every week we will begin with a Warm up, Fitness and Technique period led by Valorie with me assisting. Then, we’ll introduce a particular aspect of technique which will be pertinent to the topic chosen for the evening’s lesson.

Tango is the ultimate touch dance between a man and a woman. It is a safe form for experiencing human connection three minutes at a time. It is an exercise in mutual respect and consideration for both partners as they both embark on a journey that requires full participation and cooperation from both ends of the partnership. No partner needed. Multiple lesson pass don’t expire unless we do first.

ARGENTINE TANGO
with Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart
Lelia Haller Dance Arts
4916 Canal St., New Orleans, LA

STARTS THIS THURSDAY, AUGUST 4, 2011

8 pm – 10 pm

$15 per person, $25 per pair.
5 lesson pass $50 per person, $90 per pair

For more information, 504.535.3614, or email, planet.tango@gmail.com

Buy our book from us, please   Leave a comment

A recent life altering event have gotten me to think about the way being immersed in the tango sometimes means to be disconnected with reality. It’s like one lives and operates in a different dimension often times trapped in a vortex where values are distorted.

One thing I don’t understand is why we have been so shy about ringing the bells, beating the drums, and blowing the horns about our book GOTTA TANGO (the publisher’s cheesy choice of cover photo has a lot to do with it). We gave up fighting them and ended up getting them to print a special edition with our choice of cover, and we get to sell the special edition out of our website and suitcases.

The book is without a doubt the ultimate reference in the state of the art in tango dancing. Not a single word of confessional or high school confidential nature can be found in page after page of honest historical references and time honored solid technical concepts about the structure of the dance.

So please, buy our book from us. The few extra dollars you’ll pay for getting the book signed by us with our mug shot on the cover will go a long way to help us retire the humongous medical expenses we incurred in Canada.

In the world of Argentine tango, sometimes it seems that there are more social dance teachers than students and dancers. The odds for a new woman showing up at a tango dance party and being given express tango lessons right on the floor are very high. The attraction that some people have to teaching cannot be denied.

How does one become a teacher of Argentine tango? There are no college or university courses. There are no officially sanctioned programs. There is no official or sanctioned certification. Several enterprises exist claiming exclusive training methods and delivering official looking certifications for a fee. At times the process of becoming a teacher seems like a free-for-all with no standards. Yet, we know when a good teacher leaves a lasting impression in our lives. For now, common sense and integrity must rule.

If you are a good communicator, if you have a comprehensive understanding of the structure of the dance, if you have a complete knowledge of the music, if you have knowledge and respect for the Argentine culture and knowledge of the history and environment that formed the dance, if you have solid skills as a dancer, and if you have the time to dedicate to teaching, then perhaps teaching is for you.

Acquiring all these skills is a process that you will have to undertake on your own. Business skills come into play too. Classes need to have a dollar value put on them. Studio space must be found and paid for. Advertising for classes needs to happen. Don’t underestimate or overlook the value this book has for the aspiring teacher as well.

Of course there is a high standard for dancing Argentine tango. While it is a dance of the people and for the people, it has a level of difficulty that must be reckoned with. There is a structure of the dance from whence improvisation is created. There is a learning curve and a developmental curve that comes from putting in hours that lead to weeks that lead to years of taking classes and dancing socially. Even the uninitiated eye of a newcomer can look at a room full of tango dancers and see various levels of ability. Most important is that those who dance Argentine tango hold themselves to their own standards of excellence. The judgment of self is the most rigorous!

This go-around of the Argentine tango is still new. For the first time in the history of the tango, more people outside of Argentina than inside of Argentina are dancing the tango. Those who are not natives of Argentina are evolving and taking small steps that deal with a culture that is not their own, trying to make it a meaningful experience. Regardless of nationality, the tango lifestyle requires great effort and commitment. It is difficult to learn to dance, to learn the music, and to socialize. Be aware of opportunists who, while outwardly banging the drum for the Argentine dancers, devise ways to remove most things Argentine, the essence that once nourished them.

Inside Argentina the evolution is taking place as older dancers pass on and the younger dancers try to revamp the dance to make it their own. The poignant hug of an older milonguero can be appreciated as much as the forceful dance of the younger dancer. All these tender feelings will sort themselves out, and perhaps there will come a day when dancers of Argentine tango will have a mature confidence that might allow the dance to become an Olympic sport or maybe just a friendly contest in a neighborhood milonga that nets the winner a bottle of champagne and bragging rights.

With evolution will come preservation of the Argentine tango (music, culture, poetry, and dance) that has been formed over the last hundred years. Today there are living witnesses of a tango covenant that has bonded generations of men and women in the mission of preserving what we love; seeing to its preservation when we are gone; and exposing all attempts to distort it, exploit it, and destroy it.

The ones who started this current cycle of the tango in the 1980s had a heartfelt mission to foster and preserve the Argentine tango. Now, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, some are becoming dinosaurs or simply dying out. We will not live long enough to see the rose planted firmly again in alternative teeth. The tango seems to need to die only to be reborn. We and many of our friends, associates, and disciples work hard to make sure that when someone wants to see the relics of the Argentine tango, our archives will be intact, and someone much like us will once again see the beauty and excitement of it and make it live. It could be you. . . so buy our book from us, please.

Excerpts used in this post courtesy of GOTTA TANGO by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart

Posted December 15, 2010 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

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Classical vals cruzado   2 comments

Classical vals cruzado

As the new year got underway, two devastating pieces of news shook the very foundation of the tango world. Within hours of each other, in the early hours of January 7, Tete Rusconi and Osvaldo Zotto passed away. Tete, two days short of his 74th birthday was an icon of the milongas porteñas where his lively dancing style was the favorite of many local and foreigners. Osvaldo was barely 46 and still at the top of his form.There are many things that can be said and remembered about these two great dancers, but their particular way to dance the vals cruzado made them special among those who venture beyond the safe confines of the steady beat of the tango, into the exhilarating gliding of the vals criollo.

As a humble way to honor their memory, we scheduled two consecutive workshops reviewing elements favored by both Tete and Osvaldo. Here are the video notes of the first workshop held in New Orleans on January 13.


DESDE EL ALMA – VALS CRUZADO WORKSHOP PART 1

This is the second workshop held in New Orleans on January 20.


DESDE EL ALMA – VALS CRUZADO WORKSHOP PART 2

Tools for improvisation, Session 1   Leave a comment

On Thursday nights we teach a group lesson in New Orleans. Our approach is to provide our students with an understanding of the concept of tango improvisation to enable them to own the material they learn. We run the lessons in a four week cycle. In the first class of the cycle we introduce a set up combination, then we proceed to develop a different continuation every week.Here is the set up for the first week ending with a calesita, salida and resolution.

 

Here is the second week where after the set up, we use a circular cross feet salida to resolve and end the sequence.

Here is the third week where after the set up, we use a corkscrew and a circular cross feet salida to resolve and end the sequence.

Here is the fourth week where after the set up, we use a lapiz, a circular salida, an a planeo to create another mirror position.

Posted September 30, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

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Book launch/signing party in New Orleans   Leave a comment

THE BOOKS ARE HERE

After a long and anxious wait, the first shipment of the special edition of GOTTA TANGO has arrived in New Orleans! What a pleasure it is to see our photos on the cover. They are are beautiful! The publisher reluctantly agreed to print the special edition after going ahead against our objections to using young models to appeal to young college students. An unfortunate case of corporate arrogance.

But we are so excited! After nearly 4 years, we finally have the fruits of our labor in our hands! So now it was time for the book signing/book launch party…

We picked a Sunday afternoon (5 PM-8 PM), when there wouldn’t be a conflict with other tango activities, and folks from out of town might be able to come from Baton Rouge, Florida, and Mississippi.

Gracious hosts and tango dancers Edwin and Barbara Beckman offered their beautiful home in the Garden District for the occasion and we got the word fairly quickly. The house has just undergone major renovations and it was a pleasure to be part of one of the very first social gatherings in it.

The one thing we had not planned, was the torrential rain that poured since early in the morning. Sunday, November 25 witnessed the worst, wettest weather we have seen in New Orleans in a long time.

The hardy souls who braved the worst, wettest weather we have seen in New Orleans in quite a while were rewarded with readings by the authors, live tango music, played in piano rendition by Amassa Miller, the well known New Orleans musician, and a warm and friendly gathering of tango dancers and supporters from New Orleans and beyond.

Alberto read first from the foreword of the book, written by Acho Manzi, describing the historical circumstances that contributed to the establishment of tango in the 20th century.

Notably, he writes, “Credit for this (e.g. global explosion) 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..and Valorie Hart… 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 tango when they and others found it languishing for lack of interest and understanding.

Valorie then read from the acknowledgments…”What Katrina did to New Orleans and our four months in exile played a fundamental role in the way this book went through an epiphany of sorts…

What a difference the year after Katrina made in our lives. We like to think that it happened to us for a reason – that after our four month tour, teaching with a passion and inspiration that we had not experienced before, we wrote a better book….” and from the introduction, “There is something so human about the Argentine tango that grabs a primal instinct for human connection, to hold and to be held. All over the world, people are dancing this dance of the people of Buenos Aires with a passion that has been compared to a healthy addiction.

In the blackened, wind swept evening, last night’s attendees were held, and connected in a circle of light, with the love, and lovers of tango at its center.