Monday, February 08, 2010

Common myths about learning Tango

Here are the most common myths or fallacies about learning to dance Argentine Tango. I've heard each countless times from people, so I thought I would share with you why these statements/beliefs keep you from becoming an excellent dancer.

“ I am a good follower, just lead me” …. FALSE!!!

Tango requires communication. Just as you can not understand another person by having them speak a foreign language to you, you can not learn Tango by just having someone lead you. Someone has to take the time and the effort to explain to you how to embrace, how to move, how to allow your legs to respond freely, how walk elegantly.

Sure you can go to another country and ask people on the street how to speak their language. You will ask taxi drivers, waiters, salespersons, maybe even some random people on the street. And you will learn some of the language, some of it will be slang, some of it will be colloquialisms, some of it will be close to what you wanted to say but not really what you think you are saying. But to really, learn to speak well. One has to study the language with a teacher and a grammar book.

Likewise in Tango, you can learn lots of things on the dance floor, some good, some not so good. And you will think you are doings right but you may not be, and you may learn patterns but not necessarily how to really follow a leader. To do this, one must take classes. And to really learn the fine points requires, one must pony up for private lessons and the workshop.

The only real way for you not to spend money learning Tango is if you start dating someone who is an excellent dancer. This is how many women and and men have learned. If you are cute/sexy (also helps if you are young!) you can probably get lots of free lessons both on and off the dance floor. Some very well known and excellent dancers in San Diego started out by flirting/dating increasingly better dancers. (Some of you may not like this but hey, I am telling you the truth!)

Any dancer can teach Tango… FALSE!

Understanding how the body moves, how to communicate it effectively and positively to different learners, and how the other person in Tango moves is not a gift that everyone has.

All good dance teachers I know are first and foremost excellent dancers. So unless the person teaching you Tango on the dance floor is a respected and admired dancer. You are either wasting your time or learning to dance incorrectly. One sees lots of people dancing at the Milonga; some of the women look beautiful, graceful, elegant. Find out who they learned from and go to them. Other women look clunky with inelegant legs and feet. Find out how they learned and avoid making the same mistakes.

Some men will lead you with a soft yet firm embrace that guides you almost intuitively into the next step. These are men you can learn from. Other men jerk you around, move seemingly unaware of the musicality, and repeat the same things over and over again. A smart woman would disregard whatever these individual say.

I’ve learned Tango” x” months/years ago, I don’t need classes anymore. …FALSE!!!

Tango is an ongoing learning process. A true milonguero never stops learning. Once you understand one aspect of tango you realize that there is more to tango for you to learn. I’ve allude it to earlier but there is no place for a puffed up Ego in learning to dance Tango. Time and time again you will be forced to relearn, unlearn, and change the way you dance. My advice lose the pride and focus on improving your movement though I personally prefer to do it with someone who focuses on positive suggestions instead of negative feedback.

Besides your body changes. And, your ability to control your body changes. If you do not dance regularly, it becomes difficult to control and move your body the way you once did. If you dance regularly, you can forget about certain basic concepts or find yourself picking up strange movement habits that feel awkward or wrong to you or to your partner and that prevent you from executing certain movements that you once learned in a workshop.

If you are not getting comments like, “your dancing is getting better,” or “I really enjoyed dancing with you, save me another dance,” they you are not getting better you are more likely getting worse. Less dancing and dancing with less accomplished dancers will surely follow. If you are a men, women will say “No” to you or will not even look at you to avoid you asking them. And if you are a follower, the guys you want to dance with will pass you up for someone else.

It does not matter with whom you learn Tango… FALSE!!!

I’ve had some people come to me after going to Argentina and tell me that even after a year of private lessons that they could not dance at all in the milongas of Buenos Aires. How could this happen? First of all, there are some people teaching Tango in San Diego who teach steps and patterns instead of teaching how to dance, how to connect or how to lead/follow. Some instructors will have you perform without you even knowing how to social dance. Some will mix salsa, ballroom Tango, and swing into what they are teaching you and tell you it is all Argentine Tango. Worse yet, some will do all three!

I know because I’ve seen it. And, because I dance with some of the followers. I know this because I end up helping people unlearn some things and learn to really dance Argentine Tango in our group classes and private lessons.

Just recently I witnessed a well known instructor watch as a private student walked back in a grotesque, Quasimoto fashion, without the instructor making even the simplest correction.

Some instructors will not correct you at all so it takes years of private lessons to learn if you learn at all. Some instructors focus on point out everything you do wrong so pretty soon you are hesitant/afraid to do anything. Some teachers push their beginner students to advanced classes or just to fill the room or teach them complex movements that require doing 4-5 things simultaneously. For example, I once took a performance class and encountered a follower who had only take 2 tango lessons and never danced socially. She was there because her teacher said she would benefit from it. Excuse me! No wonder she could not follow the complex movements required for the routine we were learning. I never saw her again. Some teachers encourage their students, even beginning students, to take all their classes resulting in students who are thoroughly confused about what they are doing because the classes teach different dance styles.

Unfortunately, this is hard for a beginners to discover. So I recommend trying different teachers. Even if you love your teacher, try some of the classes offered by other popular instructors. I guarantee you will either learn to appreciate your teacher even more or you will discover an approach to learning Tango that is easier and more logical.

One can learn to dance Tango from videos and online sources like YouTube. FALSE.

Videos are good for remembering and not so good for learning. Here is why:

Videos do not provide feedback as to whether you or your partner are doing things right or not. Sometimes when I’ve tried learning something from a video and when I can get my partner to “do” the video with me, we end up disagreeing as to why things are not working the way they are supposed on the video. For this reason, it is difficult to find someone to learn from a video with you.

Videos often miss subtle but critical detail. No video that I have ever seen details everything that the dancers (lead or follow) is doing. What is often missed are weight changes, and slight changes in orientation of the feet and torso. This is particularly the case in youtube performance videos and even in “instructional” videos found on sites like “YouTube”

The end result in learning from videos is that you learn the steps but not how to execute properly, with control, or elegantly. I’ve seen several local dancers who pride themselves on learning lots of “cool” moves from videos unfortunately, none of these dancers “look” cool executing these moves. They tend to look like beginners doing complex steps badly.

I tried learning vueltas from tapes and event though I had already been introduce to vueltas, and even though I watched the tape at least 20 times, once or twice even with a follower, vueltas are still problematic for me. Is it my inability to dance or the fact that I may have been doing something wrong those 20 times?

But as my first Tango instructor Alberto Paz said, “There is no documented evidence that anyone has ever learned to dance Tango solely from videos.”

Still it does not prevent me from buying or collecting videos even though I’ve rarely watched them and most not at all.

I realize some people are loath to spend money on learning to dance Tango. Maybe you can do a trade with a teacher or with another dancer. Remember though not everyone who offers to teach you is not necessarily a good teacher and their interests maybe me more than just teaching you.

I’ve taken the beginners/intermediate/advanced course, I am ready for the next level or

I’ve already learned _________ (fill in the blank with molinete, sacada, voleos, etc.) I am ready for something else.

Tango is not difficult dance but it is neither an easy dance. And just because someone explained to you a particular movement on one occasion and you got it right. It does not guarantee that you will be able to do it on the dance floor, with different leaders, or when they are leading you to do it. They say walking is the first thing you learn in Tango and the last thing you master. Many of us have been humbled by paying big bucks for private lesson with famous dancer only to spend the entire hour on walking.

The really good dancers keep taking beginners classes because they always learn something that improves their dancing and because they realize the improving the basic technique is fundamental to improving their dancing. Go back to the above paragraph!

Leading good weight changes, pivots, displacements, suspensions, is critical to all the fancy moves and combinations on the dance floor.

I’ve learned some things twelve times and I am still trying to execute the movements flawlessly.

Women have the hardest time improving their molinete technique. For me, the quality, consistency, and dependability of the follower molinete is what separates a beginner from an intermediate and an intermediate dancer to one of my favorite dancers. I’ve seen women work for years to get it right and even for the best followers, there is still room for improvement. The same applies to leaders.

Some students of their own choice end up in classes and workshops way over their head (I have been guilty of this) and attempt, for example, sacadas or volcadas without having the prerequisite muscle control, flexibility, or understanding of the frame and connection. The end result is contorted body movement that look grotesque and disjointed and even result in injury to their partner’s feet or legs. Women have been dropped, their ankle joints twisted, the head banged on the floor. I once took a class that was beyond my physical dexterity. I had sweat pouring down my face, my back was all wet from perspiration, and my partner was not having fun.

My advice- take the “All Levels” classes. Stay in the beginner and intermediate classes for as long as you continue to learn something from them. Take the intermediate or advanced classes only when a good dancers recommend it to you and not when you think you are ready.

Work on your fundamentals and you will become a better tango dancer. This is what Mikhail Baryshnikov does before dancing and before performing. This is why visiting Tango professionals, at least the good ones, always start with basic technique. Remember, learning Tango is about learning to control your body so it moves on command, elegantly, effortlessly. This take practice and study.


Learning to dance Tango is a process and a life long endeavor. This is the frustration/joy of dancing Tango depending on your point of view. But it is clear that to dance with good dancers, you need to be a good dancer yourself and while one in a thousand will dance excellent Tango in less than a year. 99.9% of us take years of continual effort to arrive at a point that we can relax and enjoy Tango for the bliss that it delivers to our soul. None of us learn it by ourselves and, all of us need to continue improving or we get worse at dancing Tango. This is what it comes down to. We are either getting worse or getting better. This is our choice.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How to become an excellent tango dancer:

I am often asked what it takes to become a good Argentine tango dancer or how someone can improve their dancing?. And, my immediate answer is dance as much as you can, with as many dancers as possible and take as many classes, workshops and private lessons as you can.

Alas, it is not as simple as one might think. First of all, it takes time and effort just to get on the Tango dance floor. I know that even after dancing all my life and starting my tango dancing with a series of private lessons, I was too overwhelmed to dance the first time I went to a milonga.

So I understand that it the dance floor can be intimidating. It is easy to forget everything you learned and to end up in the middle of the dance floor because you don’t yet understand how to dance with the rest of the dancers. It also takes time to do more than walk while moving your partner and trying not to step on her or hit anyone else. Forget about connecting with your partner, much less, waiting for your partner to finish her step, or dancing to the music.

Followers are even more anxious about doing the right things and consequently, are prone to overdo it by constantly changing their weight, walking back too fast not to get stepped on, or doing things they see other people do. New followers are famous for dancing on their own such moves as “the runaway ocho (figure eight)” and the automatic front boleo, my favorite the “instant cruzada (cross)” Similarly, forget about connecting with your partner, responding to his lead without hesitating, or having time to focus on adorning your movements.

While everyone has the ability to dance Tango, some find it easier than others and a few find it rather difficult to get their bodies to move on command. Learning Tango is a slow process. You can speed up the process by taking several lessons a week, by taking private lessons as well as group lessons, and by dancing as much as you can. But, it will take you time to dance well, to move with fluidity and elegance, and to be able to hold your own on the dance floor while protecting your partner and making her feel safe and secure in your arms if you are a leader; and responding seemingly effortlessly, musically, and appropriately given the lead, the energy in the move, and the dancers around you if you are the follower.

Don’t expect immediate results. You can not immediately dance like the dancers who have been dancing years. But you can start to learn how to dance well and consistently get better at it.

Next, I will dispel some common myths about learning Tango and becoming a much sought after dancer.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The milonga formerly known as El Mundo del Tango

Saturday night tango. No need to get up early so you can stay up as late as you want. In the old days when El Mundo del Tango was the only Saturday milonga in town when it was the place where the best dancers danced, one could dance until 2-3 o'clock in the morning on that checkerboard tile floor. Boy was it hard on your knees!

The unstated rule was that as long as people were dancing the music would keep on playing. The die hard crowd would dance easily till 2-3 am and then we would stick around to talk to one another, sometimes going to Denny's next door to get something to eat. Sometimes four of us, sometimes thirteen. And most usually, Avi and Cecilia from up north would be there. Linda, Gabrielle, Larry, Claire where some of the other regulars at the El Mundo del Tango after hours get-togethers.

With Denny's nearby, I am surprised that many more women did not get offers to "have a cup of coffee," but I am digressing.

Another unstated rule was that you could bring your own wine and enjoy a glass of whatever quality of wine you chose. Some of us would bring "2-buck Chuck," others would bring more memorable wines and all of us shared them willingly with one another. For in reality, how much wine can a milonguero/a truly drink in an evening. For most of us, one glass is too much.

Later on, after the wood floor was installed at El Mundo much to the expense of the dancing community, things started to change. Pretty soon, the chairs were being folded up and stacked as early as 1 am. If there were lots of dancers, the chairs would not get rolled up and stacked up till 1:30.

Nonetheless, you got a message sometimes not so subtle that it was time to leave. And people did. The amount of late night get-togethers decreased as a result. The only saving grace was that our knees felt better not only because of the wood floor but because we danced less.

The move of El Mundo del Tango to its new location has brought about some unintended consequences that has driven this trend toward even earlier closing times!

This last Saturday, the dancing was terminated at midnight. Management suggested we could stay and drink but that the dancing was prohibited past midnight! "What", I said to myself, "how crazy is this?"

It was explained that the liquor license had strict limits on the activities that could take place!

Even though I had gotten an email about this, it was still a shock to me. An establishment whose core business is dancing, telling us to drink instead of dance. Sounds wacky to me. I guess it is one of those "unintended consequences" of the move to a building designed as an restaurant and at first glance, of the desire to eek more profit out of the evening by selling liquor.

In all fairness, it was announced that efforts were being made to change this reality but for the short and near term and possibly long term, midnight is the end of the Milonga in the present location.

Another not unintended consequence is the end of El Mundo del Tango as a place to Tango. Now from what I can tell the prime focus of the space will be an entertainment, business meeting, rental hall. For Tango lessons, you are directed to another web site, Tango Del Rey. And, I believe that the building is called Tango del Rey. So from what I can gather, the El Mundo del Tango no longer exists.

The milonga, it was announced, will be moving to another part of the building. So much for having milongas is a funky, rococo, moorish location.

And since the move to the new location, bringing your own wine is "strictly" prohibited. Now with the opening of the bar, at El Mundo del Tango, I mean Tango del Rey, bringing your own is now not acceptable at all.

I think the next part to go will be the food. And why not, there is a full kitchen, a chef on hand. Pretty soon, Tango del Rey will be for the dinner/dance crowd. It might be fun it includes live music coupled with great DJ's and exquisite food. It might also work if the dance community was larger, say 10-20x larger.

But since the Tango community is not so large and since there is often an alternative to El Mundo del Tango/Tango del Rey, it would seem to me that the audience in mind is the non-tango dancing community. Already, a salsa event is planned for a Saturday in the place formerly known as El Mundo Del Tango.

Part of me feels a loss specially for those of us who invested money in the dance floor or time and effort in keeping El Mundo viable. Part of me understands the requirements of running a business, specially a business that is losing market share, and has lost the luster of its brand. The best dancers are no longer at El Mundo. Try Wednesday night at Ciao Bella, Friday Night at Milonga Sin Nombre, or the various Saturday and Sunday Milongas produced by TangoEssence on alternate Saturday and Sundays.

The market place can be cruel to sentimentalists like myself. The market i.e. you and me, dictate if a business thrives or fails. And I think the market, i.e. we, have voted that the old business model of El Mundo was not meeting our needs.

Only the future can tell if, paraphrasing Prince, Tango del Rey: the milonga formerly known as El Mundo del Tango, will find reasons for us to return to it on a regular basis. Some positive steps have been the active role and participation of Colette Hebert who brings energy, personality to an enterprise that often lacked social graces and the inclusion of well respected dancers as teachers.

Under New Management with a New Business Plan is what I would say of Tango del Rey, the place formerly known as El Mundo del Tango. And, I don't blame them if they decide to woe the masses instead of the tiny Tango dancing minority.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Selecting a Private Argentine Tango Dance Instructor

It can be difficult to select a good Tango dance instructor. Here are somethings to look out for:

* Make sure you discuss that you want to learn Argentine Tango. Some instructors teach ballroom Tango also known as American Tango or International Tango. These are totally different and one would never dream of going to Argentina to dance the latter. Ballroom Tango is for ballroom dance parties only whereas Argentine Tango are more Milongas or a place where Argentine Tango is dance.

* If your instructor is not an excellent dancer, then stay away. You want to learn from the best dancers. Not a dancer who is just learning or who does not make it look easy and fun. There are plenty of people who have no business teaching because they either do not dance well or do not teach well. You want both a good dancer and a good teacher.

* Your instructor should be well versed in all three major Argentine Tango styles: salon, apilado (aka: milongero) and tango nuevo. If they only dance one style, find yourself a different instructor. Why let them decide how you should dance before you figure out which one you like best?

* Learn from different instructors. Do not limit yourself to only learning from one person. Try an instructor out before you make a financial commitment. You might find out that you do not like the personality or the style of the instructor.

* Pick instructors who teach in couples. They are better able to meet your needs. I man might be able to lead you but only a woman will help you become an excellent follower and vice versa.

* Take group classes as well as private classes. Group classes give you the opportunity to meet others which helps in asking or getting asked to dance at a Milonga.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Intro About to Argentine Tango

Tango is a dance of communication and connection. Tango was born in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Africans gave it’s underlying rhythms, european immigrants added their musical instruments and their experience to create “ el tango” Argentine’s cultural gift to the rest of the world.

Tango has three main rhythms, Milonga, an early pre-cursor to the tango, tango, and waltz which shows a more upper class influence. Candombes are also heard frequently and hark back to even earlier time than the milonga. Tango is a live dance, it continues to evolve and you will also hear a recent modern Tango.

In Tango, there are no set steps and no requirement to be in a particular formation or line. It differed from all previous European dance forms in that it gave dancers the ability to stop, to pause, and to use any part of the room available.

There is not just one way to dance Tango, in reality every dancer dances differently. Every dancer is a different experience. You will see today various forms of Tango, salon, apilado, and tango nuevo. Good dancers weave in and out of these styles in response to the music, to the dance floor and to their partner.

What you see today is not a choreography, it is social style, improvised Tango with a little flair here and there. As an improvised dance, the same song by the same partners, will never be danced again in the same way. Ladies most of the leg movements that you see are in fact led by the man with some adornos or embellishments added by the women.

Tango Tango is a social dance. You can of course dance it in Buenos Aires, you can dance it in Montevideo, in Paris, in New York, Moscow, in all the major cities of the world. You can dance it in Austin Texas, Providence, Rhode Island, or in Monterey, Fresno, Ventura. You can dance of course here in San Diego, almost every night of the week and sometimes select from 2 or 3 different places to dance. You can dance in El Cajon, Encinitas, North Park, Mission Valley.

It is not a dance with a simple step, and you can not learn simply by doing it. Tango is two people moving as one and this requires that you learn how to communicate and connect to one another. The more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn.

The good thing is that you do not need a partner to dance Tango, it is after all a social dance! There are others there waiting to dance with you. If you can walk and know the difference between your left and right foot, then you can learn to tango.

Ladies Get Asked to Dance More Often

At the risk of being totally off mark and of divulging too much about myself, I will attempt to answer a question commonly asked by followers, “Why don’t I get asked to dance more often?” There is often no rhyme or reason as to why I ask someone to dance or not. There are however some things that I think most leaders consider when deciding with whom to dance at any given point in time.

1. You are an excellent follower. If you are an excellent dancer able to move easily from one style to another, you will dance more often than most- not always but most often. There are times when I just want to dance with the best possible dancers I can or with my favorite dancers and I will structure my asking for maximum pleasure.

2. You dancing is flirtatious. You may not be one of the top dancers but because you are playful with your dancing, then leaders will search you out. After all, it is not just about technique and execution, it is about having fun in an engaging and flirtatious way. A smile, a playful adornment, and an engaging personality go a long way.

3. You continuously improve your skills. If every time men dance with you, you surprise them with your improved ability to follow, they are more likely to come back for more. We remember a lot about followers and if we forget, it comes back to us right away as soon as we start dancing. So surprise us by improving you skills and make us want to dance with you.

4. You highlight and show your physical assets. All right, I admit it, most men are visually oriented and if you are sharing some of your physical assets, we are drawn to you presence. I know some men have a penchant for dress with slits, myself, never mind. So stimulate us and encourage our imagination to run wild.

5. You are pretty young thing (PYT). If you are pretty young thing, we will ask you to dance- at least initially, until the novelty wears off or until we find another PYT to favor. Most PYT unfortunately do not dance very well and they disappear after they find that the good dancers no longer dance with them or upon finding a boyfriend.

6. You’ve developed a social/personal relationship with the leader. Be sociable, talk to people, and relate to us as individuals and you will find your self dancing more. I do a fair amount of asking around the food and drinks because this is where I get a chance to interact with people I enjoy. So get up off your chair and say more than hello.

7. You ask. In the U.S., gentlemen generally accept a dance request from someone they know. Don’t be shy go ahead and ask. We may say yes though, sometimes, I will suggest dancing later if I am trying to dance with a particular person in the next tanda. We may of course ignore your request or say no. Asking visiting instructors specially when you haven’t taken their workshops or taken private lessons with them may not get you positive results. If men continually say no to you, then make an honest evaluation of your following skills and your social interactions with leaders.

8. You are available to dance. When there are not a lot of leaders, you will dance more. As I’ve said previously, come late and stay till the end if you want to dance more. You will be more likely tire your feet from dancing when the crowd thins out and you are still there.

9. You danced with them when they where just beginning to Tango. There are certain women we will always try to dance with because we remember their encouraging words when we were new to tango. I also can think of a couple of sultry dances I had with particular followers when I started dancing. Those dances are still etched in my tango memory and while we may not always dance with these followers, we do have them in our radar and will regularly ask them to dance with us.

10. You are a beginner. Many of us who remember being a beginner, go out of our way to welcome beginners and invite them to dance. We may not always do it immediately and we may not do it every time we see you, but we will ask you to dance because you are new to tango. This is our way of giving back in appreciation of the women who danced with us when we were still neophytes and stepped on many a follower.

11. You were in a workshop or class together. The leader will feel more comfortable dancing with you because he already knows how you feel and how you follow. He may also want to lead things that only followers in the class or workshop are likely to follow.

While this is not an exhaustive list, it does give you an idea of why some will ask you to dance and what you can do to dance more. It is also a good to look at the flip side of the coin, as there are reasons, some rational others irrational, as to why men will not dance with you.

1. You are correct them all the time. We want to dance not be scolded or told what to do or not do.

2. You dancing is getting worse. Either you are not taking classes or your body is less flexible.

3. You do the same things all the time. You are too predictable and too repetitive. The same old same old is not enticing to leaders.

4. You didn’t dance with them when they were beginners. We have good long term memories and we remember.

5. You danced most of the night already. Sometimes we skip you because you have plenty of leaders to dance with.

6. You refused to dance with them recently. Saying no when we ask you, can bruise our sensitive egos and it takes a while for us to ask you again.

7. You do not have a personal relationship with them. If you are just another face in the crowd, you are just another face in the crowd.

8. We don’t see you regularly. We will tend to dance with followers we see regularly.

There may be other reasons and at any point in time, one or more reasons may apply though the above reasons may not apply to all men, nor all of time and not necessarily in the listed order.

To dance more, I suggest that you become a better dancer by taking private lessons, classes and workshops, entice us visually, get to know us personally, dance playfully, get up off your chair, and stay as late as possible.

Florentino Guizar, a social dancer first and foremost, teaches tango with Isabelle Kay throughout the San Diego area.

Different Types of Tango

The many flavors of Tango

When you hear the word Tango, the image that comes to your mind may be radically different then someone else’s. While some will argue that there is only one Tango. In reality, there are several forms of Tango and even several styles within Argentine Tango, as well as different Argentine Tango musical rhythms that call for variations in frame, connection, and movement.

In the US, when most people think of Tango they conjure up the Hollywood image of a couple moving forward in promenade. Unfortunately, this image is Hollywood fallacy.

Dancers, on the other hand, may conjure up more specific but different images of Argentine Tango or it simplified stylized version American Tango. Ballroom dancers will further be familiar with International Tango which developed in England and is popular mostly in Europe. Argentine Tango dancers will think of different Argentine Tango styles such as Apilado, Tango Nuevo, Salon or Fantasia but if you ask them what kind of Tango they like, some might answer, Milongas, Vals Cruzado/Tango Waltz, or Candombes.






American, International






Tango Nuevo,





Vals Cruzado


Argentina /

Rio de La Plata

(Buenos Aires /


Argentine Tango is a complex social dance with virtually unlimited improvisational opportunities. In comparison, American or International Tango have well defined syllabus and dancers learn specific steps and patterns for competitive events.

American Tango arose out of the first exposure of Argentine Tango to the world in the 1910’s, Ballroom empressario Arthur Murray, simplified Argentine tango and adapted it to the preferences of ballroom dancers. Ballroom Tango is only taught in ballrooms dance studio. The steps were codified and fixed to make it easier to teach and judge. For example, Ballroom Tango dancers arch their torsos away from one another and join at the hips. Argentine Tango dancers may join at the chest but generally keep their hips away from each other except for the execution of specific movements.

The English outdid the Americans and thanks to their stiff prudish attitude codified Tango even more and removed any semblance of passion or sensuality from Argentine Tango. English Tango was further codified in the 1920’s and set at 30 bars per minute or 120 beats per minute at 4/4 measure. Interestingly, the music used for Ballroom and International Tango seems flat and monotonous to Argentine social dancers.

Argentine Tango is a social improvisational dance in which the leader is responsible to know and visualize ever step the follower takes, where her weight is at all times, and to continually communicate with and listen to the follower’s response. The leader must do this with confidence, clarity, and musicality while navigating a crowded dance floor that may require aborted movements and getting the follower out of harms way.

In turn, the follower in Argentine Tango focuses exclusively and totally on the leader immediately responds to what is being asked of her by making her legs, torso, and arms flexible and available to the leader’s movement. The follower must trust the leader to guide her movements, protect her, and allow her the space and time to dance elegantly.

The end result of this is typically three minutes of a sensual passionate internally focused connection where two bodies move as one. Some women describe it as “walking meditation.”

There are basic differences between these dance forms.

Argentine Tango

American Tango

International Tango













Head Turns




Head Snaps





Only for shows

Defined Patters








Quick,Quick, Slow

Quick,Quick, Slow










Argentina / Worlwide

US Ballroom

England /Europe Ballroom


Point Down

Point Out

Point Out













Taking Steps

Toe lead/or flat

Heel Lead

Heal Lead

Feet of Ground

Varies by style.



Please be aware that American Tango and International Tango are not appropriate for the Argentine social dance floor as the patterns and steps run counter to dance floor etiquette and the ongoing need to respond to what is going on the dance floor. Locally, ballroom tango dancers are tolerated but certainly not appreciated in Argentine Tango dance parties or Milongas. The wild unpredictably of the Ballroom Tango dancer forces other dancers to stay away at a safe distance. Thus the Ballroom Tango dancer ends up monopolizing an inordinate amount of floor space. Ballroom Tango dancers may even be asked to step off the dance floor if they are preventing the natural flow of Argentine social tango. To dance Ballroom Tango, you have to go to a Ballroom dance party where they dance all the ballroom dance styles. As a Ballroom Tango Dancer, do not expect to be dancing with Argentine Tango dancers, it is like speaking two different languages.

Within Argentine Tango, the different dance styles are characterized by differences in embrace, frame, distance and step size, and the direction of the follower’s head. These in turn cause other differences related to movement and focus of the dance. .




Tango Nuevo






Open on one side


Open both sides





Step Size




Follower Head


To the left



On/Off and /\ Axis

Follower Off Axis

On/Off and V axis

Movement Possibilities

Limited on one side.

Severely Limited






Used in Shows




In Argentina, salon tango is popular where there is plenty of room in which to dance. Salon is also the basis for Tango Liso (Smooth Tang) kind Tango Fantasia (Show Tango) because it allows such variety of movement and connection. Tango Salon is characterized most by open embrace on the leaders left side as well as a flexible frame that can go from open and apart to close and closed on the leaders right. Tango Salon is the most common form of Tango and it’s flexible frame allows for transitioning from Salon to the following two embraces.

Apilado (Piled Up) (erroneously called Milonguero) is danced in crowded Argentine dance venues where dancers have limited space in which to dance usually around square yard per couple or even less. This style of Tango is popular because it is easy to learn, has limited vocabulary, and creates an intense connection between leader and follower- both followers breasts are connected to the leaders chest. Some adherents erroneously purport that this is true Tango, though any visit to Buenos Aires quickly dispels this myth. Dancers eventually tire of Apilado’s physical restrictions and musical monotony and begin exploring the more flexible Salon and Tang Nuevo styles.

Tango Nuevo (New Tango) arose out of the exploration of various Argentine tango masters to expand the vocabulary of Tango by reaching back to movements of earlier tango masters. It is associated with an emerging form of Tango music also called Tango Nuevo or Techno Tango. This tango style is surprisingly popular among the young as it entails less intimate physical contact due to arms apart embrace. (Don’t ask me why!) Tango Nuevo allows the incorporation of both lead and follow being off axis in a “V” shape adding substantial more possibilities than the lean or /\ shape common in Salon and inherent in Apilado.

Within Argentine Tango, there are several musical forms that most common one being the Tango, Vals Cruzado or Tango Walts and Milonga.



Tango Waltz

Techno Tango


























Dancing a Tango is characterized by pauses, variations in timing, speed, and movement. The steps may short or long. Flowing or staccato. This is due to the complex and interwoven musical rhythms in tangos. One can find tangos with habanera, waltz, and milonga rhythms incorporated into the tango sound and vice versa.

Conversely, both Tango Walts and Milonga require continuous movement. There are not pauses and fewer variations in speed. Dancing a Milonga also requires the bodies to be in a close embrace instead of an open embrace as the follower move quickly and easily when there is strong connection. Surprisingly, dancers dancing Apilado can be hamstrung by their posture and connection as it prevents the more fluid below the hip bending and torso movements necessary to dance Milonga and Candombe, an earlier musical form also popular and frequently played. And you will see many novice apilado dancers sit out a good number of dances because they are unable to adapt their frame and posture to the other musical styles.

More recently, Argentine and other musicians have created another musical genre variously know at Techno Tango, Tango Nuevo, Electro Tango or Tango Fusion which blends elements of Tango, House, Chill-Out, Jazz and more. Like a Tango it can have various rhythms in the music and can be typically danced either like a Milonga or like Tango or weaving in and out of each. Many of the most popular Tango Nuevo songs are remixes or new arrangements of traditional Tango compositions.

To truly understand when someone says, they want to learn Tango or are learning to dance Tango, one must ask, which type, ballroom or argentine? American or International Tango? Apilado, Salon, or Tango Nuevo? And if you are learning Tango in order to dance it socially which you can in San Diego every night of the week or to dance Tango in Buenos Aires,, you might want to consider Argentine Tango and start with Salon, that is what the Argentines do.

Note: A version of this article was printed in the January/Frebruary 2008 issue of San Diego Dance.

Florentino Guizar dances socially, teaches Argentine Tango through out San Diego, and performs regularly with Isabelle Kay. Send comments to