Tangos with melodies from classical music

This post simply presents a fun listening exercise, where a few of the tangos that are using melodies from the classical repertoire can be compared to how they are usually played in a concert hall.

Sadness

Let’s start off with Edgardo Donato’s La Melodía Del Corazón:

Compare the above to Frédéric Chopin’s organically flowing Étude Op. 10, No 3: Tristesse, as performed by Evgeny Kissin:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=lTcfPlH3m8k

Wedding march

Several orchestras have recorded the tango Marcha Nupcial. Here’s Francisco Canaro:

And Biagi:

And, of course, the original Wedding march from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, here conducted by Kurt Masur:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMQPgI8PFSU

Hungarian dance

Enrique Rodríguez played some nice foxtrots, e.g. this Danza Húngara No. 5:

And Claudio Abbado’s classical version of Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian dance no. 5 will show you why it’s easier to dance to an adaptation by a tango orchestra, rather than the original composition:

Pearl fishers

Florindo Sassone’s Los Pescadores De Perlas is played a lot in European tango events these days:

The original tenor aria “Je crois entendre encore” is from from Georges Bizet’s opera Les pêcheurs de perles. I recommend first listening to Jussi Björling’s flawless rendering:

And then let your heart melt to Alfredo Kraus’ extraordinary stage performance of the same aria:

For anyone accustomed to the classical versions, the corresponding tango versions may sound a bit square and insensitive in comparison. But this might be a necessary adaptation, in order to make the tunes danceable. And the interesting thing is that very often you tend to like the version of a song that you heard first better, so if you e.g. already heard some of the above at milongas, it is not unlikely that you’ll prefer the tango version not just for dancing, but also for listening. Either way, I hope you enjoy all of this amazing music!

The Myth of Different Learning Styles

Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic (VAK) learning

The model of different learning styles that was presented by Barbe and colleagues in 1979 separated three different modalities of learning: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic styles (abbreviated as VAK). In tango teaching, that could simply mean that some students would learn faster from verbal explanations, others from looking at the teachers when they demonstrate a technique, and a third group would rather spend the time on trying it out in their own bodies.

It sounds like an elegant and plausible theory, which is probably why the idea gradually became one of the most wide-spread neuro-myths: in a 2012 study (Decker et al.), over 90% of a sample of 212 school teachers from the UK and the Netherlands believed the VAK theory to be correct. However, reviews of existing studies (such as Howard-Jones, 2014) show no scientific support for the theory – in many cases results have instead contradicted the VAK idea.

Learning styles in tango

This means that tango teachers need to let go of the notion of finding the (VAK) learning style that will fit each tango student. Because the optimal learning style depends much more on the subject being taught than on individual student strengths. A mathematics class will require modes of input that are different from those of a dance class.

It may very well be that it’s a good idea to mix teaching styles within a tango class, i.e. to do a bit of talking, demo some things and then let students try it out – but if this works well, it is not because each student needs to get the input style that he or she can best absorb — it’s because tango dancing as a subject is best learned from a certain mix of modes of inputs.

Trying it out for yourself is essential for learning tango
Trying it out for yourself is essential for learning tango

So what is a good mix for learning tango? Well, apart from the obvious statement that nobody can learn dancing without trying it out in their own bodies (i.e. the kinesthetic style ought to be essential), we can only speculate about what the proportions need to be. I suspect that the physical skills in tango dancing primarily come from trying it out, where instructions could be given either in verbal or visual form. To the auditory learning style, we could also add the music as a (perhaps more subtle) source of input.

Tango dancing is more than physical skills, however, and I see some teachers who spend a lot of class time talking, e.g. describing the social atmosphere at milongas or addressing some of the insecurities that their students might have in relation to dancing. Although this time spent on talking may not be optimal from a strict dancing skill point of view, it will, according to some teachers, make students stay in tango and happily attending milongas, rather than abandoning tango for other activities.

But, to sum it up, regardless of your view on what specific skills should be taught in a tango class, science suggests that the best learning style to cater for does not depend on the preferred learning style of different students, but rather on the subject matter itself.

References

  • Barbe, Walter Burke; Swassing, Raymond H.; Milone, Michael N. (1979). Teaching through modality strengths: concepts and practices. Columbus, Ohio: Zaner-Bloser.
  • Dekker, Sanne; Lee, Nikki C; Howard-Jones, Paul; Jolles, Jelle. (2012). Neuromyths in education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Front. Psychology 3:429.
  • Howard-Jones, Paul A. (2014). Neuroscience and education: myths and messages. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 15, 817–824.

Tango Dancer in the Mirror

You might have heard of the study where 93% of US car drivers estimated that they had above-average car driving skills (Svenson, 1981). Naturally, we would expect that only 50% of the drivers actually had above-average skills. So there must be a huge gap between how people evaluate their own skill, and how their skills would be evaluated by others. This happens in many domains, not just car driving. Might it also happen in tango?

It is called the Dunning-Kruger effect, named after the researchers at Cornell University who published a famous paper on the topic (Kruger & Dunning, 1999). The name is almost harder to remember than the description of the effect:

“Incompetent people tend to over-estimate their own ability, while highly competent people tend to under-estimate their own ability.”

So in tango, unskilled dancers might often believe that they are much better dancers than they really are. But don’t we all believe that we are better than everybody else? No, according to what Dunning & Kruger found, we all just believe we are better than the average guy.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is often misunderstood: it does not state that everybody believes they are better than they actually are, or better than everybody else, for that matter. Look at the graph below from the original paper.

dunning_kruger

 

See how the left-most group got a really low test score (the round dot), but somehow still believed that they were slightly above average (the square marker)? Now look at the right-most group: they got fantastic scores on the test, but rated themselves lower than that. They still knew they were more skilled than the other groups, but they under-estimated how much better they actually were.

So, provided that these results are also valid in tango, we would expect that highly skilled dancers know that they are more skilled than most, but they do not understand just how good they really are.

ECTM2012 49

The Dunning-Kruger effect makes you over-estimate your own ability only when you are unskilled at something, which means that as you improve your skills, you will also gain a more accurate notion about what skill means and how good you are yourself. Then, as you approach real mastery, the effect will actually be the opposite – since tango is easy for you, you will assume that it is easy for the rest of the crowd as well.

Now, that brings us to an interesting challenge for tango teachers. Many of them are naturally in the top quartile, so what if they do not really understand just how difficult tango is for their students?

For the not-as-skilled social dancers, the challenge will be a different one: the effect might cause frustration, e.g. if they go to a high-level dancing event, say El Yeite in Buenos Aires, since they will tend to think that they are at par with the general level of the place, but people are perhaps still reluctant to dance with them – which is then easily taken more personally.

On a deeper level, we can speculate about why our minds are twisted in this way. My guess is that the Dunning-Kruger effect is there to help us keep up the spirit when learning new things, rather than just giving up after the first attempt.

If tango beginners truly understood how little they learned after one class, would they at all feel like making the necessary investment for getting up to the general level of the community?

ECTM2012 26

Of course, after just a few classes, they are usually already much better tango dancers than most of the people who never took a class, and they will quickly achieve a level where many experienced dancers will enjoy dancing with them at milongas. It is just that most dimensions of the dance, beyond “taking a few steps without crushing someone’s foot”, will remain hidden from them for a while.

When you look at yourself in the mirror, are you blissfully boosting your tango skills above your actual level? No? Well, I didn’t think so: this is all based on statistics, so you may very well be the odd exception, but still, isn’t it a fun fact to know that most of your dancing friends are hopelessly unable to accurately assess their own tango skills? 😉

References:

How to dance to the music: Know the recording

Many dancers prefer tangos from a specific period, namely the Golden Age (approx. 1935-1955) of tango. Although there are plenty of gems in that musical treasure, some of the nicest songs get played more often than others in practicas and milongas, to the point where you will recognize them from the first few harmonies, and know much of them by heart. This is a good thing, in my mind, since knowing specific recordings really well also makes it easier to dance to them. My series on how to dance to the music continues.

ECTM

A trained ear can guess rather well what is about to happen in a previously unknown tango. Some expressions of musicality in dancing, though, rely on actually knowing the specific recording by heart.

The accents of Edgardo Donato’s milonga “Ella Es Así” are virtually impossible to predict unless you’ve heard the song before, and if you want to play with the exact rhythm of the many playful fills of Rodolfo Biagi’s piano, you need to know from memory what is about to happen in the music.

The better you know the specific song, the better are your chances of finding time to prepare. The body needs time to create a movement, so it is not sufficient to realize what is coming just a fraction of a second beforehand – often movements need to be prepared at least one beat in advance, sometimes even several beats for a good build-up.

Here’s a few examples of how knowing the details of a tango piece can be used in the dancing:

  1. Make embellishments that match fills in the music. Fills are short instrumental passages in the breaks between the phrases of the melody. Carlos Di Sarli often lets a few piano notes shine through to connect two phrases. Ángel D’Agostino as well, or he may leave it to the bandoneons. Some leaders make sure to leave space in the dance for the follower to do this, when they know a good moment is coming up.
  2. Hit accents in the music with something distinct in the dance, such as a heavier step or a boleo. Often, the necessary time of preparation for the movement corresponds roughly to its size. If you don’t have time to execute the big boleo, go for something smaller, like a shoulder movement or a foot tap.
  3. Play along with the ending of the song. As already mentioned among the basics, one way is to make sure that your last movements hits the last note of the song. Extravagant ending poses are fun, but not always suitable for the social dance floor. Simply coming to a stop in the dance right when the tango ends, is a great effect in itself. Sure, most of the time, it is easy to hear when a song is about to end, even if you do not know the specific recording, but there are plenty of exceptions, so make sure to remember if you can. Sometimes, the music is twisting it the other way around: it lets you expect an ending, when in fact it continues, like a Beethoven symphony that never wants to finally settle into silence. Dance on without any hesitation in those moments, and notice the effect.
  4. The moment when the singer enters the song is often a very special moment, so don’t let it pass unnoticed in the dancing! It can be the right time to slow down to almost complete stillness (try that e.g. to Temo by OTV). Or it may be the time to get into really a close and gentle embrace. If you don’t remember exactly where the singer starts, it is perfectly fine to make such alterations once you actually hear the voice, but the effect is greater if you can prepare beforehand, to really change the way you move from the very first note of the singer.

Soobin_Hai

How to dance to the music: Know the structure of tango music

After the basics, my series on how to dance to the music continues, diving deeper into more specific topics. This article explains how knowing the structure of tango music can help dancers make their dancing more interesting.

prov1

Listening to lots of different tangos, we can find recurring patterns. An important part of dancing with musicality relies on our ability to predict the music, and just like other genres of dancing music, tango is constructed in a predictable way.

It is not difficult to find descriptions of how tangos are built from alternating sections, how some tangos follow the pattern A-B-A-C-A, etc. In my mind, we don’t always need to make that kind of analysis formal or explicit. It might be sufficient to notice that “oh, this part of the song sounds very similar to the beginning”, or “ah, here comes the second verse of the singer, similar to the first one but with different words and an added violin in the background”.

Once you are familiar with the general architecture of the whole tango, it will be easier to know how much of the song is left, and whether or not the song has yet reached its intensity climax.

berlin

Phrasing in tango also follows certain patterns, although not as predictably as we might hope for. Sometimes a phrase evolves over 8 heavy beats, but other times over a different number of beats. So it is often better to listen than to count. Some phrases follow a wave-like pattern, where they start quietly, then grow in intensity, and eventually calm down again. Other phrases are more square: they start on beat number one and march steadily and evenly until they end promptly, perhaps leaving a beat or two empty before the next phrase takes over.

Here’s a couple of examples of how the structure of tango music can be used for a more interesting interpretation:

  1. Adjust the intensity of your dance to whatever suits the different parts of the song. Many tangos start off slowly, which is naturally matched with simple and comfortable movements. Later in the song there might be more energy in the music, which can be matched with more energetic steps.
  2. Entertain the idea that the song introduces itself to the dancers during its first few phrases. The beginning of a song is the reference that the rest of the song will refer back to, and develop itself out of. The first few shivering moments of a song leave some room for the dancers to get connected to each other’s interpretation of that specific piece of music. These can be moments of attentive listening. Explore them and find their usefulness for dancing the rest of the song.
  3. Given the typical structure of a tango, and given your repertoire of dancing moves, you can make a rough estimation of how to distribute your resources. Save bigger and unusual moves for special moments in the music. They will have a greater musical effect when used sparingly. Practice this by allowing yourself to do one – and only one – high boleo (or another move) per song, and make sure it happens at the right moment. Or start in close embrace, find one moment in the song where the music calls for an open embrace, and then a second moment where getting back into a close embrace seems like the right way to respond to the music.
  4. Pick a tango with a singer, and listen carefully to the way he or she is phrasing the music. Are there moments where the singer is taking a breath? How long is each phrase? Does the singer vary the intensity of his or her voice within a phrase? Dance to the same song, and make similar expressions in the dance. Then dance to another song by the same orchestra, and adjust the expressions you just practiced to fit the new song.
  5. Play with repetition and variation. If a song enters into a repeated section, you may relate your dancing to what happened the first time the section was played, such as using the same steps, or the same attitude. Or, alternatively, you can figure out a way of doing the opposite of what you did before, which is also a way of relating to what happens last time. If there is a slight variation in the music, such as the added violin mentioned above, it could help you find a different expression the second time.

Some work is required for these exercises, but note that most of it includes actual dancing. You don’t need to just sit down and listen to tango music to learn about its structure – you can train your ear while you are actually moving to the music. Enjoy the practice!

jorg

How to dance to the music: The basics

Musicality is a wide topic that touches on many different aspects of tango dancing. Here we will look at the practical problem: what you actually need to do in your dance to make sure you are moving with the music.

Ellinor_Robert

Six important first steps towards getting your dance closer to the music:

  1. Learn to step on the basic beat of the song by just walking in the dance direction by yourself (tango first, then vals and milonga).
  2. With a partner, learn to walk a few steps on the beat, then stop, then find the beat again.
  3. At the beginning of a song, listen to the music to find a good moment to start, and stop dancing when the music stops.
  4. Learn some rhythms, such as quick-quick-slow or quick-slow-quick-slow, perhaps by clapping your hands first and then using the tempo of your steps. Try rhythms to different songs to see where they fit in.
  5. Listen for phrases in the music (using a tango with lyrics can be helpful, since the singer will often take a breath between two phrases). Learn to take a break at the end of a phrase, and to start walking at the beginning of a phrase.
  6. Learn how to adjust your dance to the general feel of a song, so that e.g. a romantic tango is danced with loving gentleness, while a hectic tango is danced with energy.

The items of this list are all essential as a base to develop musicality in dancing. Note that all of them require some listening and some doing. Enjoy!

Gaia_Jens

Scandinavian Consensus around Models for Teaching Tango

Malmö may be a small city (300,000 inhabitants), but still boasts a great tango scene. Is there something in the mindsets of Scandinavians that make them particularly attracted to tango? Or is there rather something about Scandinavian teaching methods that in the long term will cultivate a good tango environment?

I was recently looking at different teachers’ ideas about essential elements of tango, mostly to compare it with my own ABCD model. One of the models I have encountered is Tangoblomman, by Gunilla Rydén & Henrik Uldall:

"Tangoblomman", as Per remembers it from Gunilla & Henrik's teacher training at Tango Primavera in 2007.
“Tangoblomman”, as Per remembers it from Gunilla & Henrik’s teacher training at Tango Primavera in 2007.

This flower has five petals, each representing a different dimension of tango, where the selected dimensions translates to “musicality”, “repertoire”, “indvidual technique”, “partner interplay” and “social tango”. It’s a neat tool for teachers to remember what should be included in the teaching, and for dancers to know what to develop in their tango.

The similarities between this and the other models I found are striking! Apparently, when these Scandinavian teachers sum up into a model what they aim to teach their tango students, they reach very similar conclusions. See the table below for a summary of the 4 Swedish/Danish models I have encountered. With some minor variations, all of them include repertoire, technique, communication, social aspects and musicality. Two of them add aesthetics as an additional factor.

Striking similarities between four tango models of Scandinavian teachers
Striking similarities between four tango models of Scandinavian teachers (translated into English for this blog post)

I find it astonishing that all these models agree to a large extent not only on how many aspects to include (5-6) but also on the content of each of these aspects! It is not hard to imagine other factors that could have been included, such as “the walk”, “the embrace”, “improvisation” or “stretching and toning the body”. But this is not the case; there is more or less full consensus.

A lot of questions can be asked about the results of this little survey. Here’s two:

  1. Is there a common source or teaching tradition that has inpired all of these models, or are they developed independently and just inpired by a similar view of what tango is all about?
  2. Also, is this just a Scandinvian consensus, or would teachers in Turkey, South Korea or Argentina use the same dimensions in thier teaching models?

Sources

  • Teacher training & discussions with Daniel Carlsson (Tangokompaniet) and Mette Munk Andresen (M2 Tango)
  • Tango teacher training with Gunilla Rydén & Henrik Uldall (Per attended the course at Tango Primavera festival in 2007)
  • Tango teacher program with Ehsan Shariati & Josefine Hjälmeskog (info from website)

Dancing the Melody

Melodies are important in tango music, and very often they are what comes up when you try to remember a tango. Perhaps you can recall the melodies of “La Cumparsita” and “Vida mía”?

A notion I have often encountered in tango is that you can either dance the rhythm or the melody. I get the impression that dancing the melody is perceived as better, more sophisticated and a more advanced form of musicality in the dance: “Anybody will learn to dance the rhythm of a tango, but only certain advanced dancers are dancing the melody”.

Technically, a melody is a sequence of notes that we perceive as an entity in the music. The most important features of a melody are pitch (how high the notes are, not to be confused with how loud they are) and duration (how long they are). If you change the intervals or the duration of notes too much, you will no longer have the same melody. It’s easy to see that there is less tolerance for changing pitch than duration – just try it out with a well known melody. Pitch comes first, duration second.

DSC_5122
A well-known melody

But how would you make a corporal expression of a sequence of pitches? Once suggestion I heard is to be higher above the ground for higher pitches, and lower closer to the ground for lower pitches. This might work on rare occasions, but if performed more than for a couple of notes in a row, the effect would be purely comical.

And this is clearly not what “dancing the melody” is. It’s rather a question of reflecting the melodic line in the dance, as opposed to the (often more rhythmical) accompaniment of the melody.

The duration of the notes in the melodic line does not seem to matter much either. In workshops where “dancing the melody” is introduced, the rhythms of the melody are not danced, but it is rather a matter of slowing down the dance, as opposed to following the steady pace of a repetitive, rhythmical accompaniment (“dancing the rhythms”).

So, interestingly, when “dancing the melody”, you will not take into account the two foremost characteristics of a melody: neither pitch nor duration! Instead you will need to focus on the quality (timbre, emotional expression, etc.) and on the phrasing of the melodic line.

Isn’t it confusing to say “dance the melody” when you do not move to the most typical features of a melody? To me it is.

Dancers will achieve greater variation if they at times emphasize the music in a manner similar to the singer or an instrument playing the melody. But to describe this way of dancing, don’t ask people to “dance the melody” – it is more accurate to talk about longer and shorter phrases, emphasis and direction in the music. Or to simply say “slow down”.

FB_DSC_4365
Slowing it down…

 

The ABCD of Tango

The ABCD of Tango is a proposed model for teaching all essential parts of tango. The idea is that in each and every tango class, students should practice and develop all of the following 4 dimensions:

  • Tango Attitude
  • Tango Body
  • Tango Creativity
  • Tango Dance

These tango dancer dimensions result from gathering a large number of qualities for good dancers, organizing the qualities into clusters and finally selecting the most essential ones. Consequently, the starting point for this model is what skills students need, as opposed to e.g. what is easier to teach or what is easier to evaluate.

The advantage of using a model such as this is that it reminds you to spend teaching time on several important aspects of tango, that could sometimes be left out in a less structured approach.

Tango Attitude
Attitude is the first dimension, because it will affect everything else. This includes how to take and give advice in classes. Trying to improve oneself before one’s partner. Ability to relax and enjoy. Level of commitment. How you invite people to dance and who you accept to dance with. Making an effort to become more attractive as a dance partner. Ability to see the good in yourself and in others. An important part of Attitude is that it includes the self-image of the student. In my view, the teacher should make sure that when students leave a class they feel better about themselves as dancers and as persons.

Tango Body

Managing your own Body well is an excellent way to make it more pleasant to dance with a partner. Body awareness and balance are essential. Posture and quality of movement. A smooth walk. Toning the right muscles and relax others. Breathing. Dancing in a way that is healthy for the body. All of this is often addressed specifically in technique classes.

Tango Creativity
The Creativity dimension is what makes tango an art form and not just bodies moving around randomly. It includes musicality, with components such as rhythmic play, phrasing and understanding the structure of tango music. It also includes having a variety of steps and figures to choose from, as well as other ways to create variation in the dance, such as using different aesthetics in movement or different emotional expressions.

Tango Dance
The Dance dimension is basically what most people expect to learn in a tango class, and includes much of what distinguishes tango from other dances. Walking together in an embrace. Typical tango figures such as the giro and the cross. A firm and comfortable physical contact. Flexibility of the embrace. Sensitivity and presence. The fine tuned communication of leading and following. Also, how to move on a crowded dance floor.

ABCD-Athletic
The proposal is to make sure that each class includes all 4 dimensions. Even if there’s a specific theme in the class, such as “common rhythms in tango”, the teacher would still include how this relates to the Dance, e.g. through practicing these rhythms in some of the common tango figures.

I suppose that if any of the 4 dimensions seems surprising it would be Attitude. But think about how much attitude can affect both the ability to learn and the whole tango experience! Also remember that attitude is always transmitted from teacher to student, through words and behaviour – but by doing it consciously your students will get more out of their tango.

Buenos Aires Recommendations: Tango

This is information that might be useful for anyone travelling to Buenos Aires for tango. I spent six months there until February 2012. There’s a lot going on in the big city, so some of the information might already be outdated, but this post can definitely serve well as a general overview. It is divided into three parts:

  1. Practicalities
  2. Food
  3. Tango (this page)

What to expect

Expect to meet tango dancers from all over the world who are traveling to Buenos Aires just like you.

Expect a good level of dancers – apart from the locals there will be lots of visiting tango teachers on their yearly pilgrimage.

Unless you are an exceptional dancer or breathtakingly beautiful, don’t expect to dance a lot with locals for the first few weeks. They already have lots of dance partners and sometimes are hesitant to invest in relations with tourists who will just stay for a brief period of time.

If you are a young beautiful woman, expect a lot of attention, especially out in the streets where men will constantly approach you to praise your beauty, unless you are walking with a man by your side.

Expect more dancers in less space. The floor-craft is somewhat adapted to the situation, but still expect dancers bumping into you quite often, depending on which milongas you attend.

My impression is that there are lots of really skilled leaders in Buenos Aires, perhaps more so than followers. So leaders, expect that it might take a little time to get into the game. Both leaders and followers who are visiting might get the impression that they don’t get to dance with as skilled partners as they do at home. This may be partly true, since the good dancers don’t know you yet. But it may partly be that other qualities of a dancer is appreciated here than in your home country.

Expect traditional tango music only at most milongas, as this is what is played, unless you go to a specifically alternative place. DJ:s are not very creative, so you may hear basically the same playlist every week at a milonga, but it is generally good stuff.

Concerts

Look out for free concerts! There is a lot of those if you find a way to keep yourself informed. Get to know a musician!

Orquesta Victoria played at Café Vinilo every Monday when I was in town – really nice concert and nice atmosphere. It is a milonga, but few dancers go there (and the floor is very hard). Nice place to go for a tango introduction if you have non-tango friends visiting, since there is a tango class before the concert.

Café Vinílo
Orquesta Victoria at Café Vinílo

Orquesta Típica Fernandez Fierro gives a weekly heavy tango experience at their own place, Club Atlético Fernandez Fierro. Well worth a visit – book in advance.

Alberto Podestá gives performances every now and then. This legendary singer might not have a lot of voice left, but his audiences are still spell-bound.

Privates, Group Classes, Learning

If you don’t have much time in Buenos Aires but can afford privates – go for it! It is a great way to develop your tango.

Good privates can cost anything from 200-600 ARS if you are a tourist. 300-350 ARS was standard for many famous teachers when I was there. You can negotiate discounts if you take more classes or if the teacher likes you.

If you have several weeks, take perhaps a group class first with teachers to see if you like them.

Spending lots of time in classes is a much safer option than going to milongas if you want to improve your tango a lot. You may or may not dance a lot in milongas, but you are sure to be dancing in class.

Milongas and Practicas

Remember that milongas can be very different for different nights of the week even though it’s the same place. A certain crowd may only attend a certain night of the week, depending on the organizer. A milonga can actually be held at different locations on different nights, or move altogether from one place to another.

Here are short comments on some of the milongas and practicas that I attended, ordered by how important they were for me personally. The list is by no means complete.

Milonga 10 was at Club Fúlgor, Loyola 828 on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and this was perhaps the one milonga I attended the most. Young crowd, nice shows, quite wild dance floor with lots of big moves, but generally good dancers so the floor craft was decent. Easy to invite people either by cabeceo or verbally.

La Maleva has a Friday practica and after-party with a relaxed atmosphere, especially considering the high caliber dancers you meet there.

El Yeite is at the top floor of a salsa club and this is where the best young dancers go. Some dancers feel it is too elitist, but as long as you go with some people you like dancing with you’ll have a great night until sunrise. Great wooden floor, sometimes very hot due to bad air conditioning, party mood with long cortinas of rock, pop and cumbia (but the tango itself will be traditional).

El Motivo, Mondays at Villa Malcolm, was very successful and the first choice for shows with the big stars. Great for talking to people and meet friend of friends, but the dancing is often fraught with peril at a crowded floor with all kinds of dancers. Apparently the stand-in organizers who made it really popular left and created a new milonga on Sundays in the same room, called Viva La Pépa. I suppose the crowd will go there instead, possibly giving the Mondays at Canning a renaissance?

El Beso was closed down after I left Buenos Aires, but I heard it’s coming back. Here you will find one of the few good wooden floors in the city, and I very much enjoyed the traditional atmosphere on Wednesdays and Sundays here. There’s separate seating for men and women, invitation is by cabeceo, and this is a good place for dressing up. It is also a good idea to call and book a table if you want a nice seating for inviting people to dance.

Tangocool, Thursdays at Villa Malcolm, pretty nice for dancing early on, before El Yeite later on Thursdays.

La Viruta is the place where you are likely to end up in the late hours quite often. Open most days of the week, La Viruta offers classes in tango and classic rock at many levels if you want to come early (great place to recommend for complete beginners if you get visits), but the best tango dancers arrive once the entrance is free, at 3.30am Fridays, Saturdays, and special occasions, 1.30am other days. When the medialunas arrive at 4.30 you’ll need to act fast to get breakfast while they are still fresh.

En Orsay on Thursdays has live music and attracts perhaps more musicians than dancers, so bring some dancer friends. Very casual and with a bit of an underground feeling.

La María is a nice afternoon practice for changing roles, where you also can have a cup of mate.

El Gardel de Medellín has live music and great performances. The location is a bit off, but it’s worth a visit.

Fruto Dulce, a bit more formal with nice dancers, where it also may be harder to invite partners.

Paracultural has a Tuesday milonga at Salón Canning, which is one of the few venues that is really made for dancing with a great wooden floor and lots of room for seating around it. I mostly went to see some live orchestras or late at night when it’s free (I think after 3am). Also, i sometimes lingered there after Julio Balmaceda’s classes if there was someone I especially wanted to dance with.

La Milonga De Las Flores was apparently the place where “everyone” went before El Motivo became so successful. A bit further out from the usual places though, and you might want to go there with a group of friends since it appeared to have very uneven attendance from week to week.

La Milonga Del Bonzo is a post-concert milonga at Café Vinílo. Very nice room, but stone hard floor. Only go for (seated) concerts, but bring your shoes if you happen to feel like staying for some dancing.

Cachirulo, which recently moved to Villa Malcolm for their Saturday milonga, is one of the really traditional milongas, where they ask arriving couples whether they would like to be seated together or split up for the seating where men are lined up at one side of the floor, women at the opposite side. I also heard that traditional etiquette is forcefully upheld, e.g. that someone who invited a woman to dance but did not finish the full tanda was asked to leave by the organizer. At one occasion when my partner and I stayed on the floor too long into the cortina, people started to throw things at us to clear the floor so we wouldn’t obstruct the view for cabeceos.

La Glorieta
La Glorieta is a nice outdoor milonga. Very crowded at times, but it’s refreshing to dance outside. And the entrance is free.

Folklore dances

You will see folklore dances at La Viruta around breakfast time, but for a great authentic experience, go out to Peña de la Ribera for a Saturday evening with live bands and easy-to-join dancing under the stars. 

Chacarera is good to know since it is played as a dancing interruption at milongas all over the world. Take a class if you have the opportunity.

Note that classes in folklore may be very different from tango classes. You may not meet academics only here – it is a different crowd, the tempo will be different, the questions people ask will be different. Enjoy the difference!

Escondidogato, etc. are other dances where the same elements as in chacarera are used, just in a different order. Look at the person next to you and try to hang on.

Argentine zamba is a beautiful dance where you circle around your partner in an intricate pattern at the same time as you are waving a handkerchief. The songs are folklore ballads.