Gerard & Alej Video

Let's talk about the Gerard and Alej video from the previous page for a minute. Gerard's way of expressing the music is to use a lot of energy, and to constantly vary his velocity. He's always speeding up and slowing down. It happens in his corridas (a run of steps), and also in his giros. Gerard and Alej surge forward in the corridas, then they slow, hesitate, and go again. At times, Gerard runs back, hesitates, switches over to Alej's left, and then runs forward again. Throughout, he inserts giros, and he varies the rate of turn to match the music—even more than Carlos and Nelida. For me, it's a very active, exciting way to dance tango—it's like he and Alej are riding the music on a roller coaster. He doesn't worry a lot about the niceties of posture or step; all of his passion goes into the movement. But that doesn't mean it isn't sophisticated—in fact Gerard is one of the most complex dancers in tango today. It literally took me several years of looking at videos of him before I began to get it.

Cracking the Code


The more time I spent looking at the milongueros, the more I began to realize the importance of understanding what they were doing with their feet. Years ago I watched a Daniel Trenner video about an old milonguero named Tommy O'Conner. (I don't know him, and he's not around the milongas any more.) It's a funny tape, because Trenner asks O'conner to teach him a giro. It starts out okay ("step here like this, okay, step here"), but then Trenner gets confused. The giro looked simple, but it turned out to be maddeningly confusing—and then the video just ends.

It's a nice video, and a funny one. The old milonguero is obviously not very sophisticated or well traveled, but he seems to be secretly amused. He's amused because he knows they are speaking different languages...and he knows Trenner doesn't know it. I have seen this same quiet amusement in the milongueros many times. Almost every person from the academic dance world makes the same mistake. They see dancing in terms of steps and figures that they can break down and diagram. For them, dancing is made up of mastering identifiable movements, and linking them together in various patterns—but that's not tango. All of the patterns and figures that people like Copes and the Dinzels and Todaro brought to the classroom are not tango. They are a small part of tango, but they are not tango! If you try to understand or teach the tango of Gerard or Ismael or Miguelito that way, you will fail!

Epiphany One: Tango is compás

"Pa’ que se callen les mando en dos por cuatro,
esta cadencia viril que se hace canto."

Where, then, do we begin? The lyrics and the music, and the milongueros themselves all tell us that tango is dos por cuatro. They tell us over and over... but we don't listen. I decided to take them at their word. If tango is compás, all I would do is learn compás. I was determined to figure it out, so I made a graph that looked like a railroad track, with a big tie to represent the strong beat, alternating with a small one in between to represent the weak beat. The rules were you walk down the track, and you can step on the big ties, or the small ties that are in between, but you need to step precisely on a tie—not on the gravel between them (okay, I actually went out to a railroad track to practice it). Further, if you do a quick step onto the smaller tie, you must end up back, walking on the big ties.

Then, I began to watch the videos closely and count the milonguero's steps. I found that you can walk on the ties and do a run of quicks hitting all the ties, and if you use an odd number, your corriditas will always end up correctly. You'll land on the big tie at the end. You'll be back on track, walking the compás of the strong beat again. I began to practice runs of 5, 7, and 9 quicks, hitting all the ties. I kept going, and after awhile I got up to 15 (there’s rarely enough room in a milonga for more). You need to have a good connection and a good partner who can stay with you, and you can take her along. You may let her skip some steps so you go in and out of step with her (paso to contra paso), or she can do them all with you. At first it wasn’t natural, but over time it became part of the way I heard the music, and Alej and I began doing them where I was moving on both her left and right sides.

Next, I did the same thing with vals—which greatly increases the complexity. If you graph it (a railroad track with two small ties between the big ones) you’ll find you can do the simple quicks (hit the first small tie, skip the second), and you can do "triple steps" (you hit both small ties). Then, after studying Gerard and some of the other milongueros, I realized that you can also do "five runs", "seven runs", and even "eight runs" in vals. You can hit that many adjacent ties/beats in quick sequence, and still come out correctly. You will not lose the compás.

I began to work them into the music. Over a long period of dancing, these vals corridas with varying combinations of compás become second nature. I mixed them into direction changes. I did them walking frontward, and backwards; on both sides of Alej, and we did them both paso, and contra paso. And, when it was really crowded, I began to curve them around into a circle.

Epiphany Two: A Giro is a Corrida

We danced a lot just using the cadences, getting comfortable with them. We danced about 150 tandas a month in crowded conditions for over a year, which is a lot of tango (if you don't believe me, try it some time). I was wearing out a lot of shoes, but I began to see tango in a different way. I realized that most of the things the academic tango people see as diagram able steps are simply the natural result of using the compás in crowded conditions. Using corriditas with various combinations of cadences is the core of tango. All the good dancers build their tango around it—and the only way to use them in a milonga is to be able to start and stop and change directions quickly! And if you want to do your runs when the available space closes up, you'll have to curve them. The smaller the space, the more you curve them... and eventually they will curve in on themselves, and spiral down to a single spot. Your corrida will evolve into a giro.

That's why Trenner had so much trouble with O'Conner's giro. It wasn't an academic pattern that he could decipher like step to A, then B and C. It was a complex series of corridita cadences, linked to the music, and tightened into a single point. To learn it, you had to back out. You had to unravel and straighten it back into a line, and then match the cadences to the music. When they became second nature, then you could then tighten them back down to a point again. Which will take... maybe a few years.

Trenner also had another problem. I looked closely, and I think Tommy O'Conner was changing the way he was doing the giro. But I don't think it was intentional—Tete did the same thing in his video with Trenner. Why? They were changing the giros because the music was different each time they did them! It's the nature of the way milongueros dance. They don't demo things on command. The dance comes from the music. If you ask them to demo something and the music is different, the will do it differently!

So, we have a mix of different cadences from front and back corridas, spiraled down to the point where one partner is circling the other one (or both are circling a point between them). While this sounds very complex, it can, and will, eventually become second nature. If someone asked me how I did the last giro (which some of the milongueros actually did), I couldn't really say. It's the same as asking how you did that last corridita. There are dozens of combinations. They just happen with the music... how do I know which one I just did?

Okay, let's go to the tape. It's more crowded, so Gerard and Noemí Yodice have tightened things up into... curving, front and back giro-corriditas, consisting of simple quicks, "five runs", "seven runs"... and the most radical embrace in tango!

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There’s something funny in this next video. I put it in to continue our look at giros, but it also contains a small glimpse into the world of the milongas. Tito and Ariel were part of a famous (infamous?) group that used to bet on how many giros they could do, and how dizzy they could make the milongueras that danced with them. They finally had to cool it when a woman actually got so dizzy she fell down and the organizers told them to stop.

But Alej was never bothered by going around in circles, and it drove them nuts. I didn’t notice it before, but when I put these two clips together, I realized they were playing again. They couldn’t resist trying to make her dizzy in front of the camera—but if you look closely, you can see that the game backfires. In the first part, Tito finally looses his balance and has to stop. In fact, it appears that Alej may even have to steady him for a split second... and she starts to laugh. A tiny payback from the milongueras for the woman who fell down years ago in Pavadita. In the second half, Ariel also starts to get wobbly. On the original tape I can actually hear him start to make comments and funny noises, and he and Alej both end up laughing. First, Tito and Alej, then Ariel and Alej at Canning:


If you think of giros as a complex mix of cadences shrunk down to a point, you can begin to understand them. If you think of them as a series of step patterns that you can deconstruct and diagram, you'll run into trouble. That's why you almost never see them on a stage or in a workshop


* The line is from "Cancion de Rango" (Tanturi-Campos). It means, more or less, "To silence them, I send this powerful cadence in dos por cuatro"