Musicality in Tango Dancing – Part Seven

In the previous post on Musicality in Tango, we looked at the rhythmical style of Juan D’Arienzo, and in this post we look at Osvaldo Pugliese. I finished off the previous post with the perhaps slightly unfair comment that Pugliese chucks in odd extra notes.

This is not quite accurate. He was of course a musician, composer, and arranger so his music was deliberate, but there is something about his style which sometimes confuses dancers. His music has both dramatic rhythm and also some lovely lyrical elements too, but the way he arranges some tunes seems to lead to the odd miss-step.

La Yumba – tango

Have a listen to this tune, the famous ‘La Yumba’ written by the man himself in 1946.

For the first 1 min 15 secs we have this driving rhythm which sticks to the first two sections of a standard ABABC pattern, and in each section we have 2 phrases. So far so good with an ‘AB’. Then the tune starts of with what sounds like a repeat of ‘A’ but which turns into an entirely different ‘new’ lyrical section and we don’t get back to section A until a minute later where we get back to a familiar refrain just before the finale.

However, even then, the last phrase is a mix of lyrical and rhythmical. The pattern is therefore more like A, B, A(phrase 1), C, A(phrase 1 ‘ish’). Why is this a problem? Well it isn’t too bad if you are already familiar with ‘La Yumba’, but if you remember what I said about predictability with the typical ABABC pattern, it means that if you never heard the tune before if would be difficult to dance through the whole tune first time out because of the unpredictability Pugliese throws in with the middle lyrical section where the rhythm disappears, reappears then disappears for a while.

Once you know the tune well enough it’s not a problem in the sense that you can chose to dance the rhythmic bits or the lyrical bit when they overlay, and by knowing the tune you can anticipate the ‘rhythm or lyrical’ sections when they do not overlay.

So Pugliese is not throwing odd note in to his tunes but he defiantly breaks the traditional tune pattern which makes it sound odd and ‘dance tricky’ the first time you hear it.

Ilusión Marina – Vals

So what about Vals? Well, Pugliese didn’t write many Vals so he arranged others for his orchestra such as this one, ‘Ilusión Marina’ written by Antonio Sureda in 1947, lyrics by Gerónimo Sureda, and sung by Alberto Morán.

It has the usual Pugliese drama, but it sticks to the traditional pattern for a tango vals. From the dance point of view it’s predictable if a little brisk.

There are one or two quirks if you listen hard, such as the lovely key change at 40 secs in, just before Alberto Morán begins to sing. Whether these were due to Puglieses arrangement or written into the original tune by the composer is unclear. Someone could find the composers music script and let me know?

Un Baile a Beneficio – Milonga

I love this tune. It’s just so jolly! Have a listen to ‘Un Baile a Beneficio’ written by Juan Carlos Caccaviello recorded in 1950, lyrics by José Alfredo Fernández, and sung by Jorge Vidal.

Typical pattern for a milonga tune so again, it’s predictable and danceable, phew! Not much more to say about the tune or structure other than every milonga should play it.

So my conclusion is that if a tune has been written by Osvaldo Pugliese then there may be a few quirks and he doesn’t always stick to the traditional pattern for tango composing, making it a little more tricky to dance to than usual.

For tunes not written by Pugliese but just arranged by him, he doesn’t seem to mess with the composers tune too much so you should be OK.

A final note: In the late 1950’s, early 1960’s, when the military took over the Argentine Government they cracked down on dancing in public. Osvaldo Pugliese bowed to the pressure and began to write and arrange concert tango which is not really written to dance to. He was joined by musicians like Astor Piazolla (the subject of my next post on musicality) in this ‘pivot’ towards concert music, as the tango dance became politicised. Both Pugliese and Piazolla were criticised by the dance community for ‘selling out’, but of course they wanted to continue earning a living so it was entirely understandable.

So in the next post on Musicality I look at both early Piazolla (danceable in the traditional sense) and later Piazolla (still danceable but missing a lot of typical tango cues, especially for beginners).

Previous – Musicality in Tango Dancing Part Six






Musicality in Tango Dancing – Part Six

In the fifth part of this series I looked at a popular tune ‘Motivo Sentimental’ recorded by the Carlos Di Sarli Orchestra in 1944, and the lyrical style of Di Sarli in his hay day.

As I promised in Part 5 (a long time ago – thanks for the ‘nudge’ to get part 6 written, James 🙂 ), in this part I will look at a couple of tunes by the Juan D’Arienzo’s Orchestra and I will hopefully show you that you need to dance a little differently to the way you might dance to Di Sarli.

If you listen to ‘La Guardia Vieja’ (the Old Guard) style of tango tunes of the late 19th/early 20th Century, typified by orchestras such as Orchestra Tipica Victor, as well as early D’Arienzo, Enrique Rodriguez, and similar style orchestras, they all exhibit a rhythmical approach to their music. It would be difficult to imagine performing sweeping Lapiz, slow Secadas, or Giro movements to these type of tunes. In fact some of these tango movements hadn’t even been developed at that time.

Florida – Tango

Take a listen to this popular D’Arienzo instrumental version of ‘Florida‘ written by Raimundo Petillo. It has a strong beat giving the tune an urgency to ‘get on and walk’. Even when you hear the more lyrical sections indicating a chance for the followers to do something interesting, there is still a strong background beat which leaders often feel compelled to follow.

You have a strong piano sound as the pianist seemed to really plonk down hard on the keys, coupled with the choppy Bandonéon sound, all of which makes you want to walk (march even!). If you ever get chance to see ‘La Juan D’Arienzo Orchestra’ (the longest playing tango orchestra of all time and still touring), take a look at the orchestra make up. That big, strong sound is made up of four Bandonéons, four violins, plus the usual piano and bass. The orchestra has always been like this since the early days, and that is how Juan D’Arienzo got his unique sound. How do they get that strong choppy Bandonéon sound? They bounce the bellows of their instruments on their knees to create a stronger intake of air through the Bandonéon reeds, just at the beat. You have to hear it live to appreciate the power which that technique generates.

You should be able to hear the traditional ABABC pattern in the tune. It’s there and pretty clear, with repeating phrases in each section. Followers just about get something almost lyrical to work with at the end of the B sections and a little bit of a softer tinkly piano phrase in the C section, but otherwise we’re walking with rhythm pretty much the whole time. With D’Arienzo instrumentals you get little respite from this sense of urgency.

So how to dance this type of tune? Well if leaders are going to mostly walk, there is the obvious stepping beat, plus lots of opportunity for contra-beat reboté. Any decorations for followers will have to be swift and they should assume perhaps that their leader is going to walk at any time in the tune, and it is probably safer to limit decorations to foot/heel tapping without crossing the feet. As stated, there are just a couple of phrases at the end of sections B which might give the opportunity for movement on the spot, but they don’t last long.

Now compare that tune to the first part of the 1947 song ‘Lenguas de Fuego‘ with singer Armando Laborde, written by Juan D’Arienzo and Héctor Varela, lyrics by Carlos Waiss.

It starts off in a very ‘un-D’Arienzo’ way (the influence of Héctor Varela’s co-composition perhaps?) and during section A phrase 1 you might be fooled into thinking D’Arienzo had suddenly gone all soft and lyrical – Nope! By the start of section B the D’Arienzo sound makes it’s comeback. However you have a bit more to work with if you’re not too fond of purely rhythmic tunes. You also get chance to dance to Armando Labordes refrain when he starts to sing. That makes this D’Arienzo tune a little less taxing to dance to.

In both cases (and most other recordings) D’Arienzo stays faithful to the typical tango tune patterns and so there are no suprises for the dancers and it’s relatively easy to anticipate the phrase endings and section endings even when you’ve never hear a particular tune before.

On a final note about tangos, D’Arienzo arrangements tend to have very brisk and twiddly Bandonéon phrases stuck in them (especially in the finalé section). How on earth do you dance these? Well, if you are an excellent dancer with ‘fast muscle twitch’, the answer is any way you like. 🙂 For those of us who can’t quite keep up with those eighth/sixteenth notes, my advice is not to try match the rapid melodies. Stick closer to the main stepping beat and contra-beats. I have often seen people try to skip along with fast feet, and although you and your partner may find it fun trying (and often failing mainly due to a poor embrace) to stick to the super fast melody, it don’t look so great as you loose sync and timing. With friends it’s good for a laugh, but otherwise leave it to the show dancers 🙂

Bolada de Aficionado – Milonga

As you would expect given the rhythmical nature of his tangos, D’Arienza has recorded some of the most memorable and popular milonga tunes. A very typical example is the popular 1941 recording of ‘Bolada de Aficionado‘, written by Ángel Villoldo, which is more of a brisk canter than a fast walk.

Again D’Arienzo sticks faithfully to the ABABC pattern and you could use the same rhythmical walking patterns, box steps, change of weight, and reboté as you would with any of his tangos, with a little added traspié. Just need to be a little faster and have more ‘milonguero’ verve maybe… 🙂

Tan sólo tú – Vals

Juan D’Arienzo has a huge back catalogue of recordings over his long career and the vast majority are tango and milonga tunes, but he did record a few vals tunes. Does he stick to his choppy urgent style with a vals? Not really although you can always hear a strong ‘om pa pa’ rhythm supporting the tune. D’Arienzo vals tunes can be interpreted in dance as any other vals. Have a listen to the 1942 version of ‘Tan sólo tú‘ with singer Héctor Mauré, written by Servando Félix Domínguez, lyrics by Héctor Marcó.

Again the typical ABABC pattern is still there, along with the strong underlying beat and the Bandonéon twiddly bits making the tune definitely D’Arienzo. However there is the overlying lyrical feel, along with the singer Héctor Mauré, to base your musicality on as well as the rhythm.

In this part of the series we have introduced the rhythmical tunes of Juan D’Arienzo which need a different approach to dancing than the lyrical Di Sarli we looked at last time.

Next time we’ll examine Osvaldo Pugliese. This is an orchestral arranger and leader who definitely decided to play with the regular tango pattern and go a little ‘off piste’. Some dancers claim that Pugliese is hard to dance to, simply because he throws in extra notes (or misses them out) occasionally. Tricky…

Previous – Musicality in Tango Dancing – Part Five

Your body changes? Your tango changes! But not for long

Recently my partner and I went on holiday to Austria, had a great time of course, but as is often the case, we picked up a virus on the way back. My partner had tummy problems the day before we flew back and by the time I was sat in the car at Stansted Airport the next day, ready to drive home, I wasn’t feeling too great either.

To cut a story short we both lost a Kg or so. Possibly walking in the Austrian mountains helped (but not the marvelous food 🙂 ), and also the careful eating and… ahem… other factors shall we say, after coming back.

So we were practicing at the weekend and my partner said ‘Something’s changed about your lead’. ‘Good change or bad change?’ I asked. ‘Not sure, but it could be good in the long run because I’m having to work harder with my core. You’re not driving me with your stomach like before’. Hmmm, well we finally figured it was because we’d both lost a bit of stomach volume because of our walking exercise/illness.

None of this was deliberate – neither of us had set out to lose weight, but of course it does make sense that elements such as your centre of gravity may shift slightly, your weight will have changed (obviously) and so leaders may have to work a little harder to drive their familiar dance partners around the floor, and as my partner found, followers who have been relying a little bit on their partners, may have to work a little harder.

What this means is that if you’re planning to lose weight (perhaps to get beach fit, or as a New Year resolution, or because of medical advice) your tango will have to be modified slightly and you may have to work a bit harder until you get used to the new you.

It shouldn’t be too big a deal but it’s worth being aware of it, just in case your tango seems a little more hard work. Keep practicing your tango and working with the new you, and your tango will be back  to it’s normal level in a short time. 🙂



Learning tango in the group dance class environment

On our Frequently Asked Questions page, often we get asked ‘Does it take long to learn Argentine Tango?’ or ‘How long does it take to learn Argentine Tango?’. As stated there, this is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string.

It depends on so many different things such as how often you go to class, how you apply yourself, how good your teacher is, how good the other people you practice with are, what you’re overall goal is and so on. It is a question which is therefore difficult to answer simply.

Many tango schools label people as beginners, improvers, intermediates etc. based on calendar duration of dancing tango rather than capability. In my humble opinion all tango dancers (including myself) who are not raw beginners are improvers, because…

The act of improving your dance technique never stops.

I still attend advanced Argentine tango classes and practice a few hours every week. Even World Champions still take lessons… We all become simultaneously, beginners, improvers and experts in some aspect of the dance, as shown in the graphic.

We are all moving from the ‘no experience’ box via ‘some skills’ and ‘much skills’ to ‘advanced skills’ boxes with at least one aspect of our dance, pretty much all the time. You don’t become expert in all things instantaneously overnight, but you evolve to become a better tango dancer each day you practice…

In recognition of this continual learning cycle, at Tango Elegante we run our tango dance classes and courses to start off fairly easy for those of us in the ‘no experience’ box, and help people to move up the competence chain, and with a little bit of practice to eventually nudge attendees into the ‘much skills’ box.

It is important to remember that most people don’t ‘get it’ on the first run through of new material, new technique, or trying to improve musicality. Or some people ‘get it’ in an intellectual way (i.e. they understand what’s required) but they still can’t perform it well without a lot of practice.

So when you go to any class and learn new material, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get it quickly, and certainly ignore anyone around you who is showing impatience because you don’t get it quick enough to suit them.

Just think about what you need to practice to improve that element of your dance, find a patient enough person to practice with, and keep practicing.

Milongas (social dances)

OK, yes it is confusing using the word ‘milonga’ 🙂 Are we talking about a tune, or a dance style? Well, no we’re talking about a type of social dance for Argentine tango dancers. In fact you can dance a milonga (style) to a milonga (tune) at a milonga (social dance). How did this all come about?

Well the milonga style predates tango salon, so when people in Argentina went social dancing they mostly danced whatever the style of the day was – milonga (and possibly candombe which is another compact style predating milonga), to whatever the music of the times was – brisk tango and quick step.

Most likely people just said they were ‘going to milonga’ meaning going to a dance. In later years we have tango salon evolving out of the milonga style and tango vals evolving out of tango salon so we now have three styles that can be danced at a milonga (social dance), with each having their own style of music.

Rules of the Dance Hall (or codigos)

An event organiser is entitled to organise his/her event in any way they like and so some milongas tend to be laid back, not many rules on the dance floor or in how people should ask each other to dance. Some events only play traditional music, some only play modern music, some play a mix.

So each event has it’s own set of rules from the strict

  • no jeans allowed, couples are seated together at the ends of the hall, single men on the left of the hall, single women on the right of the hall, and only cabeco/mirada can be used to invite or refuse a dance, strict line of dance clockwise around the dance floor, no overtaking etc.

to the relaxed

  • dress how you like, sit where you like, ask people to dance how you like, no line of dance just a ‘Brownian Motion’ like, vaguely clockwise movement around the hall using whatever space is available etc.

or anywhere in between. If there are any ‘red line’ rules that must not be breached, these are usually displayed at the entrance to the milonga (but sometimes not – you maybe expected to find out for yourselves). If you break them you may be asked to leave!

You find that event organisers use these types of rules to differentiate themselves from other social dances. For example in Buenos Aires there are many social dances going on pretty much every night of the week in different districts and so the tango going public has plenty of choice.

So one milonga will run a strict dress code to attract people who want to dress up. Another milonga might be family friendly, starting early so families can bring their kids, eat, dance a little, and when families start leaving the late night crowd starts arriving. Another milonga might be a ‘nuevo’ milonga playing only modern tango tunes, with a relaxed dress code. Of course the music being played is a big component of choosing a venue, with plenty of orchestras and periods to chose from. It means there is usually something for everyone.

In London and the UK it’s pretty much the same with traditional vs nuevo music, strict line of dance vs no line of dance, and with some venues requiring cabaceo to be used (but many or most not). The trick for the new milonga goer is to visit a few places and see what they’re like, find the ones you feel comfortable in, and you can then stick to those if that’s what you want to do.

Our milongas are fairly irregular but we do try put on a social dance every now and then. Our only ‘codigos’ are to be respectful of your partner and the dancers around you, and stay on the line of dance. We don’t do dress codes (unless we advertise a party theme) and we don’t worry too much how people get themselves a dance as long as people join the dance floor in a respectful way 🙂

Check out our event page to see if we have a social milonga coming up.