Tango Topics | Exploring Your Dance

Encuentro. You’re going to hear this word and think to yourself one of several thoughts. a.) You’ve heard this word before and you have a vague idea of what it means. b.) You speak Spanish & dance Tango and you know exactly what this word means. c.) You’ve been to a few of them and know exactly what this word means. d.) You’re a North American or from the Pacific Rim and you have heard this word and think you know what it means. Trust this, that you have absolutely no clue what this word means or what it represents. We’ll get to that later in the opinion section. For now let’s define this word: “Encuentro”.

The word “Encuentro” when translated from the Spanish to the English, comes from the root Spanish verb “Encontrar” which loosely translated means “to Meet”. ‘Encuentro’ is the first person singular of that verb, which means ‘I meet’. However ‘Encuentro’ also is used as a noun, and means (when translated from Spanish to English) ‘A meeting or reunion’, however that’s about where the word stops, and Tango takes over and moves the word into a whole other realm. 

Usage. Usually this word is used to describe a specific type of Milonga Event, not a Milonga. A Milonga makes up part of the Encuentro experience itself. But the word itself is used to describe a very specific type of Event similar in purpose to the Marathon, Festival, or Festivalito that are outgrowths of the European Tango Salon experience that El Corte groomed and fostered.

What is an Encuentro? The answer is multifaceted, and multilayered. The definition covers several areas: Frequency of dance. Style of dance. Códigos of dance. Floorcraft. Music and the Tango DJ’s, as well as the environment itself!

This is not an easy definition to make clear for a variety of reasons, most notably because on the surface what you’re looking at looks just like a milonga, and there is no difference in the rules and social códigos that get applied. The fact is that the Encuentro IS a milonga, it’s just that an Encuentro contains a series of milongas, one right after the other with small reasonable breaks.  There is a clear and definitive start & stop times just like a Milonga. However, unlike a single milonga in a day where a weekly milonga will start in the evening about 8 or 9. The schedule for an Encuentro is to start in 1 in the afternoon and then run until about 6 or 7, then stop for dinner (which may be catered and onsite), and then a few hours later pick up again for a nightly milonga which goes until 2 or 3 am. A Maraton or a Festival will go until the cows come home or whenever the DJ feels like stopping. The Encuentro ? There are definitive, clear breaks in between the milongas for food, rest, and to change your clothes. To ‘freshen up’ as it were. The marathon or Festival? Sweat, dried sweat, body odor, and stomach grumbling are your new friends. So getting to all of your intended partners in a single day may not be possible due to these constraints on top of the usual constraints of missed opportunities. So this is about quality more than quantity! Choosing your partners wisely and carefully is important. The Encuentro shares another aspect with a Marathon in that there are no classes or workshops, or seminars, however, there may be a masseuse on hand to rub those tired feet and shoulders.

The Style of Dance at an Encuentro is what most people see in watching the video above which could loosely be construed “Milonguero”, meaning that the Follower’s feet never leave the ground. No boleos, ganchos, or death drops (Thank god).  There are are generally no volcadas, or colgadas of an egregious nature. This is refined “social” dancing at it’s highest level, or so we would hope. If a volcada is done, it is of the social variety (See: Social Volcadas or Social Colgadas), and only once in a while, not every Volcada or Colgada known to man and Follower in a 3 minute period!  There is also an adherence to a.) Floorcraft. b.) Line of dance AND lane of dance. And c.) Keeping the Ronda moving. This isn’t about staying in the outer track all night long as a lead because the inner tracks are absolute chaos. No. You can actually rely on good floorcraft in the inner tracks, and there is no chaotic middle area! And most importantly there are actual, clearly define, respective lanes of dance!

The Códigos of an Encuentro is all about proper Cabeceo, and Mirada. While there is a verbal invite that happens, now and again, it is mostly very traditional Cabeceo/Mirada practice. At the same time there is also a clear delineation between tandas. Meaning ? That the clearing the floor rule applies, no standing on the floor between the Cortinas! Which makes for a far more desirable environment on multiple levels, not the least of which is actual partner rotation. So there is no hogging of partners! Well…theoretically. However ‘partner hogging’ is less likely to occur in this environment, than say a Marathon where you’re lucky if you get your foot in the door with a desirable partner, so naturally, you stay with them until you’ve had your fill of them. Same goes for a Festival. There are generally no rules in those environments. It’s a lot like the Wild West, as there is no order…just dance as much as you can with as many people as you can as often as you can, screw the rules, it’s dog eat dog in those environments. The Encuentro is a bit more refined, elegant, far more civilized if not fair and egalitarian (almost).

One aspect of the Encuentro is the Lead Cabeceo. This is a practice that doesn’t get enough practical airtime. Put simply the Lead Cabeceo is how one lead asks another for entry into the Line of Dance! It is exactly what it sounds like. The Marathon, or the Festival environment this practice is almost non-existent. Almost. In the Encuentro environment, it is almost a given. The practice itself is insanely simple. As the a new couple wants to enter the line of dance, usually the outer track, the new Lead will stand at the edge of the floor, and Cabeceo the oncoming Lead – to get their eye and nod for entry into the line and lane of dance of the outer track. At that point, the oncoming Lead will nod or signal that it’s ‘ok’ to do so. At which point the oncoming Lead will cease their forward progression and enter a holding pattern with their vocabulary and musical choices to create space for the new couple, and once the new couple has started moving along, normal dancing ensues.

It’s important to recognize that when watching the video above that there are certain qualities that define what you’re looking at. From a very specific point of view, being that of the untrained Tango eye, it looks like there’s not much going on. However there’s a lot going on. Note that it looks smooth, clean, clear, not jerky. Watch your local Milonga by comparison and you’ll a sharp distinct difference in not only protocols but also application of the Codigos as well as the quality of dance. Most of all, note that what you’re looking at it looks ‘musical’. And that’s because these dancers are all about that. Understand this: The Encuentro dancer isn’t about vocabulary execution (yes we care about those things) nor the quantity of vocabulary but rather they are about making it feel very nice on every level. The dancing is simplified but very refined! Distilled down to it’s most precious elements, the dancers themselves moving in time to the music without all the flash. It’s not needed.  

This barley covers what an Encuentro is from a Tango Perspective.

What about the Music ? Like the Marathon, and unlike the Festival, this is all about the music, and really about the TangoDJ, and their deeper knowledge of the music, the orchestras, and about crafting a quality tanda, continuously. This isn’t about playing the favorites, which a lot of TangoDJs do. They play the ‘hits’ to get people moving, and forget about anything else. This may offend a few of you reading this that think you do something different than what is being described. However think about this – Do you: Mix instrumentals with singers ? Instrumentals from different ages in an orchestra’s life span? Mix different ages of an orchestra into the same tanda ? And that’s just for starters. This class of TangoDJ clearly keeps these things separate (mostly). Or how about can you correctly identify the difference between Rodriguez and Donato ? Do you know the variations of any of the top 1000 songs off the top of your head or do you need to look at the song and guess ? Do you know how many variations of La Cumparsita there are and why you would play it or not or are you a straight La Cumparsita TangoDJ and don’t care as to why it wouldn’t be played at all.  Can you identify the singer, not the orchestra by their timber ? Most of these people that DJ at these events do know all of this and more. They’ve spent YEARS cultivating their Tango Music libraries, scouring many bad transfers just for one playable track only to toss it in favor of another that’s playable and danceable. They’ve hours and hours cleaning and then re-cleaning a track to enhance the quality of the sound but at the same time to keep the noise carpet in. The Encuentro Tango DJ is the epitome of a tango music nerd on steroids but not so nerdy that they’re not human. 😉 They are the heart, if not the soul, of the Encuentro experience. If the organizers hire the wrong TangoDJ it can kill an event. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that they hire a Master Tango DJ with the skills to move the room, read the room, and then change a tanda on the fly to deftly and single-handedly entice you to dance even when you’re dripping sweat and want more and more and more but also cool you off, even in a Milonga tanda! That my friends, is pure skill.

The importance of the Cortina! The fact is that the Cortina is not just a musical palette washer as in the case of the Marathon or Festival, but it serves a very useful purpose: To reset the room! It also clears the floor, and resets the dancer. Resetting the room??? WTF is THAT???!!? Put simply the cortina really re-orients the room and brings us back to reality, it grounds us and puts us back into the groove of the Milonga experience. And that’s just part of it’s job. Why are we talking about this as it relates to the Encuentro, because in the Encuentro the cortina is the great mitigator. You’re listening for what comes next, looking around the figure out who to dance with next, waiting for the floor to clear, who’s sitting where, and who’s still talking, or who’s taking off their shoes, who’s not in the room, all in the 60 seconds of the cortina. An Encuentro’s cortinas are sometimes a DJ’s signature calling card. The cortina can also be used by the DJ to get the room up for the next tanda. Especially in an Encuentro experience.

Where Are The Encuentros ? Where do you find an Encuentro in Europe? Here’s a good list provided by Melina Sedo. What about the United States, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Asia, South America, Australia, Russia, Turkey? What about those places ? There’s probably a list of these events somewhere but honestly you really only want to play in one place – Europe. Start with Melina’s list. It’s a good resource for this information. The link is for 2016/17, what about 2018? She has one for that too, but mostly it’s a repeat of the 2016/17 list. 

 

A Few Encuentro Details. The definition above doesn’t cover the realities of the Encuentro scene and what to expect so here are a few things that do cover it.

1.) Registration & Waitlisting. Usually these events are invite only, where the organizer hand picks who they want at their events. Even though the registration list fills up quickly with Followers sometimes they’re waitlisted because the organizer doesn’t want that particular Follower in the room because of the quality of their dancing skills. Sometimes they’ll waitlist a Lead for the same reasons. The reality is that this event is like every other event you’ve ever been to. There are a bunch of Followers that register immediately on day one, and the Leads wait until the last minute before they’ll ‘register’. It’s a problem that every organizer dreads.

2.) Food & Lodging. AirBnb is your friend. Sometimes and organizer will make a deal with a local hotel for a special rate. However your best bet is really AirBnB near the venue. As to food, most Encuentros do have a catered meal (dinner) sometimes breakfast and a snack at midnight some do not. Some Encuentros specialize in desserts only and you have to get your own food. Check ahead in the organizational description if you’ll need to make your own food plans. Sometimes, mostly, those catered meals, if they’re served are frakkin’ delish and the thought of going off ‘campus’ for food breaks the mood. I can think of at least a dozen events that I’ve been to where the meals were catered and it was nothing short of divine.

3.) Transportation. Planes, Trains, and automobiles. Seriously, you’re going to spend a few hours getting from point a. to point b. Get over it. that’s half the fun of these weekends. Really. The transit is the part of the fun if you make it that way. Take the train, you’ll be happy that you did.

4.) Facebook Groups. Usually there’s a private group for these things. And the only way that you’re getting into the group is if you’ve registered and paid your fee ahead of time. This is where the organizer will share all the tips of the weekend, the event details, and mostly you’ll get to see who’s coming and who you’d like to dance with!

5.) Photo & Videos. Depending on the event organizer, they usually hire a photographer or two to capture the weekend. If you have issue with being photographed, get over it, or get out of the shot or ask the photographer to not include you in any shots. Otherwise be prepared to be photographed or video’d. Generally these things are not shared outside of the group. Generally. The group or the organizer sets the rules about these things.

6.) ‘Fight Club’ or ‘Vegas’. The more open the event, the less that people talk about it. The more closed the event is, the more exclusive it is, the more that they talk about it. “I got in!!!!” is the usual epithet. And like ‘Fight Club’  (We don’t talk about Fight Club, we don’t mention fight club….) or ‘Vegas’… “What happens in ‘Vegas’ stays in Vegas”…the same is true of the Encuentro!

7.) Gender, Skill, and Role Balancing. Usually, these events are Balanced. And more the more exclusive it is the more skill balanced it is. ‘Balanced’ meaning that there is an equal number of genders, and an equal number of roles so that no one is ever sitting. However for the more exclusive invite only events they’re sometimes skill balanced as well. Because the reality is that even though there is gender balancing, and role balancing there is always, always, always, that row of women (sadly) that sits. Always. One way to alleviate that from an organizational standing is to skill balance. There are many ways to achieve this, and this article is not going to get into those methods. But generally skill balancing is just what it sounds like. You’re matched with someone who has your same abilities. And or you have danced with the organizer(s) and they know what and how you like to dance so you’re matched with someone that dances that same way. Now that doesn’t mean that you have to dance with that person. It simply means that there’s more of you in the room than not.

The Tango Topics Opinion: What’s about to be said, may offend you, especially if you’re an organizer outside of Europe. Read on with an eye towards that. Remember that this is an OPINION section. 🙂

There are currently 2 scenes of Encuentros in the world. 1.) Europe. and 2.) Everywhere else. The fact is that Europe has a much more developed Encuentro scene and that’s because it was developed there to begin with. The Encuentro is an outgrowth of the Marathon explosion that happened. More like a backlash more than anything else. Originally the Marathon was itself an outgrowth of excitement over the El Corte experience that grew naturally and exponentially from the El Corte Salon experience. And the Encuentro scene grew out of the Marathon environment, when the Marathons became so full of ‘challenging’ dancers which created frustration and disenchantment with the Marathons themselves. Private parties started to happen, and from those private party weekends, the Encuentro scene grew with an eye towards refined social dancing, better djing, nicer venues, food!!!! (read that as actual, catered, meals), and a whole different class of dancer: the Encuentro dancer!

It is tempting to just equate the Encuentro dancer as a Milonguero style dancer. However, this word ‘Milonguero’, is so maligned and so flatly misunderstood at this point, that to use it to describe what’s going on at an Encuentro is almost heresy! The word itself was a marketing term developed by a particular dancer/teacher which was taken from a now dead teacher (unfortunately) as a way to describe what she saw happening in the Salons in Buenos Aires, as a very specific style of dancing, to characterize it. So why would it be heresy to qualify the Encuentro dancer as Milonguero as they share many of the same qualities or ideas of dance ? This isn’t a style of dance as the idea of Milonguero style is, but rather a way of life, which is what the Milonguero was to begin with and then it became a way to market the dance. Ugh. The Encuentro dancer isn’t a style but a way to live your tango life! So to qualify this solely as a style of dance is wholly wrong and inadequate, and doesn’t begin to cover it. That’s why it’s heresy!

Moving on, the Tango Encuentro experience in Europe is nothing short of magical. However getting there is not an easy pathway and it’s not all roses. You need to understand that. This post isn’t about extolling the virtues of the scene but to inform you about this world.  There are a few things that will prevent you from doing the Encuentro scene in Europe which is where you want to be. 1.) First and foremost, your issues. Read that as your execution of technique and your kinesthetic understanding of it. Also read that as hanging, pulling, pushing, compression, squeezing, resistance, tension, and my personal favorite ‘force’. Read that as instability, lack of equilibrium, and lack of control. Read that as using your arms, and hands for stabilization. Read that as wandering all over the line and lane of dance. Read that as not being able to orchestrate a song….to structure it so that it accentuates the song and not some haphazard collection of vocabulary choices that have no relationship to the music whatsoever! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg that you call ‘your dance’. You have issues. They need to be addressed. Period. 2.) Distance/Time/Money. 3.) Your social skills.

The reality is that going to hang out in Europe, if you don’t live there is not easy for everyone. However, let’s assume for the moment that item 2 on this list is not an issue and let’s deal with the 3rd of those issues first: Your social skills. The fact is that the Tango world itself can be highly judgmental, and that’s putting it mildly. From the clothes and shoes, to the execution of your technique (or the lack there of). This is a reality and it doesn’t help that there are cliques in tango, it doesn’t help that there are dj groupies that surround the dj and only dance with each other, it doesn’t help that local teachers don’t break up these things, or that weekly milonga organizers don’t reinforce good social skills and invite everyone to dance with everyone or engage in a mixer tanda or two. It’s the same thing week in-week out with the same 60 people doing the same thing with just their friends and not going outside of that cloistered group. This tends to shut people down and not allow them to fully develop their social skills. It tends to make them more introverted, not less. Enter the Encuentro Scene. So assuming you arrive at an Encuentro…everyone is on the same, level, playing field. No one is better than the other. They are they’re to dance. So it is in your best interest to treat everyone the same. Just another interested dancer that wants to have a good time, regardless of whether or not their a ‘teacher’ (OMG!!! you’re a teacher…..) or someone visiting from Asia or down under. It doesn’t matter. Your social skills here are how well you engage in talking and getting to know people. This isn’t about getting as many dances as you can, it’s about getting to know the people that are at these events. This is why it’s a way of life, not a style of dance! It’s the people that populate these events! Not the style of dance. It’s a given that they’ve already passed through the trials of the weekly, local milongas. It’s a given that they’ve hung out at El Corte. It’s a given that they’ve done more than a few marathons with marginal successes. It’s a given that they’ve studied hard and wanted something different. This is that something different. So this really isn’t about technique in this instance, it’s about making friends and being friendly and being your best self. How social are you ?

The El Corte Factor. El Corte has it’s own Tango Thought. Go look at it. There are some that are on the El Corte side of things, and then there are those that find that even though the dancing is friendly, and the people are nice they’re just not into the El Corte thing. The fact is that some people avoid it all together for a variety of reasons. While it is the Gateway to all that is Tango in Europe for some people this is not true for others. There are other gateways, there are other door openers, and it’s important to recognize this. It’s not the only way in. It’s just one of the more prominent ways to get your foot in the door and open other doors. 

The Last Issue: This site and the techniques that it extolls are all based on one way of dancing – getting into and dancing in this world of refined dancing. There are just a few teachers that I can think of off the top of my head who actually dance this way. This isn’t performance dancing, this is refined social dancing at its highest level. And you really do need a teacher that understands that. I am one of those teachers. There are only a handful that I know of, so if you want access to this knowledge you’re either going to have to study with one of us, or try and figure this stuff out on your own. I would suggest either studying with one of us, or starting with a TangoTopics yearly subscription. Just a thought. Please PM me on Facebook for that list. 😉

A Few Last Words. This definition is by no means complete. It is a just a hint of what’s waiting for you. Understand that getting into this scene with these dancers is going to take time, patience, and persistence.  It’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s not going to happen all at once. Get that thought right out of your head. Unlike the Marathon or Festival scene where you can just show up and dance. The Encuentro scene requires a bit more due diligence. However, dogged determination is only a part of the equation. The rest is social, and technique! Good luck, you’re going to need it.

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