Musicality for Ceroc-ers Four: Milonga

23rd September 2010

Musicality for Cerocers - One | Musicality for Cerocers - Two | Musicality for Cerocers - Three


"You are beyond insane!" ~ Apollo

Watching performances of milonga always reminds me of kids with yo-yos. There's the basic up and down motion everyone knows. Then there's Walking the Dog, Around the World and the Rock the Cradle which demonstrate certain interesting principles. But after that it gets a bit well, nuts. It's almost like what's the next crazy thing I can think of that no-one else has ever thought of doing? At this point I part company.

This article is focused on dancing milonga socially. If you're reading this hoping to be able to dance rather than sit when milongas come on, you've come to the right place. Get a mug or glass of your favourite libation and let's begin.

Do you wanna dance?

"Wait a minute. I don't understand something here. I practice all week until I have to limp home and soak my feet. I spend 18 dollars and fifty cents on a monkey suit. Two nerds come to room, lock me in my bathroom and start calling names. Sherlock Holmes here chases me and starts yelling at me. Cunningham threatens me with physical violence, Shortcake kicks me in the leg and you all want to go home happy. We let me tell you something, you're not going anywhere lady. THE FONZ WANTS TO DANCE!" ~ The Fonz

From what I've seen Milonga and Vals represent one of the biggest differences between leading and following in tango. In my experience other than where there's a personal dislike for the music, followers take to both pretty quickly. Leaders on the other hand tend to fall into one of two camps. They either accept they don't know what they're doing and avoid dancing to them; or they accept they don't know what they're doing and dance to them anyway!

While it's one thing to sit out because you genuinely don't enjoy that style of music or dancing, it's another to have to sit out what can amount to a third of the evening.

What to do?

"I know what I'm doing. "
"Not even God knows what you're doing!"
~ Die Hard With A Vengeance

On the bright side, you already know the basic milonga timing- it's the same as Ceroc, just step on every beat. Sure it can get more complicated, but for now, don't worry about that. Instead let's deal with the first problem you're likely to encounter. Learning how to move. There's a distinctive way to move when you milonga and unfortunately it isn't the way you move in Ceroc. Which is a pity because an obvious and popular solution is to dance Ceroc / Jango to milonga.

I've heard a lot of descriptions of this movement; the problem is that so far they only make sense to someone who already knows what to do! On reflection, my advice is to dance as if you're dancing to D'Arienzo (see previous articles). Much like everything else in tango, different teachers will move slightly differently; look around, find someone you like the look and feel of and ask them to teach you how to move. The emphasis here is important, make it clear you're not interested in learning sequences.

Once you've started getting the hang of how to move, there's still the question of what should you be leading? In London it's very popular to lead sequences. I don't like this approach for all the reasons I don't like sequences normally. My advice would be to start off with a few variations of box steps (Important tip: either shorten the backsteps, or add pivots so your "back" step doesn't go against in the line of dance) and walking. That's it. Step on every beat and away you go.

Then I'd try emphasising your collect. What this means is that at the end of a phrase, for your last step you pause ever so slightly to pronounce / emphasise the collect. Try it. It's much more of a feeling rather than an actual stop.

Next I'd look into using the cross, ocho cortado and a giro ending in an ocho cortado. Because milonga timing is effectively tango double-time there's no change in speed. You just keep stepping on the beat.

Lisa Vs. Traspie

"I learned that beneath my goody two shoes lies some very dark socks." ~ Lisa Simpson

I find it easiest to think of "Lisa" as the above (that is the stuff written above as opposed to the quote). Ceroc. Basic milonga. That kind of thing. Traspie however has two meanings. It can either mean twice as fast as normal milonga, or it can mean pretty much as fast it's physically possible for you to take a reasonable sized step.

Let's start with the first version - twice milonga speed. I'll give two examples that I think are a good starting place. My guess is that you'll find that they simply won't work for a while. You'll try various ideas and nada. Then one day it'll just work. A bit like riding a bike really. While that's not the most helpful piece of advice, what I would strongly suggest is that you don't try leading these in freestyle at all. Do them in practicas and be patient. Don't force the issue and sooner or later it'll click.

Ending a box step

Imagine completing a box step and continuing into another one. So you step to the right with your right foot and then collect with your left foot.

In terms of beats:

  1. Step right
  2. Collect

What you're going to do is add another step to the right by making the collect in-between the two beats:

  1. Step right
  2. & Collect
  3. Step right

This almost always works well at the end of phrases.

You can see it here at 1.15:

Going left

You can do the same thing going left. In this case I'd strongly recommend lining up so that your "left" is in the direction of line of dance. You can see it in the above video at 1.46

  1. Step left
  2. & Collect
  3. Step left
  4. & Collect
  5. Step left
  6. etc.

There will sometimes be a part of the music that suits this called a corrida. An example in the above is at 1.59 where Detlef runs around Melina in a circle. However to be honest I'm mentioning this mainly because it's a term you'll run into. Unless you know the music well or are really lucky, it's unlikely you'll hit it and frankly it doesn't really matter. It's just useful to know that if the music plays a corrida that there's a reason and no need to panic. Just keep doing what you were doing.

The other traspie

On the bright side this one seems to be much easier than leading double-time for most people. I think the simplest version is to step forward and then collect as fast as you can. The next one is taught as a milonga sequence; step to the right and collect as fast as you can with a slight acw pivot. My personal advice with this one differs from what's commonly taught. I find it's much safer to pause slightly at this point and then take a step to her right side (her left from your point of view). Without the pause it can get a bit random whether she makes the weight change or not. But again it's a tiny pause like emphasising the collect above.

Again for social dancing it really isn't the end of the world if you never actually do this traspie. But it's useful to understand the distinction; I go into a bit more detail below.

How can you tell it's a Milonga?

"Typical. Just when you're getting ahead, someone changes the odds." - MacGyver

Mind you, all that is pretty academic if you don't know how to tell if it's a milonga in the first place.

So how do you tell? (Hint: "It's fast" isn't the right answer).

In theory the answer is the habanera rhythm. Go to 37 seconds in the following clip and they play it repeatedly. It sounds like "da-dum bom, bum"

In practice, it's not always obvious at the beginning. In fact some milongas go so far as to deliberately play a tango intro.

Fortunately dancing like it's a D'Arienzo tango gets you around this. As long as you feel there's a consistent Ceroc rhythm you can dance to and you stick to it, in practice it usually doesn't really matter whether you're dancing to a D'Arienzeo tango or a milonga. Woo hoo!

However you can't just start dancing to the rhythm and stop listening - sometimes there will be a pause where the habanera stops for a moment and it will come back in having skipped a beat and if you don't let it float you can find yourself doing the double-time in a place that feels all wrong. Again treating it more like dancing tango where you can let it "float" rather than automatically stepping helps. (If you've tried to lead tango on Cerocers you'll have experienced the feeling of the follower automatically weight transferring every beat regardless)

Slow milonga vs fast milonga

"Warp speed Mr Sulu" - Kirk

The distinct habanera rhythm ( da-dum, bom, bum) in milonga can be danced using the two types of traspie too. However beyond a certain speed, forget it.

Assuming the milonga is slow enough though, you either do the traspie on the da-dum (step as fast as you possibly can) or the bom, bum (twice normal milonga speed). For completeness (and possibly clarity) you're normally stepping on the "da" and the "bom". The dum and the bum don't have the same timing ( the dum is twice as fast) hence the difference in the two traspies.

If you listen carefully you can hear the habanera rhythm played at 14 secs and then repeats. Watch their feet at these points. The specific steps don't really matter, just the timings. And again for social dancing if you don't do any traspies other than the end of a phrase box step mentioned above it's no big deal.


"If you're doing milonga seriously, you're doing it wrong"

Keep this in mind. Tango is serious. Very serious! Milonga, not so much. Do it well, but enjoy yourself too.

 - Christopher O' Shea, 23rd September 2010

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