Tango in New Zealand Tango in New Zealand

Step to Step - II

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Tango vals (vals criollo) is another style of music that we dance to in the milonga. The general sound and feel of vals is more 'happy' and 'stately' than the often 'nostalgic' or 'tragic' tango, and it sounds like this:

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[Miguel Caló - Pedacito de Cielo]

or this:

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[Miguel Caló - El Vals Soñador]

However, there's also a technical difference that makes us dance differently. Just like tango, it has a main beat, that's a good speed for us to 'walk' in the dance:


...and just like tango, there are some 'weaker' beats in between - but instead of there being just one weak beat, there are two - evenly spaced between the main beats, like this:


For those who like counting, this would be

beats: 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3

What effect does this have on dancing? Well, as with tango, you can do adornments or steps on the 'in between' beats. However, if you do them with the same timing as with tango: 

steps: step     step     step step step     step     step
step step

...you end up stepping out of time with the rhythm if you step exactly between two 'main' beats.

Instead of doing this, you can get yourself back 'in sync' with the vals rhythm by doing your 'in between' step slightly earlier:

steps: step     step     step step step     step     step     step step step    
beats: 1

1 2
1     1     1     1 2

...or slightly later:

steps: step     step     step step step     step     step     step step step    
beats: 1     1     1   3 1     1     1     1   3 1    

In this way, you're always stepping on a beat that you can hear in the music.

Which one of these two options is better? Well, it turns out that either one is fine, as long as you're both doing it the same way. Some people prefer the first way, others prefer the second. Some people do one or the other depending on the steps they're doing, others will keep to the same 'in between beat' rhythm all the way through the vals.

Basically some people prefer a (12  12  ...) feel for vals, and others like a (1  31  31...) feel.

*I've even seen dancers who do it one way when leading and the other way when following (and also dancers who don't like to step on the in-between beats in vals at all, and stick to the main beats only). Some valses slightly favour 12 (e.g. Pedacito de Cielo or El Trovero) and other favour 31 (e.g. El Vals Soñador)

This is the kind of subtlety that can make dancing vals with one person a little awkward and dancing with another divine - if each person is dancing a slightly different feel, then the result can be a little jarring.

How do you know what your partner prefers? Figuring that out is part of developing sensitivity to our partner, and part of striving to dance with somebody else. Once you can feel in your body what the difference is between the two, all you need to do is try it one way, and if it feels a little awkward, try the other way. Being able to change the way you hear vals music takes a certain amount of practice and concentration at first, but can really open up your experience of your own dancing and the dancing of others.

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text: robert©fromont.net.nz August 2008

In the everyday tango ... of family gatherings and respectable tearooms, there is ... a taste of infamy that the tango of the knife and the brothel never even suspected.

Jorge Luis Borges