Milongueros Dancing Tango in the Milongas of Buenos Aires


In previous posts (Tango Milonguero: Improvised Expression of Music through Movement in a Shared Embrace; Tango Nuevo versus Tango Milonguero: A Comparison), several videos of milongueros dancing tango (estilo milonguero) were referenced and discussed. The main messages of these blog posts were that for experienced dancers, tango milonguero focuses primarily on using simple space conserving movements to explore in an improvised manner the rhythmic variation that exists in familiar recordings of classic tango music. This improvisation on rhythmic variation is shared by man and woman in a close connection formed by the embrace with, at the very least, a reciprocity in communication of movement that allows for continued improvisation at each step. It may also contain communication at another level.

The videos reviewed previously were of exhibitions at milongas, with no other couples on the dance floor. It would be even more instructive to examine the dance of milongueros in the normal flow of the ronda in the milongas of Buenos Aires. An important benefit of this evaluation is to identify the navigational strategies used by milongueros under the floor conditions of the milonga. Understanding this characteristic of the dance of milongueros provides a model for social tango dancing, more than what is shown in exhibitions at milongas, or what is generally taught in tango workshops.

Referenced below are 12 videos of milongueros dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires. It appears that in all cases, the couples filmed knew they were being filmed. The videos selected were of sufficient length to provide insight into the sequential characteristics of the dances of milongueros. The videos were also selected because of high visual resolution, providing a clear picture of the dancers’ movements, which would exclude most recordings of very high floor density (which are rare anyway), but with sufficient floor density to reveal the men’s navigational strategies. In all cases, the couples were dancing in the outer lane of the dance floor, which makes recording easier, but this is also where one typically finds milongueros dancing in the milongas. Commonalities and individual characteristics of the dancers are discussed, not only with respect to navigation, but also with respect to other aspects of the dance. For those milongueros for whom videos of exhibitions were presented previously, comparisons in the manner of dancing will be made.

The largest proportion of recordings was made at the Lo de Celia Tango Club in the barrio Constitucion. One reason for this is that this milonga is often well attended by milongueros.

Videos by Irene & Man Yung

Irene and Man Yung live in Toronto, Canada. They have visited Buenos Aires several times. Their blog has links to videos of their tango instructors Alberto Dassieu and Osvaldo & Coca Catery dancing in milongas in Buenos Aires.

(1) Osvaldo and Coca Cartery
Milonga: Caricias (Barrio: Villa Urquiza)
Music: Francisco Lomuto (Jorge Omar sings): “Nostalgias” (tango)

Osvaldo progresses around the floor by walking forward in the direction of the ronda, interspersed with turns (almost all counterclockwise) when progression is not possible or, when movement is most restricted, by rocking in place (la cunita), sometimes turning with the rocking movements. Osvaldo employs a somewhat unique turn that moves Coca sideways (side – collect – side – collect …) along the circumference of a circle. Under the most crowded floor conditions, Osvaldo positions Coca so that her back is to the edge of the floor. Osvaldo also uses pauses or very small movements when floor conditions are most crowded.

Many of the characteristics of dancing seen in their exhibition at El Beso posted and discussed previously (Tango Nuevo versus Tango Milonguero: A Comparison) are seen in Osvaldo and Coca’s dance in the milonga here. In the El Beso exhibition Osvaldo explores an outside partner right double time turning corrida, with Coca walking in single time back ochos, as well as an extended corrida using zig-zag movements, plus a few other movements that are not seen on the milonga dance floor recording made at Caricias. Osvaldo also uses a more extended version of the side-collect-side circular turn in this exhibition compared to the milonga. Thus, Osvaldo uses the lack of space restrictions in the exhibition to demonstrate more possibilities for movement than are available from the short milonga video clip. Some of the movements would require considerable open space on the milonga dance floor in that they do not follow the model of a simple counterclockwise progression around the outer edge of the floor.

(2) Alberto Dassieu & Paulina Spinoso
Milonga: Glorias Argentinas (Barrio: Mataderos)
Music: Juan D’Arienzo: “Vision celeste” (vals)

Alberto’s dance is built around turns (some with sacadas), mostly in the clockwise direction. In navigation Alberto positions Paulina so that her back is either to the edge of the floor, or moving backward in the direction of the ronda, where Alberto can see other dancers. The only time Paulina’s back is in the more precarious orientations towards the oncoming traffic of the ronda or the more unpredictable center of the floor is momentarily in the execution of turns.

The smooth and calm movement, exploration of the rhythm of the vals, and extensive use of turns can also be seen in Alberto and Paulina’s exhibition at a Verdi Club milonga in San Francisco, dancing to the recording of the vals “Amor y cellos” by the orchestra of Juan D’Arienzo. What is not evident in the exhibition is movement relative to the line-of-dance and other dancers on the floor. In the exhibition Alberto makes some extended backward corridas that would not be recommended under most milonga conditions.

Videos by Rick McGarrey

Rick McGarrey is an American from Tucson, Arizona, who with the assistance of his Argentine partner Alejandra Todaro has documented the dancing of milongueros in the milongas of Buenos Aires in his blog “Tango and Chaos in Buenos Aires”.

(3) Ricardo Vidort & Alejandra Todaro
Milonga: Lo de Celia (Barrio: Constitucion)
Recording: Carlos Di Sarli: “El pollo Ricardo” (tango)

There are 2 videos on this page. The first one is referenced because the floor is more crowded. Ricardo is the man in the light gray jacket with dark pants.

Ricardo dances very smoothly, starting facing the edge of the floor and using both clockwise and counterclockwise turns as he progresses in the ronda. On his clockwise turns he might exit in a walk that is oriented diagonally forward to progress along the ronda, or reverse the turn with an ocho cortado when there is no space.

The short milonga video clip only shows a small proportion of the variation in rhythmic movements that Ricardo was capable of using, as was demonstrated in previously posted exhibitions dancing to the recordings by the orchestra of Francisco Canraro of “Poema” and “Chique”, although his dance under milonga floor conditions does show Ricardo using several quick time rhythm movement variations.

(4) Pocho (Roberto Carreras) & Alejandra Todaro
Milonga: Centro Region Leonesa (Barrio: Constitucion)
Music: Miguel Calo (Raul Beron sings): “Corazon no le hagas caso” (tango)

Pocho shows a simple but interesting strategy of navigation. He dances facing the tables, using some sideways movements to progress in the ronda. At times when reaching the edge of the floor he turns clockwise. If there is space to walk forward in the ronda, he exits doing so in either parallel or crossed feet (back ochos for the woman); if not, he terminates the turn in an ocho cortado. At times Pocho uses pauses in his movement, which either fits the tempo of the music or is designed for navigational safety.

As a basis for comparison, here is an exhibition of Pocho and Rosa in the milonga El Beso dancing to the recording of the tango “Un crimen” by the orchestra of Ricardo Tanturi (Alberto Castillo sings). What is remarkable about this performance is that it consists of forward walks and turns progressing in a counterclockwise direction around the floor, with some orientation of maintaining Rosa’s back to the tables as he progresses sideways left, as though Pocho were dancing in the milonga. This is how Pocho has danced his whole life, and even taking away other dancers on the floor, this is how his body is prepared to move.

The videos referenced above are from milongueros who are known outside Argentina. Alberto Dassieu, Ricardo Vidort, and Roberto Carreras have had some experience teaching tango in North America. Alberto Dassieu and Osvaldo & Coca Cartery have taught tango in Europe. For the remainder of the videos, with one exception, the dancers are not known by many people outside of Buenos Aires. (The exception is Muma, a porteña who has also taught tango in North America.)

(5) Hector & Maria Eugenia
Milonga: Centro Region Leonesa (Barrio: Constitucion)
Music: Juan D’Arienzo (Alberto Echagüe sings): “Mandria” (tango)

Under moderately crowded conditions, Hector combines a series of clockwise and counterclockwise turns, with the direction chosen primarily to avoid nearby dancers. Most impressive are his outside partner counterclockwise turns in quick time rhythm while Maria is dancing in single time.

(6) Ismael El Jalil (& unidentified partner)
Milonga: Lo de Celia (Barrio: Constitucion)
Music: Pedro Laurenz (Juan Carlos Casas sings) “No me extraña” (tango)

Under low floor density, Ismael is able to make wide turns that move along the perimeter of a rectangle. He actually uses a series of alternating counterclockwise and clockwise turns, interspersed with linear movements, generally progressing forward diagonally towards the edge of the floor, but also at times moving backwards directly towards the edge. When space is available, he may move against the direction of the ronda. Laurenz’s music has a lot of energy, but Ismael is calm, even finding places in the music to pause.

Jantango Video Collection

“Jantango” is an American woman who has lived in Buenos Aires since 1999. In her involvement with tango she has come to know many milongueros, whose lives are documented in her blog Tango Chamuyo. Recently she has developed what appears to be the largest collection of video recordings of milongueros dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires. Several of these are referenced here.

(7) Fernando Iturrieta & Muma
Milonga: Lo de Celia (Barrio: Constitucion)
Music: Juan D’Arienzo: De pura cepa (milonga)

Fernando spends almost the entire dance moving with Muma having her back to the tables, although he uses a few counterclockwise turns near the tables to change direction. In this not too crowded floor, he dances in a linear pattern towards and away from the tables with some sideways left and diagonal forward movements that result in progression in the direction of the ronda.

(8) Carlos Velino & Marta Frasia
Milonga: Lo de Celia (Barrio: Constitucion)
Music: Juan D’Arienzo: “Union civica” (tango)

It is very interesting that on this moderately crowded floor Carlos’ very calm and smooth dance to a lively D’arienzo recording consists mostly of clockwise turns ending in an ocho cortado, plus forward walks along the line of dance when space is available. His dance is simple, elegant, and protecting the woman.

(9) Carlos Lombisano & Diana Gurman
Milonga: Lo de Celia (Barrio: Constitucion)
Music: Ricardo Tanturi (Alberto Castillo sings) “Al compass de un tango” (tango)

This is another calm and smooth dance. Carlos keeps Diana’s orientation with her back to the tables, except for forward walks when space is available and turns when space is not available. The clockwise turns ending in the ocho cortado are characteristic of the dancing of all of the milongueros shown here. What is unique, at least among these recordings, is Carlos’ creative use of ochos in tight spaces. This includes a forward ocho series for the woman with Carlos moving backward in the direction of the ronda (when space is available), and some very nice tight turning back ochos that form part of a counterclockwise turn.

Navigation under Crowded Floor Conditions

The following 3 videos from Jantango’s video library show dancing under typical Buenos Aires milonga crowded floor conditions, all recorded at the popular Sunday evening milonga at Lo de Celia Tango Club. Navigation changes under high floor density, with less rapid progression of the ronda.

(10) Antonio Cejas (& unidentified partner)
Milonga: Lo de Celia (Barrio: Constitucion)
Music: Pedro Laurenz (Juan Carlos Casas sings) “Vieja amiga” (tango)

There is no forward walking in the direction of the ronda by Antonio under these crowded floor conditions. For the most part, his dance consists of two kinds of movements: sideways movements with the woman’s back to the tables or turns in the clockwise or counterclockwise direction. Throughout this segment, Antonio is calm, moving slowly, but always connected to the rhythm of the music.

(11) Carlos Fanel & Elba Estey
Milonga: Lo de Celia (Barrio: Constitucion)
Music: Osvaldo Pugliese: “El rodeo” (tango)

Under these crowded floor conditions Carlos positions Elba so that most of the time her back is toward the tables, and even most of the turns are half turns within the half circle on the table side of Carlos. The importance of the ocho cortado in navigation becomes apparent here, in that it keeps turns within the half circle closest to the tables. Carlos also uses some pauses in movement under these crowded conditions; this music of Pugliese is well–suited to pauses in movement.

(12) Ismael Montiel & Lucia Zembo
Milonga: Lo de Celia (Barrio: Constitucion)
Music: Juan D’Arienzo: “La mentirosa” (tango)

Ismael captures and expresses in his body the rhythmic pulses of this lively D’Arienzo recording. With respect to navigation, his dance is a series of tight turns, both clockwise and counterclockwise. He extends the forward and backward movements within the giro at times to progress in the direction of the ronda. When not turning, he keeps Lucia oriented with her back to the tables. In this position he might move sideways left to progress along the line of dance.

General Characteristics of the Dance of the Milongueros

The dance of the milongueros is typically calm and smooth. Hector uses rapid movements to the spirited D’Arienzo recording of “Mandria” and to a lesser degree under more crowded conditions Ismael Montiel dances with a lot of energy to D’Arienzo’s energizing recording of “La mentirosa”. Nevertheless, even with energizing music, some of the milongueros shown here dance calmly (Alberto Dassieu to the D’Arienzo vals “Vision celeste”, Ismael El Jalil to the Laurenz tango “No me extraña”, Carlos Velino to the D’Arienzo tango “Union civica”, Antonio Cejas to the Laurenz tango “Vieja amiga”). With the calm maintained embrace, the milonguero offers the woman serenity and peaceful movement, not rapid changes of direction or disrupting her balance with off axis movements.

Regarding movements that are often the topics (titles) of tango workshops marketed around the world, there were no volcadas, colgadas, or arrastres. The only sacadas seen were a few used by Alberto Dassieu. Forward ochos were seen in rare instances, but none were “overturned”. Where the milongueros show exceptional technique is in fitting tight turns in small spaces. Thus, the dance of the milongueros looks simple to the eye with respect to movement. The tango dance of the milongueros is not about exploring spatial relationships that could exist between partners and other couples on the pista. It is about exploring the temporal variation in the music, sharing this with a woman in the embrace (Tango Milonguero: Improvised Expression of Music through Movement in a Shared Embrace).

The general navigation strategy of milongueros is to keep women safe from collision with other dancers. This not only shows respect for the woman but also for the other couples on the floor. The direction on the pista where there is the least threat of collision is the area at the edge of the floor, near the tables. The videos above demonstrate that the default orientation milongueros use is to place the woman with her back near the tables. This orientation is maintained by backward and forward movements of a few short steps in a somewhat linear pattern, perhaps progressing forward along the line of dance by the man’s sideways steps to the left. When there is space to move forward, the man walks directly forward in the direction of the general movement of the ronda (progressing counterclockwise around the perimeter of the floor). Tight turns either clockwise or counterclockwise can be used when forward progression is not possible. When there is some space available, progressive turns that advance in the ronda can be used.

Characteristics of the Woman’s Dance under Milonga Conditions

If attention is paid specifically to the dance of the women in these recordings, it is apparent that none of the women lifted their feet off the floor at any time during their dance. There were no boleos, not even on the floor, because they were not led by the men. There were no ganchos or enganches (although one can see an apparently out of place couple in the background performing a gancho at the beginning of Alberto Dassieu’s video of dancing at Glorias Argentinas). The only embellishments seen were by Alejandra Todaro in her dance with Pocho, and these were few and only during the pauses he created; Alejandra did a few short slides to the side with her feet on the ground and nothing more.

Concluding Comments

The dance of the milongueros is a model for dancing tango in a milonga. For decades, these men have made dancing tango in the milonga a central part of their lives. From a visual examination certain common features of dancing tango in a social setting are apparent. (There is more to tango than what can be seen with the eyes, but at least this sets guidelines.) The dance of the milonguero varies in musical expression, from man to man and from musical recording to musical recording, but a connection with the music is primary (Tango Milonguero: Improvised Expression of Music through Movement in a Shared Embrace). In terms of movement, a common feature of the dance of the milonguero is smooth movement close to the floor. Together with the unseen calmness of the stable embrace, this provides serenity to the woman in her dance. This is in contrast to opening and closing of the embrace, the rapid movements, vertical elevation, horizontal change of direction, and disruption of balance with off axis movements that are characteristic of a more recently evolved version of tango commonly marketed and danced at milongas outside of Argentina (Tango Nuevo: Definition of the Dance). The milonguero is not exploring the possibilities for spatial distance and orientation of two people relative to each other in a dance, but is instead unifying a man and a woman in a calm embrace while exploring the music of timeless tango recordings. The milonguero’s dance is also part of the social environment on the dance floor. The milonguero’s navigational strategy protects the woman from the possibility of collision by orienting her with her back to the edge of the floor as much as possible, while still maintaining movement in the ronda through forward progression when possible, and movement in the dance through turns when forward progression is not possible. Following the guidelines set by the dance of the milongueros in the milongas will create harmony with one’s partner, as well as harmony with other dancers at the milonga.


6 Responses to Milongueros Dancing Tango in the Milongas of Buenos Aires

  1. Mario says:

    These videos and the revealing commentaries are VERY helpful in making the dance understandable, less mysterious and doable. Thank you so much for taking the time to find suitable videos for this revealing look.

  2. jantango says:

    What can I say except you have written another excellent analysis of how tango is danced in the milongas.

    The couples I film know that I am doing it for the purpose of showing them as examples of the best in Buenos Aires milongas.

    I am a stickler for getting complete and correctly spelled names. Hector Brea and Maria Eugenia Roldan; Ismael Heljalil are the correct and complete names for those on Tango and chaos.

    • tangovoice says:

      To Jantango:

      Thank you for providing the missing information on the complete names of the milongueros in the post for whom this information was not available through other sources.

      And, of course, thank you so much for providing the rich collection of video recordings of milongueros dancing tango in the milongas of Buenos Aires.

  3. tangovoice says:

    To Mario:

    YouTube and web video posting in general have provided documentation of how tango is actually danced by the best representatives of the dance (the milongueros). The obstacle for the tango aficionado is finding that documentation. Hopefully this post facilitates communication of that information. The naive person, in doing a search for ‘tango’ or even ‘tango milonguero’, will be confronted with a variety of misrepresentations of social Argentine tango dancing. These misrepresentations only serve to proliferate inaccurate imitation of social tango dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires, the valid reference point for social tango social dancing. One need only visit milongas across North America to verify that this inaccurate representation of tango argentino is epidemic.

  4. I find this post regarding the tango of those who dance it in the milongas of Buenos Aires is of exceptional value. This is the first time I have come across your blog and I certainly will post this site on my blog.
    Thanks very much for this amazing analysis.

  5. Mari says:

    thank you, thank you, thank you!!

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