Sunday, December 5, 2010

Milonga Fundamentals with Francisco Canaro (Beginner Class)

Song: Silueta Portena by Francisco Canaro
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
November 26, 2010, Ashland, Oregon


We began with an exercise to help us on milonga phrasing through the tango chacarera. In chacarera formation with the Leaders all in one line and the Followers facing them all in one line, we took four steps forward and four steps back, signifying one phrase in the music. We made eye contact with each other, and our arms were in the air, as if we were doing the chacarera.

Building on this, we then freely danced, doing four steps forward and four steps back.

Our music for this exercise was D'Arienzo's Milonga Vieja Milonga, which is a very regular milonga. Most tango songs are well behaved (predictable), especially Milonga Vieja Milonga.

Next, in a partnered exercise, we worked on pausing at the end of a sentence. Here, we were to only do weight changes, walk, or rock steps. We were not to do any turns, ochos, double time steps, or traspie. Our goal was to show that we were able to control our pauses at the end of the sentence. Both Leader and Follower need to actively hear the music.

Our next exercise focused on the Follower educating the Leader. The Leader pretends that he doesn't know where the break is. The Follower tries to educate the Leader in a subtle way. Later on she can be a little more aggressive. The Follower is not to back lead, but subtly suggest ideas to the Leader where the pause should be.

She can do these subtle things:
hand signal (slight squeeze)
move hips
move shoulders
soft taps with hand
deliberately slow down
use breath to mark the end of the phrase
Basically, she should keep her subtle suggestions and signals in her upper body, and not use her legs and feet. Otherwise, she will be back leading.

The secret agenda for this exercise is to empower the Follower.

Without back leading, the Follower can add accents to the music.

When we really know the music, we will know it, we will own it and it will come easier.


Our next exercise was to work on being grounded. First, we walked on the strong beat by ourselves. Next, still by ourselves, we were to walk randomly still on the strong beat, and then imagine there is water/puddles on the floor and "splash" someone silently (not stomp) at the pause.

Our next exercise to continue our work on being grounded involved walking together in partnership, with one dancer's hands on the other dancer's hips. We did this with both the Leaders and Followers. The dancer pushing down should not bend at the waist. The Posture needs to be maintained, with good uprightness, and torso up. The dancer whose hips were being held down was to use their connection with the floor to get power. We were to be into the ground.

Q: What does grounding mean?
A: The act of not falling. You can be on the ball of the foot, but you need to be over your foot as you step.

Since this was a beginner class, the instruction was given that in milonga, you should stick to the strong beat. If you step on the strong beat in milonga, you will never go wrong. Keep it simple. You can get in trouble when doing double time/traspie.

Maestros demonstrated dancing a half song to a fast milonga: Meta Fierro by D'Arienzo. They showed that just by stepping on the strong beat, you should be able to talk and not be out of breath. If you are out of breath, you are dancing too hard.

Next, we danced 30 seconds to a medium-speed milonga: Silueta Portena by Canaro. Then we changed partners and danced for 30 seconds to the same song with our new partner. We were to include "splashes" (accents/pauses), little or big.

Next, we danced 30 seconds to a faster milonga: Meta Fierro by D'Arienzo. Then we changed partners and danced for 30 seconds to the same song with our new partner. We were to work the splash and step on the strong beat.

The Leader is responsible for initiating movement. More control has to deal with how quiet the Leader can make his upper body (with no bopping up and down or weird torso rotations). Later on, he can use the upper body as styling, but not a dance technique. The Follower also needs to be calm and quiet in her upper body to hear the Leader's lead.


We began with an exercise doing the box steps by ourselves, Leader on one side, Follower on the other.
Follower steps are back right, side left, change weight, front left, side right, weight change.
Leaders steps are front left, side right, weight change, back right, side left, weight change.

We were to put this box step over the rhythm of the song Milonga Sentimental by Canaro, where everything is on the strong beat, with our goal to hit the phrasing/end of the sentence. We were to hit the 1-2, and double double time and still hit the end of the phrase.

With the box step we can play with different grounding energy.

To get out of the box step, we walk out of it. Here, we can soften the embrace momentarily and then cut out to the outside to walk out of it.

We concluded the class with the "San Francisco exercise". Again, dancing to Canaro's Milonga Sentimental, we did the box step where when we heard the "1" in the song, that was where the "San" would be in our steps. The "2" is where the "cis" in "Francisco" would be. The rhythmically correct spot where the traspie would go would be at the "2 and".

Do not do traspie all the time. You can do it around the "1" if the melody is a little crazy. This would be called the "butterfly effect".

The class concluded with a student review and maestro demo.

Notes courtesy of Anne at

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