The biggest hinderance in learning social Tango Estilo Milonguero is a misguided and unnecessary focus on the feet. There may be two reasons for this. First, beginners who are not used to partner dancing are afraid of stepping on their partner’s foot. This is a minor problem as it takes only a few lessons to get over this fear. Second, a more major and lasting problem is the fact that the choreographed tango places overwhelming focus on the woman’s feet for aesthetic reasons.* This leads to the preconception that the beauty of tango inheres in the footwork and decorations, or perhaps the interplay of the man’s and woman’s legs and feet.
While this does make sense in show or stage tango where the primary purpose is external aesthetics, that is, looking nice to an audience watching the show, this is counterproductive in social dancing. Showing off in any way in a social context goes against the ethos of Tango Estilo Milonguero which is inner aesthetics or feeling of connection at the chest between the dancers. In focusing on the feet, showing off takes the focus away from the upper body and the connection of the dancers at the heart. Even dancers who are in a Tango Estilo Milonguero embrace, when they do a lot of decorations, cannot help but prioritise their feet over the embrace. But the essence of tango is the embrace, not pretty feet.
Feet in Tango Estilo Milonguero
Because the essence and focus of tango is the embrace, the only focus on one’s feet is in terms of where to take the next step. What the feet do is purely functional. In social tango the action of the feet has no aesthetic value to the dancers, and so all foot movement is purely functional** The function of feet in social tango is merely to move from A to B efficiently and with elegance.
The walk should be elegant and natural. That means we walk elegantly in a straight line. The feet are naturally slightly turned out at about 20 to 30 degrees angle. When we change direction the angle of the feet to each other will vary as needed. Sometimes the foot with which we are stepping will point in the direction of the turn.
A step is initiated with the breaking at the knee. In order to do this we will have to lift the heel of the foot with the toe of the foot staying in contact with the floor. We then slide the foot in the direction of the step before shifting weight onto that foot. The toe of the stepping foot maintains light contact with the floor throughout the step, sliding along the floor.*** There is no particular need to bring your feet together at the end of the step unless it feels natural to do so.
- Do not do any adornments of any kind until you become an experienced social dancer and have enough knowledge of the wisdom and utility of these.
- Doing decorations in social Tango Estilo Milonguero in inappropriate and takes away from the essence of the dance.
- Feet always stay on the ground with only a few exceptions where they slightly leave the ground.
- The heel leaves the ground as we break at the knee.
- Slide the foot lightly brushing the floor with the ball of the foot.
- Finally, shift your weight to that foot to complete the step.
- Do not try to bring your feet together at the end of the step, they will come together naturally when needed.
*Choreographed tango includes tango seen in a variety of contexts including floor shows, demonstrations by teachers, tango movies and musicals, etc. The focus on the feet in demonstractions is common to all varieties of tango and virtually all such exhibitions focus on showing off the action of the feet and legs.
**This includes all so-called adornments, firuletes or decorations such as tapping, drawing, pointing the toe upwards, sliding the foot up the leg, bringing feet together at the end of every step, keeping feet parallel to each other … all of these belong to choreographed or semi-choreographed styles of tango and have the tendency to interfere with efficient movement.
***There are some exceptions to this, eg., if the partner’s foot is in the way and needs to be stepped over, in which case the foot would have to rise slightly off the floor.