Recently I was out in a milonga with a lovely dancer friend of mine, and I saw that she kept declining all the vals tandas. I know that she loves dancing, especially vals, so I asked her why. Her reply: “Nobody here knows how to dance the Tango vals”.
Looking around the dance floor at most milongas, I find that this is often the case. Few people take classes focused on the Tango Vals because they don’t understand how the music and the dancing of the Vals differ from the music and dancing of tango. So they step onto the dance floor with all of their tango knowledge, and dance vals the way they would dance a tango, but on a tertiary rhythm.
Sadly, they tend to overlook the subtleties and depth of the vals rhythm.
It’s different from tango, but as complex and intense. Well-danced, the tango vals is incredibly rich, deliciously filled with subtleties. Like a big caramel ice-cream, with toffee on the top, and cream, and chocolate chips, and extra cherry sauce.
So, here are 4 secrets on how to make your Valses yummy, more musical and intense.
1.It is not a viennese Vals
At the start of their tango journey, most dancers associate the tango vals with the territory rhythm of the Viennese vals; at first it’s helps hear how the vals rhythm differs from the tango or milonga rhythms. But before starting to dance socially, we need to hear the subtleties of the Tango vals.
True, the Tango vals is an evolution of the Viennese vals. It uses a tertiary rhythm too, but not in the same regular way.
- The Viennese waltz: Look at the picture blue: you can see that the tertiary rhythm of the Viennese vals is perfectly regular. It goes on and on: 123, 123, 123, 123… The strong beat is always on the 1. The time between the 1st and the 2nd beats and the time between the 2nd and the 3rd are of equal length. In music theory, this is called a triplet.
- The tango vals is different: yes, the rhythm is tertiary, and often as regular as in the Viennese
vals. But sometimes, it changes and becomes syncopated: As you can see in the pictures below, the time between the 1st and 2nd beats, or between the 2nd and 3rd beats shortens. The strong beat always comes at a regular rhythm and is always on one, but the 2nd and 3rd softer beats change. If the syncopation is between 1 and 2, then there is a suspension between 2 and 3. If the syncopation is between 2 and 3, then there is a suspension between 1 and 2. It is the same syncopation as is often used in tango and milonga temas, but on a tertiary rhythm.
Obviously, this impacts the way we dance.
We can’t go into the dance floor walking around like wind-up toys, and not reflect the different dynamics of the rhythm. Hearing the syncopation makes for more exciting dancing that a regular tertiary rhythm.
That’s where ladies need to me careful.
Followers tend to take less musicality classes than men, and they are often less aware of the subtle changes of dynamics the tango vals has to offer: they tend to dance it as a Viennese vals – and thus ruin their partner’s efforts for subtleties. Precision in following is a beautiful skill to practice!
2. Practice your Vals walk
Listen to a vals, and even if you don’t understand the lyrics, you’ll automatically hear that it’s lighter-hearted than a tango. The tango vals is soft, fluid, tender and the quality of your walking should reflect that.
Often, dancers learn the Tango walk then step into the dance floor and walk the same way on a vals tema.
Spoiler alert: even though the basic technique is the same, the tango walk and the vals walk are different. And the vals walk should be practiced with the same care and dedication as the tango walk.
When walking for the vals, both leaders and followers need to find the perfect balance between strongly marking the 1st beat, and keeping a light and soft walking quality. Though the rhythm is often quicker than for a tango, your walk should feel absolutely controlled and very fluid. When practicing the vals walk, focus on using your knees to cushion your landing and make sure that the way you step is much softer than in a tango walk. You can think about ‘toning down the intensity of the steps’.
3. Save your long pauses for a Tango!
As you know if you’ve read this blog or watched our videos, we are big fans of pausing here at Tango Space.
Even though it feels scary for some dancers to just stand and “do nothing” (Is she bored yet? Will she stop dancing with me if I don’t do cool moves? etc…), the pause is the moment where we can truly create connection and enjoy discovering each others as people and as dancers. Plus, with the right decorations, it looks amazing from the outside. So, yes, we’re 100% for the Pause.
But the Vals rhythm doesn’t allow for long pausing.
The musical phrases of the Vals are fast-paced and fluidly come after one another, inviting the dancers to move from one movement to the next as if in one go.
That’s why when we dance the vals, we don’t do paradas, sandwichitos or other static steps, as we do in tango: there is no time in the music for such movements.
4. Swap linearity for circularity
Tango is a travelling dance. In a social dance setting, we are invited to travel linearly, to allow for dance floor circulation.
But this is not something invented by milonga organisers to cram as many people on the dance floor as possible: Listen to a Tango tema and you will hear how the music is asking us to do linear movements.
You can think about linear movements as every movement that makes us move in a straight line: the walk, the cross, walking in cross-system, ocho cortado… Experienced leaders know how to use them to reflect the brisk rhythm of the music. Experienced followers recognise them and adapt the quality of their walk to them.
The vals music, on the other hand, invites us to use circular movements: ochos, giros, half-giros, the calesita… (click here to learn how to dance the calecita).They adapt well to a tertiary rhythm and help us express the fluidity of the music. Plus, when well timed, they are incredibly fun and musical!
Just bear in mind that linear movements are still needed to allow for dance floor circulation, but not as much as for a Tango tema.
Now, we’d love to hear from you: Is there any secret you could to share on how to play with the subtleties of the Vals? Share your experience and let us know in the comments below.
Thank you for reading, and see you very soon on the dance floor.