I keep being surprised when people ask me this question, but it is something that crops up from time to time and so I should probably address it a bit more often. People know about 'milonga' as the faster form of tango which uses quick regular steps and lots of repetition, and they know that people travel a long way to go to 'milongas'. A connection between these two things is made, and the next thing I know is that I am being asked "Can you teach us the dance that people dance at milongas?" or "I see that there are a lot of milongas around, but where can I go to dance tango?"
So let me clear this up once and for all: you go to milongas to dance tango.
Okay? Is that settled? Tango is danced at milongas. But I can already start to hear the question forming... "In that case, where do you go to dance milonga...?" so there is probably some more work to do here, and so maybe I should start a bit nearer the beginning.
This dance we do is called 'tango', but the term 'tango' covers at least three different genres of music and their associated dance styles, and these are called 'milonga', 'vals', and... 'tango'. If you are used to ballroom dancing you will know that ballroom is split into two categories called 'ballroom' and 'latin', and that each of these categories includes dances such as the foxtrot, the jive, the rumba, the quickstep, along with many others, and so this idea that 'tango' and 'milonga' are both dances that come under the heading of 'tango' should not be too much of a surprise. But without that background it is easy to get confused, and it would probably help to get some idea of where the names all came from.
Unfortunately the exact origin of words like 'tango' and 'milonga' is lost in history as very few written records were ever kept, but what is universally accepted is that the dance we know today started off as something that looked a lot like more like modern 'milonga' than it did modern 'tango'. Whether the places it was danced were called 'milongas' after the dance, or if the dance was named after the gatherings themselves is unsure, but we do know that in the earliest days you went to a milonga to dance milonga.
Then popular music began to slow in pace, and the new dance of 'tango' began to appear. This was based on the same steps as were used in milonga, but slower and more spread out to fit with the slower tempo of the music, and so it was natural that people who liked the faster dance would also enjoy the slower version. This led to the new dance - which somewhere along the line had become known as 'tango' - also being danced at milongas, and so now you went to a milonga to dance milonga or tango.
Music from Europe began to make its way to South America, and the waltz which was taking Europe by storm at the time began to be popular over there as well. The original musical structure of waltz with three beats in a bar was adapted by the local orchestras to fit with the four beats in a bar that the slower 'tango' dancers expected, but the character of waltz was preserved by the music having three emphasised beats and one suspended beat in each bar. This became known as 'tango vals' ('vals' is the Spanish spelling of 'waltz'), and eventually just 'vals'.
'Tango' became the most popular of the rhythmic structures, possibly because its slower pace meant that it could be danced for longer and by people of - shall we say - more limited mobility than the faster milonga rhythm, and so the name 'tango' took over as the generic term for all three styles of dance. But the places where it was danced kept their old names and so were still referred to as 'milongas'. I like to think this was down to people wanting to save money on signwriting, but that's probably just me. There is no historical evidence of that whatsoever, but given how slowly some shops and clubs update their signs even in modern London, it does not seem implausible.
The dance has continued to evolve and yet the places where you go to dance tango, vals, and milonga are still called milongas; the music played at milongas will primarily be tango rhythm, but will also include vals and milonga. So if you want to dance tango, go to a milonga.
Note: The more observant of you will have noticed that despite running one every month, at no point in this post have I mentioned a 'neolonga'.
Well, 'neolonga' is a neologism that simply means 'new milonga', and is usually used to refer to a tango venue that predominantly plays modern or alternative tango music. This music will usually include rhythms that cover tango, vals, and milonga so whatever you want to dance you should find it there. Although it is worth pointing out that because the rhythmic structure of tango vals is not the same as proper waltz you are unlikely to find much modern or alternative music that really fits. If you know musical notation you will know that most modern popular music is written in 4/4 or 2/4, with some in 3/4. Tango is in 4/4 or 2/4 and milonga is generally in 2/4 so they fit well so long as the speed and emphasis are right, but tango vals is in a weird hybrid of 4/4 and 3/4 that you could almost write as (3+1)/4 and so not much modern music really fits that pattern.
If you find any good modern tango vals tracks, please let me know!
Tango can be bouncy and fun! Yes, there, I've said it. Tango, the dance style that so many people seem to think of as old fashioned or slow, can be just as full of energy and bounce as salsa or modern jive. And no, I've not gone crazy, I'm talking about milonga rhythm, the often-missed brother to tango that follows most of the same rules as its better known sibling, but with simpler faster steps, movement on every beat, and syncopation which adds to the musicality.
Okay, so full disclosure... until very recently I was no fan of milonga. I felt it was all a bit too frantic and lacked the opportunity for connection and expression that you get from a slower tango. But then I was unexpectedly thrust into a 3 1/2 hour milonga workshop with Sebastian and Roxana at the England International Tango Festival in Tonbridge ("Quick... we're short of leaders in the milonga workshop. You're on!") and something changed. Although I felt that at the end of the workshop I was no better at dancing milonga than I had been at the start, I understood more about how it worked, and had begun to see the opportunities it presented.
So I practised. And thought about it. And watched some videos. And practised again. And although I'm still not exactly good at it, I can now make it work if the music is right, and have really started to enjoy it.
For those of you reading this and thinking "Wait... I thought a milonga was a sort of tango freestyle event," you probably need a bit of background. What we group together as "tango" contains something like three distinct dance styles (there are more, but these are the main ones). There is tango, danced to the slower more flowing tracks, vals (or waltz) danced to music in 3/4 timing (or 3+1 / 4 ... but that's a whole different argument), and milonga. In this context, 'milonga' refers to a faster version of tango that uses a simplified set of steps and moves, has a change of weight on every beat, and makes strong use of repetition throughout a track. Yes, I know that the re-use of the word to mean two different things is confusing, but it's not my fault. Anyway, so I am talking about milonga rhythm (or just 'milonga') here, not the social gatherings.
Milonga has a very different feel to the slower tango rhythms. The change of weight on every beat and the utilisation of far simpler step sequences give the dance more energy, and you often hear people describe it as the more playful side of tango. It has bounce, enthusiasm, and you are far more likely to see even the most traditional of tango dancers laughing when they dance it than any other rhythm. It inspires you to experiment with new steps, as it is natural in milonga to do each step many times over before progressing to something else; you often see even experienced milonga dancers trying something that doesn't work perfectly the first time, but then it clicks for them on the second or third time through. And that's okay, because that's part of the fun of milonga.
But there is something else that starting to like milonga has shown me, and that is that with a bit of adaptation in the form of adding pauses and suspensions and mixing it in with some 'tango' style techniques, milonga can be the basis for a dance that works with a very wide range of musical genres.
Yes, that's other musical genres. Not tango. Popular stuff, like swing and jive and latin and more, which should be no surprise to anyone who has ever looked at this website or read any of my previous blog posts. I'm all about finding new things to do with tango, new music to dance it to, and new ways to get people to see what it is about this dance that I love so much. Dance is not just a goal in itself. It is something you do when you hear music you like that inspires you to get moving. People go to salsa clubs because they know the music inspires a party atmosphere and they love to party, so why not the same for tango? Because everyone 'knows' that tango music is old fashioned, and they would prefer to go somewhere that plays club music, hits, and things they know.
So watch this space. Bouncy fun tango, coming soon to a Tangosynthesis class near you!
This is something I hear from new tango dancers all the time. I tell them about our monthly milongas and the smaller practilongas to see if they are going to come along and practise what they have been learning for the last few weeks, and the most common thing I hear back is "Oh, we're not good enough for a milonga yet. We'll need a lot more lessons before we're ready to come to one of those."
But aren't milongas - tango social dances and freestyle evenings - the whole point of learning? I do understand that maybe week one or two might not be the time to attend your first milonga, but don't you come to classes to learn how to dance with other people in a social environment? And if you do, what invisible line do you think you need to cross before you can make the jump into dancing at a milonga? How good do you think you need to be before you can go?
There seems to be a belief amongst tango newcomers that milongas are for experienced dancers only, and that if you turn up only knowing how to walk a bit and can maybe pull off an ocho if your leader mutters "ocho!" in your ear at the right moment you will be completely out of your depth. That may well turn out to be the case if you decide to dance with a leader who insists on trying out every move he ever learned, or a follower that adds embellishments on every step regardless of the lead, but there are a few ways to avoid that.
Firstly, many experienced leaders and followers are more than happy to dance with beginners, and know how to pay attention to their partner's dancing needs. They remember what it was like when they first started, and are keen to pass on the passion for the dance that has hooked them into tango for so long. Look for those people on the dance floor and ask them for a dance, or if you don't know them and don't want to approach them directly then talk to the organiser before you go and see if they will introduce you to anyone who will look after you.
Alternatively, you can go to a milonga where you know there will be other beginners and dance with them to get you going. You could arrange to go with other beginners from your class, or pick a milonga based on its reputation for being beginner-friendly, but either way you will know that there will be people there who you will be comfortable with, and that you won't be the only person in the room to get cold sweats at the thought of a 'hero'*.
But why is it so important? What is wrong with waiting until you feel 'ready' to go to your first milonga? Why do you need to find ways to make that jump when it may well just happen naturally after a few weeks... or months... or years?
Classes teach you how to dance steps and sequences, but by their very nature they don't do a very good job of teaching you how to cope with improvising your way around the dance floor for a whole piece of music. You only learn that by trying it out yourself, without the structure of working through this week's set routine and with the freedom of being able to use anything you can remember. You start small with the things then add in new stuff as you get more confident. But that works best when you do it out of a class environment, and that's where milongas come in.
So take the plunge. Go to a milonga. Learn by watching the other dancers and try out anything you can remember from your classes, however many - or few - classes you've been to.
It's the best way to learn!
*You won't be the first person to think that 'giro' is spelled like that either!
On Friday the 23rd March 2018, we held our first X-Tango Alternative Milonga at our regular venue in Sevenoaks. This venture into the world of tango freestyle evenings - milongas - was something new for us and we had no idea how it would be received. How many people like dancing tango to modern or nuevo music? Would anyone come to a tango event run by an organisation with such a non-tango name as "Jivebeat"? Would anyone else like the music I play? But we have been promising ourselves that we would try something like this ever since we introduced tango to Jivebeat classes back in the summer of 2017, so it was about time we got on and did it.
We need not have worried. We had slightly over 40 people that turned up, and it was great to see that people had travelled from all over Kent and Sussex to come and dance with us. You can have a look at some of the photos we took during the evening at the link below...
We started the evening with a short warm-up routine and a "get you started" class for anyone new to tango. Then at around 8.45pm we dimmed the lights, turned up the music, and for the rest of the evening it was down to me as DJ to keep you all entertained. Obviously I'm not going to say anything about how good the music was as reviewing my own DJ set would be weird 😉, but everyone - including me - seemed to be enjoying themselves, so I'll count that as a win!
We'd also like to give a big thank you to Libusha of Libertas Atelier for bringing all her wonderful tango and dance fashion creations along. If you didn't get a chance to look at them properly at the venue then why not go and have a browse around her online collection. Click the link below to view her store on Etsy...
Our next X-Tango event at Sevenoaks will be on Friday the 27th April 2018, starting at 8pm as before. The warm-up class will be a little shorter next time, so the dance floor will be yours from around 8.30pm.
See you there!
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