(Milonga) Choreography and Prisoners of the Tango

Dancing to milonga (up-tempo) music is scary; when you hear it sing through the speakers, the floor clears: it’s fast, it’s pattern-reliant (for newbies like me), and it reveals your tango-technique’s inadequacies (more anticipation from followers & more arm-leading from leaders). I was first taught milonga dancing using the ‘eight-count’ basic—Argentine Tango’s box-step choreography created in order to import Tango to foreigners. But this made me, as Pablo Inza would say, a ‘prisoner of the tango.’

And I became just that—a prisoner to my dancing.

My milonga dancing often features that notorious box-step. Lately, though, I have experimented with repeated rock steps, from both parallel and cross, ocho cortados, and check-steps. Also, I’ve been doing my best to eliminate unnecessary movements to make my technique crisper. It’s a struggle to fight the habits of my tango practice.

After all, practice doesn’t make perfect—practice makes permanent.

The eight-count basic has its place, sure. It can help offer a nice roadmap for learning specific techniques within a context, especially for new dancers who are unable to feel/connect with the dance/their partners. But if a new dancer never becomes acquainted with creativity in their dancing, the box-step will be a difficult-to-remove crutch. Because milongas are so infrequently played (maybe two tandes per practica/milonga – social dance), many of us have but limited practice in this style of dance.

And those of us courageous enough to practice milonga often box-step to the extreme.

Unlike milonga, other traditional tunes have my creative juices flowing! When paired with followers who have established comfort and mutual appreciation in our dance exchange, I exercise far more creativity in my dancing: I sometimes lead with the opposite embrace and on less-familiar sides; I’ll change my weight at odd times, noting my followers’ bodies’ reactions; and I’ll sometimes encourage a dynamic exchange of lead between me and my partner mid-dance and/or tande.

I often lay in bed imagining the possibilities of leading weightless feet and the physics of pivots. Sometimes, I become restless in imagining possibilities or remembering lessons from earlier that evening. Realizing these movements in my own body is both a challenge and a privilege that I am fortunate enough to explore at Sangha Space.

This blog entry was motivated by the following work:

Carolyn Merritt’s “Tango Nuevo”

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