An Introductory Class to Argentine Tango – The Importance of Tension, and Balloons…

Having just gotten home after my first ever class of Argentine tango, I thought I should pen down a few impressions and tips I learnt for you while they are still fresh.

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I followed the music past the posters on the wall featuring ads for tango concerts and milongas. Inside a large room with one long mirrored wall were a couple, floating to the music with their eyes closed and their arms tightly wrapped around each other, apparently completely unaware of the ten-or-so people gathered at the entrance watching them. As the song came to an end, we all clapped and the couple came out of their trance to welcome us into the room. They made it all look astonishingly simple.

One of the first comments our instructors made was about the difference between milonga-style tango and show-tango. Milonga-style, he said, comes from the heart and is in large part improvised. While this may be the case, we cannot dance tango from the heart without some crucial fundamentals our instructors emphasized: tension, a few basic steps, and rhythm. Posture, body awareness, communication with and consideration of your partner immediately follow in this pyramid of necessary tools on the path to Milonga expertise.

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So how, one might ask, does one acquire said tools?

Well, glad you asked. For our first ingredient – tension – you will need a balloon, a fellow human being, an open space with no obstacles, and a tango song in order to try this at home. Place the balloon between your chests and lean towards each other so that the balloon cannot fall away. While the Leader guides the direction as you step to the movement, both parties should always be applying pressure to the balloon. Three rules apply to this exercise: (a) no hands, (b) do not pop the balloon, (c) do not let the balloon fall. This, dearest fellow tango apprentices, gives you an idea of the approximate distance and tension you are supposed to maintain with your tango partner at all times.

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It turns out that if both dancers are applying tension towards the other, it takes very little movement for the Lead to silently communicate to the Follow exactly where to move and what steps to make. Using the hands as messengers of the Lead’s intentions, tension is the secret ingredient that allows the crisp moves of the tango to be made with grace and assertiveness for both the Lead and the Follow.

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