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Take a walk…

By | Rant | No Comments

Perhaps I need another cup of coffee to waken up my sluggish brain these days, or perhaps it has been dulled by watching too much ‘Top Gear’, but there’s something I’ve never really understood:

Why do some Tango lessons always start with solo exercises?

Yeah, I get that tango is essentially a shared walk. But it’s in an embrace, with the followers walking backwards a big part of the time. So why do these exercises involve walking alone, whilst our arms are held up ‘pretending’ to be in a tango embrace?


Walking alone feels totally different to walking with a partner; the balance, energy, and movement are all changed. So it’s not very good preparation for walking with a partner. Why not try walking together, in a real embrace, in the direction we usually dance in?  Perhaps with the music?  Oh, hold on, that would be tango dancing.  Silly me.

But it does use up some lesson time, doesn’t it…

A spotters guide to rubbish Argentine Tango teachers

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I don’t care how many shows teachers have appeared in, who they have danced with, or how long their legs are. I judge Tango teachers according to what they should be doing; teaching tango that we can use enjoyably & safely with the music at a crowded milonga.

These are my top symptoms of lazy, incompetent Tango teaching at group lessons. Next time you are in a lesson, score 1 point for each of these:

  • Teaching a sequence.
  • Teaching a sequence that starts with a back step.
  • Teaching a sequence containing 8 or more steps (triple score for teaching the entire sequence in 1 go, without any breakdown)
  • Teachers demonstrating & talking for more than 5 minutes at a time, whilst students get slowly more bored.
  • Students left to attempt it for themselves for more than 5 minutes at a time whilst the teachers ignore most of the group and focus on one struggling couple.
  • No mention of the music.
  • No mention of floorcraft.
  • Teachers wearing trainers / combat trousers / hats / t-shirts.
  • Mumbling teachers.
  • Teachers staring at the floor whilst they dance.
  • Starting & finishing the lesson at least 10 minutes late.


  • 0 – 2 Points: Formula 1. The best.
  • 3 – 6 points: Formula 3. Nearly there, could do better.
  • 7 – 15 points: Banger racers. Amateurs playing.
  • 15 – 29 points: Lawn mower racers. Amusing but irrelevant.
  • 30 points or more: Wacky racers. A joke, only I ain’t laughing.

I once observed a group lesson by visiting teachers from Argentina that featured all of these, making a 36 points maximum score. Kerrrching!

What makes for a bad Tango DJ?

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Lots of people with a collection of tango CDs have a go at DJ-ing. Only a few get it right. It takes a lot of preparation, research, and concentration (oh, and good looks, intellegence, wit, & charm..). Like many things, if it’s done right then it can appear easy. But there are some signs that it could be going horribly wrong:

  • DJ with ‘spanglish’ pseudonym.
  • Cheap and/or poorly set up sound equipment.
  • “I have prepared the playlist for the Milonga in advance”.
  • “Here’s a track that you won’t have heard before” (I wonder why?)
  • The DJ spending most of the evening dancing.
  • The volume too loud. I said TOO LOUD
  • Random music mix, with no tandas or cortinas.
  • Even worse; occasional cortinas, so the dancers are even more confused.

and a special section for Analia ‘LaRubia’ del Giglio:

  • Walking around on the dance floor amongst the dancers to check the sound quality
  • Randomly varying the number of tracks in each tanda
  • Dancing as a leader and travelling in the opposite direction to the Ronda (i.e. clockwise).

What makes for a bad milonga?

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We spend time getting ready to go out to a milonga. Getting smart, smelling fresh, rested, and fed. We leave home in plenty of time, and are looking forward to enjoying a nice night of tango dancing. But often recently I have been disappointed, & not only at London milongas.

As a milonga organiser, I tend to notice indications that tell me I’m going to be disappointed, and there are some things that are sure to get me in a grump (it doesn’t take much these days…):

  • Endless repeated promotional status updates on Facebook.
  • Web site out of date and/or with minimal information.
  • No signage to help you find the milonga.
  • No welcome
  • ‘Cabeceo-friendly’ lighting i.e. bright and cold lighting (it’s a Cabeceo, not an interrogation).
  • Paltry refreshments.
  • Announcement… another announcement… and another…
  • The Organisers spending most of the evening dancing.
  • ‘Star’ dancers performing show moves in the middle of the floor.
  • Salsa break… Jive break… Chacarera break…
  • Music volume too loud. I said TOO LOUD!
  • No sign of Kylie Minogue offering me a Ferrari F1 drive.

I could go on, but it’s time for my anger management class.

The rules of the road

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Since I stopped taking the pills for my nerves, I like to think that I am a pretty calm individual, no longer taken with dark thoughts of hacking dancers to pieces and burying them in the car park just because they bumped into me or my partner at at milonga.

Good floorcraft makes a tremendous difference to everyone’s enjoyment at a milonga. But the floorcraft at some London milongas I have visited has been, frankly, appalling (Negracha, Carablanca, Pavadita).

Floorcraft is the Cinderella of tango technique.  Teachers spend hours explaining the fundamentals of the tango walk, but can ignore the key skill of dancing with respect and consideration to the dancers around you.

And bad floorcraft is not limited to dancers in London. I can think of several local leaders who resort to using the space in the centre of the floor, and I have witnessed them & others dancing with total disregard for the dancers around them. In a few cases the culprits also call themselves tango teachers, but seem oblivious to the need to set a good example.

Let’s get this straight; a good dancer can use whatever space is available around them, without any need to bump, push, or kick or use the centre of the dance floor. A bad dancer can’t, and so resorts to using the middle of the dance floor. Get it?

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit…..

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Since I started taking the drugs, very little these days drives me to violence. However, there is one thing that could still tip me over the edge, running amok on a chainsaw-driven rampage; Dancers who talk whilst they are dancing.

How can you interrupt the delicate musical communication, with chat & babbling small talk?  Are you mad?

The only distraction that I welcome during a dance is the sight of Kylie Minogue offering me a Ferrari Formula 1 drive.  If you are not Kylie then please keep quiet and enjoy the beautiful music and my earnest attempts at musical leading.

Chaca – bloomin’ – rera

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My loathing of Chacarera is well- known. Why? because Chacarera is…:

  1. According to Wikipedia: “A type of folk music that, for many Argentines, serves as a rural counterpart to the cosmopolitan imagery of the tango. .. A closer look at the history of the Chacarera, however, reflects a situation shared by the “official” cultures of many nation-states: While undeniably present in contemporary rural Argentina, it is also the product of a romanticized construction of national identity.”  i.e. it’s not even authentic.
  2. A naff style of folk dance.
  3. Over-used at milongas.  Often a good night’s dancing for me has been spoiled when the music stops, the lights are turned bright, and the Chacarera is announced.  Why would anyone want to interrupt a good night of tango to play Chacarera?  Probably the same people who like to play tandas of Salsa or Jive.

YouTube – you what?

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In the long, lonely hours between planning lessons, preparing music and making cups of tea for my beloved, I often receive an email or Facebook link: “have you seen these dancers on You Tube; can they teach at your lessons?”

There will be a poor quality clip of a tango couple dancing a show dance at an event, with lots of flamboyant movements, travelling at 100 mph around an empty dance floor followed by rapturous applause. YouTube has thousands of such clips of tango dances. The dancers are often brilliant, and far better than I am *sigh*.  BUT why-o-why is a show dance clip on You Tube meant to be an indication of how good a teacher is? Listen carefully: I shall say this only once:

A good show dancer is not necessarily a good tango teacher.

The two skills are totally different.  Yes, teaching requires some dance ability, but it also takes communication skills, interpersonal skills, time management, etc etc … oh, and intelligence, wit, & charm… 😉

If I want to be taught by you, I want to know what you are like as a teacher, not a show dancer. Tango teachers promoting themselves with show dances is irrelevant, like tinned peaches (yuk!). So, it would make more sense to promote a tango teacher by using a clip of them actually teaching tango.

The perfect Tango partner

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What makes a dance partner perfect? It’s impossible to say, but easier perhaps to say what she does NOT do. David Bailey is a sensible man (http://www.learningtango.com) & has summed it up well. He suggests:

  • Not staying on the foot on which I have clearly placed you.
  • Hanging on my neck.
  • Abusing my axis. “I’ll respect yours, if you respect mine.”
  • Not giving me enough weight. It feels like I am having to chase you around the floor.
  • Giving me too much weight. It can be like pushing a fridge uphill.
  • Pushing my head with your head. It gives me neck-ache.
  • Not being able to do decent giros in either direction. This obviously does not apply to beginners but quite a few experienced followers still have not mastered this. On a crowded floor, in line of dance, I need you to be able to do this.
  • Wearing brooches or belt buckles that stick into me. Ouch!
  • Low backed dresses. Sticky!
  • Eating peanuts, salt & vinegar crisps, etc. I know that often they are put out on the tables but do you have to eat them? And smokers: the smell of stale tobacco smoke stays in your hair. Maybe when you pop outside for a quick fag you could put on a shower hat or something.
  • When dancing in open-hold, quit trying to watch my or your feet. Or even worse, when in class, stop watching the teacher’s feet. It means you are looking over your shoulder when I am trying to lead you.
  • Obsessive talking about shoes. Regrettably very common.

It ain’t easy being a Tango DJ….

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Some people make suggestions to me whilst I am DJ-ing at a milonga. They sneak up and say something like:

1.  “.. have you got any Gotan Project?” 

Naturally I have, but at this tango dance event, where all the advertising says we play traditional tango music, I won’t be playing any Gotan.  If I choose to play some “Nuevo” music (e.g. at our Junction 8 dance nights) then it probably won’t be Gotan either, as I think that it is over-used and mostly rubbish for dancing.  In fact, there isn’t much nuevo tango that inspires me to dance.  The more I listen to it, the more it becomes derivative and repetitive to my ears.  I get my nuevo fix at the ‘Junction 8’ nights every 2 months, and that’s enough, thank you.

2.  “Can you play some Pugliese/Sassone?”

Would you go into a steak restaurant and interrupt the chef halfway through dinner to suggest that some Crayfish on the menu would be a good idea?  Probably not.  So why is it appropriate to suggest what I should play next, especially if it is not ‘Golden Age’ tango?  I’m working constantly when I am DJ-ing, watching what’s happening on the dance floor, and adjusting the playlist to suit the mood.  I hope you like the music mix, ‘cos if you do then you’ll come back next time.  If you don’t like it then perhaps you’ll find a DJ whose playlist is more to your liking.  If you want to be a tango DJ then you are welcome to try, and maybe then you’ll understand why unsolicited suggestions for playlist items are as welcome as asking Raymond Blanc for some HP sauce.

3. “What was that track you played (any number up to 20) Tandas ago? Can I have a copy of it?”

I spend hours locked in my study listening to Tango tracks, reviewing my repertoire to keep our music fresh and interesting.  It’s part of the job, and I love it.  Every now and then I come across a hidden gem; a jewel of a track that becomes a favourite.  Those tracks are the reward for the rest of the time that is spent listening to poor quality recordings or indifferent songs.  My playlists are my intellectual property; they are what define me as a DJ.  So I would rather not give away those jewels that I took hours to find. I hope you understand. Goodbye.