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Notes from Daniela Arcuri’s Master Class 4/24/2013

Tonight’s class by Daniela Arcuri covered the milonga dance space and how to move through it in a way that works with the flow of traffic while producing a dance that is varied and interesting, and reflects the music.


The dance space at a milonga is organized as one or more concentric oval tracks (much like a horse race track) running counter-clockwise around the perimeter of the dance floor bounded by the tables at the edge of the floor. A tiny space, such as a house milonga, may have only one track, but most spaces will have two tracks, one inside the other, and very large, very crowded spaces may have even more. In the very center, away from the people circulating around the room, you may find people dancing nuevo or other open patterns requiring more space. Generally the more skilled dancers will be in the outside track, nearest the tables, so they can be seen by spectators (and it gives them the longest track).

The width of the track will shrink or grow according to the size of the space and according to what other dancers are doing around you at any time, but it is roughly two or three couples across.

At all times you are expected to maintain your position within the track (unlike a horse race) between the couple ahead of you and the couple behind you. (When you enter the dance floor with a song in progress, seek to catch the eye of the leader of the couple you want to get in front of. A savvy leader will either avoid your look if they don’t want you in front, or they will nod in agreement.) Don’t crowd the couple ahead of you, and don’t lag behind so that you create a traffic jam behind you. It helps when dancers on the floor share a musical sensibility and move similarly.

The music is composed generally of 8 count phrases, and often two 8-count phrases – a call and response – will make up longer 16 count phrases. A couple might expect to make only one complete circuit of the floor in the time of an entire song, or a quarter – one side – of the room in four 8 counts.


The couples move generally in a counter-clockwise direction around the track. This is called the line of dance. But they vary this by dancing in a zig-zag back and forth across the path, and even moving for brief times against the line of dance, or they may be somewhat stationary – momentarily – in the track as they execute some pattern, such as a parada/pasada, or they may be making a circle within the path, as for a molinete.

In all the travel: walking, pivoting, standing, circling; the leader, perhaps assisted by the follower in a very crowded or hazardous situation, must seek to ensure that the space into which they want to move is open and likely to remain open while they move into it. They are aided in this by orienting themselves initially to face outside the track towards the tables. In this way the leader has an easy 180+ degree view to the open side of the embrace. Then as they zig-zag across and along the path, and circle, they can observe and make use of spaces that become available to the sides and behind them.


Rather than facing straight down the track and moving in that direction, your force variety and give yourself better opportunities to observe traffic by moving in a zig-zag fashion across and down the track. This gives you opportunities to observe the traffic all around your couple, and opportunities to present your couple in a variety of orientations.


Even with only a basic 8-count pattern one can create dynamic angles throughout the pattern. Every step is an opportunity to pivot and reorient the couple to a greater or lesser angle from a square box pattern. The pivot can be a dynamic movement with the step using its inertia, or even a subtle shifting in place after stepping, perhaps accompanied by weight changes.


Molinetes, calesitas (carousel), colgadas, overturned pivots, walking in a circle. Use these to both the left, open side, and the right, closed side for variety and interest. Use zig-zags and all the other elements to allow you to observe and clear the space you will move into when circling right.


Use pauses, both to help express the music, and as a tool to help keep a good connection with your partner. Use a pause whenever necessary to reset your embrace, your connection with your partner, your attention to the music, your awareness of the room and its traffic — whatever. You don’t have to wait for a pause in the music to take a pause. Some elegant milongueros will reset everything with the beginning of each phrase of the music, or after a pattern.


Different altura (height, levels) of the couple, or even just one of a couple: High – fully erect with straight legs, low – bent knees, working into the floor, and in between make for more interesting variety, help express the music, and in many cases help execute a movement. For examples, in a calesita you want her high on one foot so that she has a small axis and pivots easily; a volcada starts high to unweight and free one leg, then goes lower to swing her leg forward, and finishes coming up again; a boleo might start low and end high with a leg wrap.


In very general terms, slower music can call for larger steps, while faster music may require shorter steps to keep on a beat. But in tango the step size might also be used to express some quality of the music. Perhaps a light, high sound would evoke small steps, while a booming sounds calls for a grander step. Except for milonga and vals music, which do have significant beats, the beat in a tango can be subtle and difficult to find, a singer may not follow the beat, and the tempo may increase or slow. Also, a dancer may take one, two, three, or four beats to execute a step. So the beat in tango can inform but does not dictate when to step.


Is the music loud, soft, high, low, complex, simple? Tango music is sophisticated and generally has many parts and sounds. A dancer can’t possibly express everything in the music in their body. There is too much going on. So, choose an instrument to follow for some portion of a song, or the melodic part, or the rhythmic part, then use the dynamics of your movement to express what that musical component is saying to you. Hard, soft, legato, staccato, complex, simple, fast, slow, high, low, happy, mournful, angry, sad, elegant, rough.


Using only a few simple elements, such as the cross, the tap, and the circle, experiment with where you can add these. Do they help express the music? Do they help facilitate a movement? Do they serve to give a visual lead?


Before a milonga make notes of a handful of things from the above list and any other that interests you, then before a tanda select just one of those things that you want to focus on. As you get better, and as an element becomes a natural part of your dancing, you can add additional elements.