An Introduction to Argentine Tango

Alberto Castillo, a famous tango singer, best defined the idea when he sang:

Así se baila el tango, sintiendo en la cara

This is the way to dance the tango, feeling in your face

la sangre que sube a cada compás,

the blood that goes up at each beat,

mientras el brazo, como una serpiente,

while the arm, like a snake,

se enrosca en el talle que se va a quebrar.

Is wound around the waist that is going to twist.

Así se baila el tango, mezclando el aliento,

This is the way to dance the tango, mixing the breaths

cerrando los ojos pa’ escuchar mejor,

eyes closed to listen best

como los violines le cuentan al fueye

how the violins tell the bandoneon

por qué desde esa noche Malena no cantó.

Why from that night Malena stopped singing.

There are 3 basics rhythms in Argentine Tango: the ‘tango’, the ‘milonga’ and the vals’ (Eng.waltz). A ‘milonga’ is also the place where tango is danced. In Buenos Aires, there are as many milongas (or ‘ballrooms for tango’) as neighbourhoods.

What distinguishes one from the other are, in basic terms:


It’s a very intimate and suggestive dance which relies much more on the rhythm than on the music. Another characteristic is that while dancers move along the milonga floor, their legs ‘draw’ on it but their backs move differently. The male leads the female and for this to happen well, he has to ‘indicate’ to the female what she has to do in a clear way, sometimes using his hand, sometimes a combination of hand, arm or only his eyes!

In order to dance tango, you just have to follow the beat which is 4/8 and draw a ‘square’ on the floor. See this video:

Tango Cadence

For a tango piece to be a successful one in terms of ‘good dancing’ both partners have to have a ‘symbiotic’ behavior, it can’t work any other way. Females have to surrender to males’ guidance and a good partner will let you ‘do your tricks’ or ‘draw’ the different ‘figuras’ or figures: ‘el sanguchito’, the sandwich , ‘la sacada’, the back step, etc.

Sebastián Achaval and Roxana Suárez dancing ‘Argañaraz’ by R.Tantiri

Here’s one of my favourite tango couples, Demian Garcia & Milena Plebs, dancing the tango ‘el simpático’ (the pleasant guy) by J.Santini and played by D’Arienzo’s orquestra. Demian and Milena are performing superbly on a tiled floor, which is a more difficult setting than the usual, wooden one.


As from 1931 there appeared a new form of dancing closely related to the tango which was originally called ‘milonga ciudadana’ or milonga for the city. It was created by Sebastian Piana with his famous piece ‘Milonga Sentimental’

A milonga’s beat is faster than the tango, thus, dancers have to move consequently. Also, the lyrics of the milongas tend to be ‘lighter’ in the sense that they incorporate humor.

The great Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges used to prefer the milonga to the tango for he said the milonga was ‘not that melancholic’. He wrote one milonga called ‘Jacinto Chiclana’ The main character, Jacinto was a skillful warrior with the knife (un ‘cuchillero’) whose ability could serve political purposes. In this link, you’ll hear the lovely music performed by Astor Piazzolla’s orquestra.

Watch these two great milonga dancers, Sebastian and Mariana, performing a milonga by Francisco Canaro called ‘Mis Tiempos’

And without the glamour of a ‘milonga’ saloon, a couple practises at their studio, look at the change of rhythms and how they accomplish a superb task with their feet, hands, body as they swirl and pivot (also called ‘el traspié’, to that tapping on the floor subdividing the compass)

And to crown it all…

Here’s a Milonga, called ‘Reliquias Porteñas’ by Francisco Canaro, danced by two great dancers Miguel Angel Zotto and Daiana Guspero

Zotto died some years ago. Just look at his feet and they are like firework, playfully jumping, doing the tapping to mark the rhythm, balancing his body and letting the woman feast with him…He was undoubtedly one of the greatest dancers and tango teachers and we are sorry for this loss. Every time I see this video my heart jumps and I end up in tears…it’s Beauty in its supreme sense, in only the way God can have transmitted to these dancers.


German in origin, the vals is a type of dance which involves swirling and moving all through the ballroom or milonga. It is written in 3/4 time and it was particularly celebrated by its grace of movements.

In 1810 this type of dancing is seen in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, particularly among the upper classes. When people accept this new rhythm, it becomes part of their folklore and the ‘vals criollo’ emerges. One of the first to write a vals was José Betinotti and Carlos Gardel sang one of this songs in 1922 called ‘Tu diagnóstico’ (Eng.your diagnosis)

From then on, tango musicians start including it in their repertoires, writing very beautiful pieces

Here, Jorge Firpo and Cecilia Signorelli dance the Vals “lagrimas y sonrisas” (eng. Tears and smiles) –composed by Pascual de Gullo in 1914 and interpreted now by D’Arienzo’s orquestra.

Last but not least, Sebastián Achaval and Roxana Suarez again, dancing. This time, a vals called ‘Viejo Porton’ (Eng. Old big door) with Biagi’s orquestra. Here Sebastian shows a complex firework of exquisite tango technique, what we call ‘barridas’ ‘sacadas’ ‘lápices’ ‘giros’ performed with accuracy as well as cadence.



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