Tango Milonguero: Improvised Expression of Music through Movement in a Shared Embrace


It was apparent from the dance demonstration videos in the previous post (Tango Nuevo versus Tango Milonguero: A Comparison), confirming what was stated in an earlier post (Salon Style Tango, Milonguero Style Tango, and Tango de Salon in Buenos Aires and in North America), that Tango Milonguero is a dance characterized by a maintained closed embrace in an apilado posture, walking with relatively small steps with the feet close to the floor, and using relatively simple movements that are improvised with a timing that is closely connected to the rhythmic variation that exists in the music. Nevertheless, despite this simple description, there is considerable variation among experienced dancers in the milongas of Buenos Aires with respect to which of the relatively simple movements they use in their dance and in what proportion, and in the way these movements are linked together in sequence. For some milongueros who have danced tango in the milongas of Buenos Aires for decades, their dance has become increasingly simple, at least as viewed visually, in terms of the movements that are made (see Cacho Dante’s comments), but on the other hand increasingly complex in terms of the intricacy in which the movements connect with the subtleties of the rhythmic variation within a piece of recorded tango music. This degree of improvisation on the music in tango milonguero is unique among partner dances (at the very least, within western culture).

In tango milonguero, the improvised expression of music through movement is not complete without the physical union of man and woman in the closed embrace. The maintained close contact makes possible subtle communication between partners, for example the subtle weight changes that are part of the sequence of improvised movements. There also exists the opportunity for an emotional exchange, but this is more difficult to perceive by someone who is outside that shared embrace; it needs to be experienced with a partner within the embrace.

Another aspect of communication that is apparent in the dances referenced below is that lead and follow occur in sequence, in that a man leads, then he waits for the completion of the woman’s response before he leads the next movement, just as the woman waits for the man’s lead before she makes the next movement. This allows improvisation (in movement and in timing) at each weight change, which contrasts with the automatic completion of a sequence of memorized steps once the signal to begin the sequence has been given. This lead-and-follow communication is apparent in a slight pause that occurs between movements, which may be perceived also as holding on to the beat where the weight changes occur. This creates a smooth dance in which the axes of the partners are stabilized.

The epitome of improvised expression of music through movement in a shared embrace can be seen in the recorded dances of some milongueros. This post provides evidence for this artistic creativity for six milongueros – Pedro Sanchez, Beto Ayala, Alberto Dassieu, Ruben Harymbat, Jorge Uzunian, and Ricardo Vidort. In these demonstrations there are few of the named steps that are typically used as tango workshop titles around the world – volcadas, colgadas, sacadas, ganchos and enganches, linear, circular and contra boleos. No, there is just a natural movement stimulated by the music. This natural expression comes from complete familiarity with the music, having it so ingrained in deep consciousness that the body knows at each moment what rhythmic variation is awaiting in the next moment and responds to this anticipated rhythmic variation without significant regulation by higher cognitive centers.

(1) Pedro Sanchez (dancing with Tina Ferrari)
Music: ‘Hotel Victoria’ (Tango) / Orchestra: Juan D’Arienzo

Pedro’s dance is smooth and elegant. It is unhurried, so Tina has time to savor each movement. The dance sways forward and back and side to side with the swing of the music. Small body movements capture nuances of the rhythmic variation and phrasing of the music. It is clear that the music is guiding movement, not a catalog of steps that need to be completed before the dance is over.

(2) Beto Ayala (dancing with Amanda Lucero)
Music: ‘Rosamel’ (Vals) / Orchestra: Carlos Di Sarli

Beto takes his time is moving smoothly within the musical structure of this leisurely vals. He dances for Amanda, not for the audience. She can relax in his enveloping embrace. His movements ebb and flow with the variable force of the rhythm, his body expressing in emphasis what the orchestra expressed in its intensity when the music was recorded over 60 years ago.

(3) Alberto Dassieu (dancing with Paulina Spinoso)
Music: ‘El cencerro’ (Tango) / Orchestra: Juan D’Arienzo

Although the tempo of this music is rather fast, Alberto is never in a hurry, so Paulina is not rushed through weight changes. This occurs despite the fact that Alberto is varying the speed of his movements to capture different elements of the rhythmic variation in the music. Alberto’s dance has the quality of a series of pulsations that coincide with the rhythmic emphasis of the music, with many subtle nuances of musical variation expressed through different degrees of weight shifts and variation in the size of movements.

(4) Ruben Harymat (dancing with Enriqueta Kleinman)
Music: ‘Arrabalera’ (Milonga) / Quinteto Pirincho (Francisco Canaro)

Although labeled steps are less commonly associated with dancing milonga than with tango or vals, the pure joyful abandonment of the body to the music is apparent in this demonstration. Ruben’s body is the engine driven by the music as fuel, yet Enriqueta is never left behind on this joyride. There is no time to think about steps here; the body is driven directly by the music.

(5) Jorge Uzunian (dancing with Heather Whitehead)
Music: ‘Champagne Tango’ (Tango) / Orchestra: Juan D’Arienzo

Jorge’s dance is pure energy, accelerated and decelerated with the changing tempo of the music. He seems to be complete absorbed in the music and his movements are completely spontaneous. The music speaks directly through his body, directing its movement. This is far from a cerebral dance. It is a dance of surrender of the body to the music. At the same time, Heather is a relaxed partner in Jorge’s dance, given time to complete her movements before the music drives Jorge to his next movement.

(6) Ricardo Vidort (dancing with Myriam Pincen)
Music: ‘Chique’ (Tango) / Orchestra: Francisco Canaro:

This is quite possibly the most intricate connection of dance with tango music ever recorded. Ricardo varies his dance in so many subtle ways with the complex rhythmic variation in this challenging Canaro recording. He speeds up, he slows down, even pauses, connected to the rhythmic variation in the music. Yet throughout the dance Myriam is kept in a peaceful stable equilibrium in a calm embrace.

Within the embrace of experienced milongueros, tango is so simple in the use of movement and yet so complex in the exploration of music. Or, perhaps, for experienced milongueros, the surrender of the body to tango music is so natural, creating a musically complex improvised dance has become simple.

3 Responses to Tango Milonguero: Improvised Expression of Music through Movement in a Shared Embrace

  1. jantango says:

    Bravo!!!!! The last sentence says it all.

    I have danced all the milongueros mentioned except Alberto Dassieu. They are inside the music and at the same time aware of movement around them. Their natural movement is inspired by the music they have known since they were boys. They don’t think about it, they feel it.

  2. Patricia Gundert says:

    This is such an important point you make! I wish instructors labeled what they teach in terms of style so people can choose. I wish I had known this difference of styles and focused on milongyero from early on. People are always complaining how their bodies hurt from dancing. If we leave stage and show tango to the professionals, and us amateurs focus on ‘classic’ tango, we would avoid all the pain, the poor technique and how awful tango extranjero looks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: