Tango Topics | Exploring Your Dance

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

Have you seen the Milonga Madness series ? Over 2.5 hrs of pure Milonga Instruction GOLD with one of the best Social Milonga Teaching couples alive: Detlef Engel & Melina Sedó! It covers everything you need to know to get you up and running today with Milonga. Don’t delay, subscribe today!

Milonga Madness with Detlef Engel & Melina Sedo

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 Leading Perspective, it means that you must have mastered all of the things listed above in addition to understanding and employing ‘Intention’. Why ? Because Milonga is all about the small, tiny movements, not about squeezing the living daylights out of your Followers with your embrace trying to make things small. It’s about leading small, tiny, incremental. 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 its myriad of forms without pushing, pulling, using force, and/or compression to accomplish this goal. 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.

Leading Milonga, or we should say, “modern” milonga, is a whole different class of leading. And doing it well, is a different kind of Lead (the person, not the action). How’s that ? This is choreographing on-the-fly, they’re making minor adjustments on-the-fly, they’re maintaining the line of dance on-the-fly…are you seeing the trend yet ? > on-the-fly! Is the key component. Mind you this happens in Tango and Vals as well, but there is a difference! The difference is the kinesthetics involved are a whole different class of minimal, minute movement, that is seemingly imperceptible except to the people dancing it, and to the trained eye.

In this version of Milonga the same thing that happens in the 5 Common Social Figures (which is a reduction of vocabulary choices) of Tango, happens in Milonga! Only instead of 5 Common Figures, it boils down to about 4 very specific choices.

1.) A variation of the Baldosa Box.
2.) A very simple and occasional Traspie, with a single Traspie, not multiples but not, and mostly not aligned with the habanera’s El Golpe! (and if you don’t know what that is…follow the link). You might…eeek, learn something.
3.) An occasional scissor step (not a pendulum step). and
4.) Every once in a blue-moon when there is a ‘race’ in the milonga beat and not the habanera, Patter In Milonga is used to accent the race of the beat.

Most of the better Milonga Leads have realized that a simplified Milonga is actually a better way to go than to race around the room which is what typically happens and why the better Followers will say “NO” to a particular Lead/er (follow the link for what that ‘/’ means) repeatedly. The better Milonga Lead will engage this simplified Milonga over and over and over again. It will look somewhat repetitive until you actually dance the Milonga with that Lead and for a time after the shock wears off that you’re dancing Milonga with that Lead it may even feel somewhat repetitive, until you start to listen to the music, and then the genius hits you like a ton of bricks. It’s simplified for a reason, to accent the music itself! Which is to say that you don’t need a vocabulary for good Milonga, what you need is an understanding of Music. And for that you first have to be able to hear the Habanera, and then, and only then can you start to play with the music. Once Habanera awareness occurs, and it will take some time for this to happen, it’s not something that happens overnight. More on this in a bit. Once Habanera awareness occurs, then the refinements of the dance of Milonga start to happen. Sometimes. Some Leads never, ever make this leap of logic > Less Is More. Most of them go in the opposite direction > MORE is BETTER! And this is a mistake. But they don’t and won’t ever realize it for a wide variety of reasons that are too numerous to mention here. Suffice it said, some folks never learn.

And unfortunately this space is too small to incorporate those ideas here. Fortunately for you Tango Topics does possess a Milonga track > Milonga Madness that discusses some, not all, of this stuff. For the rest that isn’t covered in Milonga Madness, we strongly recommend a long series of private lessons with the Author!

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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.

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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. You do actually have to understand the Habanera Rhythm which is the basis of ALL Milongas. Not Candombe, Not Foxtrots…MILONGA! If you don’t know what the Habanera is, and/or think you have a handle on it, you really do want to go look at this definition of the Habanera on TangoTopics. This is the Rhythm that you absolutely must pay attention to because it quite literally forms the backbone of the music itself. If you can’t hear that, if you cannot find it in the music, then we have a problem, and it may require you to actually do a little study. Now to be fair, there are some milongas where the Habanera only appears sporadically, there are some milongas where the Habanera is a variation and you have to hear the variation, there are some milongas where the habanera is so distorted and so off of what you think it might be that it’s almost….ALMOST unrecognizable. However, that’s still no excuse for not practicing, and then working on finding the Habanera and then figuring out WTF to do with it.

That said…

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, almost religious explanation of what Habanera and really the Milonga Rhythm is and is not, and what you can do with it. In 90 seconds they pretty much nail the Habanera. 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.

Ok, now that you’ve got your pound of free flesh that will only help you so far, now comes the real toy, which when this article was written originally hadn’t actually happened yet. Actually this article was written a year before what we’re about to talk about: Milonga Madness. This is going to sound like a sales pitch for Milonga Madness. It’s not. It’s the fact that we really have studied with a lot of people on this topic, spent years and more money than you can shake a stick at, at how to hear Milonga and then dance Milonga. This is one of the ONLY workshops that we’ve ever attended where we came away with a deeper understanding that Milonga does not need or want to be complex. It is a simple thing that does require you to actually hear the Habanera. Without that, then you’re just racing around the room. So here’s our advice. Go subscribe to Milonga Madness, you won’t be sorry! Truthfully, and we say this with how much we teach and talk about tango, it’s even better than all our own videos! Go SUBSCRIBE! Just scroll down to the bottom of the page, and click on the Milonga Madness Button! You’re welcome.

Have you seen the Milonga Madness series ? Over 2.5 hrs of pure Milonga Instruction GOLD with one of the best Social Milonga Teaching couples alive: Detlef Engel & Melina Sedó! It covers everything you need to know to get you up and running today with Milonga. Don’t delay, subscribe today!

Milonga Madness with Detlef Engel & Melina Sedo

4 Parts of Social Milonga

Part 1.) The Baldosa Box & one of several Baldosa Box Variations
Part 2.) Milonga Traspie and the many many variations
Part 3.) Scissor & Pendulum steps and variations.
Part 4.) Milonga Patter

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