Defining tango milonguero in terms of a close hold is taking a single aspect of the approach out of an organic whole. Doing so allows the style to be integrated into the standard process of salon style tango, as a sort of sub-genre. So teachers of salon style tango are more than happy to accommodate any demand for tango milonguero. Just do the same thing but in a close embrace. How easy is that? The problem is that the result is a very constricted way of dancing, which limits rather than freeing the dancer. So people might try it, but they end up using the technique as a figure within a “flexible embrace” philosophy, to have the momentary feeling of connection and intimacy before they launch back into their busy routine. If they actually attempt to maintain the close embrace throughout the dance they seem constricted and lacking in freedom and fluidity.
So it is actually possible to identify at least two approaches to tango milonguero. One variety is just a more constricted version of salon style tango. It imports all the same aspects of footwork and technique such as the tango walk, ochos, boleos and swivelling from the standard process. Another variety actually allows for more freedom than what you see even in the open hold, in term of fluidity, flexibility and speed. It follows a completely different set of rules, even if those steps and figures could be projected onto it. The first, I prefer to call “close embrace salon style tango”, and it is the product of the standard tango instruction. The second, I call “tango del centro“, because it is the tango danced at milongas del centro, like those at Salon Canning.
It is possible to define tango milonguero in terms of a more comprehensive philosophy. There is much talk about feeling, embracing and protecting the woman, there being no steps just walking, connecting to the music, etc. There is the question what part of that is the process and which part is the product. Is the close embrace the product or the process? If it is the product then the process might be open embrace with steps, which will somehow get you to the nirvana of close embrace improvisation. Perhaps a trip to Buenos Aires is required to seal the deal. Hopefully you will find enough people in your home tango community who have done the whole thing so you have someone to dance with.
Tango milonguero philosophy is short on specifics, and so it invites an interpretation that supplies the specifics in terms of the close embrace, importing the rest of the standard process to make it teachable. You cannot run tango lessons based on endless repetition of keywords like “feeling”, “walk” and “embrace”. The keywords need to be fleshed out, so that one gets some idea of what one should be feeling, how one should embrace, etc. Unless these things can be fleshed out, the whole process will be to vague and too ineffable to construct a workable process that does not fall back on the standard approach.
A good source for a statement of the tango milonguero philosophy is Ricardo Vidort. In a composite of video interviews close to his death he tries to articulate what it is that tango milonguero dancers think and do. Instead of transcribing his laboured English that often goes off on tangents, I wrote my interpretation of what seems to be the content of he is saying. I suggest going to the video itself for the original in order to verify whether my interpretation is accurate.
People live their life differently depending on where their feeling takes them. To begin with, in dancing you need to be moved by the music. While tango milonguero dancers start out with only a handful of steps, they are able to use that to improvise hundreds of patterns. The key is to express the feeling of the music through those movements.
When the man moves he holds the woman firmly but with sensitivity, such that she feels safe inside the embrace, and so that she feels that he is embracing her. The music and the woman should be the only priorities for the leader. As a leader, I shouldn't pay attention to the audience. When I perform in front of hundreds of people I am really dancing for my partner and not for the audience.
The feeling is always unique like a fingerprint. Although no one can teach you how to feel, I can see it in your movements, and I can give you ideas on how to improve on what you are doing. What I cannot do is to tell you what I think you should be doing. I can only respond to what you are expressing and help you to express your individuality.
Tango has a technique called the close embrace. It may be very difficult for some women to understand that the man can hold her close to his chest. The reason we dance like that is that the third chakra is in the area of the solar plexus, and there is a lot of energy in that area for both men and women. We want to put that energy together in a close embrace of the tango. Our bodies are enjoying the music then we are going to try to move together and to enrich that experience.
To do that, you do not need to take long steps, and you only need to take. You walk as you would walk on the street. The important thing is to put feeling into that. You can copy my steps but you cannot copy what I feel. If I had to do this dance again, I would do it differently because I would feel differently. This is something that people need to understand.
Most of the people who dance tango around the world are crazy about all the steps and figures. They are very competitive and want to show off their skills. But they would be better if they could show their authentic self. What I know about the tango is that, instead of trying to be better than others, you should try to be yourself, and then you will improve.
All the tango milonguero have their individual approach, so you will see that there are these different styles. What they all have in common is that they are following the music, and are expressing the feeling that is in the music. That is the priority for tango milonguero dancers. Our of the thousands of people who dance tango only very few feel the music and the dance in this way. Once the 30 or 40 milonguero teachers in the world die it is possible that tango milonguero will be lost.
We are part of something that is like the music, part of a mechanism that works only if you put yourself into it. It does not work if you do not put yourself into it.
What we can extract from this is that tango milonguero is taught using only a handful of steps, whereas the hundreds of steps and patterns that one might see danced by tango milonguero dancers are created through improvisation as an individual expression. Only the beginning patterns are learned by rote and the rest are unique to the particular dancers and the particular dance. Therefore, trying to develop dancing skills by learning steps and copying other dancers, and doing that in a competitive way, is wrongheaded. What moves competent tango milonguero dancers to execute this or that movement is the feeling of the moment. The goal of learning tango milonguero is to find your individual expression, as a way of being moved by the music, and a way of put your individual feeling into the movement. A tango teacher cannot teach you what you should feel, but he can support your individual expression as they perceive it. The feeling which comes from the music as well as the unique situation of the dance is ineffable and transient. However, the techniques of close embrace and taking small steps help to support the feeling.
It seems that a reasonable interpretation of what Vidort is saying that, beyond a handful of beginning patterns, you cannot learn tango milonguero by rote learning movements that are copied from other dancers. The goal of tango milonguero training is individual self-expression and this cannot be achieved by way of imitation, competition and exhibition. An essential aspect of learning tango milonguero is improvisation, and that means cultivating and following the inner impulse in response to the requirements of the partner and of the music. It means the cultivation of improvisational skills in response to the music. The goal is to dance in a way that creates a certain energy between the dancers, and that enhances the inner impulse through their mutual cooperative interaction. The techniques of the close embrace and the relaxed walking style that are specific to tango milonguero facilitate and enhance the sensation of this energy.