Tango in New Zealand Tango in New Zealand
Articles

Step to Step - III

Page 1 - Tango Page 2 - Vals Page 3 - Milonga Page 4 - Summary

Milonga

There is, of course, a third style of music we dance to - milonga. Milonga also has a 'happier', more light-hearted sound and feel than tango - in contrast to tango and vals, it's the style that makes people smile and even laugh while dancing.

Buy this on CD
[Pedro Laurenz - Milonga de Mis Amores]

What's the story with milonga rhythm?

Like tango and vals, milonga has a main-beat pulse that runs all the way through, and like tango and vals, there are 'in-between' beats. It's more like tango, in that there's only one 'middle' beat, instead of the two in-between beats that vals has. The most obvious difference between tango and milonga is that milonga is much faster: if these are the beats of tango:

tango:

...then a milonga is more like this:

milonga:

The speed of milonga can make dancing the half-beats pretty difficult, and it's perfectly fine to dance milonga lisa - that is, stepping only on the main beats:

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

A lot of dancers get stressed out dancing milonga, because it feels too fast and frenetic. However, if you dance only on the main beats like this, milonga becomes a much lower stress experience - in fact it's easier than tango, because you know exactly when to put your foot down and exactly which foot it will be - it's a nice reliable left - right - left - right - left - right from beginning to end.

However, there are also those who like to dance milonga con traspie - literally 'milonga with tripping'. In this style of dancing, the dancers do step on some of the half beats, often in a predictable rhythm that matches the base-line of the music (which we'll come to presently) - something like this.

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

Danced well, milonga con traspie can be a satisfying and invigorating rhythmic experience - it's called this because often it appears as though the dancers take two steps with the same foot, like what happens when you trip over something in the street (this isn't what it looks like in the line of feet above, because they're stretched out along the beats in the diagram). It can be rather challenging, though, and it's not unusual for people to dance lisa to the fast milongas and con traspie to slow milongas.

Yes, there are slow milongas! Often people have a hard time knowing the music is milonga, and the speed is a good rule of thumb. However, there is fast music that's not milonga - the following example has a lot of fast notes, but it's tango:

Buy this on CD
[Edgardo Donato - Tierrita]

...and the following is slow, but it's milonga:

Buy this on CD
[Francisco Canaro - Milonga Sentimental]

So if you can't necessarily use the speed to tell it's milonga, how else can you tell?

It turns out that milonga almost always has a characteristic 'base-line' that you rarely hear in tango. This is a particular tune than repeats over and over 'behind' the main melody of the music. The milonga 'base-line' sounds like this:

Buy this on CD
[Bajofondo - Mi Corazon]
*this is electrotango, not milonga, but the baseline is taken from milonga and it's a very clear example

...it has a very particular dum... da dum dum dum sound to it, which, if we zoom in close on the beats, works like this:

base-line: dum

da- dum
dum
dum

da- dum
dum
dum
beats:







This 'base line' rhythm makes it's presence felt somewhere or other in all milonga music - you can hear it in the slow milongas and in the fast ones

This rhythm sometimes drops out for a short while during the course of the milonga, but it's usually present throughout most of it.

When dancing con traspie, it can be nice to try to put our feet down on the dum-dum-dum part, like this:

steps: step       step   step   step       step   step
step
base-line: dum

da- dum
dum
dum

da- dum
dum
dum
beats:







Milonga, as a style of music, is older than tango (some say that tango came from milonga), and there are in fact a variety of styles of milonga music that you don't hear so much in the world of tango dancing. There are milongas that are part of Argentina's folkloric tradition, like the following:

Buy this on CD
[Atahualpa Yupanqui - Los Ejes De Mi Carreta]

... and even in pop music:

Buy this on CD
[Kevin Johansen - Daisy]

In these cases, you can hear the dum... da-dum dum dum rhythm, but it's slightly altered and often plays over different notes.

There's also a style called milonga campera, which can be heard in folkloric music

But this on CD
[Elis Regina - Los Hermanos]

This has a rhythm which may sound familiar to tango dancers - it's slower, and the base line rhythm misses out the second 'dum' of the classic milonga rhythm - it's not so much dum... da-dum dum dum as dum...dah...dum dum, and sounds like this:

Buy this on CD
[Gotan Project - Vuelvo Al Sur]
*again, this is electrotango, but serves as a nice clear example

base-line: dum

dah ...
dum
dum

dah ...
dum
dum
beats:







Fans of Sally Potter's movie The Tango Lesson will recognise this rhythm from Milonga Triste, which features prominently in the movie soundtrack...

Buy this on CD
[Hugo Diaz - Milonga Triste]

While this is technically a 'milonga', if you danced to it, you'd probably dance in a style more like tango than milonga; slower, not stepping on every beat, with pauses in the dramatic parts, etc.

Next Page - Summary



text: robert©fromont.net.nz August 2008

The tango is seen as a music of passionate love. It is not. It is the music of loneliness and lust.

Ricardo Gomez