The Four Parts of Social Milonga

Social Milonga

Milonga, and really 'Social' Milonga, is a difficult dance to Lead, but an easy one to Follow. Easy, if and only if, the Lead (person, not the action - 'lead') has a frakkin' clue about what they're doing. If they don't, you, as the Follower are screwed and not in a good way either! Good Milonga is a step above modern Tango in that it requires both parties to be at their best technique wise. It requires both parties to understand an embrace that is non-compressive, non-restrictive, and have mastered a stable, clean, clear walking platform that does not 'thud'. There is no need to 'hang', 'pull', or 'push' in any way, shape, or form. 

Let's get a few terms and definitions out of the way before we go any further for the initiated and the uninitiated. The word 'Milonga' has 3 definitions. 1.) It refers to the 'dance' party, and social experience that we aspire towards dancing at via classes and workshops and learning the codigos of the dance itself. The whole point of tango is to emulate the Milonga experience as a whole that we would find in Buenos Aires. 2.) It refers to a musical style of music that is typically written as 2/4 time, or at about 80 - 100 beats per minute. There are several versions of Milonga music, not the least of which is Tango-Milonga, Milonga Porteña, Milonga Criolla, and a few others. Candombe is not Milonga, but is frequently confused with Milonga. A poorly trained DJ will add one into a milonga tanda thinking that it's Milonga music when in fact it's not. Further still, a common error is to add a Foxtrot or a Tango Foxtrot, thinking that it's milonga when it's not. 3.) Refers to the dance itself, which is a frequently, and mistakenly thought of as a subset of Tango movement, and this is an error. Milonga (not Milonga Porteña or Modern Milonga) begat Tango, and from that Tango as we think of it today grew.

 

Let's get a few terms and definitions out of the way before we go any further for the initiated and the uninitiated. The word 'Milonga' has 3 definitions. 1.) It refers to the 'dance' party, and social experience that we aspire towards dancing at via classes and workshops and learning the codigos of the dance itself. The whole point of tango is to emulate the Milonga experience as a whole that we would find in Buenos Aires. 2.) It refers to a musical style of music that is typically written as 2/4 time, or at about 80 - 100 beats per minute. There are several versions of Milonga music, not the least of which is Tango-Milonga, Milonga Porteña, Milonga Criolla, and a few others. Candombe is not Milonga, but is frequently confused with Milonga. A poorly trained DJ will add one into a milonga tanda thinking that it's Milonga music when in fact it's not. Further still, a common error is to add a Foxtrot or a Tango Foxtrot, thinking that it's milonga when it's not. 3.) Refers to the dance itself, which is a frequently, and mistakenly thought of as a subset of Tango movement, and this is an error. Milonga (not Milonga Porteña or Modern Milonga) begat Tango, and from that Tango as we think of it today grew.

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So what is 'Social' Milonga ? Social Milonga is a Milonga of ease, of least resistance, of effortlessness. It's what we would dance at the Milonga when Milonga music is played but for a social environment not a performance! Which translates to smaller (very small) movements, and steps. This isn't about turns, ganchos, volcadas, sacadas, colgadas, death drops, .... no, none of that. Simple, clean, small movement. Rather it's about linear movements with one's partner in either close or open embrace (yes Milonga can be done in open embrace), small linear movements that move down the line of dance. Social Milonga should not back up against the line of dance, but rather angle against the line of dance, think of 45º angles so that no one backs up directly into another couple. Social Milonga is small, compact, and doesn't need to take up a whole lot of space...ever.  Horacio Godoy, who is a god of Milonga, is a good example of performance milonga, but it's still a performance! What he's doing is nothing short of magical, however...it should be noted that again, it's a performance and not social dancing. He's taking up oodles of space, and in the line of dance, you don't have oodles of space! This is Social Milonga.  

Just as a side note: Social Milonga rightfully should never be attempted with a new partner that you've never danced with before.

 

From a Leading Perspective, it means that you must have mastered all of the things listed above in addition to understanding and employing 'intention' because Milonga is all about the small, the tiny movements. It's not about big, galloping steps...it can be, but isn't. It's about the tiny movements between the partners to the accents in the music. However the real key to milonga is the weight change. Being able to generate it in it's myriad of forms without pushing, pulling, or using force or compression. If you can lead a weight change through opposition or a with-weight change instead of pushing or pulling, you're onto a better class of leading as a whole.

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From a Following Perspective, you're in for a rough ride, because a good portion of your leads don't have a frakkin' clue as to what they're doing when it comes to Milonga. They will either race you around the floor and take a breather in odd places that have no relationship to anything that's happening in the music, all the while squeezing the living daylights out of you, hoping you won't notice that they're not anywhere close to a beat that has any relation to anything that's happening in the music. Or they're so timid as to not wanting to step on your toes because they've recognized that this is insanely difficult that they back off completely. That's the bulk of your experience. It's rare, ever so rare that you have a lead that dances Milonga Lisa with you, and then expands that to Milonga con Traspie, and actually builds a milonga experience on the whole. These leads are rare, but oh such a wonder when you find one. It's like christmas morning, easter day, and a box of chocolates all rolled into one! Fab! At the same time, let's not kid ourselves...you as the Follower, have to be up for the challenge. Which is to say that your skills in Forward steps, Side Steps, and Back Steps must be absolutely spot on! Repeat after me: "I MOVE ME". You must be responsible for your own movement. You must listen to what is being led (not waiting but listening) and then engage that movement immediately without fail. If you feel it, you go there, if you don't feel it, you don't go there. A good portion of the time, most followers fail these most basic things. And we end up with a less than desirable experience. 

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From a Dancing Perspective, 'Social' Milonga is insanely difficult to master. It requires all of the above to 'work', to 'function' with ease. Not an easy task at all. When done properly it's simply divine. When done poorly...well we've all had that happen, and it's just an absolute disaster. There's no nice way to put that. More often than not we have all had far too many Milonga tandas that is nothing short of "GAWD PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!". And a good portion of the time it's because the embrace needs to be reset and is too restrictive, and/or the Lead (person), needs to actually listen to the beat and then walk (see ? walking, not running) the Follower on that beat...but doesn't.

The Musical Prerequisite

There is an absolute prerequisite to this milonga business – two things about Tango Music as whole that you, as a Lead, or a Follower must know: 

a.) The Musical Pause in Tango Music as a whole! Without understanding this, you’re kinda screwed when it comes to dancing and really milonga as a whole. Oh and if you're thinking that you can just ‘count’ beats and that will get you to your pauses...no. Fully 40% of Tango music does not contain an 8 count beat. Sometimes its a derivative of 4 yes...but sometimes it's 4,8,12,16, or 24 beats before you hit an actual rest. So counting is about as useful as a small kitchen appliance unplugged. Why ? Because a good portion of the time, your count will be off for a variety of reasons. 1.) The transfer from shellac to digital (assuming it's that direct and it almost never is) is probably flawed, scratchy, crackly, and slows down and speeds up. and 2.) Two words for you -- TANGO MILONGA, which is to say that that the 2/4 time signature that you're used to hearing in Milonga Porteña (or Modern Milonga), not so much with that! And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Long story short, you want to actually learn to hear the 5 Major Types of Pauses in Tango Music.

b.) The Rhythm of Milonga which should not be confused with beat, melody, nor tempo, which is what a lot of you do.

To understand the Rhythm of Milonga, rather than show you charts and images which are about as helpful as a screen door on a submarine...let's skip to a class summary by Oliver Koklier and Silvina Valz shot at the 2009 Portland Tango Festival. This is probably one of the best didactic Milonga videos you will need to see...ever. What Oliver & Silvina talk about in under 9 minutes will blow your mind. It's a simple, clean, and clear didactic explanation of what Milonga Rhythm is and is not. Quite honestly contained within this video is the basis of almost everything you need to know about a Milonga Rhythm. Once you understand the Rhythm of Milonga (and it is a rhythm, not a beat!) it is only then that we start to talk about what you actually do with it. 

4 Parts of Social Milonga

Part 1.) The Baldosa Box & It’s Multiple variations.
Part 2.) Milonga Traspie and the many many variations
Part 3.) Scissor & Pendulum steps and variations.
Part 4.) Milonga Patter (Circular & Linear)!

While this is not the whole of Milonga vocabulary, it is the bulk of what you will spend your time doing from a movement perspective. The trick is to put it to a Milonga Rhythm and a good way to do this is to employ Milonga Lisa as a starting point!

Extensions

Extensions

Quite honestly we spend a good portion of our time walking and turning that we forget that that walk is really four phases, not a singular element. 4 phases ?

The 1st - The Explosion Phase.
The 2nd - The Extension Phase.
The 3rd - Perihelion Phase.
And the 4th - Transfer Phase.

From a Leading perspective, realistically modern tango turns A LOT, and because this is a defacto of the dance today, quite honestly we get a little tired of any of the 8 varieties of turns. There are only so many turns that one can do in the course of a dance. There are other options. Timing for one is an option, changing from normal time to half time, or double timing a turn (talk about wearing the Follower out), or going OFF Beat, or playing with just the singer...those are all perfectly valid options and do provide a fair amount of extensibility to the 8 turn options. Mathematically speaking, we're looking at 5 possible options for each turn type or 40 different varieties of turns in time to the music.

From a Following Perspective, realistically about 2 turns in and we're done. Seriously! You wanted to dance, not become part of a Whirling Dervish Display. Some Leads have absolutely zero clue that along about the 2nd molinete you're done! You've had enough. Seemingly that turn is all they know...they don't see the other 7 turn types as valid. They only see the 'Sexy' over rotated one! Because that's the cool one. And you're visiting the chiropractor the next morning because they squeezed the life blood out of your back! Ppphhhhht! ENOUGH!

There is another option: Extension, Disassociation, or Weight Change play. In simple terms it's using the Follower's Extensions as musical Elements! Or Disassocations, or Weight Changes. Or for that matter the Lead's! Adding in this option turns that 40 variations into 200 available options! And that's without adding the Incremental Step, or Tango Patter (Circular or Linear) into the equation.

Playing with these options can, as you can see (mathematically speaking), change things from a Leading perspective from a the same ol' same ol' to something a bit more dynamic. The attached video only shows a small portion of this applied to the Golden Nugget of Tango. However, the same ideas and concepts can be translated across your dance! Check out Golden Nugget Extensions, and while you're at it, check out the Golden Nugget. You might learn something in the process. ©Tango Topics.

Articulation

Articulation

For the better portion of Tango dancers the very idea of 'detail' work is just too much work. It's too much, too difficult, an effort to remember. Oy! Yet that same work is what sets the better dancer apart.

'Detail' work in this case means execution of vocabulary is either done with sharp, crisp clarity or in a 'sloppy' manner. 'Detail' work can also mean a 'cleanliness' in one's posture, hands, fingers, head, hips, knees, and feet. Speaking of feet, there are two areas that come to mind when discussing 'detail' work. One is Collection, and still another is Articulation.

From a Leading perspective Articulation defines the presentation of the Follower's movements. Because the Lead is leading, they're quite literally pointing the way towards something else. So it stands to reason that their foot Articulation has to be ... well, POINTING! Hence the Articulation part. 🙂

From a Following perspective Articulation of one's feet quite factually defines the elegance of one's footwork in adornments and embellishments. The more one Articulates, the more one 'sells' the shoes as it were, and the move, and in a larger sense...the couple! And by 'sell', meaning that the visual presentation is seen as very desirable.

From a Dancing perspective, the more that a couple pays attention to this insanely simple detail, the more elegant that they become, visually (to a degree). The body 'lines' of the couple become sharper and more distinct. The areas of posture, and presentation change dramatically due to the Articulation. Try it sometime and see if you can see a simple change in your posture, how you walk, how you interpret the music, simply by Articulating your feet as you walk. ©Tango Topics.

The Golden Nugget

The Golden Nugget

Once long ago you were an itty-bitty Tango dancer. You could barely walk, the music was either intriguing or unappealing at best, and the very idea of going to a Milonga where everyone and god could see just how much you were sucking raw eggs just about scared the bejeebers out of you.

From a Leading perspective you were afraid of screwing up, boring the follower to death with the one cool move you knew, and the idea of close embrace just freaked you out. The mere concepts of embrace clarity, kinesthetic stillness, and musical cleanliness, as far you were concerned, were quite literally were so far from your consciousness that about the only thing you could see was the imminent fear of either hitting someone, stepping on your partners feet, or looking like an idiot. Remember that ?

From a Following perspective it was all about "Did I get it right ? What did I miss ? I hope he dances with me again, I'm such a screw up....". Posture ? Ha! Adornments ? Ha ha! Hanging, Pulling, and Pushing on your Lead ? Not even on your radar screen. But the lead was more than happy to explain it to you in lurid detail if you asked. Mind you he shouldn't have done that, but you didn't know any better....right ?

Most of the Tango world starts out learning The 'dreaded' Eight Count Basic and then slowly, very slowly progresses from there onto Ochos, Molinetes, Sacadas, Colgadas, Volcadas, more steps, patterns, and figures...etc. However, it's the 8 Count Basic that we learn to start with, which is about as useful as a small kitchen appliance unplugged! Why ? Because it breaks 3 rules - 1.) You step backwards against the line of dance. 2.) You step out of the LANE of dance. 3.) At the end you step back into the orginal lane of dance. Talk about pissing someone off!

Today's Tango Topic shows another entry point to that learning method: The Golden Nugget of Tango! However, this isn't just about beginner Tango. Today's Topic shows anyone the 7 basic things they should know, how to create a dance and augment it, how to dance open or close embrace, just for starters. This was the very first thing that I, now as a teacher, was taught...and it's the very last thing I show my level one tango intensive students. By the time this shows up in their education, they're completely ready for it and it's almost a "Why are we doing this Miles ?".

A little story. When I first learned this my teacher sent me out into the Tango world almost immediately afterwards (after spending about 5 days on it) and I went to my 1st milonga. I sat there most of the night without the intention to dance because I knew I wasn't ready for it. Along about midnight and the end of the milonga a friend that came with me asked me to dance and I freaked right out. She finally pulled me to the floor and I had to dance. So I tried the only thing I knew - The Golden Nugget (mind you it wasn't called that then). 4 steps in and I ran into people, I crossed lanes of dance, I even stepped on some poor lady's foot! I went back to my teacher the next day and said "this f*cking thing doesn't work!!!!". He smiled and asked "Why not ?". I told him what had happened the night before. He laughed and said, "Miles, you oriented the wrong way going down the line of dance and instead...." can you guess ? I went across the lanes of dance! I could have screamed. I learned a very valuable lesson that day, one that would carry me forward. Not all is at it appears and to investigate why something works! I hadn't. From that day to this one. I always ask....always.

Why is it called the Golden Nugget of Tango ? Because it contains everything you will ever need to know in order to go out dancing. That's no bull. It's not an idle boast either. Download the video for yourself, and you'll see what I mean. Order today and save 25% -> ©TangoTopics.

THUD!

THUD!

It doesn't matter if you're a Lead, or a Follower, we all at some point have to learn how to walk properly and for a good portion of us learning that proper walk is either an absolute joy, or such a pain in the ass that you wonder why you're still dancing tango in the first place!

One aspect of learning to walk properly is learning what not to do. Unfortunately for a greater number of teachers, and dancers, the idea of feedback is relegated to "That's nice" and "Try this instead". Instead of detailed questions and inquiry that will ultimately lead to you not sucking anymore...well for another 4 steps until you go back to what you were doing because you're not aware of your issues going forward.

Still another aspect of learning to walk properly is the dreaded "THUD". What's that ? It's the sound your foot makes when it impacts the floor in either a forward, side, or back step.

From a Following perspective, usually the lead will feel the impact of your foot hitting the floor, more than you will his unless the lead is clearly unaware of his own presence (that happens). As Followers we usually feel this impact of the Lead's step forward walking step. We feel it as a drive into us, and it's usually a drive into the floor and as a result we get driven into the floor. It's not desirable, and after a few L/leads like this, your feet start to hurt. It's not pretty. At the same time, we as follower's tend to create 'thud' when we don't realize that we're bending our knee as we extend backwards, and we tend to allow our foot to come off the floor. This is not desirable. We want to 'lick' the floor with our foot as we extend backwards

From a Leading perspective, we feel the impact of the Follower's foot on the floor, as a heavy step usually on their side and back steps. While at the same time we as L/leads must realize that we can generate a heavy impacted step as well. In short, there's merit to the statement 'walk softly'. 

To be clear: "THUD" is an uncontrolled, unsightly, and ungainly foot placement which results in a heavy step and we generally feel the impact of that step which reverberates up through the ankle, then the knees, the legs to the hips, up along the spinal column, and then out through the arms in the embrace which is then transmitted to your partner! Combine this with hanging, pulling, pushing, and the general contortion that goes on for a lot of people and you've got issues on top of issues on top of issues. 

Tango Music

Tango Music

When I started out, someone said to me "You must learn the music!". I looked at my music library and I just wilted! The mere thought of actually studying that thing was seemingly vast (6000 songs)...mind boggling! 10 songs in, and an hour later, Zzzzzz, snore, zzzz. What was I supposed to 'study' ? Memorize note for note ? The titles ? Oye!!!

Like most people I just wanted to know how to dance the correct steps, and make my partners happy. Music ? Just arcane goobly-gook! The only thing that mattered ? Do this, that, and then I was dancing! Then one day I saw video of myself dancing. Everyone else looked amazing! Me ? Just...awful!

Careful study & conversation revealed that I was not 'Interpreting The Music'. I was doing what most dancers do: Cabeceo/mirada, embrace, do this, that, more of this, less of that, try not to run into anyone, song ends, smile, repeat to the end of the tanda. Repeat until to the end of Milonga. If there's no blood and everyone is still speaking to you, you had a good night! 🙂 Dancing right ?

That didn't satisfy. I started a daily process of orchestral study, the lead (Di Sarli, Canaro, etc), the singer, reading, listening, and trying to figure it out. Did this educate me about the music ? To a degree but it did NOT change my dance.

I discovered 'Musicality' workshops. I went to about 20 or so. Over time I saw the same method being repeated. 30 minutes of a being taught a step, a few partner rotations, trying to apply it to a very specific part of a song. Step here, there, pause, start again! The problem ? What was I supposed to do with the rest of the song ? The tanda ? The milonga ? Arrrrgh!!!! Talk about frustration!!!!

I was no closer to learning what I needed to know and I felt lost. Fast forward to today and let's just say that I can interpret any orchestra, any style, any song WITHOUT knowing it, WITHOUT counting beats, and most of all WITHOUT ever having heard it before!

What changed ?

Purely by chance I made a discovery, ran head long into it actually. I wondered why no one else had mentioned it or taught it before. This was something so amazingly awesome that it quite literally slapped me in the face...hard! It took about a month of trial an error but my dance changed, radically! I then set about expanding the idea, testing it, playing with it, challenging myself to make it fail! It didn't. 5000 songs later, 8 different musical styles, 18+ orchestral leads, and about 5 years of students who have tried the method, and I can safely say....it works!'

Click on the image below and subscribe for gold+ membership today!
You'll get access to over 1000 songs, and a way to hear the music that is shockingly simple and at the same time, infinitely complex. 

Sacada Foundations

Sacada Foundations

There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the Tango Sacada is a very amazing piece of tango vocabulary. The first time I saw one, I did what most people do -- "Wow!! That's really cool!!!". And then I went about trying to learn them. "Trying" being the operative word.

For most Leads, the Sacada represents a graduation in a sense of "cool", yes, but also that next level, the next chapter of their tango development. One accomplishment on a road to a series of accomplishments, this is the first of this class of accomplishments that says, "Cool".

For most Followers, oddly enough, it's the polar opposite of "Cool". It's "Did I get it right ?". Their only concern is not the coolness factor but rather did they miss anything ? Did they 'hear' (feel) the lead properly ? Was their foot in the right place ? Their leg ? Are they hanging on their Lead ? Was their leg supposed to do that ? "Oops I'm sorry" an oft repeated apology for doing what they were led to do (see Truism #893. Vol. 3). All hoping that it was right and that they didn't hurt anyone, and in the end hoping that their Lead will still want to dance with them...in the beginning. Later on, as they improve, hoping that said Lead WON'T dance with them! But that is a topic for another time.

There are two immutable facts about every single Sacada known to man: 1.) The Sacada is an illusion! 2.) They're in the the family of displacements. It's the 2nd one that we're interested in the most because this part usually fails in the Lead's understanding and execution of exactly what it is that they're trying to do. I failed at this constantly, in the beginning, failing to see this most intrinsic element that not one of my 98 teachers told me about. Not one.

When learning to Follow, I realized that the Sacada is, was nothing more than my body wanting to take the place of the Lead's body. It just so happened that my leg would naturally want to go away from my lead because of their invasion - hence the displacement part. Proper Tango Technique taught me to do something else with that leg than just let it fly away, potentially hurting someone with my 3 inch heels!

Good thing you have access to a video that discusses all of these things in lurid detail in Sacada Foundations for both Lead and Follow, especially the proper Follower Technique part. In 7 minutes and 8 seconds you'll learn everything you need to know about the foundation of every sacada known to man and beast. 🙂 All in HD quality with good clear sound and close ups of every aspect of importance. Plus a free preview of Back Sacada technique for both Lead and Follow. Buy it here.