Walking in tango: a look at the possibilities

I spend a LOT of time in my classes trying to explain how to walk naturally. I teach what my tango teachers in Buenos Aires call "normal" tango embrace/walk (follower slightly offset, each person on their own axis, with each person walking their own straight line) that is foreign to students of other teachers in my town (who teach open embrace, leaning-styles of close embrace, and various other things).

When I go to Buenos Aires, I almost never have to argue about "how" I am going to dance with another person. We agree by cabeceo, we adjust to each other's styles, and it works most of the time. What part of this system is not working in the United States?

The right way?

I think that most people here think there is only one right way to dance tango. They listen to their first teacher, and then argue with anyone who suggests alterations to their dance. In Buenos Aires, everyone knows that there are tons of different styles, and there is more of an attempt to find your own dance, rather than "the right dance."

I have chosen the style that I teach because I believe it is the easiest style of tango in terms of body wear and tear. I want to dance tango until I die, not until I need back surgery. I want to dance all night, not until my feet hurt. As a student of anatomy, I constantly try to find the best ways to help people find their own body, feel how it works, and then use that knowledge to make their own dance. It's about ease of movement and body health; if you want to then go do a style that is hard on the body, that is an educated decision that you are free to make.

What village are you from?

As a folk dancer, we have a joke when we learn a new variation of a dance: "What village are you from?!?" We all know that there are tons of variation in the folk tradition, and we accept that for the most part.

In tango, it's a question of what neighborhood your teacher came from; or what teacher formed their dance. I have danced all over Buenos Aires and studied with people from a lot of different neighborhoods. According to reactions from elderly men in Buenos Aires, I appear to have learned styling that places me anywhere from Villa Devoto to Belgrano to Villa Urquiza.

For most of us who did not grow up in Buenos Aires, we have taken what we know of Argentine Tango from whatever sources we could. I am lucky that I spent a lot of time dancing with the old guys twenty years ago, and got the feeling of their dance into my body. What village am I from? From the one where you get a master's in dance and study anatomy and kinesiology AND hang out with old guys in milongas.

My maestros

Here are some of the people I have studied with to give YOU inspiration and help you see how I have built my own dance.

Omar Vega--milonga

Omar was one of my main milonga teachers in Buenos Aires. He was never one to follow the rules, so you will see some crazy things on his videos, but getting to be his assistant in milonga class formed my milonga. I would follow him as he showed moves, and then switch to leading in the class. The guys in class were very open to me leading, and provided a lot of encouragement. The women were willing to dance with another woman and the chance to study weekly gave me homework for going dancing.


Jose Garofalo--milonga

I learned a lot about milonga from Jose Garofalo. His classes were relaxed and enjoyable. Private lessons with him were the best: because he is such a fabulous follower, he would take what I did wrong and expand upon it in a hilarious manner--until I fixed it. Because he is an inventive leader, I have to be super-focused when dancing with him: he doesn't just follow a fixed pattern, and I never know what will come out of that incredible 30-year-tango memory! I couldn't find a video of him doing milonga except with me, so here it is:

Tete Rusconi--vals and tango

Tete was my main vals teacher. He gave me a lot of flack for leading in his classes, but I learned a lot from him. Skip the first 1:30 or so of this video where they introduce him if you don't speak Spanish. I like this dance because it is very sweet and balanced, with a lot of poetry in the musicality--and because it shows his tango, not his vals. I enjoyed dancing with him.

Oscar Mandagaran--milonga, tango and vals

Oscar was the teacher of my Argentine boyfriend, who dragged me to a class in an apartment where I was the only foreigner. I studied with him on and off for many years. Watch this video of us dancing on a crowded plywood stage out on the street in Buenos Aires. You can see a lot of what I try to teach people to do! Just skip ahead past all the stuff about the photographer!


Julio Balmaceda and Corina de la Rosa--tango and vals

Julio and Corina taught classes in La Galeria where I went to take classes. They are no longer together, but Corina is a powerhouse of a follower who I hope to emulate someday. Check out their vals here, which is one of my favorites to watch and rewatch. Notice they almost never walk in front of each other: when he does step in front of her, he does not invade her space, but is using it to prepare for another movement.


OK, there are a BUNCH more people who have inspired and taught me, but that's enough for this week!

Inspired by Pepito: a month of milonga classes

It's time for more Pepito infusions into our milonga here in Portland! Three years ago when I first taught a Pepito milonga class, I really enjoyed getting back to my milonga roots. I didn't get to study with the maestro directly, as he died in early 1996 and I started tango in late 1995. However, I studied milonga with students of Pepito, and danced with other former students of his--and shamelessly stole their moves. Ah, the joy of leading and following!

For me, what I see in Pepito's dancing--and felt in his students--was a groove, an organic flow of energy. It felt very in control, but never wooden or artificial. I end up talking about "VROOM" when I teach his steps. When you watch him, his body and feet are very precise, but the dance is not about that: they only serve his purpose of playing with the music and his partner. He zips around the dance floor at top speed, looking calm, collected and in control of his dance.

So, MORE Pepito moves! And more technique work, so that YOU can leave your technique at the table when you step out on the dance floor, and experience joy and VROOM!

Classes will be at 8 PM at the Om Studio, 14 NE 10th in PDX. $14 drop in or $45 for the month.

For inspiration, skip through this video and watch Pepito. If you also speak Spanish, there are some nice parts where dancers talk about Pepito and how he was special and what he contributed to the Buenos Aires tango community.

You can also read an interview conducted with him (although I'd have to say the translation seems to be done by a machine, not a human).

Come dance!

Take Jose's workshops!

The Oregon connection

I first met Jose in 1999 when I went to Buenos Aires for the first time. My friend, Alejandro Tosi, had mentioned that he studied with Jose, and it turned out Jose's classes were close to my hostel. I took group and private lessons from him AND I interviewed him for my thesis on gender roles in tango. I hosted him in the USA a year or two later, but he has not had a visa since then. We are lucky to have him back!

Jose Garofalo's bio

José Garófalo was born in 1964. Between 1979 and 1983, he studied art with Guillermo Kuitca. At the same time, he participated in plays, speeches and street actions where dance and theater were integral parts of his creations. In 1987, he started taking tango classes in Centro Cultural Rojas and in the same year he joined the Tango Ballet of the University of Buenos Aires.

He has studied with: Milongueros like Miguel Balmaceda and Nelly, Pupi Castello, Tete Rubin and Maria, Carlos Gavito, Gustavo Naveira, Rodolfo Dinzel. He has trained in choreography with Pedro Calveyra, Graciela Gonzalez, Marcela Trappe and in stage arts with Emilio Garcia Wehbi .

He is currently President of the Civil Cambalache Association (since 2007). He directs the annual Cambalache Festival in Buenos Aires (since 2004). He works as a Tango teacher at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires (since 1998). He participates in Troesmas research group dedicated to transmitting knowledge of teachers who are no longer dancing in the milongas. He directs the Companía Tragicomica Tanguera (since 2011). He is an artist of Vasari Gallery (since 2007). 

He lives and works in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Jose's class schedule

All the details are here! I have scheduled workshops at different price points and different levels of tango, in the hopes that everyone gets a chance to at least try Jose out. I think he's great, and I think a lot of your will think the same thing after a lesson or two or ten!

Build your base for ongoing work!

For those of you who (rightly) feel that an hour of a workshop without review or followup is useless, take heart! First, I plan to bring Jose for the next two years, so you can continue to study with him and build on what you learn this year. Second, I will be teaching classes during the year specifically exploring the material from these classes and building on them, so that you come into next year's workshops at a higher level, ready to absorb more!

Traspies and crosses: more milonga technique

The second video for milonga technique was supposed to finish things off, but I keep coming up with more exercises that help improve your milonga; so there is a third one. This was supposed to be published over two weeks ago, but my interface software to internet was not behaving, so if you see this "after" the third video, that is why :-)


The video

Lateral crosses and pivoting traspies: Round 3 for the milonga drills!

Adobe seems to have finally fixed the glitch for uploading to YouTube, so I can finally publish my newest video!

It's been a rough week here in the USA in many ways. Here's something to work on to take your mind off the rest life for a few minutes! I will post more tips later on, but with the Buenos Aires tour in less than two weeks, I am running full speed ahead planning events for that; so please forgive me for just jumping to the video.


Corridas and toquecitos: technique for milonga excellence

Milonga is perhaps my favorite dance in the entire world (tango, cover your ears!). I love the groove of the dance and the simplicity/challenge of playing with syncopation instead of the more varying syncopation, pauses and slo-mo possibilities in tango. Many dancers who come from other rhythmic dances, find milonga easier to approach than tango.

However, because of its speed and the need for smaller steps, milonga can be more challenging than tango to reach a level of excellence. It is SO easy to abandon technique and just clomp through the dance, panicking at the needed speed of each step.

I have just taught six weeks of milonga technique in my beginning, intermediate and advanced classes. The Body Dynamics class has been focused on small steps, elegance and speed for the session as well.

Corridas and toquecitos


Corridas, or "runs" are a series of fast, small steps that can be moving forward, backwards, or laterally. Corridas are also done in tango and vals, and have the same considerations there.

For forward or backwards steps, the main issue is making the fast (syncopated) steps feel comfortable. Remember:

  1. Take quick steps that are half as big as the regular steps.
  2. Get your heel down on each step to balance yourself for the next step.
  3. As you shift feet, keep your knee and hip alignment so you have cushioning.
  4. Core, core, core! Engage your deep core to make a dynamic step your partner can feel.

For lateral steps, a lot of people find the errors in their normal side steps are magnified by going quickly! Focus on:

  1. Rolling through your foot on both the step traveling to the side, AND on the step in place!
  2. Letting the natural shift in the hips happen when you change feet. Don't keep your hips flat to the ground!
  3. Keeping the knees soft.

Toquecitos (little touches)

Toquecitos are adornos that work really well in milonga. BE CAREFUL to avoid overdoing them. I distinctly remember one woman who was dancing when I started in 1995: she sounded like she was tap dancing! Don't be that person ;-)

That said, toquecitos that are soft and get your feet under you can be used as what I call a "functional" adorno: something that improves your technique, rather than just an ornament.

Toquecito tips:

  1. As one of my teachers used to say, "Don't kill the cockroach!" Just tap lightly.
  2. Use the ankle muscles so that the movement is the whole foot.
  3. Think of using it just before you move, rather than step and tap. I think of it like a downbeat: "And, go!" instead of "Step, TAP!" which is too loud/harsh.


The video

New Monday class sessions start April 9th at the Om

Body Dynamics, 7 PM Mondays

Body Dynamics is my hardcore tango technique class. We do stretches that I learned from Georgina Vargas that are specific to tango. Then, we do drills to improve footwork, balance, pivoting, contrabody use, adornos, etc. After that, we work on a particular step, picking it apart and finding all the pertinent details--and then we work some more! The first session I offered this class, it was almost completely female in attendance, but last week, we reached a new record: more men than women! After all, everyone wants to dance a dynamic tango, don't they?

The most rewarding part of teaching this class, is to see my students rapidly improve in both flexibility and technique. One student told me that he had recently danced for two hours without pain. Before taking the class for the past five weeks, he had considered stopping dancing because of pain levels. Another student told me that, suddenly, much more advanced dancers have been inviting her to dance. Another student, on his second six-week session, is now able to do almost all the stretches without modifications; he no longer needs to sit on pillows to make up for lack of hamstring stretch. Each week, I look around and feel amazed at the quick progress I see around me.

Why am I teaching a tango class where people lie on the floor and stretch? When I went to Buenos Aires in November, Georgina Vargas convinced me to try her stretches. I was skeptical, and I wanted to get on with my tango lessons, but I have found that Georgina's ideas are usually right, so I got down to work. On the nights that I stretched before dancing, I had about 1.5 hours more of good technique out on the dance floor, compared to the nights I didn't stretch. That was too much of a different to ignore; as usual, Georgie was right! When I stretched before my private lesson, I got a lot more work done in less time because my body was ready for it. I decided to teach her stretches and drills in a separate class, incorporating my anatomy studies and other dance training in as well.

Topics for the next session

This next session, we will work on dancing at various speeds, as well as dancing different sizes of steps. Milonga requires you to move very efficiently in small spaces, with very little time to make those steps look elegant. How you you ornament in milonga? How do you dance well in small steps, without losing your style? Come find out.

I often find that by studying opposites, we arrive at a better understanding of both things. Therefore, the other focus this session will be on taking BIG steps. How do you dance in close embrace (or open) in a lithe, sensual, elastic manner? Training your body to dance well with big steps also allows you to have better technique with regular steps, while encouraging your to develop better muscular strength and control.

I promise, promise, promise that we will include adornos, large and small; for leaders and followers. This past session, I had hoped to get to them, but all the great work we did on off- and on-axis moves/preparation took up all the time.

Om Movement Studio is located at 14 NE 10th Ave., between Burnside and Couch. It is one block from Norse Hall, and right off the bus line. There is limited bike parking. Class is $60/6 weeks, or $12 drop in. If taken in conjunction with the 8 PM Advanced class, the price is both classes for $90.


Take it to the next level: Advanced class at 8 PM

I started this class in order to share the technique of Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas with the Portland community, but it has expanded to include other bits of technique I've studied as well since 1995 when I started dancing tango.

After you've danced tango for a while, you are ready to really dig in and deepen your understanding of the dance. You want all that hard work to show in an elastic, powerful, panther-like way. In this class, I encourage you to bite off chunks of new vocabulary, new technique, new ways of moving--and meld it into your own style. I hope that, when class is over, each week you will have something new to take to the dance floor with you; something that makes your dance have an edge.

The main focus definitely is body-based technique. My motto is, "No pain, no pain." Tango is not supposed to be painful! The technique I teach works on finding balance and movement efficiently, so that energy is available for moving dynamically. Feet shouldn't hurt; backs should not feel tight; the body should feel balanced and supple to dance your best. There are many styles of tango, but I have chosen the one that I believe is best for the body AND the most elegant because of that.

Topics for this session

This past session, we have worked on shared-axis turns, colgadas and volcadas. Although we will come back to that work, this next session will have a different focus: advanced work in milonga and vals. I have been teaching milonga and vals classes in my lower-level classes, but it's been a while since we've tackled them in the advanced class.

Each week, we'll work on a combination that challenges technique and musicality; we will make sure we can do it in the line-of-dance, and then we'll pick it apart and modify it with each dancer's own dance vocabulary and style. In other words, I'd like everyone to walk out of this class with a better understanding of both dances, but with their own way of dancing.

This class will build on the technique work of the 7 PM class, and I urge you to consider taking both classes to get the most out of your own technique. However, it is not a prerequisite, and I know some of you are adverse to stretching :-)

Class is $60/6 weeks, or $90/both 7 and 8 PM classes. Drop in is $12/class. Om Movement Studio is located at 14 NE 10th Ave., between Burnside and Couch. It is one block from Norse Hall, and right off the bus line. There is limited bike parking.



New classes starting!

The next session of classes starts 3/31 and 4/4 @ the Om Studio, 14 NE 10th Ave. in Portland:

  • Beginners: 6 PM Thursdays (3/31)
  • Intermediate: 7 PM Thursdays (3/31)
  • Advanced intermediate: 8 PM Thursdays (3/31)
  • Advanced: 8 PM Mondays (4/4)

The cost is $60/6 weeks, or $12 drop in per person.


Tango Fundamentals

The 6 PM class is a class for beginners, or anyone who would like their dance to look more like Buenos Aires style tango. We work on technique for walking, turning, changing directions, pausing (adornos, too), as well as a few other basic steps, depending on the speed the class works at. My classes are a bit different than run-of-the-mill tango classes: we play games with music, energy, balance, etc., that allow you to gain an understanding of tango very quickly. I encourage correct body alignment and use of the body structurally to find your tango. I also think that improvisation, energy and fun should be a part of every person's tango, right from the first class.  If you need survival skills for the dance floor, this is the right level for you!


Creating the Magic

The 7 PM class is a class for continuing to develop an elegant, strong dance. I introduce new figures gradually, focusing on traditional, close embrace movement that can immediately be transferred from class to the dance floor. Again, balance, breath, embrace and musicality are ways to approach new movement, not just "fancy parts" to add in after the step is memorized :-)  When you walk out of class, you will be able to use what you learn right away on the dance floor. 


Taking it to the next level

The 8 PM class is focuses on musicality, improvisation, elegance--making the dance your own.  Often, we work on similar moves to the 7 PM class, but add details that challenge a more advanced dancer.  Musically, I alternate six weeks of moves that work well in vals/tango with moves that work well in milonga/tango (yes, many are good for all three :-)). If you already know moves, but want to look/feel better on the dance floor, this would be a great class for you.


Tango Alchemy

The Monday night advanced class is for dancers who have either already taken my other three levels, or who have reached an advanced level already and would like to polish their technique, learn new figures to enhance the dance, and build musicality. If you are not sure that you have a high-enough level for this class, please bring a partner along so that you can work at a slower pace, if needed. :-) This is a "one-room-schoolhouse" kind of class, with a wide range of dancers.  You should have three years or more experience for this class.


Classes are NOT just for people learning to lead!

Dance classes are not just "for the guys" or for folks who want to lead. In every class, I devote part of the class to technique for following. As my teacher Georgina Vargas says, "You have no excuse for looking bad on the dance floor, no matter how poorly you are being led." Please come to the appropriate level of class for your skill level; if you have danced for a while, but have not worked on styling with me, I request that you attend a lower level for at least a few weeks and learn the basics of the technique, or take a few private lessons before jumping in to do advanced moves.

See you in class!

Improving musicality through contrast: Milonga/vals class notes

This session of my intermediate/advanced Wednesday night class, we are looking at musicality through contrast. First, we learn a figure. Then, we try it to either milonga or vals music. We explore how many ways the movement can go with the music, especially in terms of slowing it down for adornos :-)  Then, we try the figure to the other music, and make adaptations to make the musicality flow better.

Not every pattern works well in tango, milonga AND vals. There are some moves I prefer in just one dance, or in tango and vals, but not milonga (or vals and milonga, but not tango). I am not in the camp that believes these dances have different moves. Yes, there are some things I tend to do more in milonga than tango, etc., but for me, the deciding factor is: does this movement work to this music? If it does, then I use it. After all, this suite of dances are street dances! Who says we have to follow all the rules?

I'm using a lot of figures that I've learned from Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas because THEY WILL BE HERE IN A MONTH!!!!!! Hopefully, this preparation will help those of you who are new to Oscar and Georgina, so that you can get optimal levels of information in one short week.

Good for vals: Salida with a change of direction

This figure is on Oscar and Georgina's wonderful Rhythmic Tango DVD (#4).

  1. Lead a parallel, regular side step to the leader's left.
  2. Lightly lead the follower to remain on the right foot by suspending her/him ON AXIS in place, while the leader shifts onto the right (into crossed system). The follower will feel the leader's chest shift sideways, but no one else should see this; it's slight. The leader's hips and chest change to the side in order to avoid pushing the follower over. The leader is now ready to walk to the outside track (on the follower's left side).
  3. Release the suspension, and step. Leader steps forward with the left; follower steps back with the left.
  4. Leader arrives on axis on left, with the right remaining behind as a "kickstand" to help maintain balance (if this is not working, remember that you can also bring your right foot up to the left to make your axis work better). The hips need to stay mainly oriented line-of-dance, but the torso will twist from left to right. The follower lands on the left, is led to pivot the hips clockwise, ready to step with the right.
  5. Leader takes a side step to the right, follower does a back cross step in the same direction. Suggestion: make this a forward diagonal, leaders! This reduces the angle the follower needs to pivot, making it simpler for a more beginning dancer to succeed in maintaining balance and looking good.
  6. Leader can switch feet in place while suspending the follower to exit in parallel, or stay on the same foot to exit in crossed system. Follower is "unwound" to prepare for a back left step, line-of-dance.
  7. Exit to steps 6-7-8 of the basic, or to the cross.

Places to mess around to make the musicality work: This pattern takes a nice 8 measure phrase to complete, OR it can take longer if the music tells you to SLOW down: it depends on the song. I like to suspend the follower after #1 and at #6 so adornos can happen, but I try to make this music-dependent.  One of my peeves is to see leaders trying to be dramatic by introducing slow and quick elements into the dance, but without listening to the music!! Believe me, the person you are leading usually prefers the dance to fit the music.

Same beginning, with a simpler pattern to move faster for milonga

The pattern above is HARD to do in milonga unless you have a follower who stays on-axis, on-balance. If you or your follower tend to fall over, . . . change it to make it more milonga-friendly.

  1. Do the same salida and switch systems/tracks as above, and the first step (#1, 2, 3 above).
  2. Walk a counter-clockwise circle (to the left), either as a regular circle, or as a "back step, back 1/2 ocho"--what I showed as I learned it from Jose Garafolo--that has a less even feel, but is funkier and feels great in milonga.
  3. Exit into whatever, moving line-of-dance (end of basic, to the cross, parallel or crossed system).

Musicality variations: You can do little corridas (quick quick slow) in this circle, or walk it in even counts. This also makes an elegant step for vals, by the way, where it can be slowed down and/or adornos added.

Vary the ingredients a little, get another move: boleo milonguero (Rhythmic DVD #6)

This move I prefer in vals (and tango), but several students showed great prowess in making this a milonga move. As a rule, I don't lead boleos in the milonga because few followers can stay on axis while pivoting that quickly, BUT that doesn't mean you can't lead it; be judicious in your choices.

  1. Do #1, 2 & 3 from above.
  2. Instead of a pivot to the leader's right and an open step, the leader leads a boleo on the ground (boleo milonguero) with the follower's pivot, rebounding into:
  3. a back right diagonal step on the right for the leader and a forward step with the right for the follower, through to the leader's right side.
  4. Same #6 and 7 as above.

Some notes on leading boleos, as these were new to some of you:


  • must be on axis to lead a boleo
  • use back leg, knees one behind the other, for balance and stability
  • knees are relaxed, providing shock absorption
  • there is a slight suspension of the axis before leading the boleo
  • the boleo feels like a corkscrew motion, down around the axis and back up, if it is working correctly
  • hips remain forward, torso rotates
  • careful on foot placement: keep your V, and don't let your back foot/ankle turn in


  • must be on axis
  • hips do the pivot work; don't swing the leg
  • knees meet and rebound, with the free leg rebounding back the way it came
  • the leader's torso leads the hip pivot, which leads the leg release (because of this, the "whip" of the follower's leg does not end when the leader rebounds, but slightly behind, like the end of a whip vs. the handle)
  • keep the feet in their V, so that the shape of the boleo remains constant and looks good (remember how inelegant it looked when I showed you the toes in version I was seeing in class? ;-) )
  • ankles, knees and hips are slightly flexed at all times for shock absorption, but make sure you don't sink in the boleo: this is a rebound, not a collapse

Again, nice places to add adornos are at the first side step and after the rebound of the boleo (so, at original #1 and #6-7 of the first move. In essence, because all these steps are built off of the same main structural beginning and end, the best place for adornos remains the same. Also, boleos can be different speeds. In vals, I like folks to lead me in a slower, sweeter boleo, rather than a WHAM! movement, allowing me time to really pivot well with my hips, and giving the boleo a more swoopy, vals feeling.

Introducing the quebrada as an elegant, stabilizing element of the dance

As I hear my next lesson knocking on the door, I'll finish here, and go over this step in my next blog entry. Stay tuned!

New classes start this week! Argentine tango and more . . .

All classes are six weeks long. All start THIS week, but are drop-in.

Couple Dance 101

Would you like to ease into couple dancing? This class will teach you how to: lead/follow, identify the music, move with a partner, and help you "survive" on the dance floor.  It will give you a taste of several dances--salsa, swing, rumba, waltz, tango, etc.--to help you decide what dance(s) are for you. Come learn to feel comfortable dancing with partners!

  • Tuesdays 7:30-8:30
  • Krakow Cafe, 3990 N. Interstate (they have coffee, food and beer!)
  • No experience needed, no partner necessary
  • $60/6 wks, $12 drop-in (summer special: $100/couple)

Milonga traspie and Tango vals: musicality, flow and improvisation

This class is designed for intermediate and advanced dancers who want to improve their milonga and vals. We will do new patterns each week, but the main focus of the class is to make your dances feel magical to your partners through improved musicality, technique and style.

  • Wednesdays 8:15-9:15 (and then let's walk over to Norse Hall to practice!)
  • Om Studio, 14 NE 10th (between Burnside and Couch)
  • No partner needed
  • $60/6 wks or $12 drop-in
  • Warm up for Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas' visit the last week in August! They will be teaching vals and milonga classes, so get ready!

Tango Fundamentals: connection, energy and play

This class is designed for beginning students and for continuing students who want to focus on the fundamentals of Argentine tango. We will do new patterns each week, but the main focus of the class is to make your body into a tango-dancing piece of poetry! Breath, posture, balance, axis--attention to the fundamentals brings a connection to the music and to your partner that raise your dance above the ordinary. We'll play tango games to make your dance fun and improvisatory, right from the first hour.

  • Thursdays, 6-7 PM
  • Om Studio, 14 NE 10th (between Burnside and Couch)
  • No partner needed
  • $60/6 wks or $12 drop-in
  • Warm up for Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas' visit the last week in August! They will be teaching classes for all levels, including the basics; get ready!

Continuing Tango: creating magic through dance

This class is designed for continuing intermediate and advanced intermediate students who want to build a powerful, sensuous and elegant Argentine tango. We will do new patterns each week, but the main focus of the class is to find the magic of YOUR dance. Each week, you'll walk out of class with more confidence and beauty in your tango, ready to spread YOUR magic on the dance floor.

  • Thursdays, 7-8 PM
  • Om Studio, 14 NE 10th (between Burnside and Couch)
  • No partner needed
  • $60/6 wks or $12 drop-in
  • Warm up for Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas' visit the last week in August! They will be teaching classes on lead and follow technique for intermediate and advanced dancers, so get ready!

Questions?  Call me at 541.914.4812 and I'll see you in class!

Milonga traspie: rebound steps

Traspie steps; check steps; rock steps; rebound steps: What DO you call those quick-quick thingies that are in milonga, tango and vals?

I call them rebound steps because focusing on the elasticity of this step, rather than the speed of the step, makes for a much more efficient (and thus quick) execution of this kind of movement. Because milonga is faster than tango (and most valses), learning to do the rebound step is especially pertinent.

I was not taught this method when I first learned tango, but my main teachers, Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas proved to me that it worked better. After arguing about it for a while, they simply led me (and had me lead) their style of rebound and HOLY COW! it was a lot easier. Twelve years into fifteen years of tango, and I completely changed my approach and can easily lead most followers, even beginners, in milonga. And you can, too! (and Oscar and Georgina will be back in Portland and Eugene in August and November, lucky us!)

Rebound steps

A rebound step is any step that moves away from a given point and then returns to that initial location. For example, the first two steps of an ocho cortado for the leader are forward on the left, and then back on the right. Another example: a "traspie" step to the side before moving forward line-of-dance sends the leader to the side and then back to the original location.

Think of each two-piece rebound step as one unit: rather than "rock, rock" or "quick, quick" imagine that the movement in your foot and body is more like bouncing a ball: it hits the ground and rebounds up to your hand as one motion.

Ball bouncing

Nothing on YouTube was exactly what I wanted to show you, but this is close. See how the ball flattens into the ground and then rebounds in one smooth motion? That is what the arch of your foot is doing when you do a rebound step. If you do this while leading the follower to execute the same step, you can easily change directions at any speed.

Using the ball bouncing idea, notice that:

  1. The ball does not stop motion when it hits the floor. Instead, it flattens and then rebounds. Make sure you do not stop your motion.
  2. The ball does not stop a few inches from the floor and then come back up. Make sure that you do not signal for the follower to change direction until his/her foot has softened into the floor. The follower cannot change direction easily until the moment that the foot softens. Indicating a lead "early" to give the follower time to react, slows this move down.
  3. When the ball finishes the rebounding motion, it comes back to center (or back to your hand). Make sure that your rebound finishes back on axis/balance before moving to a new location.

Things that are different from an actual ball bouncing:

  1. Don't sink in your knees to lower your body! Stay at the same height while doing this move. The knees are naturally lightly flexed at all times to aid in balance and smoothness of move.
  2. Any direction you send your partner, they will rebound back to you. Think of a combination of handball (trying to send it straight back to yourself, however) and bouncing a ball.
  3. You don't have to push on the ball with your hand to make this happen: move your body, and the follower will be moved. I hope. If not, play naughty toddler!

How to break yourself of old traspie habits

It's one thing to understand how and why a rebound step works better when done this way. It's a much more time-intensive activity to relearn the step, which is why I've begun teaching this as one of the first steps in tango, milonga and vals classes.

My suggestions:

  1. Dance slow motion: slow motion movement will help you find how far transfer your weight before rebounding. Abandon the need to make this move go quickly: as soon as it works slow, it will start to work at faster speeds.
  2. Close your eyes: learn to SENSE the movement of the follower, either in close or open embrace. When you can feel the follower's foot hit and soften into the floor, you will be able to reverse the follower's direction without much effort on either person's part.
  3. Play naughty toddler: I've noticed that most leaders do a great job leading rebound steps when forced to by a follower who is not paying attention and is full-on dancing. After all, stopping early to "signal" a change in direction won't work with this kind of follower! If they are about to run into someone, most leaders do a wonderful job of using the follower's body and weight to change direction ;-)
  4. Ask the follower for feedback: if one of you can feel the transfer of weight and the right time to change direction, you can teach each other the rebound step. If that is the leader, the follower can be told while dancing. If the follower feels it, but not the lead, practice slow motion and verbally cuing the leader ("Now!") until the leader feels confident about leading the step.

Until the new neural pathway is established in your brain, you will need to methodically and slowly repattern your body to access the new pathway first (this is why the new motion feels "weird" or "strange"--it is not the one that feels "right" to the body until the new pathway has been established). I've looked online for a good, short version of explaining how the body builds neural pathways, but most are either too simplistic, or too long. If you are interested in this information, go play on Google, and let me know if YOU find a good article! Thanks!


If you need any inspiration, check out Oscar and Georgina dancing a milonga, and watch their tons of lovely rebound steps! Now, go practice!

New classes start this week!

Tango I: Introduction to Argentine Tango (Thursdays, 6-7 PM, Om Studio, 14 NE 10th, between Burnside and Couch)

If you are a complete beginner, or a dancer reviewing your basics, this is the class for you! Each week, we'll cover new material and integrate it into your dance, so you can take it out on the dance floor immediately. We'll cover walking, turning, ochos, going to the cross; the embrace; navigation; improvisation; and musicality.

I teach a body-based tango which looks for efficient, balanced movement to allow you to find your own style. Fun, improvisatory, sensual, exciting: tango! No partner needed.

$60/6 weeks, or $12 drop in (summer special: pay for both six-week sessions at once for $100--save $20)

Tango 2: Advanced Beginners/Beginning Intermediates (Thursdays, 7-8 PM, Om Studio, 14 NE 10th, between Burnside and Couch)

Designed for folks who have already completed Tango I (at least once, I suggest 2-3 times), this class introduces new moves each week to gradually build an elegant, powerful dance. Want to improve your technique for following? We'll do adornos, boleos, ganchos, etc. Want to improve your leading? We'll do fun combinations that increase your confidence on the the dance floor and make you look good, too!

As usual, I focus on the body: balance, breath, alignment--the true tango fundamentals--to make tango work for YOUR body. Navigation, the embrace, musicality and connection/energy with your partner are integral parts to each class. Come connect with tango!

$60/6 weeks, or $12 drop in (summer special: pay for both six-week sessions at once for $100--save $20)

Milonga traspie: all levels (Wednesdays, 8:15-9:15 PM, Om Studio, 14 NE 10th, between Burnside and Couch)

Come learn new milonga moves that work to traditional and alternative music, and then head over to Norse Hall to practice them! We're one block from the milonga, so plan on making an evening of it!

Milonga traspie is a grooving, syncopated, WOW! dance. We'll work on the fundamentals of the dance, as well as harder patterns to incorporate into your existing milonga. We'll focus on musicality and making the dance reflect the musical playfulness of milonga. We'll also learn to adjust to various embraces, styles of music and partners so that you can lead/follow ANYBODY.

Note: This class is aimed at intermediate and advanced dancers. Beginners: you are welcome, but please bring a partner so that you can work at your own pace.

$60/6 weeks, or $12 drop in (summer special: pay for both six-week sessions at once for $100--save $20)

Not offered this session: Tango 3, 4 & 5; tango vals; musicality class. 

Private lessons available during the day Monday-Wednesday; and Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Call 541.914.4812 to schedule, or email ewartluf@gmail.com.

Drunken sailor: oldie but goodie steps

I hadn't meant to teach this step last week, but one couple came in with a mild disagreement over how to make it work, and the other dancers were intrigued, and it got added to the intermediate lesson plan. After all, what's not to like about a bit of milonga snuck into tango class?

I learned this step the first year I took tango. In fact, I think we ALL learned this step that year, 1995-1996, because I remember being led in it ad nauseam, and swearing I'd never teach the move again. Ah, well, life is more fun when you reverse your decisions randomly!

Main concept

The leader blocks the follower's leg so that, instead of walking backwards, the follower has to change weight by crossing the right leg in front of the left leg (the reverse of the "normal" cruzada position). This is repeated several times (three feels nice), and then the leg block is released to walk the follower to the cross. Many people like to use a slight rocking motion to travel/change weight during this move, which is probably why it's called drunken sailor.

Because this step relies on full body contact to lead nicely, I wouldn't do this in open embrace: it leads to karate-like chops towards the follower's legs, which do NOT feel nice. Ease into this step; it's only a slightly drunken sailor! Think rocking boat, not staggering drunk.

Getting into the step

I like leading into the drunken sailor from the salida. Of course, there are other ways, but I'll leave you to figure those out.

  1. Leader steps to the left with the left.
  2. Step forward and slightly to the right diagonal with the right, making sure to contact the outside of the follower's right thigh with the outside of the leader's right thigh.
  3. While doing #2, the leader rotates a bit, so that the leader's hips face slightly left forward diagonal. This makes it easier for both people to arrive in the correct, balanced position to switch feet.
  4. The leader steps in and behind with, the left so that the knees "kiss"--but the feet don't. By overshooting a bit, and then shifting the hips, this step shifts a teeny bit to the leader's right. This ensures that the follower MUST shift weight, crossing to the "wrong" side.
  5. Repeat 3. and 4. two more times (optional), continuing down the line-of-dance. The hip shifts tilt the dancers from one foot to the other, making this step look drunken. Don't overdo it, and make sure that the lead is from the center, not from the arms or shoulders. It's supposed to look drunken, not dangerous.

Exiting from the step

Once the follower understands that you are doing the drunken sailor, continuing the step is easy. However, convincing the follower that you want to STOP the move takes a clear lead.

  1. Stop touching legs: as the leader travels forward with the right, make sure your legs do not touch.
  2. Reverse the diagonal: as the leader travels forward with the left, make the step move out SLIGHTLY to the left front diagonal (facing LOD), and make sure you have rotated the follower so that it is obvious that something else is happening.
  3. Lead the follower into the regular cruzada, crossing the follower's LEFT over the right (of course, there are other ways to exit, but this is the easiest).

This is a traveling step

This does not travel in a straight line (notice the name!), but it does end up making a normal progression down the LOD. I can't explain what it looks like, so I will have to draw a picture of it:

Drunken sailor

In my mind, this is what I say to translate this picture (you need to start at the bottom and work up--sorry, this is how I notate dances for myself!):

  • side
  • forward
  • shift in place
  • forward
  • shift in place
  • forward
  • shift in place
  • forward
  • to the
  • cross!

As long as the move continues line-of-dance (LOD), it works on the dance floor. There are two main variants I've seen, one in which the leader does a crab walk down the LOD, with the hips facing slightly left front diagonal. In the other version, the leader faces the center of the room, and moves sideways down the line of dance. I like moving down the room in diagonals, rather than facing in.  Yes, facing into the room is probably an easier way to get that first reverse cross from the follower, but it's harder to exit elegantly. 

Adjusting for height

Not everyone is the same height, so sometimes "thigh" needs to be a relative term. I aim to contact the follower's leg near the height of the hip joint, so I can move the follower's leg through space without upsetting the follower's balance. That means that a short leader may need to aim higher than their own thigh, and a tall leader may need to use just above the knee in order to contact the follower at the upper thigh. If you have a really tall follower, make sure you don't take them out at the knee by mistake!!


More milonga moves (review from Milonga class, March-April 2010)

We covered a HUGE amount of material in the past six weeks--good work, folks! Here is a review of the steps and technique we learned.

This first part on ocho cortado is recopied from my blog earlier. I just want to make it easier to find for those of you who are only taking my milonga class.

Ocho cortado

There are many ways to do ocho cortado, but there are some fundamental elements that must exist for the ocho cortado (or ocho milonguero) to happen:

  1. Follower is led in a back-front rebound step (R foot back, L forward). This is ONE movement, like a basketball hitting the ground and returning. Does the ball stop for a moment at the ground? No! It flexes and returns (just like the follower's body).
  2. Follower is led to step through to the leader's outside track (leader's right) with the right foot.
  3. Follower is led in a side-side rebound step (left-right), ending in a front cross/close. This should have some circular motion around the leader to make the move easier for the follower and conserve space.

Notice that the ocho cortado is based on the follower's footwork! As the leader, I could hop up and down, as long as the follower gets these messages: rebound, step through, rebound, close. However, most of us prefer a bit more structure, so here are the leader's steps for the linear ocho cortado:

  1. Leader does a forward back rebound (left, right).
  2. Leader steps backwards with the left, while leading the follower through to leader's right side.
  3. Leader does a tiny rebound side-side, but most of the movement is circular, so that the follower's rebound goes around the leader, not away, out into space.
  4. Leader completes move by stepping in place (or near there, depending on the variation) with the right foot, ready to begin another pattern in parallel system (or doesn't switch and is in crossed system).

Most of the arguing about how to do the ocho cortado here in Portland centers around whether the ocho cortado should be circular or linear. THERE IS NO CORRECT VERSION; linear vs circular is a decision made on the dance floor, depending on the space available.


Ocho cortado variations

The Charleston

This is a linear variation that does not pivot the follower. The leader remains facing line-of-dance (LOD) or original direction; follower remains facing leader UNLESS you are using this move to change facings in the room.

  • The leader leads the first half of normal ocho cortado, making sure to make it linear so that the line of movement is established.
  • On the second half of the ocho cortado, the leader moves parallel to the follower, so that both dancers rebound along the line of movement: leader back, forward and follower forward, back.
  • Do not close into the cross, but exit walking (of course, you can end any way you want, but this is easiest).
  • Followers: make sure your rebounds travel up your body so that the leader knows when to rebound you. Keep your ankles, knees, hips and spine stretchy but relaxed. If you "help" by stopping the movement, you make it harder to lead and rougher on your body.

Rudolf Valentino

This version is also a linear version (guess what type of ocho cortado I like!). Here, the follower is pivoted and then BOTH dancers move through the middle of the step, achieving that "Rudolf Valentino" cheek-to-cheek alignment just for a moment.

  • The leader leads the first half of normal ocho cortado, making sure it is linear to that the line of movement is established.
  • As the follower does the second rebound, the leader also does a rebound in the same direction, and overturns the follower so that the follower must step forward through the space between the dancers after the rebound.
  • This timing on when to pivot the follower (and self) is subtle: turn too soon, and the follower will try to turn around you. Turn too late, and the follower cannot comply with your request to travel facing forwards in a front cross. Use your chest and the rebound, working together, to "catch" the follower's rebound and send it in a new direction.
  • Don't wrestle your partner, but you can use your embrace to prevent the follower from "helping" by doing a regular ocho cortado on auto-follow.
  • When the follower finished the forward step, you can pivot her/him again, returning to the original partner orientation in order to exit walking or whatever you want to do.

Playing with repetition as a variation

For each of these variations above, you can take one rebound and repeat it several times before completing the pattern, to vary the step. Usually, it's easiest to repeat the second rebound (repeating the first is not fun, IMHO as a follower).

This changes the timing from the traditional quick quick slow, quick quick slow, to: quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, quick, quick . . . slow. This is useful if you either forgot to start your milonga on the strong beat, or got off-track somewhere. Just keep rebounding until you can start again on a strong beat!

For example, you can take the second rebound of the Charleston version, and just keep rebounding (make the follower rebound forward on left, back on right; then back on left, forward on right, making a rocking motion).

I tend to use this concept more with the Rudolf Valentino version. Having turned my follower to face LOD with me, I'll rebound both of us forward and back and forward and back, and then exit. The exit can be finishing in tango close, or UNwinding to finish with a Charleston and then walking out.

The El Tano

This is what I call the first variation I learned of ocho cortado, back in 2000.  I learned it by dancing with El Tano, yet another great dancer who has passed away recently.

When watching the move, it looked like he led the first half of an ocho cortado, and then waved his belly back and forth for a while, and then closed the step. However, following him, he made sure that I closed my ocho cortado, REBOUNDED at the cross (in place basically), and then opened up again to do more rebounds.

A favorite combination for him was to make me cross behind, then open again, then in front, then open again, then in back, then in open, and finally, close in tango cross (whew! that's six rebounds in a row!). If you do not have the beer belly to make this easy, you need to use some body English to make sure your follower feels the difference between in front and in back of her right leg.

Inside out ocho cortado

I saw a very fun version of ocho cortado in Buenos Aires in February. Dancers (guys) were hanging out of their chairs, watching intently. Luckily, the couple doing this move were my main teachers, so I could beg for instruction and learn it quickly.

  • The rebound for this version is NOT a traditional rebound. Instead, it is triangular (I know, this is breaking a rule, but it's fun!). When the follower is sent backwards on the right to begin the first rebound, the leader twists the torso to the right, lightly suspends and uses "la marca" to make the follower pivot; and then leads the second half of the rebound so that the follower moves left diagonal with the left foot. This makes a V-shaped move, to the back right diagonal of the leader, rather than just in place.
  • For the step after the rebound, this opening into a stronger V in the embrace, should make the follower able to step sideways BEHIND herself along the line of movement, rather than forward through.
  • Leaders: don't make the follower guess! Be clear here! Have intention! If not, your follower may "help" you by doing a standard ocho cortado, thinking, "Oh, s/he led that really badly!"
  • The leader, BTW, is also doing a triangular rebound and a step behind, parallel to the follower's path.
  • Lead the second rebound so that the follower gets a side, back rebound (as in the Rudolf Valentino when you unwind back into the Charleston).
  • The last step is not a tango close, but a walking exit. You can end with going to the cross, but it doesn't feel as smooth for the follower.
  • Triple- (or double-) back variation on the exit: Do two or three of the side, cross behind steps before exiting, to make the move fit the music as you wish. The timing is then: quick, quick, slow, slow, slow, slow . . . quick, quick, slow.
  • Exit variation: Do only the first rebound and the step behind. Then, suspend the follower with "la marca" turn to face LOD, and allow the follower's hips to unwind. Pause for an adorno, or simple exit to the cross.

Other stuff

 My goodness!  I don't think I've ever covered this much material in such a short time! Here's the non-ocho cortado material we did this session.

Omar's step

This is my favorite Omar Vega move that I learned in his milonga classes in July, August and September of 2000 in Buenos Aires. As many of you know, Omar was both a brilliant dancer, and a bit of a bad boy. This move has all his attitude and finesse in it. I love the grooviness of it, especially if you throw it in between a few smooth, milonga lisa steps so that it attracts attention and then disappears ("Hey, what was that?").

  • Start: Feet together, having just put the follower on the right foot and the leader on the left foot.
  • Leader moves a half-step backwards with the right, WHILE rotating the chest to the left AND lifting the follower slightly up, so that the follower takes a half step forward, moving into the center.
  • Leader moves a full (but not too big!) step backwards WITH THE RIGHT, while relaxing the chest to neutral and having released the follower's suspension. That's right! This is a step where you take TWO steps in a row with the same foot, sorta.
  • Invisible rebound: The reason you can take two steps with the same foot, is that there is an invisible rebound in the middle. Basically, this is a rebound that you feel in your foot, straight into the ground, and in your body, up and away from the foot; you transfer weight WITHOUT MOVING onto your other foot. Then, the original foot is available to move again.
  • Exit to the left with the left, and continue as you like.
  • The follower has a half step forward with the left, suspended so that there is a small step. Rebound (see above) and step forward again with the left, exiting to the right with the right into whatever is led.
  • Note: We learned Omar's step out of the cuadrado, but obviously you don't have to do that first.


Robert doesn't like the cuadrado, so I taught it a day that he wasn't co-teaching :-)  I agree that it should be used sparingly, but it's a good way to bail out of walking to the cross, or to get nice side-together steps going.

  • Leader: Open to the side with the left; walking (inside track) with the right; back into center track with the left; side open with the right; and close in place, putting your weight on your left. I think of this as: "side, maybe no, step together" but you can call it whatever you like.
  • Follower: Open to side with the right; walk back on the left; back on the right; side open with the left; together with the right, switching weight IF you are led to do that!

The pendulum (QQQQ)

Again, I learned this move from Omar Vega, who didn't call it anything ("Today's new step looks like this:" is not a good name).

Note: It is easiest to lead this after a side step. I suggest doing the entire move with the leader facing out of the space, moving sideways line-of-dance.

  • Side-step line-of-dance; leader's left, follower's right. Timing: slow.
  • Leader steps forward through, diagonal right LOD, with right foot.
  • Leader steps together with left.
  • Leader steps back with right.
  • Leader steps together with left.
  • Timing after side step: quick, quick, quick, quick.
  • Follower: side step LOD with right; back on left; together on right; forward on left; together on right; exit with left.
  • How do you get the follower to do four quick steps in a row, with two of them in place? Good question! Think of this as a pendulum-shaped move. When I lead it, I send my feet further than my chest on step one, and on step three, I scoop the follower almost under and towards me, so that the follower's feet do the same thing, swinging towards me like a pendulum. The first step has the energy emphasis. If I were singing this move, this is how I would sing it: YUMP bum bum bum.

Basic framework: grapevine

All of the moves we did this session work nicely connected together with a basic framework of a form of grapevine:

  • Leader: side with left, forward through with right, side with left, back with right.
  • Follower: side with right, back with left, side with right, forward with left.
  • All slow steps.
  • Note: This is facing (for the leader) towards the outside edge of the dance floor; the follower is facing the center of the floor. This protects the follower from other dancers, allows the leader more space to place/more ability to see available space, etc.
  • The framework has a slight diagonal to it, with the leader moving forward diagonal LOD when stepping through with the right; and either straight back towards the center of the room OR turning a bit more and stepping back diagonal LOD with the back right step.
  • Variation #1 (Step close): After the leader's front diagonal step with the right, step TOGETHER instead of to the side. This makes the follower's step also step in place. To help make sure the lead is clear, you can tilt SLIGHTLY to ensure that the follower's step cannot travel sideways.
  • Variation #2 (Triple-steps to the side): For one or both of the side steps, make that step a "step-together-step" (quick, quick, slow). This is easier on the side step after the follower's back step, but it works for both. As a follower, I prefer ONE set of quick, quick, slow side steps per pattern, not two. As a leader, I kinda like two!

Milonga and vals class, Salem, Summer 2009

I disagree with teachers who think that new tango learners should avoid milonga and vals until their tango is in good form. Frankly, I think these two dances are more accessible than tango. The music is catchy and more cheerful, which attracts dancers from other genres (lindy, West Coast swing, contradancers, folk dancers, ballroom folk). Also, because the emphasis is on really moving to the music, beginners can let go of aiming for perfection in technique and enjoy DANCING. Too often (IMHO), tango learners and teachers forget that this is supposed to be FUN!

OK, off my soapbox, at least for a few seconds. In milonga and in vals, what I look for in a partner is: connection, ability to move me to the music, joy in dancing and (icing on the cake) good technique. Given that, we worked on learning a few moves, oldies but goodies, and spent the bulk of our time honing our musicality.

Milonga musicality

In milonga, you can focus on moving on the stressed beat of the music, without pauses or syncopation for the most part. This produces an elegant, more flowing dance (smooth milonga, or milonga lisa). This is a good starting point for the beginning milonga dance, as well as a form that can be taken to amazingly graceful heights with practice.

The "Everyready Battery Bunny" exercise is based on this style: followers step on each beat, in place, heels touching, unless moved through space by the leader. Of course, in "real life," you wouldn't be this automatic about it; but it helps to be ready to move on each beat so that the dance goes smoothly. Make sure that you are not automatically walking backwards: the leader gets to pick the direction and the step. You just help make it musical and peppy!

The other style of milonga is milonga traspie which focuses on syncopation to play with the music in a more boisterous way. I think that the dance should still be elegant, but with underlying groove so that it rocks (please, no bouncing arms). Oscar and Georgina did a milonga at Wednesday night (Norse Hall) that had most of us rooted to our chairs: it was sexy, elegant and raucous as the same time! (and then they sat down and said, "Interesting! We've never danced milonga to [cumbia] before!" Wow: brand new music AND amazing musicality.

But I digress. The traspie steps that we began belong to this style of milonga.  Traspie literally means "behind the foot", but can also mean "stumble" or "trip." This step has that tripping rhythm: BAHdum BUM, but only if you use a rebound (revolte): instead of three even counts, I think rebound, STEP. It's not about the initial step: this move stresses the step after the rebound.

Everything we did EXCEPT the vai-ven step (see step review at the bottom of this post) can be turned into a syncopated move. Other people may not agree with me, but I think this step only looks good when the timing remains slow (6 slow steps).

Milonga clips

Here are a few YouTube clips to inspire you. Oscar and Omar learned from the old milongueros. Dani IS an old milonguero. The young couple have nice style, and are repeatedly using the turning grapevine we learned: look how you can put the traspie steps in between!Elegant and sassy milonga: Oscar and Georgina

Omar Vega doing candombe milonga: outrageous and crazy!

Dani: milonguero doing a great milonga

Here's the turning grapevine step

Here's the half-grapevine/sawtooth thingie (and adornos): Graciela Gonzalez

Vals musicality

There are several ways to use the music in vals. Vals is in 3/4 timing (three beats per measure, with the first beat stressed). There is nothing wrong with sticking to moving on the first beat of each measure, but if you want to play with the music, practice each of these separately, walking and later dancing moves. Then, put them together. The BLOB exercise we did focused on playing around with all the rhythms, while moving through space. I find singing along (Dah DEE Dah dum DAH DAH DAH dum . . .) helps, but then again, I was trained as a singer before getting into dancing.

Normal possibilities

1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 . . . (accent on the first beat of each measure; this is used the most)

1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 . . . (accent on the first and last beat of each measure; this is also used a lot)

1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 . . . (accent on the first and second beat of each measure; equally cool, but used less)

1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 . . . (all three beats of the measure used; avoid using this as a default, oh my ballroom dancing tangueros!)

1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 . . . (pauses of . . . whatever length; not used as much in vals as in tango, but useful)

Places to mess around with this:

  • walks (corridas, or little runs of QQS)
  • turns (remember, some steps of the turn are traditionally quicker): on the back and next side step, try different variations.
  • walking to the cross: "maybe yes cross" can be done in many different timings; play around! New folks this session: we didn't do this step, so don't worry about this)
  • turning grapevine: perfect place to play
  • traspie: usually done in syncopated timing anyway, but play with 1 3 1 and 12 1 timing.

Abnormal possibilities

Musically inclined leaders who have advanced tango skills and advanced music skills, tend to go off the beaten path with vals. I find myself led into moves such as "1 . . . 2 3 . . 3 1" simply because the leader thinks it's fun to make me dance on the off beats. Leaders: this MESSES with follower's brains; only do this when you know the follower will enjoy the geekiness of the variations (most will NOT enjoy it because it detracts from the flow of the dance). As a tango geek, I can appreciate strangeness IF IT IS LED WELL.

Folks who lead this well: Evan (now of NYC); Alex (Pland); Charles (Eugene) and Noah (Eugene). I'm sure there are more, but these guys understand the music on a deep level. Even after fourteen years of leading tango, I personally don't like to lead these strange variations, except with one or two stellar followers who purr, giggle and verbally express appreciation of the silliness.

Vals clips on Youtube

After a week with Oscar and Georgina, so few folks look good out there on YouTube (yes, I know I am biased, but after all, that's why I organize for them! They are amazing). I couldn't find a vals with them dancing, but here's another couple who taught me a lot about vals musicality in their classes in Buenos Aires:

Tete y Silvia: remember the "walk and turn" exercise we did? I learned that in Tete y Silvia's classes in Buenos Aires. As long as you are clear about what direction you are heading, it's easy for the follower to keep up.

Vals at Glorias Argentinas: Although these folks don't have fabulous technique, they DO have fabulous musicality and connection. Watch how he only uses a few patterns to make a nice dance.

Nestor Ray and Silvina Vals: very much like Tete, Nestor Ray has a very turny, smooth dance.  Watch how he does lots of walking and turning--and not much else; look how nice it is!

Milonga and Vals steps from class

Given the fact that two of our leaders had never danced tango/milonga/vals before these six weeks (bravo, guys!), I stuck to basic moves that you can use in all three dances equally well. Those of you who are more advanced can look at your review sheets from the past year, and add back in other moves we've learned. Also, it never hurts to work on musicality: how many ways can you do each of these?

  1. walking forward LOD (that is, leader walking facing line-of-dance)
  2. walking backward LOD (leader)
  3. taking side-together steps: out towards the side of the dance floor, or LOD (leader's left shoulder facing LOD and leader's right shoulder facing LOD)
  4. vai-ven step (go-come): Leader's step is forward on the left, in place with the right, in place with the left; back step with the right, in place with the left, in place with the right. I like using this to bracket the turning grapevine, to find my space on the dance floor, or to finish a sequence where the music is calming down after something more vibrant. Follower's step: back on the right, in place with the left, in place with the right; forward on the left, in place with the right, in place with the left.
  5. turning grapevine (clockwise, traveling LOD):1. Leader steps forward on left, 2. forward and through with the right (like going to the cross), and then 3. steps laterally line of dance (lead faces out, follower faces in); leader 4. steps back on right, 5. back on left (leading follower forward and through to the inside), and 6. open with the right (lead facing in, follower facing out). Follower does the same steps as the leader, but in this order: 456 123. In other words, follower steps back on right, back on left, laterally (facing in) with right, LOD; then forward on left, forward and through with right, and laterally (facing out) with left, LOD; finish with a walk or whatever.
  6. Ocho cortado ("cut ocho"): Leader steps forward on left (either after salida or from walking . . . no "correct" way); then rocks back onto right foot; then steps backwards on left foot, leading the follower through to the leader's right side.  Leader then puts both feet down OR steps SLIGHTLY open with right, to lead the follower in the last three steps; finishing with feet together, ready to walk out with left foot.  Follower steps back on right, rebounds forward onto left foot, steps forward and through with right foot, then pivots slightly into a lateral step (like a side step of a turn). This step rebounds back to the follower's right foot, and then the leader pivots the follower again to close the left foot in front, as in going to the cross.  If you Google ocho cortado on YouTube, you will see what we talked about in class: EVERYONE has different ideas of how this step SHOULD be done. I've taught you what feels most comfortable for the follower, but feel free to mess around with variations ;-) ocho cortado
  7. Giros ("turns"): Remember the "rocks-in-the-stream" game? We walked, listening to the music, and then did half or full turns and then walked again. Remember that, just like water in a stream, the movement rarely stays in one spot for a long time. A lot of turns continue to travel down the dance floor while turning. Let this exercise provide some improvisation in your dance. Instead of worrying about where to start and end the turn, just walk and turn, walk and turn, as the music tells you. The follower's job is to stay with you. HOWEVER: if you are not clear about what direction your torso is pointing/moving (downstream, please), the follower will not know, either. Clarity, clarity, clarity! For those of you who prefer structure: you can turn from a side step, so that the follower's first step is a front or back cross around you. We also looked at starting turns as the leader stepped back in the vai ven.
  8. Sawtooth/half-grapevine: I'm sure there is a name for this step, but I learned it dancing with old guys in the milonga, not in a class; no one said, "Hey, let's do the x step!" To start, leader does a salida, moving LOD with the left foot, facing "out" of the space. Then, leader steps forward and through with the right (like going to the cross); and steps TOGETHER with the left; steps straight back (towards the center of the floor) with the right; and together OR open with the left. If you step together, you get a very crisp, sawtoothed pattern. If you step open, you get a "castle wall" kind of effect.  Neither is wrong, but stepping together looks more elegant and takes less room. The follower needs to be careful not to automatically do a grapevine pattern without being led. Follower steps side with the right, LOD, to start, then back diagonal with the left, still moving LOD and outwards from the dance space. After that, the follower steps in place with the right foot, and straight forward with the left foot, to begin again or exit.
  9. Traspie ("stumble, trip"): We did two versions of this: 1. sd, rebound, step forward (for leader); and 2. fd, rebound, step forward (for leader), which seems to be harder for a lot of folks. Remember that the rebound has to happen BEFORE taking the forward step. You MUST return to an on-axis, body-over-supporting-foot balanced position before continuing through for the next step. If you have Oscar and Georgina's rhythmic tango DVD, there are wonderful instructions for doing this well (as well as ocho cortado variations). I can't find it on YouTube; ah, well.

I've really enjoyed this class. I find it impressive that we have dancers who have six weeks of tango experience (really, none, since we did milonga and vals), up to four years' experience, in one class. With one exception, we covered information requested by the class: new moves; musicality; walking; milonga; and better posture, technique, etc.. Sorry that we didn't get to your boleos, Karen.

For those of you who live close enough to get to Portland, Robert Hauk and I will be collaborating on a milonga class up there this fall. Stay tuned for details!