3rd October 2010

"A story is a way to say something that can't be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is." ~ Flannery O'Connor


It seems like everyone else has a go at making up the history of tango so here's my contribution...

Many years ago in a dusty practica in Buenos Aires, a Maestro despaired. It seemed no matter what he taught his students about timing and feeling and dancing, as soon as they actually started to dance it just became the same homogneised movements over and over again. One night, after watching two tandas of this, he had an idea.

"Right, for the next tanda leaders may only use walking. You may only step in either double time or traspie. And all your movements must be staccato" he announced.

Then he picked up his bandoneon and started playing a habanera rhythm over and over again so the leaders could choose whether to dance double-time or traspie whenever they wanted.

It worked well, and he was pleased as he saw the improvement it made to their dancing in next tanda of tango music. However things were still wrong. After the second tanda, he had another idea.

"Right, this time, the leader may only use turns. Now you may only step in single time or traspie. All your movements must be flowing."

He picked up his bandoneon and played a fast waltz.

From this came the dances of milonga and vals. Even today the tandas are arranged in 2 tango, 1 milonga, 2 tango, 1 vals, in the Maestro's memory.

What it is

"Metaphors are only useful up to a certain point" ~ Ghost

Whether the above story is true or not, it's not a bad starting point to think of Vals.

While previous articles were concerned with getting you dancing to the right rhythms, this article considers the question: what makes a vals something other than a tango played to a different rhythm?

To start with have a look at this

OK, so it's not just tango with a different rhythm.

To begin, treat the ones in vals as a pendulum; start with a side to side pendulum step until you get the feel of the motion which IS different to a normal walk; you can see that above in the Muzopappa walking elements.

Now, taking on board the story at the beginning, use a much higher proportion of turns to get more of a flowing centriwhatsit feel. By turning, the follower actually travels slightly further so the speed / feel changes from a straight line.

Vals wants you to keep moving, and it makes sense to rotate because the music sounds like it (being closely related in sound to the Viennese Waltz, just faster) and because turns are the simplest, most obvious way of using the other two beats.

Lose the abrupt stops. Try to keep the momentum flowing, like dragons twisting and looping around. Use back ochos, and forward ochos especially and changing between them ie reversing followers direction.

Here's a relatively calm version:

The feeling of Vals is captured well here:

What it's not

"They weren't cows inside. They were waiting to be, but they forgot." ~ River Tam

By comparison here's a few examples of what it's not:

Some words of caution

"A man's conscience, like a warning line on the highway, tells him what he shouldn't do - but it does not keep him from doing it." ~ Frank Howard Clark

Although the first video is a helpful example, it is still a performance piece and they have the whole floor to themselves. For social dancing:

  • Keep boleos on the deck
  • Progession is important, but be aware of the rest of the floor
  • Don't turn into the nuevo-giro-machine-from-hell hitting every single beat as you tear around the floor mowing down everything in your path!
  • It is wise to rotate in more than one direction, otherwise the woman may get dizzy. Remember if you're getting dizzy, so is the woman!
  • Keep to one lane

In short, don't let it become this...


Technology continues to improve. We don't quite have the capability to let you download how to Vals direct from this site yet, but in the meantime here's an interesting approach.

~ Christopher O'Shea / BorderTangoMan, 3rd October 2010

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