This analysis of videos of people dancing tango will make much more sense after doing the ABCD Method foundational practice a couple of times rather than relying on the visual image alone even with the explanation provided. Experiencing the way in which the upper body connects to the action of the feet is likely to provide much more insight and understanding of what you’re looking at.
In this discussion and on this website tango milonguero is defined by an unchanging embrace or hug, with elbows floating around the level of the shoulders and pointing out rather than down. The constraints on the dancing are the posture, the embrace, the music, and the changing momentary situation on the dancing floor. The dance is an improvised variation on the walk consisting mostly of turns but not swivels (see Turning without swiveling).
It is possible to have a mental image of the walk either as a movement in the horizontal or vertical dimension (see Mental imagery). The horizontal type movement will lead to push-pull type partnering and will lead to movement which is less efficient in terms of the use of space, and the transmission of lead and follow, and the range of options for improvised movement.
When you look at dancers from the third-person perspective you only see the movement in space. Once you have experience of the vertical “long spine” mental image you should be able to distinguish the two types of movement generated by each type of mental image and how that affects the dancing.
In the videos discussed all the dancers are putatively demonstrating tango milonguero. However, there is a difference in the partnering technique due to the different type of walking and mental image. In the first set of videos we’ll look at the horizontal approach that you see among teachers of tango: its visible elements, how it affects the movement and the use of space. Then we’ll move onto videos that exemplify the vertical mental image.
I admit that from a purely third-person perspective any number of different interpretations and judgements of the movement are equally possible and plausible. Indeed this is the source of so much confusion. My commentary should be taken as an interpretation and evaluation from the vantage point of someone who has experienced tango movement generated by the long spine mental image and makes more sense when this mental image has been experienced.
Example 1: Tete Rusconi instructional video in tango milonguero
In these instructional videos Tete is demonstrating the tango milonguero embrace and movement. It has many of the elements of efficient tango milonguero movement. But when you look at the walk he initiates with his chest and then falls into the leading foot. Initiating this way commits him to the step but then his step is too short and it gives the impression of the step being too short for what was intended, mainly because his partner is rather small and not extending enough to make the step larger. Overall, the walking takes much more space than would be available at a crowded milonga and would not be viable. The range of movements also seems quite constricted by this approach.
Example 2: TangoChino milonguero vs salong style demo
This video attempts to demonstrate the difference between tango milonguero and salon style tango, but the instructors import the horizontal image into tango milonguero. A clear sign of a horizontal mental image is the woman’s embrace which is around the man’s arm which prevents him from communicating his intention before moving in the horizontal dimension.
The result is that the movement is stifled and lacking in freedom and expressiveness, as if the dancers are lacking space, which is typical of this approach. While you get the intimacy of close embrace you lose dynamism and expressiveness. This is probably the reason why many dancers who identify as dancing close embrace do a flexible or in-out approach, dancing close embrace and then open up when the want to do moves.
While the technique of crossing rather than pivoting is typical of tango milonguero you will notice that when the dancers transition they change the steps from rhythmic to smooth. But dancing in this rhythmic fashion clearly takes up space, would not be efficient in a crowded milonga, and seems to be necessitated by the partnering technique in which you have to keep walking.
Either way, it’s not accurate to characterise tango milonguero as this sort of rhythmic walking. It is more accurate to say that tango milonguero facilitates rhythmic dancing but this is not always required (eg., you wouldn’t dance this way to Pugliese) nor always efficient, and so will create a misconception about tango milonguero. It clearly contradicts the smooth movement of Tete in Video Example 1, creating further confusion.
Example 3: Tango Vagabundo
This is a very common approach which basically imports most aspects of salon style resulting in inefficient and restricted movement that requires opening up. Elbows are pointing down and the woman embraces the man in a salon style embrace which pushes his leading arm down. This is a sure sign that the leading is push-pull. While there is some crossing footwork characteristic of tango milonguero, the ochos are done by pivoting and the woman has to open up and they’re in an “armpit” embrace rather than chest to chest. The result is a dance lacking in dynamism or freedom of movement, and gives people a false impression of tango milonguero. It is more accurately viewed as “close embrace” salon style tango rather than tango milonguero as I define it.
Example 4: Sara Torricelli & Gianni Loppi demo
This is exemplary of many of the aspects of competent tango milonguero dancing and the result is fluid, dynamic and efficient dancing. Although this is a floor show taking up space this can be easily adapted to dancing at a crowded milonga.
To an untrained observer the walking movement is, as in the case of the previous examples, in the horizontal dimension. But the mental image here is vertical.
There are two signs of this. First, the position of the elbows. Second, the action of the feet. Although in motion feet seem to move along the floor, when you pause the video you can see that actually the man anticipates horizontal movement by pulling up with heels. This means that by the time he moves forward or back he’s already communicated the movement and the woman steps comfortably without any rush.
Notice that here the pulling up of the heel is not merely the purely decorative boleos that you see in salon style tango (see Beauty or kitsch) that are non-functional because the embrace does not allow for this movement to be transmitted to the partner. The structure of tango milonguero embrace, with connection at the chest and woman’s arm on man’s shoulder, means that this movement is directly communicated to the follower and is therefore functional. Also, it is not a kick to the back but rather a vertical movement of pulling the knee and the heel up in the vertical dimension rather than, as in the case of the boleo, to the back and out.
Example 5: Silvia y Tete
In this video we can see Tete dancing very differently from what we saw in Example 1. The use of space is much more efficient, there is greater variety of movements and greater fluidity, dynamism but also stability in his dancing.
What you might notice is that there is much less of an effort to flow smoothly along the floor and more pronounced pulling up of the knee and heel. Again, these are not decorative boleos but are functionally integral in dynamic and efficient dancing in tango milonguero.
Also notice that when he exaggerates this movement into a decorative or expressive feature, he pulls the knee up rather than back and out as in the boleo. This is what I call emergent movement which is decorative movement that naturally arises out of functional movement technique and in contrast to purely decorative choreographed decorations remains functionally connected (see Choreography vs emergent movement).
Example 6: Ricardo Vidort
Probably the ideal exemplar of tango milonguero technique that I describe here is the posture, embrace and walking movement of Ricardo Vidort. I look at his dancing from the point of view of technique rather than the specific steps that he does. My focus is on the embrace, esp. the position of the elbows and the specific way in which he walks which never commits him to a step but which is always reversible (see Walking and the principle of reversibility). The initiation of the stepping movement with a floating of the heel and the knee upwards is visible.
There is also an instructional video in which he demonstrates and instructs on a motion in the lateral direction. My approach to teaching is slightly different. I don’t think that explicit instruction is the most efficient approach and that the focused movement practice in the ABCD Method is a more efficient approach. Also, I feel that explicit instruction for women to cross tends to lead to that movement becoming a habit and a step executed even when it is not led, rather than just a variation on the walk, and so I wouldn’t recommend teaching it that way, but rather as an exploration such as the Cross Walk (see Video: ABCD Method foundational practice).
The following video is a good example of the tango milonguero embrace and also in the efficient use of floor space and reversible walking. There is hardly any movement in the horizontal direction beyond a step or two, and always in a compact and controlled manner. Visible is also the lateral movement that Ricardo uses to communicate his lead.
Example 7: Myriam Princen with Ricardo Vidort, female movement
The technique for men and women is essentially the same. Women are often taught in salon style tango and also in some tango milonguero lessons to extent her leg when walking.
But when the mental image is vertical the technique for walking in tango milonguero should be the same as the man. It is more difficult to see the image of the heel floating up in the woman because the high heel shoes already push the heel up but in this video we can see that Myriam Princen floats up the knee.
I’m not saying that she’s bending the knee. The key here is that the walking movement is initiated by floating the knee up. There is no need to throw the leg backward in the horizontal direction as is often seen in tango lessons (see screenshots in Mental imagery and partnering technique: push-pull vs long spine).
In this video you will also notice all the elements of the vertical or long spine mental image, the elbows around shoulder level, lateral movement (there’s also a visible tilt) and the corresponding fluidity, freedom but also efficiency and reversibility of movement. There’s virtually no lag between the lead and follow.