11 June 2010

The dreaded... MILONGA!

Milonga (place): A term for a place or an event where tango is danced.

Milonga (dance genre): Also refer to a musical genre. The song was set to a lively 2/4 tempo, and often included musical improvisation.. Despite 2/4 formula, rhythm is irregular. It is syncopated, consisting of 8 beats with accents on the 1st, (sometimes also 2nd) 4th, 5th, and 7th beats.

Regular 2/4 rhythm:  [1]  2  3  4  [5]  6  7  8  
Milonga rhythm:  [1]  2  3  [4]  [5]  6  [7]  8, sometimes also [1]  [2]  3  [4]  [5]  6  [7]  8   or   3  3  2  [1]  2  3  [4]  5  6  [7]  8

If you watch the milonga floors (in Seattle), you'll notice that once a milonga tanda starts playing, the floor opens up. Why? A lot of people do not dance milonga. The single most common reason? "I'm not too good at milonga."

The milonga was MY nemesis for the longest time. It was the dance that made me feel uncoordinated, clunky, and clumsy. Attempting to dance a milonga made me feel so inadequate. In an attempt to cope, I researched the milonga from a historical and technical standpoint. None of my research helped.

Realizing this inadequacy, I decided to do something about it.

My milonga pitfalls
I decided to do some introspection and figure out what it was that made my milonga dancing "Blow up." I postulated that, knowing my faults, I would know how to address them.
  • Trouble with milonga music
    • The primary hurdle. I did not get milonga music. It was obvious that it was fast. What baffled me most was the patternThere wasn't a consistent one. I couldn't tell the downbeat because the orchestra did not use a bass. Furthermore, like in tango, the rhythm would change several times during the song. Only now, it was much faster!
  • Troubles with leading
    • Learning to be a competent leader dancing a tango was a challenge that took at least a couple of years (for me). Learning to be a competent leader dancing a milonga was worse. It took me at least another couple of years. Because, not only did I need to navigate, lead steps, apply musicality, be in tune, etc, etc, etc... but now, dancing milonga seemed more frantic, chaotic, and frustratingly fast, fast, FAST! My milonga leading would normally disintegrate into an unrecognizable blob of shame.   
    • Leading speed and tempo badly
      • My musical challenge with leading a milonga lay in the fact that it was fast, and the tempo, irregular. I was used to dancing with a steady downbeat, and consistent rhythm. To my chagrin, this was not the case with the milonga
    • (Really) Rough leading
      • As I was not to sure of what I was doing, I would try to fake it. This lead to several embarrassing results, for which I am fully to blame. None of this made for a pleasant experience for any of my hapless partners (at the time). These occurrences happened before I started paying attention to my partners. Back then, it was all about me. 

Milonga epiphany
As in any endeavor that you spend time, effort, and money in, when it works, it becomes an enlightening and magical experience. It is therapy for a frustrated milonga heart.
  • Understanding the dance
    • I tried, and tried, and tried. I took classes, took advise, experimented. Nothing seemed to work. I did not get this milonga thing. One day, I attended a class that seemed to tie all the milonga concepts together.
      • Muma's lesson 
        • She showed up in Seattle once and I took a class. She was neither fancy, nor flashy. She only taught one thing—Milonguero style tango. The significance of her class to me was this: She used the same steps for Tango, Vals, and Milonga. The difference was HOW you delivered it. Tango had drama. Vals flowed, and Milonga was in staccato. Keeping this simple principle in mind, I realized that I could do it too
  • Recognizing the music
    • Now that I understood the dance, I now had to understand the music. Instead of listening for a downbeat, I listened to the top of the music—The rhythm and danced to it. It was there that I found the pauses, the stops, goes, and flows of the music. Knowing this, I learned WHEN to place my motion
  • Delivery size
    • It was always a problem for me to keep up with milonga music. That was, until I remembered a lesson from my ballroom days. 
      • If the music is slow, feel free to step large. If the music is fast, step small. That meant, if milonga was twice as fast, I lead steps were twice as small. That way, I could keep up with the speed without having to expend excessive energy

In the end... 
I can consider myself as a passable milonga dancer. Not bad, not painful, but passable. It took so much time. It took so much effort. But in the end, my reward is the extra space that I and my partner can dance in when the milonga floor opens up when a milonga tanda starts.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for helping me begin to lose my "fear of milonga," by your leading and by your analysis here. R

Anonymous said...

Speed - i too like many beginners felt that milonga was too fast. Then over time it slowed down - or it didn't, we just got better ....

Kristi said...

If you ask a musician to count the rhythm, they'll probably say:
one-a3,4 | two-a3,4 | three-a3,4 | four-a3,4 :|

Four measures, 4 beats per measure where one, two, three, four are the downbeats.

Meanwhile, Ampster, you're perfectly correct: the faster you go, the smaller (and simpler) the steps. Otherwise it's just frantic.