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To Cross or Not to Cross

Many discussions have been taking place in the tango world in regard to the blessed cross as part of the basic Salida in Tango.  I would like to share my opinion on the matter. Before writing about this, I investigated blogs written about this issue, and found it very interesting.

I discovered a lot of people are obsessed with the issue and have differing opinions; the ones who say: “you must lead the cross” and the others who say “you don’t lead the cross as long as you are walking outside of her”.

Can we say there are two schools?

Now, I will give you my opinion.

In Argentina, if you go dancing at any milonga and you start dancing, the minute you open to the side or you go backwards in order to arrive to step number 5,  SHE WILL CROSS (95% OF THE THEM). Why? That is the basic figure, the basic pattern that is identified with the Argentine Tango Dance. In many other dances you could walk on the right side of the follower without her crossing I guess, but the cross in this moment, is TANGO. You can figure out the way I think.

I read that men, were saying:

  •  I cannot find a good reason as to why “a women should automatically cross.
  • ” Because everything in this dance is lead. 
  • “We should teach the woman, to follow the lead for the cross”

The problem is that many men (not well taught) when they lead the cross, they do it very badly, with no line, grace or style in order to accomplish the task.  If you are in favor of leading or inviting the woman to the cross, you should do it by dancing her, and NOT as an isolated move that breaks the beautiful lines inherent in the basic step. I’ve seen this happen all the time – leaders announcing the cross, in many ways in order to accomplish this move.


The leading of the cross should not break the body alignment of the couple.

The leading of the cross becomes so important that leaders make up their own techniques, such as:

–       Taking a step in a diagonal direction in order to signal the move

–       Leading with the man’s left hand in order to affect the woman’s hip

–       Moving her with his right arm in order to affect her hip


None of these moves are done by great Tango dancers. (I will not name anyone, because taste varies among people). When you see people who dance well, the cross becomes a natural move in the couple and understanding, regardless of the school, because if the cross is lead you don’t see it, and if is NOT you won’t see it.

Now I don’t want to sound like a strict dictator telling people how to dance; it is my suggestion to pay attention to the beauty of the body movement. Some people who dance don’t see it, and they can still dance.  Some people don’t even care about it or how they look on the dance floor and still dance.

Here we come to another point in my analysis. One time I was talking with a Tango Instructor in NY (a good friend) and he told me that most of the people in the US, at the beginning of the Tango movement, did not care so much about the way they looked on the dance floor as much as they felt instead.

(That made me think again. In part what I’m saying is related to what I wrote in a previous blog about the Colombian couple.)

Why is this?

  • The technique of this dance is very complex?
  • People did not understand the elegance inherent to the dance?
  • Laziness?
  • Anxiety to start dancing right away, regardless of refining the body language
  • A justification to say that feeling is more important than look?
  • Too much work
  • I want to be different, or creative…

I wonder why when we see a nice dancer in any venue we appreciate it? The feeling has nothing to do with it. This is an intimate issue that has no discussion because it’s like describing a kiss, caress or touch

Does this have to do with the context of how the dance is developed? When I started dancing nobody had to tell me who was elegant or talented and who wasn’t. I knew it right away. It made sense to me. It made sense that it requires a lot of work! Beauty Hurts!

Would I have the same sensibility to understand west coast swing or hustle or flamenco? Maybe, I don’t know…

When you learn a certain discipline with your body such as any martial art, or ballet, or sport that requires coordination, balance, grace, speed, efficiency etc…the body must be trained. I don’t know if this happens or happened with Tango for the reasons I’ve quote before.






Is dancing tango moves to non-Tango music still considered Tango?

For sure if you pick a song to dance such as any non Tango Composer, Orchestra or Composition the music will not be a Tango. If you choose to dance Janis Joplin, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, etc… I guess we can all agree that the music they compose is NOT Tango.  

Dance, in itself, is a world of free expression. The problem happens when people think that because they are dancing Tango moves to non-tango music they believe they’re still dancing Tango. Problem?  It’s not big deal, but for those who love this Art form that is so very rich, there is a difference.  Let me explain.

In my personal life I very much enjoy listening to Gotan Project.  Do I connect with the music to dance to it? NO. But that is me. I don’t connect and, in my case, I know why.  Because for me tango emanates from the music, with its roots attached to the meter and beats of the main harmony of Tango.

I feel uncomfortable moving, embracing, and walking to a different type of Music that is not Tango.
Can I do it?  Of course. 
Have I done it?  Yes, many times
Why then are the alternative Milongas such a big hit outside of Argentina?  Very simply because people connect to what they know and to what they grew up listening.

I truly believe the reason Argentinean people dance or understand this music so much is because we grow up listening to it all the time, we are exposed every day: Taxi, Bus, Subway, Newstand, Bakery, Kiosk, Gas Station, TV, Radio, Grandparents, Great-grandparents, Parties, Birthdays, History at School. But out of 100% of the population of Argentina, maybe 0000.0001% of the population actually dance tango, but 90% of it have an idea of what Tango is or means: Posture, Embrace, Movement, Bandoneon, Gardel etc…

This doesn’t mean all Argentineans have the talent to dance Tango. Even if you get an Argentinean guy with two left feet and try to teach him to dance tango, he might be very bad, but in his back of his mind, the feeling or image of Tango will pop up as an innate feeling in his soul.

It is simply a cultural thing.  I’ve sometimes heard people in NYC say “I hate Tango Music, but I love the Dance.” It may be because they appreciate the movement without comprehending the music.  To me this is baffling being that I believe the dance, itself, springs from the music.

I was criticized by some people because at the Chicago Tango Festival 2011, I performed to the William Tell Overture, which metrically fits exactly the Milonga Tempo. I enjoyed doing this immensely.

Did I dance Milonga? NO
Did I think I was dancing Milonga? NO
Do I know the Difference between MIlonga, Tango, Tango-Vals and the rest of Generes? YES
That is Why I can Choose to do it.

If I used Tango Movements to a typical Lindy-Hop Song?
Would I be dancing one or the Other?



Tango  Milonguero Style has become the rage and has garnered world-wide acceptance,  but with this growth in popularity we need to understand its roots.

There seems to be a division among  those who practice Milonguero style and those who don’t. I’ve even visited communities that tend to classify themselves as only “milonguero” and the rest is NOT Possible or Good. This Milonguero style or “Apilado” style came about from a circumstance of necessity – there was no room in the small dance halls and walking in a small space was becoming more complicated. If there is no room, you walk small, if there is space you could CHOOSE to walk long. The problem is that many bought the package that by dancing this way it was the true Tango

Back in the 90’s when some instructors started coming to the USA to teach this style, they claimed it was a style in itself because this is how it was danced by the milongueros in BA.

So, you could say, the so-called Milonguero style came about as a marketing name created over the years by some clever person? Maybe, I don’t no.

What I do know, is that the Milongueros with all due respect, many of them are friends and even teachers of mine, are just people who spent their life dancing at the Milongas day or night, many times considered (wrongly) bums in the old days because they chose or had no choice but to lead that type of life. Many became Tango instructors when the tango renaissance blossomed all over the world, or in time some true Tango Artists were discovered but there was no market for them back then. In those days, the Milonga synonymous with FUN, you had a choice, FUN or a JOB.

Thanks to those who teach Milonguero-style tango (a social dance) Argentine Tango has added thousands of followers and brought them into the Milonga in a much shorter time. Its technique is more limited, more concise but no less rich than the Tango Salon and its derivatives.

I WANT TO CLARIFY THAT I’M NOT ATTACKING THE TANGO Milonguero because I do not intend that –  I dance it, I appreciate it and I teach it.
The confusion I observe with those who practice this style is to believe that the feeling of passing it to the woman or vice-versa lies in the very style and not the person who executes it. A thousand times I’ve seen guys claim to be fans of tango milonguero style and therefore are more tango, more romantic and more sensible, but embracing woman with the opposite sense of this claim, giving nothing to her, but sustaining their own dance by practicing this style.

Please understand this often occurs in a close-minded environment in which people, once they have learned a particular style, become so possessive of it they miss out on understanding other movements that could enrich their dance.

Let’s take for example the moment both partners are stacked off-axis as in the famous triangle, sharing the axis,  neither is free, the ability to “pivot” of both is limited, therefore there are figures that cannot be performed. Being on one’s own axis is not only possible but very comfortable without sacrificing the close embrace.

It is very common when an instructor shows a step or a combination in a seminar to hear : “But can you do it in close embrace.” The answer is: What you mean by close embrace ? How close you are to your partner or how much of feeling is shared. Another confusion is that there are steps or combinations that  ARE NOT ABLE TO DO IN CLOSE EMBRACE  SINCE THE HUMAN BODY HAS LIMITATIONS OF ROTATION. Opening the embrace a bit, as long as the connection is not lost is not necessarily bad.  In fact, there are some steps that have a better color when the embrace is open a little.

There some steps that cannot be done in close embrace.  Is this to be considered less Tango ?




To anyone who might be interested:

My name is Oliver Kolker, born in NYC and raised in Argentina since 1976. In 2005 I moved to NYC with the goal of teaching one of the most beautiful expressions ever created by the Argentineans, El Tango.

In April, 1998, I took my first Tango lesson and from that moment on I never stopped. I found my expression, I found myself, I found everything that I grew up with flourishing inside me again. I never paid attention to it before, like many people of my generation. There are many reasons.

Why am I introducing myself in this way?

Last Sunday night in NYC at RoKO (a great Milonga), I had the pleasure of enjoying the performance of a beautiful Tango couple. They became the World Champions last August in Argentina in the Tango Salon Category. Their dance was splendid, clean, elegant, a little conservative for my own taste but SALON!.

The dancers Diego y Natasha are from COLOMBIA

One of the people sitting next to me said he was very happy this couple was not from Argentina. I could’ve taken his comment in a bad way, but that was not his intention, but it made me think. After a few seconds I agreed with him, and answered: Yes! You are right; they are not Argentineans but the way they performed the dance was with the movements and body language that were indentified as TANGO, which is exactly the reflex of that body language we created, by the Argentine people in both roles. They moved as Argentineans, even though they are COLOMBIANS.

I think it is great, and finally realize, we Argentineans are not loosing the Tango when a non-Argentine couple wins a World Contest. We should take it with pride, because these people are accepting and inhaling the language of Tango created more than 80 years ago by those who cropped up on every corner, every street, every stone, every cigarette and embrace the dance and the attitude that comes to life when it is performed.

It is an Art form to know how to embrace, stand up, walk, turn, create, improvise. To watch hundreds of Asians, Canadians, Russians, French, Italians, Koreans and Turks (just to name a few) move in that way imitating, copying, learning or assimilating our walk to the beat of a Tango or Milonga should make us feel proud, not fear or intimidation. We have created a stereotype without that intention, but if we don’t see it as an art form itself, YES it will die!

We have to change the way we see things and my approach is simple and comes from a source that I know, my knowledge, my self. We can see this matter in every aspect of life if we want.

The person who finds his/her passion in Kung Fu, will not be restricted by the fact he/she is not Asian? Should all Kung Fu schools in Argentina be closed?

The kids in Argentina who are amazing dancers in Hip Hop, are not worth less because they are not from the US? The US culture instead of fighting this EXPANSION, embraces it. There are more people involved in what we do! That is their way.



Many people have debate about the fact that in Tango the man leads and the woman follows, not understanding very well what this means. There is a big misunderstanding about the concept, this concept.

Like Gustavo Naveira said very clear one time when we were sharing dinner, “The Structure of this dance is based on this basis one has to follow and the other has to lead, regardless of the gender”. Considering Tango all over the planet, 95% of the time is the Man who leads and the Woman who follows

Now why is that?
Is it because the society is based like that on every aspect of life outside of tango? I dont know, maybe?

Let me share with you my theory, one which I always tell the people I teach.

This is a 50/50 role, responsibility, team work, whatever you want to call it. Exactly equals, but different motivations, same feelings
In this dance, if I may use the analogy of the sexual act, the man wants to posses the woman, “DANCE HER”‘ NOT “WITH HER”, the woman wants to be “DANCED”. In most of the sexual relationships when a couple is making love, 90% of the time the woman would assume her built-in feminine role and usually would say (if she talks out loud during the act) MAKE LOVE TO ME. This does not make her less, is the half of the relationship built in a couple. The man by nature wants to show his manhood by seducing, possessing, inviting, protecting, flirting with her.

I am bringing this up because many times, believe it or not and especially in absolute beginner lessons when I explain that the woman has to follow, some don’t get the concept, and their facial expressions indicate: “Excuse me – I am a woman with equal rights, etc. etc. etc…

On the other hand men, when they are leading (or think they are leading), expect the woman to follow them because they are leading, instead of considering the woman first and communicating to her, listening to her, embracing her, dancing her.


What am I a psychologist?

No! Is the way I see this addiction. TANGO!



Many people in today’s world of Tango use the “cabaceo” or “head nod” thinking this will make them seem to be a more authentic tanguero or milonguero. But, do they know the origin of this custom?

In Argentina’s great Tango period (1925-1955), the cabaceo was used to invite the woman to dance without the man having to suffer the humiliation of a possible rejection. The man, who was usually an ordinary guy in his mundane daily life, was given the opportunity when he crossed the threshold of the Milonga to play the part of a really cool and self-assured man. He became a bigshot and the cabaceo allowed him to maintain this pose. Without it, if he approached a woman he was taking the chance in front of all of his friends and acquaintances to be turned down. He would have been shamed, felt the necessity to leave and go home, not to return until he thought people had forgotten about it and he regained his courage. With the cabaceo, the man was (and is) safe.

I hope I have given some insight as to why we are doing what we are doing





Como explicar lo que se siente cuando se abraza
Como explicar lo que se siente cuando se respira
Como explicar lo que se siente cuando el corazón palpita
Como explicar lo que se siente cuando el perfume gravitaEsta el abrazo que contiene, el abrazo que abraza
el abrazo que no entiende y el abrazo que aprende
Esta el abrazo que manda, que ordena y que espanta
pero esta el abrazo que escucha, que contiene, que calma

El Tango es el abrazo, el abrazo es el Tango
el encuentro sin conocerse, abrazarse sin encontrarse
una tragedia latente que no tiene remedio
no hay cura, que persiste, se siente.


Gracias Tango por lo que me diste
me diste un lenguaje 
me diste un amigo
me diste el amor?
me diste pasión
me diste llanto
me diste soledad
me diste envidia
me diste admiración

Gracias Tango por lo que me ensenaste
me ensenaste que un lugar en la milonga no se compra, se gana
me ensenaste a conocer gente, buena y mala
me ensenaste a decepcionarme y a perdonar

Gracias Tango porque me hiciste

Thank you Tango for all you’ve given me
you’ve given me a new language
you’ve given me friendship
you’ ve given me love?
you’ ve given me passion
you’ ve given me tears
you’ ve given me loneliness
you’ ve given me envy
you’ ve given me admiration

Thank you Tango for all you’ve taught me
you’ve taught me that you earn your place on the dance floor you can’t buy it
you’ve taught me to see people, good and bad
you’ve taught me how to be disappointed and to forgive

Thank you Tango for what you’ve allowed me to do
to cry
to laugh
to see
to watch
to feel
to taste
to be…