Learning Tango

LABELS LABELS everywhere! Part 1

Dancers, who have been dancing for a little bit, I do feel your pain. And I am listening to your complaints. You were attracted to this dance called Argentine Tango and now teachers telling you to embrace a certain way and then more experienced dancers telling you to dance a certain way, guest instructors say something else, like it’s the only truth.

Sometimes I can find the thread of truth in all these. After all, aren’t all these tango teachers just regurgitating either, what they were taught or what works for them?

When I was first learning tango I seem to vaguely remember terms like Salon Tango or Tango Salon being tossed around. I wasn’t clear as to what it meant and I remember going to Buenos Aires on my first tango trip and seeing dancers dancing chest to chest at the milongas. No one mentioned to me a label, it was clear we were all dancing tango in a salon de baile (a ballroom or could also be called pista de baile). Yet I was learning to dance a more open embrace in the US. I was vaguely confused but made a decision that I was going to dance, what I wanted to call, social tango, something that I saw in the milongas in Buenos Aires, after all it’s a social dance, right?  Ironically, a friend in my home community articulated his frustrations that what he was learning in classes wasn’t very useful at milongas. And at the Milonga en Buenos Aires Tour 2010time I thought, “Me Too!”

Subsequently over time I think I ignored the labels that people were giving to the Argentine Tango. I found teachers that were recommended to me and I took a lot of group classes and I went out to milongas to dance socially in a close embrace that I had experienced first hand in Buenos Aires. Everyone seemed to be doing it, dancing close embrace, and those that weren’t; I didn’t dance with all that often.

In retrospect I can see that there was a lot of confusion in people’s bodies as to how to lead and how to follow. What I too would hear from one teacher would be totally contradictory to another. What a mess and that was only 14 years ago. One teacher would explain leading through the right arm, another would explain leading as being in the chest, the shoulders, the solar plexus, the center, and others would divide the leaders from the followers and give each of us our pattern and then we would fight it out together! Somehow I swam through the sea of confusion as many of you, or shall I say us, still do now.

You may know that I began teaching Argentine Tango out of curiosity and somewhat by default. I began by teaching what I knew to be my Teaching at ASU Night Galleryexperience in Buenos Aires: from those teachers that shared what I most closely understood to be that which I danced in the milongas in Buenos Aires. Teaching has taken me on a very long adventure which fortunately or unfortunately has included changing what I understood and therefore, what I have taught.

I set out to teach others how to social dance in Buenos Aires as I had done. I did not have a label for it: to me it was Argentine Tango. Soon after my return to Arizona, where I began teaching only Argentine Tango, did the questions begin to arise. “Are you the milonguero teacher from Phoenix?” I recall being asked by a prominent festival organizer. I didn’t answer or maybe I did by the strange look on my face and the repetition of the words, “milonguero teacher?”

I made an attempt to see if I needed the label. I looked up Argentine Tango online only to discover that there were several more labels that I had never heard of, I looked around to see who was labeling themselves what…  (The 90’s saw the label Milonguero and then soon followed was Nuevo, and then came Villa Urquiza.) What kind of a teacher was I if I didn’t have a label? My students were dancing with little complaints so I continued without a label.

My journey has now taken me into a new realm – into an actual label. In competing in Argentine Tango we are now labeled as Tango Salon and thus seemingly poo-pooed by those hanging onto another label. Which is funny to me – because I still can dance at the milongas. For me nothing has changed, except that I am training to look and dance a certain way with my partner. Somewhere in the tango label lineage Tango Salon went categorized as being closer to Stage Tango and with learning choreographed steps. Interestingly enough Melina Sedo in her blog, Melina’s Two Cents, has had a similar struggle with labels and enlightened me that Tango De Salon in France was interpreted as ballroom tango.

Recently a friend of mine who teaches back east said to me, “Aren’t you learning essentially choreographed steps for the competition?” I thought this was an interesting claim as we are constantly working on certain turning patterns that are expected in this label, Tango Salon, and in the competition in the category of the same name.

So where does this bring us – to our frustrations as students. And an entire blog without too many confusing labels and to my point.

A female student came to me recently. She has been studying fast and furiously with many teachers, going out to milongas diligently, has a practice partner, and was beyond confused and frustrated. How does a follower follow all these different leaders? All these different corrections?

From the follower’s perspective I don’t think any of it is wrong but it is about learning and understanding that there are certain possibilities based basically on embrace. Which means that if I am dancing super close, chest to chest and socially, there are a certain set of expectations (this has been labeled milonguero). Those expectations are not to leave the chest, not to pivot the hips, and I think often misinterpreted that the follower is “hanging” on the leader, although I have never heard those words come out of a teacher’s mouth but I observe it all too often on the dance floor and then hear about it from the leaders and their pained shoulders.

I could also be dancing a little less close and socially which offers me other options. The music will dictate and the space and geography might all give me clues, yes, for me as a follower too.

The clues are exhibited on the dance floor for me to see, as a follower, and as a leader. And in this case “like attracts like”. Do you see an embrace that you like? Basically that embrace will dictate that dance. And when you are in that embrace remember one of Graciela Gonzalez’ adages: ”Follow what you feel not what you think”.

(part 2 of labels next week and for more historical notes on Tango Styles visit Stephen Brown’s site at:
http://www.tejastango.com/inside_2011archive.html#0004 and scroll down to The Continuing Conflict over Tango Styles.)

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Tango Hangover

8 week Argentine Tango 1.5 course at Plaza de Anaya call (480) 894-8777

Tango Experience teachers and board

After an action packed tango week comes the tango hangover.

The ASU Tango Experience was a step up from last year’s festival. Although I was thoroughly immersed in assisting classes and being on time it was so wonderful to watch as students took their dancing challenges head on.

I realize for this entry that I have so much to write about: the festival experience, my time with Graciela Gonzalez, the classes, the milongas, etc.  And even though I am Faculty Adviser to the tango club and only really supposed to be advising, I was asked to jump in and help in several aspects of the planning and execution of the event.

I also think it’s important for people to understand that bringing instructors to teach is an expensive endeavor. The teachers all have fees for their time investment as well as their travel and lodging expenses. ASU Tango Club applies for support to fund venues and a few other miscellaneous items but it’s the support from attendees that actually make it possible. And because it’s a student run organization they are learning valuable life skills: communication, delegation, organization, handling budgets, etc.

Having Graciela Gonzalez stay with me for a week and working as her translator in classes gave me a renewed appreciation for our dance. The intricacies, the nuances, the explanations for styles, the embrace, the walk, where vocabulary comes from, why do we dance the way we do? It is pretty amusing to speculate that at some point in time milongueros just did what they did, they danced!

Until my next encounter with her, I am left with exercises and reminders – not just dance reminders but life reminders. The notiTango Festival Classon of using the whole foot in the dance is one that I am so happy to have heard her say as I have been leaning in this direction with my teaching and so to hear her say it was a relief! Although she has let go of her famous “fountain” image for followers I really appreciated the idea of a fixed point for both the follower and leader – an intention that helps to suspend us 50% up and 50% grounded. She had mentioned that an ideal room would be one that would allow us to hang suspended from the ceiling, with our legs dangling towards the floor. A lot of what I heard from her this weekend addresses an issue that I think is a current trend, posture and alignment. I think this will continue to be a hot topic since many of us spend so much of our time sitting down in chairs that don’t serve us posturally.

She mentioned that she had an obsession with hands this weekend. She kept reminding me to touch her when we were demonstrating, that somehow my touch was too light, that I wasn’t really touching, holding her. You can hold your own body up and hold your own arms up and still touch and connect through the hands with your partner. She reminded us that our hands help us to to balance as well.

Graciela, Jaimes & Christa

Graciela, Jaimes & Christa

Graciela also reminded me that I have to be on my own, working on my dance, in my body. We can’t blame someone else for our bad dancing or our disconnection from the dance or our partner. A good one right? And all I could think about was, where did I go? Have I gotten lost in the mentality of “I have to do more to get better” when all I really need to do is be me and enjoy dancing? This is a tricky one for me, as I was a trained dancer and an only child – I have always felt comfortable on my own. I took class and trained my body – and I was responsible for it and I knew that! So how did Tango become different in my mind? I guess it’s just a simple reminder that I am me and you are who you are and if we dance honestly without wanting to change the other it will be great!

One of the last questions I asked Graciela was “is it supposed to just feel easy?” and she opened her eyes widely and cracked a smile, nodding her head, and said, “yes”.

Now you know why there’s a tango hangover. Graciela changed my dancing when I first met her and she continues to do so. I am grateful for her insights into the dance, its people, and feel that her images are clear and easy to assimilate. Anyone who takes class with her is always impressed.

Thanks to all who shared the festival with us. Keep dancing…




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Tango Coaching

This weekend Rommel and I were in Flagstaff and Sedona teaching. We had a wonderful time as always. I enjoy just how friendly everyone is and how willing they are to share their experiences and their eagerness to learn.

As a part of the weekend we conducted a 3 hour coaching session in Sedona for  5 couples. We were told ahead of time that what their core group needed and wanted was some very specific guidance and some 1 on 1 time for corrections.

Rommel and I created a 3 hour session for them beginning with simple bare bones exercises and some revealing connection exercises then building to each couple picking the 1 thing in their dancing that they would like to address in front of the group. “What’s your beef?” We framed this session by asking the couples to show and to keep the language as factual as possible as we all know that there is always 2 truths, 1 for each person.

We were able to dig deeply and to address each couple’s “annoyance”. These range of “annoyances” I feel are very common in tango: the molinete, the embrace, back ochos, working on the closed side of the embrace, and stopping the follower where and when the leader wants to!

Do any of these ring true for you in your dancing?Sculpture of Embrace

For this courageous and hard working group, we were able to hone in on the leaders right arm, the “bucket handle”, the “regulator”, the “fence”, the “gate keeper”… all the affectionate words that we have given to this particular part of the embrace. We spent some time speaking about the relationship of the elbow in connecting to the follower in the embrace. Remember that if the leader raises that right elbow there is now more space for the follower to creep into and if that elbow is positioned more to the side of the body or even more towards the back of the body, the follower will be hanging out there too. This side of the embrace usually forms based on comfort, the shape and how comfortable the follower is when she is in the embrace, also how much tension is in the leaders pecs probably also plays a part. Correcting it also seems to be very challenging and practically unique to each couple. How much tension does there need to be in this side of the embrace was also addressed. As the nicknames suggest, there needs to be enough tone in that side to assist in keeping the follower where the leader would like her to be and within range, meaning with relationship to the leaders body.

I do not want to get into a discussion about the wide varieties of leads through this leaders right arm but there does need to be clear information transmitted through that appendage!

Working with this group also put all the tiny details of creating back ochos into a spotlight! And as we know there is cause and effect at play, all those things you learn in a lesson go out the window for the follower if she is struggling with her embrace or connection to her leader in those back ochos. Understanding the relationship of the leader to the follower in the timing of the ochos definitely helps the mechanics of the movement. The relationship of the followers pivot to the leader, the relationship of the leaders step to the followers as well. It is a constant informational circuit between leader and follower. Giving and receiving and giving information throughout the dance.

I am looking forward to more tango coaching sessions in the near future. Let me know if you and your partner would like to be a part of the next coaching session.

Thanks to those dancers in Sedona – keep dancing!

And for those of you who will be in town – come join me and a new batch of dancers on February 4th from 11am – 1pm for the First Practica at Plaza de Anaya World Fusion Studio in Tempe. Rommel and I will be there to answer questions and to assist in your practice.
Plaza de Anaya is located at 524 W Broadway Rd Suite 107, Tempe AZ 85282
Practica fee $7





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New Year, New Students

Classes have begun!

What an amazing week! ASU started their classes and I had 60 NEWBIES – all of them new to Argentine Tango in my Tango 1 class. They are an enthusiastic bunch and eager to learn. Even with just 2 classes they have reminded me about the importance of our “tango walking body”. How do I walk? and What am I carrying around at the moment? Can I find my axis and stack myself up for my Tango Walk?

I have around 22 students in my Tango 2 class and they immediately grasped onto some more advanced walking concepts and have totally impressed me!

My Interlingua class is really small and intimate (comparatively). The vibe is so different from my big classes. It’s refreshing to be able to answer individual questions from everyone and to feel that I am able to help each one of them on a personal level.

Tonight was my first class at Plaza de Anaya. This is pretty much the first time that I have stepped into a studio setup to teach. It is a studio with a really nice comfortable feeling and to my delight we had an amazing group of 40 students there! It was an eclectic mix of dancers asking magnificently detailed questions, musicians, people coming from work, etc. We laughed quite a bit! The energy was festive and joyous.

Already into the 2nd week of 2012 I am easily reminded why I love to teach. And in turn I remind you all that it’s a courageous thing to start something new. And always that first step, that first class is sometimes the most difficult.  So CONGRATULATIONS to all the new courageous people I have met this week in their beginning Tango Journey.


ASU Tango Festival is less than 7 weeks away!!!!  Register now for a fantastic weekend of Argentine Tango Instruction and Dancing and at unbelievable price.

Talented instructors handpicked for this event – Jaimes and Christa will be here from Seattle, La Maestra Graciela Gonzalez will be here from Buenos Aires, and Tomas Howlin will be in from Montreal.
DJ’ing the milongas will be Mike McCarrel (Portland, OR), Michelle McRuiz (Albuquerque, NM), Shorey Myers (San Francisco, CA), and ASU’s very own, Acacia Crouch.
A weekend not to miss!

There is still time to register for Semester Long courses:

Paradise Valley Community College
Begins 01/26/2012- 05/03/2012
Thursdays 7:45pm – 9:35pm
DAN125AE #38688

Scottsdale Community College
Beginner Argentine Tango

Begins 01/24/ 2012 – 05/11/2012
Tuesdays 7:15pm – 9:15pm
DAN125AE #36054


Rommel Oramas and I will be in Flagstaff and Sedona on January 21 & 22.

Keep dancing…


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2012 to Begin Something New!

“January is the gyms’ favorite month”. I heard this quote yet again and thought about all those people making New Year’s Resolutions to lose weight or to start something new. Have you decided to do something new?

Dancing usually falls into this category. “I wanted to try something new” is why some begin their journey into Argentine Tango. And I get very excited in the New Year to welcome new people to Argentine Tango and its benefits.

We have all heard of the benefits of dancing or of any exercise for that matter:  increase flexibility, movement lubricates the joints, endurance, coordination, strength, burns calories, stimulates the brain, oxygenates the blood, allows for self-expression, increases self-esteem, and helps with social skills. (I really like this chart on the benefits of dancing – http://www.nrde.org/benefitsofdance.html)

For many people I have seen Argentine Tango completely transform their lives through these benefits and most specifically through the actualization of a sense of belonging, their sense of community.

I have seen many dancers transform from being very shy people to finally having an outlet for expression in their lives. Some have gone from being not very popular in their work or every day life to very popular in their tango circles.

I think the Argentine Tango community in general is a research project for a “Group Dynamics” seminar but for the sake of this post I wanted to comment on the sense of belonging that I have felt over the years.

I was born with the travel bug. I love to travel and when I couldn’t because I was so focused on my dancer career, I dreamed about it and watched the travel channels and bought travel magazines. I eventually have been able to take many tango vacations – making contacts with tango people in many other countries to connect and share in their community for a visit. I know many people who do this but my world of travel was very different before I found tango. The idea of going anywhere in the world and having people to share tango with was amazing and fantastic to me. Technology has subsequently made this idea even more accessible. We can connect through Facebook or through other “social platforms” with friends we have met and their friends and find milongas all over and people who will be at that milonga when you arrive…. FASCINATING really!  And what this has also allowed is a way to connect through others joys and sorrows as well.

In the last few months, since October, Tango has lost 3 young tango dancers who have been a part of my extended tango family. And the news was relayed through the internet through Facebook. And the impact of the loss is felt in waves as people share their stories and their sorrow for all the Facebook world to see.

We are a community – a Tango Tribe, if you will, filled with a diverse group of people. We sometimes connect and other times don’t,  we have good dances, like having a great day, and we have not so good dances, like having a bad day. Either way, whatever kind of day it is remember that the community is actually quite small. These 3 young lives remind me of the preciousness of life and of the connections we make every day – on the dance floor and off the dance floor. I am reminded to be a gracious person. And that the benefit of having such a large interconnected tango family is to be able to share what we have in a positive way.

Remember why you love to dance and why you love to share it with others. Be grateful and thankful to the community that shares in your self-expression.

In Memory of Anne Sophie, Pablo, Andrea for all that you shared and gave to our collective community.


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