The basic movement in tango is walking. This is often misunderstood as a statement about practicing. That is, what one often learns is that there are certain basic steps such as paso basico (basic step), ocho (figure eight), and cruzada (the cross). In other words, these are the steps that one learns in a beginner class. Walking is then emphasised as a technique practice, and one is taught to walk in a certain way, and to practice walking with certain elongated steps.
This way of framing the issue of walking is characteristic to styles of tango which are essentially choreographed, that is, there are set patterns which take several steps to execute. This is at odds with Tango Estilo Milonguero which is essentially improvised.* Practicing walking by yourself taking elongated steps will not help but will actually hinder your progress in learning walking with a partner. The technique of walking with elongated steps and bringing one’s feet together between steps will essentially interfere with dancing in the close embrace. This type of dancing looks great in a floor show but is neither comfortable, connected nor functional in the context of social dancing at a milonga.
What we need to practice instead is to practice walking by initiating the step by breaking at the knee and then following that with the foot sliding along the floor so that it ends up where we want to go and then taking the step. So the movement to be practiced has these parts:
- Breaking at the knee in the leg that is going to go.
- The foot slides along the floor in the direction that we want to go.
- Finally, move into that step.
It may be useful to prepare by practicing that movement alone, but ultimately it only makes sense to practice walking by doing it with a partner, walking forward and back, with some relatively slow music to begin with.
In Tango Estilo Milonguero there are no steps to be learned, ie., copied and memorised. All the patterns that one sees in social tango dancing naturally emerge from walking. Tango is essentially improvised. We start walking in a straight line forward and back, but soon enough we discover new possibilities which we may call steps if we want. For example, learning to change direction while we walk with a partner creates the pauses and turns that we associate with tango. Anything outside of that is fixed or semi-fixed choreography and so then it is no longer traditional Tango Estilo Milonguero which can be defined as the exploration of the possibilities of walking in a heart-to-heart embrace to tango music.
* Although one does find teachers who claim to instruct Tango Estilo Milonguero using set patterns.