Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

What are some distinguishing features of Argentine tango?

Unlike ballroom tango the Argentine tango is essentially an improvised dance, based on a moving embrace, a listening connection between an active leader and a receptive follower. The dance is designed to express the rhythm and sensuality of the music; music created in a cultural melting pot, among immigrants and Criollos whose common experience was love, loss, hope, disillusionment and renewal. The tango provides a dignified container for our shared experience of humanity.

What are the traditonal musical genres and dance forms included in Argentine social tango?

The music and dance trilogy of the Argentine tango includes: tango, tango-vals (3/4 time waltz) and milonga. The word milonga can refer to either 1) a specific dance type and musical beat, faster and more rhythmic than tango, or 2) the formal dance gathering, the tango dance party. At a milonga, people dance tangos, tango-waltzes and milongas.

What is the difference between Argentine tango and ballroom tango?

The dance vocabulary: Argentine tango refers to the indigenous social dance originating and still evolving in the tango clubs of Buenos Aires and now around the world. This broad category includes both close embrace or milonguero style and open embrace or salon style. Both styles are improvised. The stylized tango that became part of the International and American ballroom repertoire is a codified group of steps, and figures, adopted from the Argentine original,categorized as tango, and taught as part of a ballroom curriculum of four traveling dances: waltz, tango, foxtrot and quick-step. The teaching method: Rather than memorizing a prescribed group of steps, as is done in ballroom, the students are encouraged to learn how to lead and follow with each step being an invitation to further exploration. The structural patterns that are taught train the dancer in the fundamental mecahnics of a moving embrace, until it feels natural to move together. Ideally the connection between the two bodies is as famously described by Juan Carlos Copes, “One heart and four legs.” The individual: Class rotation of partners and an emphasis upon learning the dance as an individual rather than a couple, allows students to master the language of tango as a universal communication. It they trave, and many tango dancers do, they can easily dance with strangers in Moscow or San Francisco. The music: The dance is intended to express the music, so a desire to hear and respond rhythmically is essential. The improvisational basis of the dance, fundamental to all types of Argentine social tango makes dynamic musical interpretation possible. Argentine tango is one of the most spontaneously creative dance forms in existence. Non-competitive: Argentine tango is rarely judged by an outside panel. The real judge of one’s dance ability is the receptivity of one’s partners. People dance tango for the joy of the connection, the expressive use of its complex structure the love of the music and the intimate tango trance. Thy do not care about a strict adherence to external form and rules. They care about how well you can communicate your intentions on the dance floor.

Where can I see this tango being done?

There are several movies featuring Argentine tango (see resources). We have a milonga once a month, and a practica on Sundays. See the schedule for details. If you are traveling to Montreal, visit a club there to see a more developed tango community in action. See for a list of Montreal clubs.

Do I need a partner?

No, it is not necessary to register with a partner but the classes are more or less gender balanced so sometimes you may be wait-listed until such balance is achieved. Provided the class is not full, registration with a partner guarantees immediate acceptance.

Do I need special shoes or clothes?

Please bring smooth-soled glidable shoes for dancing. Rubber grip soles not recommended. To test, try on your shoes, put your weight on the ball of your foot and see if you can pivot easily. Women often prefer a heel, but do not wear anything higher than is comfortable for you. No backless shoes or sandals. Skirts should not inhibit your stride or be too long and billowy.

What about the music, what is it like and where can I get it?

Traditional tango dance music was recording in Buenos Aires from 1920 to the present. Most of the music being played today comes from the period between 1927 and 1950. There are many styles, some quick and march like, some flowery and elegant, some modern and not appropriate for dancing. Many North Americans cannot find the beat of traditional tango music at first and I recommend listening to it a lot, as well as watching videos of people dancing to it. See resource section of this web site for more info on traditional tango recordings. Because tango is a fluid dance language, it can be done to many types of music. The term alternative refers to the non-traditional used by tango dancers, usually blues, R&B, or modern “electronic” tango recordings. Most ballroom tango recordings do not work for Argentine tango because they fail to create the flow and syncopation inherent in the original Argentine music and the dance.

How can I get started?

Come to a drop in class on Sunday to try it out and/or register for a course.

Isn’t Argentine tango a sexy dance with a lot of dramatic flair and a rose between the teeth?

The style of tango done on the stage for performance is referred to as tango fantasia. It is generally choreographed, and if done with an Argentine basis, will reflect many of the steps and structure associated with the traditional tango, but done larger and more open so as to be seen by an audience. The image of the rose between the teeth and the rigid outstretched arms was created in a movie role by Rudolphe Valentino in the 20’s and stuck as a camp image of tango. It is NEVER done by tango afficionados. The experience of dancing tango socially is sensual, and often feels dramatic due to the surprise element of improvisation, but ostentatious dancing or those who dance to show off steps, are not especially popular as partners.