I took a couple of days to recover from the whirlwind of the last two weeks, and wanted to wrap up my thoughts on Tomás’ latest visit:
Tomás and I really didn’t know what to expect in terms of turnout. As much as we don’t like to point this out, we are still in the middle of the pandemic, and we went into this understanding that fewer people would show up than normal, whether it’s because their risk calculus doesn’t include tango or they no longer want to adhere to masking rules.
So to have good turnout for the workshops, presentation, and milonga, and to feel the enthusiasm in the air was such a wonderful thing. Tomás loved seeing new faces, appreciated everyone taking precautions seriously, and looks forward to partying more as we move out of the pandemic.
I wanted to take this space to give a big THANK YOU to Tomás Howlin for sharing his endless knowledge and wisdom! We feel inspired to grow as dancers and tango learners. I would also like to thank Tomás for his long-time support of Siempre Tango Ottawa and our aim to create a thriving tango community.
There are several people to thank, as I cannot make events like this possible without a lot of help:
To Elizabeth, who coordinated the potluck contiributions and created the gorgeous flower arrangement: Thank you for continuing to make Milonga La Capital a happy, hospitable, and beautiful event.
To Marcel: Thank you for always being there to help in every class and every event!
To Leanna and Lise Mainville: Thank you for your continued support and for helping me with the little things that make such a difference!
To Bruno, who DJ’d the May 7 La Capital: Thank you for the wonderful music! I seriously wanted to clap after a few of those tandas.
To those who brought food for the potluck: Thank you for keeping us well-fed with delicious goodies! (I was worried when I only saw a few names on the sign-up list, but the Ottawa tango community always goes above and beyond when it comes to food!)
To everyone who attended workshops: Thank you for your effort and patience! We will always strive to do better with each event, and look forward to seeing you again.
Stay tuned for more news about future events and guest teachers!
To ensure the best experience for all participants:
all classes will be role-balanced except for the Presentation before the May 7 milonga
level designations (all level, intermediate, advanced) will be imposed
class sizes will be limited
as of this update (April 25, 2022), a well-fitting mask will be required to attend all events
We are pleased to re-re-open, and in a very real way this time.
Not only are we starting up the Sunday Práctica and having our first Milonga La Capital of 2022, we are also holding our first group classes since 2020.
Let’s get one thing out of the way:
We will require all attendees to our events to show proof of vaccination (QR code) during March 2022. This is in keeping with our promise to lag behind any changes in public health regulations. We’ll re-evaluate this policy at the end of the month, once the effects of the provincial reopening become clear. Masks continue to be mandated in indoor settings, so please plan on wearing a mask throughout all events.
We encourage each of you to get your hands on some rapid tests and to stay vigilant about the relevant statistics. Please do not come to events if you are feeling unwell and keep self-screening. If you test positive and were possibly contagious during a tango event, please, please get in touch with me so that I can let others know (keeping you anonymous) so that we can isolate accordingly if needed.
We as a tango community have done a great job throughout the pandemic to keep each other safe. I thank each of you for doing your part to get us to this point.
Free Beginner Classes: Let’s Do This
It has been two years since we’ve had a beginner class, and even that one was stalled in the middle. We look forward to crafting new groups of tango dancers to make up for lost time.
To celebrate, we are holding two Free Beginner Argentine Tango Classes:
Saturday, March 12, 6 to 7 PM, at 430 Churchill Avenue North (Westboro)
Sunday, March 13, 5 to 6 PM, at 61 Main Street (Centreville / Old Ottawa East)
We look forward to seeing you at the Sunday Práctica on March 6, from 6:30 to 9 PM. It’ll be a practilonga – very casual with an eclectic mix of music (meaning, yes, I will play a bit of nuevo and alternative throughout the night). If you visit the Sunday Práctica page, you’ll notice that subsequent prácticas will start at 7 PM and go to 9:30 PM.
And of course, we are happy to invite each of you to the first La Capital of 2022 on Saturday, March 12. Music starts at 7:30 PM and goes until 11:30 PM. DJs TBA. Like last time, the bar will open at 7:30 PM and light snacks will be available as well. For more details, go here.
On Thursdays, starting March 10, we’ll have the Social Tango Lab. If you can only attend one tango class a week, make it this one. This class is great for Intermediate Dancers, and is particularly ideal for those who have not danced very much since 2020. Advanced beginners will be challenged, and Advanced dancers will find a lot of space for exploration.
One perk of having this class at Arts Court is that parking is free in City-owned garages for the month of March and the LRT is also free this month.
On Sundays, starting March 20, we’ll offer a Tango 101 Intensive. 3 long classes, with time for both learning and practicing, will get just about anyone ready to dance.
I am offering a 20% discount on this beginner series to anyone who living in Centretown, specifically to those living in the Red Zone. As a Centretown resident in the middle of everything, I know how difficult the February 2022 occupation was for many people. It was amazing to see the sense of fight and mutual support that the Ottawa community showed. THESE are the people I want to see in our tango community! If you know anyone in Centretown, please let them know that there’s a great tango class taking place nearby.
I still have some spots for private lessons on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Feel free to email to ask questions or to schedule a session.
And speaking of private lessons, here’s some more good news: now that we are inching towards normal, Francis will be able to visit Ottawa about once a month. He is available for private lessons in both A.T.s — Alexander Technique and Argentine Tango. His next visit happens to be March 11-12, so if you want to schedule a session with him, please email him directly.
I am sure many of you are aggrieved and saddened by the war and occupation on Ukraine. If you would like to do something as a tango community, I would love to hear from you. It’s a bit short notice to organize something for the upcoming milonga (not that wars are on a convenient schedule), but I’d like for our community members to lead the efforts to help. The need for aid will not diminish, even if the war were resolved tomorrow, so I am very open to doing something in the next month or so. Just email me and let me know!
Thank you for your responses + The “Why” of this survey
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and I appreciate the kind words of encouragement. It was necessary to give people a forum to share what they think and what they need to feel safe during these pandemic times.
Thank you to each of you who responded. Getting 56 people together for anything in this community is a minor miracle, so I’m glad to see people getting involved.
I had one lone respondent say that asking people what they want and shaping policy around that is not leadership. I resent the implication that safety isn’t our first priority and that I’m just pandering to the majority. It’s been clear from the very beginning of the pandemic what Siempre’s approach would be: we were the first to suspend our activities, we continued safe community building throughout the pandemic, and I’m holding off on group activities until I feel comfortable coming to back to the dance floor in a group context.
I wanted to do this survey because I honestly didn’t want to fight with my patrons on this issue. I don’t want to have to promote my events, teach and help people out at those events, and on top of that enforce these regulations if this community does not share my values. Luckily, most people do agree with having to show proof of vaccination to access tango activities, as you’ll see.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the typical responder:
had been dancing for a few years
mostly attended a mix of group classes and practicas
and sometimes attended milongas.
About 68% of people said they would like to come back to tango, and nearly 27% of people say “Maybe!”
39% of people say “I would be willing to return to organized dance activities that adhere to the minimum required public health guidelines.”
23% prefer a stricter approach, saying “I would be willing to return to organized dance activities with more restrictions than current government regulations, such as continuing to require masks for some time after the mandate is lifted, or a reduced attendee capacity.”
Over 10% of people say, “I will not return to dance until it is deemed safe to resume fully as before the pandemic (ie: indoors, no masks, no distancing).”
See those very thin slivers? Over 10% of respondents wrote in their strong preference for double vaccination. (This survey was posted just before Ontario’s vaccine passport system was announced, and it was not clear what that would entail.)
71.4% of respondents are willing to attend class where proof of vaccination is required. A significant amount of people are willing to attend indoor classes (41.1%) and classes with partner rotation (39.9%) and masks (33.9%). The numbers were somewhat similar for milongas and practicas.
In keeping with provincial guidelines, proof of vaccination will be required to attend Siempre Tango’s events. We will also require masks indoors. I will have people pre-register to facilitate the recording of contact information, in order to make sure that all available spaces are taken. As far as the medical exemptions that are mentioned in the regulations, I am looking into that but need to educate myself on what to look for, so at this point, no exceptions.
I feel that this topic is something that people in our tango community don’t want to speak openly about. We don’t want to exclude and we don’t want to be the fun police. I have become, it seems, the unofficial COVID police and that’s not what I’m here for. My team is here to create a safe environment for people to enjoy tango.
So just before we go further, this is my record of vaccination. I will take down the link on Sunday, September 26, but you can ask me any time for this proof of vaccination and I am happy to show it to you.
At the moment I am teaching private lessons, and because of that, I am refraining from dancing socially.
The big question is at this point is, “When are prácticas coming back?” I’m working on it! There will be news coming soon.
Our desire for human contact puts us dancers at a disadvantage when it comes to public health. Friends from all parts of the world are now in tango “blackout” and unfortunately we have decided to join them.
Our community is very diverse. Many people with different workplaces, living situations, and ages make up our local tango family. Some are continuing to travel, and others continue to attend religious services, important gatherings, and work meetings, and will do so as long as Ottawa is not on total lockdown. It seems more appropriate to put tango gatherings on pause so that people can attend to the essential things in their lives.
(Whether tango is an essential thing – that’s a debate for another day!)
This is a decision we have not taken lightly. This impacts us financially, because tango events and classes are a primary source of income, and we carry long-term leases with our various partners throughout the city. But as always at Siempre Tango Ottawa, the safety and enjoyment of our students, teachers, and patrons comes first. It’s people who make our activities successful, and we must respect their concerns and opinions.
Our action plan:
We will suspend La Capital and the Sunday Práctica for the rest of March, effective immediately, and then see where we are at the end of the month. We hope to be back at the beginning of April.
We will delay the start of Bruno’s guest session, which was supposed to begin March 25. This delay will also apply to our new beginner session of Tango 101.
All group classes are suspended until further notice. For those of you who are currently enrolled in classes, you will receive emails specific to your situation.
We are still offering private and semi-private lessons. Clearly we have a lot more availability than before! Contact us.
We want everyone attending our events to enjoy their experiences without being pre-occupied with a looming public health crisis. If you have any concerns or questions, please let us know.
For me personally, it has been quite the transition. I feel buoyed by the positive words and kindnesses that our students and patrons have given my teammates and me. We knew we wanted to do things differently, and that would involve change. Change can be painful, but it’s really the only way to grow and learn.
At the end of 2019, we sent out a short survey asking people about our events (milongas, prácticas, and guest teachers). What you liked, what you didn’t like.
Not so many people responded, but there was enough data to see certain things popping up over and over again.
People want quality instruction.
We’ll continue shifting our focus to the social dance floor. As more events pop up in Ottawa, and more people take their places in the ronda, it’s apparent that long sequences and big moves will not serve us as a community. Our next round of classes starts Sunday, March 1. You can see a partial schedule here.
Our Tango 101 curriculum has been a success. It’s a real boost to see people happily changing roles and giving each other feedback. We look forward to continuing on this path to creating empowered dancers who can work as a team. Our next beginner session will start on Wednesday, March 25th.
I’m pleased to announce that our friend and one of Ottawa’s most creative dancers, Bruno Alfonso, will be teaching a guest session with Siempre Tango on Wednesdays, starting March 25th. More details to come.
People didn’t like the milonga venue as it was before.
Bate Hall was a beautiful place to have a milonga, but it was difficult to create atmosphere in such a large space. When Vanier Moderns moved in, the ambiance became much cozier. However, the stress of arranging delicate things on all sides was getting to both our friends at VM and us.
To create a better experience, we’re moving our milonga to Westboro Masonic Hall (430 Churchill Avenue). Our first date will be on Tuesday, March 3 at 7:30 PM. To create fresh start, we are retiring the name “La Milonga de Mis Amores” and will be calling our milonga “La Capital” from now on.
The schedule for La Capital will be as follows:
1st and 2nd Tuesdays of the month
3rd and 4th Mondays of the month (and the 5th if there is one in any given month).
It’s not ideal, but Westboro Masonic does its contracts in September. They have so kindly accomodated our mid-year relocation. For the time being, Tiniko and I will not hold a full-blown pre-milonga class per se as we will wait to see how these changes work out!
We are looking for volunteers to help man the entrace, greet visitors, and to be great ambassadors. A milonga can only grow so much if it’s up to just the organisers. If you want to contribute to your tango community, please reach out to us.
People like having a variety of guest teachers.
We’re so happy that Tomás Howlin was able to come visit us in February before leaving for Buenos Aires in March. Looking forward to seeing him again, and more often in Ottawa!
Going forward, we’ve pulled out the stops to bring the best of tango right to your doorstep:
Pablo Veron will be giving workshops in Ottawa on March 21-22. He will be giving one all-levels class before Milonga Querida, and two intermediate classes the next afternoon. There is more information to come, but I would suggest looking for partners now. Don’t miss out on the chance to learn from one of the greats.
I’m also pleased to announce that Marcelo “El Chino” Gutierrez will be coming to Ottawa for the entire last week of April. He will literally be invading our class schedule, and it will be a great bootcamp for those who are looking for an intensive experience to ground yourself and add a bit of soul to your dancing.
People want to feel welcome and they seek a sense of community.
These are the responses that we received to the last questions of our survey: “What’s your wish for the Ottawa Tango Community in 2020?” I’m sure that many tango communities would have similar wishes for themselves.
In tango, many ignore those they don’t want to dance with. On the flip side, people expect dances from people they have conversations with. Put the two together, and you have a perfect recipe for isolated pods of people sitting around at the milonga. You also have a stage for people to talk about one another (instead of to each other) and for tribalist thinking.
We’re constantly thinking up ways to get people to engage off the dance floor. It’s difficult to treat people poorly when you see them as… people?
That’s why we are excited for our upcoming Road Trip to Montreal on March 6-8. We will be going to see La Juan D’Arienzo Orchestra in action and drop in on the local milongas throughout the weekend. We’ll be updating this event page so that you can tag along!
One of the difficult things to relay to students is the “culture of tango,” where tango is not just a mere activity. It’s easy to teach steps, but it’s another matter to create community, which is something that transcends style vs. style, school vs. school, and us vs. them. This is something that we are still working on.
If this is something you believe in, share this post and talk about it with your friends.
We’ve received a lot of questions from our returning students about the new curriculum, and rightly so.
But let us explain a couple of things:
We needed a clear road map for beginners to go from zero to milonga-ready in a few months. And by mandating that students learn to lead and follow from the beginning, we’re driving home the fact that tango is about teamwork and communication. (If you’re a beginner, jump here for your options.)
For our intermediate/advanced clients, we’re shifting the focus to what feels great for social dancing in close embrace. Class titles will not change (the content will), and they reflect what advanced dancers continue to work on for years:
the details of leading and following
efficient, tight turns
dynamic and challenging moves
ways for the dance reflect one’s individuality.
Our hope is that you be able to come into any 300 or 400-level course that works for your schedule, and you’ll learn something new and refine what you have.
We also want to give you convenient chances to refresh your fundamentals or learn the other role. Now’s the time to commit to a Tango 101 or 102 class for free when you sign up for intermediate/advanced classes.
For our returning students, here are some answers to “What class should I take?”
IF YOU TOOK TANGO 3+4 ON SUNDAYS AT 6:00 PM LAST YEAR, YOU SHOULD TAKE:
“Tango 301: Deep Leading and Following” on Sundays at 5:30 PM. This class will boost your partner communication, and you’ll increase your enjoyment from improvisation.
It’s recommended that you commit to Tango 101 at 6:30 PM for free! You will be learning the opposite role and refining your fundamentals.
You could also take Tango 302 on Mondays if you want to progress faster.
IF YOU TOOK “RECHARGE YOUR TANGO” ON MONDAYS AT 6:30 PM LAST YEAR, YOU SHOULD TAKE:
“Tango 302: Taking Turns” on Mondays at 6:30 PM. Even if you’ve taken a previous turns class, take this class. Turns always need work, and they are some of the most useful elements for navigation and adding excitement.
It’s highly recommended that you add Tango 102 at 7:45 PM for free! Work on close embrace and refresh your dance.
You could also take Tango 301 on Sundays.
IF YOU TOOK TANGO 1 ON MONDAYS AT 8:00 PM LAST FALL, YOU SHOULD TAKE:
“Tango 102: Intro to Close Embrace.” You cover the embrace, ochos, navigation, and musicality for the first time. This class will also cover some new linear moves, depending on how the class progresses.
It’s highly recommended that you take “Tango 201: The Well-Rounded Dancer” before the milonga – and then stay for the milonga This class will help you make the jump from class to the milonga!
IF YOU TOOK CLASS ON TUESDAYS WITH FRANCIS AND BRIGITTE, YOU SHOULD TAKE:
“Tango 201: The Well-Rounded Dancer.” We’ll be diving deep into the details and emphasizing sensitivity and moving with pleasure.
“Tango 402: Classic Elements.” This will be the class where we explore more complex movements! This session will be about ganchos. Seriously!
IF YOU TOOK “ADVANCED CLASSICS” ON WEDNESDAYS AT 7 PM, YOU SHOULD TAKE:
“Tango 402: Classic Elements” on Wednesdays at 7 PM. Ganchos are fun, especially if they are geared towards the line of dance.
“Tango 302: Taking Turns” on Mondays at 6:30 PM. This will prepare you for more advanced classes about turns.
Intermediate/Advanced dancers are welcome to sign up for any Tango 100 class for free. You’ll be learning the other role and working on your fundamentals.
There are a surprising number of advanced dancers who aren’t coming to the milonga. “Tango 201: The Well-Rounded Dancer” before the milonga can help you!
IF YOU TOOK “MILONGA” ON WEDNESDAYS AT 8 PM, PLEASE:
continue with “Tango 305: Milonga” on Wednesdays at 8:15 PM. We’ll be moving fast and having a lot of fun!
IF YOU TOOK CLASS ON THURSDAYS AT 6:30 PM, YOU SHOULD:
continue with Tango 103 at 7:15 PM. As you’ll be integrated into the new curriculum, we’ll be working with everyone to get them caught up.
Those who were in Tango 2 will take their first steps in close embrace and will work on greater fluency. You are highly encouraged to come early for Tango 101 at 6:15 PM, so you can learn the other role! For free!
Those who were in Tango 1 will learn some new figures. Tango 103 represents a bit of a jump for you, so be prepared to practice and have fun challenges! You are also welcome to re-take Tango 101 for free, especially if you haven’t practiced over the break.
IF YOU TOOK MUSICALITY ON MONDAY NIGHTS OR MULTIPLE GUEST WORKSHOPS LAST YEAR:
“Tango 202: Ignite Your Dance / Delight Your Partner” is for you. There were a lot of technique workshops last year, so we need a time to sift through what we’ve learned and see how it works practically for each person’s dance.
We’re looking for a time to put Tango 202. It’s possible that we will do some weekend seminars once a month or put it on Wednesday night. Let us know what you’d like to do.
If you are a beginner, you have two options:
Tango 101 on Sundays at 6:30 PM includes the Sunday Práctica. That means you can apply what you’ve learned right away and get some extra help from your teachers.
Tango 101 on Thursdays at 7:15 PM: If you want to challenge yourself or if you’ve taken dance classes before, you can stay for Tango 103 after your Tango 101 class. The only thing is you must find a partner and stick with that partner throughout the course.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us!
When you evaluate every little thing you do as it happens (whether it’s during the year, or – let’s go for the tango wisdom – during a song that you’re dancing), it’s easy to focus on mistakes or things you could have done better.
But when you look back on everything, it’s easier to see what you did right.
For the Siempre Tango Team, it was a tumultuous year, but we have a lot to be happy about.
2019 started out with a bang.
Nearly 60 people showed up to one of our free beginner classes during the first week of January. It was bonkers and a fabulous experience and it led to one of our biggest Tango 1 cohorts ever.
The Love Shack Milonga, after being delayed a week by an epic snowstorm, took place relatively close to Valentine’s Day.
We also had our first Queer Tango bootcamp, as part of the Winter Pride program! Thank you to Viva from Queer Tango Montreal for coming out to see us.
We were able to welcome renowned teacher and tango writer Veronica Toumanova for the first time to Ottawa.
The response was fantastic, and she enjoyed her time teaching an large, enthusiastic group of followers. Special thanks to Leanna for hosting Veronica.
We were pleased to bring another pair of artists to Ottawa for the first time: Alberto Ramos and Micaela Barrett of the Cleveland Tango School. They brought with them their mix of youthful panache and deep respect for the old ways of tango. There were lot of new ideas to play around with!
This time Robert served as the host – thank you.
A quiet summer session with some interesting seminars on Boleos and Wraps.
This was the first sprout for our new “Tango 402: Classic Elements” course. It makes more sense to tackle more difficult elements one at a time.
As dancers who spend most of the time improvising in crowded rooms, performances are a challenge. But thank you to Rahim for giving us two opportunities to perform this year: once at his popular Friday social and again at June’s Salsapalooza.
Later in June, we announced that the Spring 2019 session would be Mary-Ellen’s last with Siempre Tango. We were able to celebrate and thank her at this year’s Red and White Milonga.
We’re pleased to say that she still comes out to the Tuesday milongas.
Melina Mistral is already a friend to many in the Ottawa community, and we were pleased to welcome her for her first official visit. We look forward to developing our friendship with this dynamic and well-traveled teacher!
Last summer, our beloved Bate Hall was unavailble, but no matter: it was a chance to bring tango out of a private setting and to the people. There were a lot people looking at us through the windows, and we do hope their curiosity leads them to tango at some point.
Our first try at a Saturday milonga, Milonga Sin Nombre, was an groovy experiment that we’ll revisit again. A cool club feeling, underground (but upstairs), with drinks.
We made a great addition to our team: at the beginning of the Fall 2019 session, Isabelle joined the teaching team and taught her first classes with Robert.
It was a poignant announcement, and a reminder to 1) thank your tango teachers, past and present, every chance you get and 2) value every dance you have with your friends.
But this announcement didn’t spell the end for Siempre Tango. Far from it.
As the Fall Session continued, Karina Colmeiro came back to Ottawa for her first teaching visit since 2013, bringing her technical precision and a wonderful DJ set at her welcome milonga on Saturday night.
The Goodbye Milonga for Francis and brigitte was a night that the Ottawa tango community will remember for a very long time.
There was a lot of love in that room – and nearly 130 people. It served as the best evidence that building a tango community takes:
a lot of time,
Tomás Howlin came for his annual holiday visit, and it was wonderful. As usual! (A big thank you to Elizabeth Loan for her help in hosting Tomás.)
Another highlight: During the first evening edition of Milonga Querida (thank you, Tiniko!), Robert and Isabelle performed for the first time as Siempre teachers.
The Reindeer Romp was an intimate affair, but in terms of gathering cold-weather essentials for homeless youth, it was a success. It felt great to fill Mary Ellen’s car full of donations for Operation Come Home.
By December we were down to 4 teachers on our team…
But luckily for us, Tiniko joined our teaching team and brought a vital presence and new perspectives!
After deciding what Siempre Tango’s guiding values are, we hope they’ll provide coherence to everything we say and do.
We’ve renewed our commitment to nuturing the Ottawa Tango community. This means resisting short-term thinking, and empowering dancers to speak out and contribute. (Want to have your say? Fill out our survey, and we will share what we’ve learned.)
We’re looking forward to our first Tuesday Milonga on January 7th at 7:30 PM.
(This post is purely my opinion, and I speak only for myself.)
Last weekend during in Montreal, I danced with a leader who’d been taking classes for about seven months.
(Sometimes, I like to boost the “tango karma”!)
Earlier that day, I’d seen him at the studio buying a tango dress for his girlfriend; she looked happy, and he looked proud that he’d gotten her something that she clearly liked.
Later at the milonga, he’d tried cabeceo-ing me, but I waited until the music was not-so-demanding and the floor was emptier. I cabeceo’d him; he tip-toed his way towards my seat in case he’d gotten it wrong!
The tanda was pleasant. Really. He was self-deprecating about his skills, but not too much. Between songs, we chatted about his visit to Montreal. While dancing, he paused a lot, he walked a lot, and his embrace was decent.
It probably helps that his girlfriend is a more experienced dancer. He’d been well-taught about how to be at the milonga. He could walk and lead some ochos and the cross; he was only ok when it came to finding the beat. But he was more “milonga-ready” than some dancers I know who’ve been learning for longer and have more moves.
There’s some debate over how many classes a student should take before going to their first milonga. Everyone is different.
The first time I was ready and not ready.
I made fast friends with my first tango teacher, and after 2 months of class and practice, he took me to my first milonga: the Saturday night gala at a tango festival. It was scary even though I was with my friend. I think he taught me what I needed to enjoy the milonga, so he didn’t have to baby-sit me, but I wished I could have gone to a more local milonga first.
I wouldn’t say a student knows enough after three or four classes to keep themselves and their partners safe in the line of dance. But I also couldn’t say, “You need x amount of classes” either. I definitely wouldn’t discourage a student from going to a milonga if their curiosity pushes them. But I would like to give them enough information so that they don’t stress out over the experience.
I think the answer to “Am I ready to attend milongas?” is more about attitude than actual skill.
You might be ready for the milonga if you know the basics of milonga etiquette and if some of the following apply to you:
You have a positive approach towards your skills and those of other dancers.
You’re ok to just sit and chat, enjoy the music, and watch others dance.
You do regular practice outside of class, whether it’s alone or with a partner (be honest re: the word REGULAR).
You see the milonga as a place to have fun with what you’ve learned, rather than a place to show what you have learned.
If a milonga is a tango dance party, you’ll at least enjoy the “party” aspect, regardless of what happens on the dance floor. You’re more likely to come back for more and allow your community to get to know you. You’ll be relaxed in the embrace, and this always feels better to an experienced partner than the opposite.
If a couple of the following feel familiar:
You don’t practice,
You think your teachers or advanced dancers must dance with you so that you can have fun,
People in class keep telling you to relax your arms or that your embrace feels hard or that your embrace hurts them,
You believe that the number of tandas danced is positively correlated to success at the milonga,
You might not be ready to go to the milonga.
That’s not to say that you can’t go to the milonga if these thoughts pop into your head or if your embrace is a work in progress; if that were the case, milongas would be empty! Most tango dancers struggle with these issues. Fortunately, these attitudes can be unlearned with experience and by acknowledging that tango isn’t a fast or quick pursuit.
(One side effect of having a good attitude is that it’ll change your approach to your classes. You won’t be so hyperfocused on achievement and you’ll try new things.)
To beginners: Only you can decide when you are ready to attend a milonga. But I wouldn’t leave it too long and let your first milonga become this “big deal” that you have to be prepared for. It’s just a social gathering with dancing in middle!
And let’s be honest: a small tango community needs you as much as you need them.
Approaching the milonga with a good attitude can innoculate you from behaving in ways that turn other dancers off.
In the past year, I’ve seen and heard the following at milongas:
A leader shaming a beginning’s skill level, saying, “You’re not very good. All I can lead you is box steps.”
A follower who’s not good at all condescendingly saying, “I. Simply. Cannot. Understand. What. You. Are. Trying. To. Lead. Me,” to an intermediate leader.
A follower describing in minute detail an “amazing” tanda she’d had at a milonga the night before with someone else, while I was leading her.
A leader saying to me, “Do you want me to sit in your lap? Get out of my seat,” at a milonga without assigned seating.
These are very isolated incidents. For myself, I would decline to dance with these people, and it has nothing to do with their steps or technique.
Why the long-ass blog post?
Each quarter, we offer a Milonga Primera (“first milonga”) for our beginner students. The evening includes a Q&A about milonga etiquette and then dancing, with teachers to guide them. It’s a way to celebrate the hard work of our beginner students, and it’s the event that I wished I could’ve attended when I was just starting out.
But even if your school or community doesn’t offer a beginner-friendly event, don’t despair.
Start going to prácticas to get used to how the dance floor flows. Talk to people in your class and arrange to go to prácticas as a group so you at least have people to sit with and dance with. Be sure to ask your teachers for help, too – that’s what the práctica is for!
When you do decide to go to milongas, be social about it. If milongas are about dancing with your friends, you have to make friends first. Sit with different people and ask questions, or park yourself next to the snack table and say “Hi.” There’s usually one or two curious people who will come up to you because they haven’t seen you before. Be open to the unexpected.
For the most part, tango dancers look out for each other – so let your new friends help you enjoy!
The Ottawa School of the Alexander Technique has been operating at full capacity since its opening in 2014. Over the last two years, we’ve received more and more requests from prospective students in Montreal, Toronto, and other bigger cities. Unfortunately, not many of these prospects are willing to relocate to Ottawa for the 3-year training program.
brigitte and I both love Ottawa, but because our main interest is now the training program, we made the difficult decision to move the Ottawa School to Montreal. brigitte will continue as the director and head teacher of the Montreal School of the Alexander Technique, and I will become an assistant teacher and administrator.
Regarding our tango journey, Siempre Tango is celebrating its 21st anniversary this year. I couldn’t have reached this milestone alone.
It’s been a great pleasure having my wife brigitte at my side for all these years, building and growing the Ottawa tango community in all its diversity.
We are deeply grateful to Mary Ellen for being our rock since Siempre’s beginnings and to Marcel who established the tango community in Ottawa and who later joined forces with us. We thank those who have helped us along the way either by teaching with us – especially Michael Delman, Robert Gatien and Daniel Marcoux – or by setting up and taking down the many rooms in which we have celebrated our community.
I’d like to bring special attention to all the work that’s been done by Jewel since she joined us. She’s an effective teacher and a talented dancer, and she’s outstanding when it comes to reaching out to people about tango.
We thank the Ottawa tango community for all the adventures and emotions that have bound us, and allowed us all to grow together as we shared our vision of this special dance.The individual way every milonguero / milonguera dances, the music that inspires us to move, and the personal connections that we establish – these have always been what we value most. These values are why brigitte and I never imposed a certain style on our students. We’ve always preferred that people become the dancers they are.
It was never my intention to teach tango forever, but for Siempre Tango to continue, I wanted to choose people who share our idea that tango is ultimately a reflection of who we are. I’m happy to say that Siempre will continue to grow in the capable hands of Jewel, Marcel, Robert, and Isabelle – an excellent team who will carry on the good work after our departure. We look forward to seeing Siempre Tango evolve in the years to come!
brigitte and I will be coming back to Ottawa often because she and I, as her assistant, will be teaching Alexander Technique classes at the University of Ottawa’s new Musicians’ Wellness Centre. So we are really saying “See you later” and not “Goodbye.”
If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me. I look forward to seeing each of you this fall.
Most of this information pertains to women’s shoes, but all of these vendors sell shoes for men as well. Edited September 19, 2022.
When you first start taking tango classes, you’ll find that sneakers or flat shoes or even socks are fine for classes. I think it’s better to get a sense of the kind of movements tango demands before you invest in shoes.
Even as you take more classes, sneakers and flat dance shoes can still work. But as you start to explore tango and maybe attend tango socials, you may feel the need to fit in (totally legit). You may find that your shoes hold you back. Both of which mean it’s time to invest in a pair of Argentine tango shoes. In this post, we’ll give you some tips for choosing your first pair and some links to local(ish) retailers.
For all of our students:
To protect the floor at each of our venues, we require our students to wear “indoor shoes,” meaning that they aren’t ever used for outdoor wear.
When you first start tango, we simply advise you to wear shoes that strap securely to your feet, have non-marking soles, and are easy to pivot in.
Wear the heel height that is comfortable for you. You don’t have to wear 9 cm heels to be a “real” tango dancer. I personally wear shoes that are 7 to 8 cm. This is the right height for me because I don’t slide into the front of the shoe. In a higher heel I also tower over many of the leaders I like to dance with. As you progress in your dance, you can wear higher heels.
(Or not! At Siempre Tango Ottawa, we don’t have a problem with women wearing flats for class and practice, or even to dance socially. Our priority is helping you to take care of your feet for a long dancing life.)
The soles of tango shoes are usually made of leather. This is the most versatile surface, and you can pivot on just about anything that’s not rubberized. Some tango shoes have suede soles, which are also good for pivots but require maintenance.
If you find a pair of ballroom or salsa shoes that works for you, stay with those. However, shoes made specifically for tango shoes are different:
The metal shank in between the insole and the outsole is shorter than that for ballroom shoes.
The padding of the insole tends to be thicker.
Stabilility in tango shoes comes from attaching the insole, outsole, and heel with both glue and nails throughout.
Tango shoes are built to be balanced, meaning that if you stand them up alone on a surface, they shouldn’t tip over or list to one side.
For an experienced dancer’s eye, women’s ballroom shoes have a certain “look” or profile that is different from a women’s tango shoe.
Investing in quality tango shoes means that they are more stable and less likely to pinch you. They should fit you well right out of the box. (However, I’ve found that “sparkly” material and patent leather break in more slowly. The upside is that these materials keep their shape for longer.)
When you first start learning tango, you won’t need to pivot so much, so shoe choice is less of an issue. However, as you continue your tango journey, you will actually need to pivot to lead turns and to do more interesting moves. And if you learn to follow from the beginning, you’ll need to be able pivot right away.
If you ever need to force a pivot, save your knees and invest in dance shoes!
Stay away from flashy designs unless you are super comfortable with people’s eyes being drawn to your feet.
Where to buy shoes:
Practice flats and men’s shoes
I like to support local businesses, so you can find jazz shoes, ballet flats, dance sneakers, and men’s dance shoes at Brio or Malabar.
(Got another dance shoe store in Ottawa that you like? Let us know.)
High heels and custom shoes for men and women
There is no dedicated tango shoe seller in Ottawa for now. For the most part, we turn to our friends in Montreal to buy new shoes. The vendors that we mention below sell men’s and women’s shoes.
Line Desrosiers is another shoe seller in Montreal. Her shop is called Tango Sublime. She sells Italian brands like Tangolera (known for the extra padding in the sole), Madame Pivot, and Regina. She is also on Facebook. (Note: My preferred brand is Tangolera because they can take a beating and they fit me very well out of the box.)
Our friends at Stella Mary Creations sell D’Raso shoes. Stella sets up shop at Studio Tango in Montreal. You can make a custom order also and contact her on Facebook to make a request. (Note: I have not personally tried these shoes, but I know many people who like them.)
(While it is possible to order shoes from most brands online, such as Strictly for Dancers or Axis Tango, we suggest that you try shoes on in person from an in-person vendor first to know your sizes in each brand.)