Dance To The Music!

Here is a comment from one of my readers that I want to share with you:

Re Tal’s comment about the music, he is absolutely right to say that almost everywhere you go you hear the same undistinguished tracks, and most of them are tangos with lyrics. I have noticed the choice of music getting progressively more narrow over the last five years, in London. I presume this is because the DJs listen to each others playlists and repeat them at their own milongas. There is a huge amount of truly extraordinary tango music, but you wont hear any of it a typical london milonga, although you used to. I have many objections, but the use of tangos with lyrics is probably the greatest. Tango did not use to have lyrics, but the lyricists, led by Carlos Gardel, colonised tango about eighty years ago. In Buenos Aires the traditionalist view is that only the ‘strangers’, to use the Argentine word for you and me, dance to tangos with lyrics, and what do they know. Not much, it would seem……. Tangos with lyrics are for listening to, not for dancing to. After an hour of baritone lyrics, she ruined my life, she left me, she done me wrong, etc. etc. I have a head ache. Then again, why would I would want to compete with the vocalist when trying to communicate my interpretation of the melody to my follower. Either she gets two competing interpretations, or I give in and submit to the vocalists. What’s the point? Dancing to lyrics is truly a waste of life……… There will be more on this subject on my website, in due course.

Danny Israel

Now I am not really sure what the state of play is in Buenos Aires regarding this.  I have been told that the Argentines like to dance to songs with lyrics, except Gardel.  If someone from Argentina can clarify this, that would be great.

As for dancing to songs with lyrics, I don’t mind it.  I don’t understand all of the words, but I find some singers to be quite lyrical and lovely to dance to.  I also like being serenaded during a dance.  Two men that I know of quite regularly sing along to songs they like that move them and it gives a different dimension to the dance and I find I can get quite caught up in their passion.

As for the music in London, well I might have to agree somewhat that the music can be the same old all around.   While visiting London for a few weeks, a friend of mine managed to get a DJ spot at one of the milongas (she has her own Milonga in Rome).  After about an hour and a half, the organiser wasn’t happy with the music and replaced her with someone else as some of the people told her they would leave if the music didn’t get better.  When we asked what was the problem with the music, the organiser couldn’t/wouldn’t tell us.  This was really surprising as there were people dancing to the music and the floor was reasonably full.  It was still early.  My friend spent hours setting up playlist of 10hrs worth of traditional music that could be adjusted as necessary, and all put into Tandas with Cortinas.  I helped her with the music in only that I offered an opinion such as, ‘That song is too slow, or too nuevo.’ She had beautiful music that I hadn’t heard of.  I had music that she didn’t have, a bit faster.  I told her that I thought the London crowd preferred a faster beat.  In discussing this with visiting DJ’s after the event that seems to be the consensus and which was played by her last-minute replacement.  One thing that came out of this was that when looking at a playlist, most people don’t know what they are looking at, not even some DJ’s.  I think the best DJ’s know their music inside and out and can see from the title of the song what it is, who it is by and how it will sound.  There are very few of those.  The only person who my friend was able to talk to about her list was with the visiting teacher that taught the class before the Milonga.  He couldn’t find any fault with it and thought it was all danceable.  If there was anything wrong with it, it was that people may have been unfamiliar with some of the music.   I don’t find it a problem dancing to unfamiliar music if I listen to it for a little while before the song gets going.  After that I find that the music instinctively takes me where it wants me to go.  The silver cloud was that many people came up to my friend when the music changed over to tell her how much they enjoyed her choices as it was different to the same old that was being played. 🙂

I am not sure how the music is going to improve in London.  I think if a person has a problem with the music, then that person should contact the DJ or organiser and very nicely tell them what you didn’t like about their song choices and what you would prefer instead.  I have once told an organiser that I wasn’t crazy about the music that was played by a visiting DJ and why, but they just came back to me and said that other people told them that they enjoyed the music.  Each to their own I guess.

Now, this isn’t a post about or against DJ’s, that’s another post.  🙂

What I want to know is what the dancers like to dance to and what their opinion is about the music played at the London Milongas.  I also want to hear from people who dance/live in Buenos Aires and what they dance to there.

Over to you!

78 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Chris, UK
    May 01, 2010 @ 09:00:43

    > In Buenos Aires the traditionalist view is that only the ‘strangers’,
    > to use the Argentine word for you and me, dance to tangos with lyrics

    In every BsAs milonga I’ve visited, the DJ plays tango with lyrics and the locals love to dance them.

  2. El Chupacabra
    May 02, 2010 @ 00:28:14

    The music makes or breaks a milonga, all other things being equal.

    London milongas can be great if there is a mix of the classics that everyone loves, and a few new discoveries. DJs trying to impress with their esoterica or exotica do not a good milonga make.

    I’ve thought about it for a while and it seems to me that lyrics have nothing to do with it – its the dancability of the music. There is great music for listening to, and there is great music for dancing to, and this distinction is not always understood by DJs / organisers, amazingly enough.

    Corrientes in London can have evenings where, as a comrade put it “the music has been insipid all evening”.

    Eton milonga has always impressed –

    I remember Balham always had a great selection too.

    See – the thing is – good music for dancing, prompts your movements, you try less trying to interpret, it moves you.

  3. Tito Palumbo
    May 02, 2010 @ 03:10:30

    Probablemente, la gente se acostumbra a la música que pone determinado DJ en su milonga y siente el cambio por la música de otro DJ como que la obliga a realizar un esfuerzo para adaptarse. En las milongas de Buenos Aires se pasa música instrumental -sin letra- y música con letra. Hay tangos que son bailables y tangos que son para escuchar, en particular, los tangos interpretados por cantores acompañados por guitarristas, son para escuchar.

  4. Cherie
    May 02, 2010 @ 14:46:54

    Are you kidding me? Dancing to Tanturi con Castillo is a dream!

    Gardel is not danced to, nor are women vocalists in BsAs, but the singers with the classic orchestras most certainly are.

    And some of the lyrics are touchingly moving.

  5. jantango
    May 03, 2010 @ 20:42:34

    If you ask the milongueros, they prefer dancing to instrumental tangos from the 1940s by Troilo, Di Sarli, Tanturi, etc. The deejay used to play tandas of two instrumentals and two vocals.
    This was standard in the confiterias downtown during the 1950s where the milongueros went to dance. The only deejay today who follows this in BsAs is Daniel Borelli in Lo de Celia.

  6. tangobob
    May 04, 2010 @ 13:52:00

    We need to make a distinction here, most tangos by the great orchestras have a refrain, or a portion with lyrics. All wonderful to dance to and still with the sixteen bar phrasing. This is toatlly different to tango cancion, which is all about the song and the singer. In the main this is undancable, but still preferable to the garbage some DJs in the UK play believing that they know what you can dance to.
    The greatest problem over here is that people organise milongas with no real idea what a milonga is about never having been to Buenos Aires, and a thinking that “we know best”
    I also have heard people saying that they enjoyed the music, when electronico or pop or even jungle music was played. My view is you can listen to music anywhere, but if you want to dance tango, it must be to tango music especially if you wish to dance with me.

  7. Chris, UK
    May 08, 2010 @ 11:40:11

    > los tangos interpretados por cantores
    > acompañados por guitarristas, son para escuchar.

    I do wish all London tango dance teachers understood this. Last night at Carablanca the teacher had his class practicing steps to voice-and-guitar numbers by Carlos Gardel. Trying to dance to non-dance music just makes it harder to learn. Thankfully DJs around here know not to play this.

  8. Evaldas
    May 21, 2010 @ 08:34:06

    > if you want to dance tango, it must be to tango
    > music especially if you wish to dance with me.

    :))) excellent !

  9. Tangobitch
    Jun 16, 2010 @ 15:27:46

    Do we want to dance with you bob?
    If you are truly musical and creative you can adapt your tango to suit all kinds of varied music-with the exception of perhaps deep trance music (see Cecilla Garcia and serkan Goksecu).
    This is especially true in Rene and Hiba’s last ten minutes of their Monday practica. It’s experimental challenging and fun.
    Lighten up 😉

  10. Arlene
    Jun 16, 2010 @ 17:43:25

    I would dance with Bob, and if you read my regular posts, you would know that I am a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to dancing. I prefer listening to anything tango inspired music even though I have danced to it. The older I get and the more I dance tango, the more set in my ways I get. I for one don’t want to adapt my tango to suit other kinds of music. That is why I dance Ceroc on occasion! 😉

  11. Tangobitch
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 13:56:30

    Arlene I only just came across your blog so not totally clued up with your opinions as yet, nor should I be – you’re not the Messiah. It was very presumptuous of Bob to assume we all wanted to dance with him I’d like him to explain why he things we would want to.
    Speaking as one of the few people in their 20’s in London milongas I often feel that I am dancing in an old people’s home. You only have to ask yourself why tango attracts such a dowdy middle aged crowd and those “set in their ways” are mostly to blame for putting young ones off. The older crowd feel threatened by non tango choices not because they don’t LIKE dancing to it but because they CAN’T dance to it. (it shows their age 🙂
    I personally have partners who are strictly milonguero while others are very progressive and let me tell you both give me equal joy. I would rather dance to a gorgeous unusual Yiddish track carefully picked by Hiba who’s an awesome DJ than a Piazzola track which isn’t even meant to be danced to in the first place!!

  12. Chris
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 16:40:51

    > You only have to ask yourself why tango attracts such a dowdy middle aged crowd

    I think it only appears that way. In the UK tango attracts fairly equally the young, middle-aged and old, but more of the young give up quickly.

  13. Chris
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 16:50:01

    > If you are truly musical and creative you can
    > adapt your tango to suit all kinds of varied music

    The truly musical and creative don’t need to pretend non-tango music is tango in order to dance it. If they want to dance it, they dance it for what it is.

  14. Arlene
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 17:23:27

    Although not quite yet ready for the old people’s home myself, I am one of the older crowd. I have gone through the gamut of dancing various styles and to different music. Being a Gemini, I like versatility. However, I have learned to really appreciate the older music and my prefered method of dancing is in a close embrace and having a connection with my dance partner. I have come full circle to dancing to the way I first saw it. I can dance in open hold, but I prefer not to. Many people my age and older know how to dance open, but probably most choose not to, not because they can’t. I choose not to dance with those that like open hold. However I did an experiment recently where a man I saw dancing in open hold took me by surprise and asked me to dance. I said yes, but I moved in close and got him around the neck! The man never had a chance to dance open with me and once he realised he couldn’t, he simplified his moves and relaxed. He tried to go open for 3 dances and it never happened. Each time he gave up. It was to traditional Tango music, not anything else. I managed to enjoy my dance in my way. And I know he enjoyed it because he kept smiling at me and just went with it. You should dance the way you want to. It’s your choice. I don’t pretend to be anything. I am just a lady who loves her Tango.

  15. Arlene
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 17:24:09

    There has to be something said for maturity!

  16. Tangobitch
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 20:51:53

    Arlene thanks for engaging with me and not taking to my bitchy ageist bait and for not censoring me :). The fact is I don’t think age is the issue. One can be old at 30 and young at 90. What I was alluding to was people who are old in spitrit.
    The issue is not open or close embrace, I don’t favor either I just think one needs to be open minded. What’s more many of the experimental tracks are danced in close embrace while traditional ones can be danced open. I love close embrace and open as long as there is a genuine connection (I have often danced in close embrace and felt nothing intimate or “connected” whatsoever.) Chris you totally misunderstood me. Truly great tango dancers dance to traditional music as well as a few surprises it just adds more to their artistry. Being close physically does not mean you are closer in the dance. Also unless you are blind it’s plain to see that Tango does not appeal to all age groups due to it’s dogmatic approach.

  17. Tangobitch
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 20:54:23

    p.s I love my tango too

  18. danny
    Jun 18, 2010 @ 23:14:56

    There are no such things as ‘the open embrace’ and ‘the closed embrace’, unless you have a closed mind. What there is, is an elastic, variable, embrace, appropriate to the intentions of the leader, and the follower, an embrace which might be intimate, distant, neutral, or a permutation thereof. It’s all there ever was. It’s really very simple, and very obvious. It’s not written in stone. The notion of the ‘open’ and the ‘closed’ embrace arises out of misguided attempt to reverse engineer tango for teaching purposes, by trying to work back from what is visually evident, to what the student is ‘supposed’ to do, rather than forward from the connection. Needless to say anyone who thinks these terms are meaningful can’t dance tango. What is this ‘dogmatic approach’ anyway? Where does that come from? Must be those teachers again……….

  19. Tango Totty
    Jun 18, 2010 @ 23:50:34

    The fact is I don’t think age is the issue. One can be old at 30 and young at 90
    Have you ever Gordon at the Crypt on Saturday night ? Lovely bloke, cant dance for shit but hey SOME OF US give him a whirl round the dance floor cos hes nearly 90. Shall I put your name on his card then ? PS I know he favours an open embrace (despite being 90) NO connection though!!!!
    I love close embrace and open as long as there is a genuine connection
    Where exactly is the connection in an open embrace? Is it spiriitual? I am sorry but I just can’t get that excited over all that kung fu self arse kicking open embrace nuevo shit. Perhaps I am being a bit negative but you must agree it is shit Tbitch
    I have often danced in close embrace and felt nothing intimate or “connected” whatsoever.)
    The secret is – Find some good dancer and NOT a chancer or a wancer. Nuff said.


  20. Tango Totty
    Jun 18, 2010 @ 23:53:50


    Inever dance with anyone who isn’t a top dancer thats why I always get a connection. Mmmmm…


  21. Tango Totty
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 12:52:28

    @ Danny

    I think you’ll find that Definition and labels are necessary for teaching purposes or we’re all talking BOLLOCKS!


  22. Chris, UK
    Jun 21, 2010 @ 14:53:05

    Definition and labels are necessary for teaching the bollocks found in most classes hereabouts. Not least they are essential to step collecting and hence to step peddling.

    Definitions and labels are not necessary for teaching people to dance.

  23. Tango Totty
    Jun 22, 2010 @ 12:48:24

    Chris UK

    Definitions and labels are a useful reference point for structuring a lesson. Otherwise how do people know what your talking about ? Are there no rules then ? PS Are you a teacher ?


  24. danny
    Jun 22, 2010 @ 15:25:03

    Definitions and labels lead to a kitsch version of tango, which is ok if that’s what you, and what we generally have, ‘just like what they do in Buenos Aires’ or something, but ballroom would be easier still. It would be better, more creative, expressive, intelligent, real, to start with the connection with your partner. Same destination, different route.

  25. danny
    Jun 22, 2010 @ 15:51:02

    ‘In every BsAs milonga I’ve visited, the DJ plays tango with lyrics and the locals love to dance them.’

    It s true that you can hear tangos with lyrics wherever you go in BA, but you have to bear in mind that without us most of the milongas in BA would fold, and they will therefor play whatever they think we want to hear. The tail is wagging the dog, as usual. But its not orthodox.
    From a practical point of view, as a leader, I find lyrics a pain. They hide the music, which as a leader, you need to work to, and they subordinate you, as the leader, to the rhythmic intentions and interpretation of the vocalist, which renders my lead meaningless. If the vocalist can dance and sing at the same time, then I will dance and listen at the same time. Otherwise a metronome would do as well.
    I have also noticed that the dancers frequently default to basic steps, often just walking, during the vocal sections, and return to tango proper during the instrumental sections, when they can hear the music again. I am sure this is unconscious, but you can see it in the milonga and on Youtube.
    Then again there are two kinds of tangos, where lyrics are concerned, those where the tango is written around the lyrics, which don’t interest me, and give rise to some poor tangos from a dance point of view, because they are tangos which are intended for listening to, with your feet up, and those where the lyrics are written to the tango, which can be more danceable, but no lyrics is best, in my opinion, because if you can’t hear the music, you might as well stay at home. I wish DJ’s would note this……

  26. The Voice of reason
    Jun 22, 2010 @ 16:07:20

    Who wants ballroom? I want the real deal not some sanitised version where its all choreographed and set routines. I would love to start with the connection but for and with, so many that is quite elusive. There must be a frame of reference or a language through which the connection can be reached in the dance. Otherwise its just cuddling and wrestling (perhaps both) if someone can’t dance a step. If I say the term ocho it is a clearly identifiable label on a movement that can be learned. So to that extent it is a necessity. Are you trying to put the teachers out of business?


  27. Tango Totty
    Jun 22, 2010 @ 16:09:59

    Danny – this is all tango babble.

    Do I take it then you are into some organic, progressive form of tango that you learn by a process of osmosis from your partner ?

    This intellectualising about tango is pure babble and BORING. People just need very clear instructions about the right technique so they know exactly what they should be doing, not just vague some nonsense about ‘finding a connection with your partner’ –
    after all what exactly is the connection with your partner and is my interpretation the same as yours ?

    This laissez faire attitude to tango is one of the main reasons why the standard here is just SLOPPY – And the injury list at Negracha is worse than Englands World cup squad. Unguarded bolleos and ganchos led by misguided and inexperienced leaders and followers thinking they have a connection when in fact they are just trying to show off and say ‘Look at me’. Wouldnt you agree ?


  28. Tango Totty
    Jun 22, 2010 @ 16:12:07

    By the way Danny are you a teacher?

  29. The Voice of reason
    Jun 22, 2010 @ 16:12:37

    I totally forgot to count you in on the last one to Danny. I do like the term step pedalling by the way which is I agree “bollocks”.


  30. danny
    Jun 22, 2010 @ 19:10:47

    I just realized that what I wrote could have been construed as support for ballroom tango. (A word got left out). No definiteley not, perish the thought. Am I a teacher? As far as I know I am the only person in London tango with a teaching qualification, and somebody who used to teach teachers to teach. I know how people learn, and therefor how to create effective teaching. Also if you include three teaching trips to Beijing, plus Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Hollywood and other places, then I guess that makes me a teacher, but I teach differently, as those who have been to my classes will know. I am sure that if tango had been invented recently we would teach it completely differently. The current model is outdated. ‘Organic progressive tango absorbed by osmosis’? Many a true word said in jest, but I introduce the labels at the end rather than the beginning, to keep the horse in front of the cart. If we don’t start with the connection and stick with it, we end up with something which is not tango, even if it looks like it to a beginner, and which is truly painful in the embrace. Ask yourself if your teacher dances with you, and you will get my drift. The current teaching method creates at least as many problems as it solves. The general level of dancing is modest, because the standard of teaching is modest. I suspect Tango Totty suffers from the condition that most followers endure, which is that she has tried to learn tango, when she began, in the embrace of a partner who was also a beginner, and knew as little, perhaps less, than her, at the time, which is extremely difficult, or, more precisely, not possible, using this teaching method. ‘Cuddling or wrestling’? Dancers should choose their partners with care. Cabuceo is essential. There seem to be ‘leaders’ in the milongas who have never been to a class. The step peddling that Chris refers to is also a problem. More on my website, as soon as I upload it, hopefully tomorrow.

  31. the voice of reason
    Jun 22, 2010 @ 21:41:03

    I am so glad that we have at least one fully qualified teacher in London. I think that you should set up a tango council to award the various so called teachers with accreditation. That way we can get it right. Perhaps we can get rid of all this arse kicking nuevo nonsense. I have noticed you have returned to a much more conservative style yourself. Perhaps I am wrong and have only seen you a few times at Negracha when it was too busy for flamboyance in the milonga. long may it last Danny. By the way what do you mean” ask yourself if your teacher dances with you?” I need to know where you are coming from?



  32. Tango Totty
    Jun 22, 2010 @ 22:50:36


    WTF !!!!!

    If you introduce the labels at the end rather than the beginning how do people know what you are on about ?

    Call me simple, but I thought the whole point of tango was that it was response to the music in a controlled and disciplined fashion, grounded in good technique if you are to be any good.

    I for one think you need to be shown clearly the basic vocabulary of the dance and the correct technique at the start otherwise you are at great risk of learning bad habits which can ultimately only limit your response, your progression and the CONNECTION.


  33. danny
    Jun 23, 2010 @ 12:23:13

    Totty is right, up to a point, but knowing the names of the parts of a gun wont help you hit the target, and knowing what goes on under the bonnet wont get you home any quicker, in my experience. They are relevant, but they are not essential. The essential information that you need, as a follower, to dance tango, should be in the embrace, but I fully understand that it usually isn’t. What the embrace must have, if the lead is to be effective, is not verbal definitions, but physical clarity. You are entitled to physical clarity, within the embrace, as a follower, because without it you can’t follow. You can’t relax. You can’t be carried away. You can’t trust. A tango should be a three minute marriage, but often its a three minute divorce. You have to stay wide awake and second guess your leaders intentions at every step, and the dance then becomes a sort of synchronised, or not synchronised, collaboration, which is not tango.
    Having a discussion with your leader about, say, what the boleo is supposed to be wont give you the clarity in the embrace that you are entitled to. The basic vocabulary that I suspect you are referring to, i.e. boleos, sacadas, colgadas etc., are, I suspect, moves which teachers have imported from stage tango to give them something to teach, because you wont find them in the milongas in BA, where you can be hard put to find an Argentine follower who even understands ganchos, but who still dances very well. What you need to known lies elsewhere. The dynamics of the step and the embrace, musicality, code of turning, dynamics of change of weight, dynamics of connection, dynamics of the embrace, posture, stability, diaphragm control and unloaded leg come to mind, and most importantly for followers, being late, otherwise you can’t follow, and the teaching needs to get these right. Once you have them, and they are absolutely not difficult, tango becomes easy. They are the raw material of tango, which you can’t teach by reverse engineering, which is the usual format on offer. (i.e. follow me if you want to learn to dance tango just like they dance it in BA, or something.). Tango doesn’t work like that. You end up with something that I call tango-lite (sometimes).
    Does your teacher dance with you? In my view a teacher is someone who takes personal responsibility for your individual progress. It’s in seeing students make progress that I get my personal gratification out of teaching. The only way I can check your progress is by dancing with you, in the class or in the milonga. How long does it take to learn to follow? About three hours from a cold start, providing you are lead by someone who can lead, to get to a level of basic competence, enough for example to acquit yourself at the milonga, in my experience. For leaders its a different matter, but the current collaborative teaching model doesn’t really produce leaders, which makes life very difficult for followers……..

  34. Tango Totty
    Jun 23, 2010 @ 15:27:40

    Danny and Chris

    What I meant by the basic vocabulary of the dance was not sequences of steps or showy movements such as volcadas, sacadas, boleos etc, but the walking, the ochos and the giros, the embrace – the building blocks of tango. The correct technique for executing these needs very clear explanation from the start or your dance will never get beyond a certain level. Whats more poor technique will be much more difficult to correct later if you get into ingrained bad habits.

    I do however agree that very good tango dancing is definitely not about variety of steps or even just being an excellent technician – because you may dance like a robot. Its about a subtle combination of all the things you mention above – the embrace, posture, balance, change of weight, musicality, connection together with good technique.

    I would argue however that many of these elements are most definately NOT easy to teach. Some of these areas are very difficult and subjective concepts – Can tango feeling and musicality – (and not just good timing) really be taught in a lesson?

    Some of the areas may actually require long term physical changes eg poor balance, bad posture – cannot be rectified in 5 minutes. For some it may take years, or for some maybe not at all. Moreover there are some bad dancers who may not actually be aware or would even acknowledge that they have these weaknesses.

    I suspect that it is precisely because of the intangible and sometimes frustrating nature of above that many tango teachers do not focus their teaching on them. As you say, they choose instead to focus on quick fixes, flashy moves and sequences that are tangible and relatively straightforward to teach. This along with the misguided public perception of tango is probably one of the main reasons for the rise of the so called ‘step peddling’ phenomenon.

    Some people will never be fantastic or even very good dancers because of their own limitations such as age, bad posture, lack of musicality. But surely everyone can benefit from be clearly taught the basic tools and technique for the dance – the embrace, the walk, the ochos and the giros. These are surely the foundations for the dance upon which the other more subtler elements must be built.


  35. Chris, UK
    Jun 23, 2010 @ 21:45:02

    Tango Totty

    > Definitions and labels are a useful
    > reference point for structuring a lesson.

    That does not make them necessary for learning to dance.

    > Otherwise how do people know what
    > your talking about ?

    Neither is talk necessary for learning to dance.

    You seem to presume all learning is through talk-based classes. Many people learn to dance instead by dancing.

    > PS Are you a teacher ?


  36. Chris, UK
    Jun 23, 2010 @ 22:02:56

    > without us most of the milongas in BA would fold, and they
    > will therefor play whatever they think we want to hear.

    No, because tangos with vocals are played also in milongas having virtally no tourists.

    > the dancers frequently default to basic
    > steps, often just walking, during the vocal
    > sections, and return to tango proper
    > during the instrumental sections

    And when an English tango dance teacher tells tell these BA dancers of 50 years experience that they are not dancing ‘tango proper’ during the vocals, what is their answer? 🙂

    > no lyrics is best, in my opinion, because if
    > you can’t hear the music, you might as
    > well stay at home.

    Neither the vocals nor any other integral part of the music stops people hearing the music.

  37. Tango Totty
    Jun 24, 2010 @ 08:51:17


    I agree that you may be able to learn to FOLLOW on the dance floor and pick up the general tango moves – providing of course you are lucky enough to be able to dance consistently with good dancers.

    But how do you learn and improve your own dance technique?

    I’ve seen plenty of dancers who may be good followers but they have poor technique.

    Surely to become a good dancer you do need both – clear instruction on good technique and then regular practise with a good dancer.


  38. Chris, UK
    Jun 24, 2010 @ 11:12:59

    Totty, your conclusion seesm to be based only on the kind of dancing taught of most UK tango classes. Instruction, talking, definitions, labels etc. are indeed required for this.

    But they are not required for the kind of social tango dancing you’ll find in Argentina and the rest of Europe that as Danny says, is learned through the embrace – what you refer to here:

    > Do I take it then you are into some organic, progressive form of tango that
    > you learn by a process of osmosis from your partner ?

  39. Arlene
    Jun 24, 2010 @ 12:54:51

    I have to agree with Chris on this one.
    What I call dancing by osmosis, instinct, or feel is how I learn. People learn in many ways and this way works for me. You can talk to me until you are blue in the face and I might not get it. But show me and dance with me and I will learn. Some people have a natural instinct or affinity to the music and if you are in tune with the other person, then it will be easy to follow them. That is a start and a very good one. As far as technique is concerned, all that matters really is good posture and the ability to execute an ocho effectively. Knowing how to do a giro is a plus, but not mandatory as most men really don’t know how to lead it properly. Words or labels are not really necessary in order to develop good technique, whatever that really is. If someone can show you what you need to do and if you can feel it, then you are more than halfway there.
    I think most of the time teachers can complicate things. I have had lessons for various dance forms and have never paid attention to the jargon. My dance partners have always been my best teachers. The thing is, one has to listen.
    Considering this thread has come from a post on music, I am surprised how it has deviated to a debate on teaching, which would be more appropriate to my last post about teachers being a dime a dozen. 🙂

  40. Chris, UK
    Jun 24, 2010 @ 14:27:58

    > I think most of the time teachers can complicate things.

    I think most of the time teachers HAVE to complicate things. Especially for girls. The typical girl can learn to dance in just a few hours – if a teacher gets only a few hours earnings out of each girl, how long is he going to last in the tango business??? Hence that natural selection has created the diabolical siutation of London tango teaching – the worst teachers are the most successful. I think Arlene’s valuation of “a dime a dozen” is very generous!

  41. Tango Totty
    Jun 24, 2010 @ 17:26:48

    Bloody hell!!!!

    I think Ive almost lost the point of the thread here. Arlene I think you have misunderstood me. I am not talking about shoving people in a classroom and teaching tango in an abstract intellectual way. Of course showing someone what to do is a vital part of learning dance – its a practical thing !!!!! And the definitions and labels may not necessarily be verbal – (although explanations are often necessary for clarification). What I mean is that everyone has to be very clear at the start, just what the basics are and the technique for doing them – this may be a verbal definition, it may be practical definition, or it may be a combination of both just so long as everyone is clear exactly what is meant to be done.

    I entirely agree that some people have a natural instinct for the dance and maybe able to have enjoyable dances because they can follow a good leader well. Like some people can pick up a musical instrument and can produce a recognisable tune without any tuition cos they have a natural flair. But does that make them a great musician? Not unless they are exceptional. Most people would only stay at a pretty basic level unless they then go on to develop their skills through instruction and proper technique.

    Similarly in tango I agree that natural instinct and being able to follow is definitely a start, and you may indeed be able to have enjoyable dances, but to be honest it’s a pretty limited approach. What happens when that good leader isn’t there and you cant rely on him for making you dance with the correct technique? How good are you then ? Surely if you want to improve your tango skills and become a really competent dancer who can respond really well to your partner and the music you have to be in charge of your own dance AND your own technique. This is for all the basic tango elements including the giro.

    Chris, I have been to Buenos Aires and the teacher that I went to was an excellent dancer who had been dancing all his life but he had still had a teacher for technique. I also know of several Argentine women who have danced regularly for at least 10 years with good dancers but still think it necessary to practise technique for the ochos etc to improve their own skill level.

    I suppose it all depends at the end of the day, just how good a dancer you want to be.

  42. danny
    Jun 25, 2010 @ 10:08:45

    I feel for you, I really do, because it’s a fact of tango life that without a good leader you are going to be in trouble, as a follower, and good leaders are hard to come by. But the answer is the same as it always was. There are girls out there getting the good leads, and you want to make sure you are among them. In my opinion you have to proceed on two fronts. The first is, get competitive in your approach to the milonga, by cultivating your tango/dance persona, to the extent that it takes over the whole of your life, not just Friday night. Hair, nails, shoes, dress, etc. The second is, observe Los Codigos. Sit on your own, upright, alert, head up, looking around you, and towards the floor, waiting for cabuceo, eye contact. The good dancers will spot you straight away, because we are finding it just as hard to find good followers. If we can see that you understand Los Codigos, we will know that you are serious. Don’t sit with another man, because I for one am not going to ask your partner, if he is, for permission to dance with you (which is the Argentine convention) and don’t chatter to your girl friends, because I, for one, am not going to interrupt you. Respect the music by listening to it when you are not dancing, and when you are, although a lot of the music we hear in the milonga nowadays is not suitable for dance, unfortunately. As a general point I would say, to all followers, that you have to turn down leaders who can’t lead, all the time. Be merciless. There’s no point at all in allowing yourself to be lead by a klutz, and if you do, you will confirm his opinion of himself that he is a good dancer. You have nothing to prove. He has to prove himself to you. You owe him nothing, least of all the opportunity to practise on you, other than in the practica. This is very important if the general standard of the milonga is to improve. You owe it to yourself, and your girlfriends.

  43. Andreas
    Jun 25, 2010 @ 11:15:17

    Here’s a good post about teaching through talking:

  44. Chris, UK
    Jun 25, 2010 @ 12:02:05

    > Most people would only stay at a pretty
    > basic level unless they then go on to
    > develop their skills through instruction …

    Not my experience at all. I’ve found that the worst dancers are those who’ve had the most instruction. The best are those who developed their skills by dancing.

    > the teacher that I went to was an excellent
    > dancer who had been dancing all his life but
    > he had still had a teacher for technique.

    Well sure. If he hadn’t had a teacher he’d be unlikely to be a teacher. This self-seletive sample is highly unrepresentative of dancers.

    > I also know of several Argentine women
    > who have danced regularly for at least 10
    > years with good dancers but still think it
    > necessary to practise technique

    We practice technique every time we dance well.

    Your claim that must be taught is something quite different.

    Ricardo Vidort: “Today people teach in methodic ways, but the tango, the real Tango Salon, does not have method, because it is a feeling.
    Technique and choreography are only for performance”

  45. Tango Totty
    Jun 25, 2010 @ 17:38:14

    @ Danny – Thanks for the tips, I will bear them in mind, but I dont really remember commenting about lack of good partners !!!!

    @ Chris UK – “I’ve found that the worst dancers are those who’ve had the most instruction”.

    Well Chris, its quite simple – Maybe they would just be bad dancers anyway – for lots of reasons which are not relevant to this point. Its common sense – just going to classes in itself WILL NOT turn you into a good dancer.

    By the same token, if you do have a good natural ability and flair how can your dancing not be improved by being shown the correct technique by a good teacher ?
    “The real Tango Salon, does not have method, because it is a feeling” Absolutely spot on and correct – if you havent got the feeling, don’t bother to start with. But feeling alone will not make you a good dancer. The feeling is core to the dance but it is only the threshold. Good technique then allows you to express that feeling most effectively in the dance.

    Just because Tango evolved in the clubs and streets of Buenos Aires doesn’t mean the technique is haphazard does it? Take for example the use of \ / shaped toes out stance for stability, or keeping feet close to the floor for smoothness, being able to carry out smooth tight giros – these are all sound techniques that are visibly used by the good dancers across BsAs today – And they have developed from the need to express the music most efficiently and effectively on the crowded dance floors.
    But how would a beginner know about them unless he or she had been told and ? – Not necessarily – otherwise we’d all have good technique wouldnt we?


  46. Chris, UK
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 10:29:10

    > Maybe they would just be bad dancers anyway …
    > just going to classes in itself WILL NOT turn
    > you into a good dancer.

    In my experience, just going to typical UK classes turns more people into bad dancers than good.

    I wouldn’t expect us to agree on this Totty because, as you say, you “never dance with anyone who isn’t a top dancer”.

    I do – very often.

    > But how would a beginner know about
    > them unless he or she had been told

    It comes from the the feeling for the music, partner and floor. How else do you think it worked for the last 100 years in BsAs???

    > otherwise we’d all have good
    > technique wouldnt we?

    No. Because most of you had that feeling and natural technique sabotaged by commercial show-based dance classes…. including those that claim to teach technique.

  47. Tango Totty
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 11:35:25

    @ Chris

    “It comes from the feeling for the music, partner and floor”

    So are you saying that you just need to be able to respond – but it doesnt matter how – so long as you have a good floor and a good partner ?

    It doesnt matter if you bend or flex your knee when you take a step, it doesnt matter if you kick your feet off the floor ? it doesnt matter if you use parallel feet instead of “toes out” feet ? – You just ignore it all and respond to the music. So long as your dancing with a good partner, they will sort it all out for you ?

  48. Tango Totty
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 11:41:12

    I once again come back to my question –

    If you do have flair and natural ability for the dance how it not be improved by being shown the CORRECT technique by a GOOD teacher ?
    The main purpose of the correct technique is to help you express your response most effectively.

  49. Chris, UK
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 12:32:01

    > So are you saying that you just need to be
    > able to respond – but it doesnt matter how

    Not at all. I am saying what I said. Good dancing comes from the feeling for the music, partner and floor. Not from someone instructing you in the arrangement of your body parts.

    > The main purpose of the correct technique
    > is to help you express your response most

    No Totty. The main purpose of the “correct technique” is to make money for your teacher.

  50. Tango Totty
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 14:02:20

    Chris – some teachers may well use the “technique” classes purely to make money – this does not make technique invalid. I think if you believe that you obviously dont think any improvement is possible except in your own tinpot way with your own tinpot style.

    In my experience the leaders with whom I have the most enjoyable dances clearly dance with precision and employ technique to do so. Its the leaders without technique – poor embrace, sloppy giros, bending the knee so you bounce across the floor, leading from the arm not the chest – all of these are clear examples of poor technique which make for a horrible dance for the follower. How are these people supposed to learn then without being told?

  51. danny
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 14:16:31

    Totty, I don’t know who you are, but if you know who I am, and if you would like to, please feel free to come up to me in the milonga and introduce yourself. I presume you are London based……. Also there is a letter on my website which you might find interesting, called ‘Dear Simone’.

  52. Chris, UK
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 15:00:33

    Totty, I don’t know how you spend your time in BsAs, but next time, try some milongas. See how the locals with decades of experience dance. If you really think that comes from the instruction that you insist is necessary to dance well, just ask them.

    Unless you believe their dancing too is a tinpot way and tinpot style, in which case good luck in showing them how it is done “correctly” according to you and your UK class teachers.

  53. danny
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 15:01:54

    Also your description of the effects of poor technique are really interesting. Leaders should take note…….

  54. Chris, UK
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 15:19:54

    > How are these people supposed to learn
    > then without being told?

    The same old way, Totty.

    Stop “dancing” with people who can’t dance and start dancing with people who can.

  55. Tango Totty
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 16:25:02

    Chris UK

    I have been to BsAs several times and I have danced in many milongas there. I really think that you are still missing the point.

    Firstly just cos you are in BsAs doesnt mean that all the locals even with decades of experience are the very best or most enjoyable of dancers. Like everywhere you get some good dancers and some people who just cant dance whatever. And YES you can have some great dances with some talented local dancers who have never had any instruction in their lives. They may be full of bad habits but because of their feeling for the music and connection with their partner it may be an enjoyable dance. BUT that does not mean that their dance could not be improved by learning some proper technique!!!!!!! By the way I am not advocating at all the UK teaching method with its focus on steps as the correct one – on the contrary its obviously rubbish. I am saying that really good tango is a combination of the feeling AND the correct technique – the technique is only the vehicle for the expression of the movement – the better you can do it, the better the expression.

  56. Tango Totty
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 16:30:15

    Sorry I meant its the vehicle for the expression of the MUSIC.

    Tango is meant to be an expression of the music in a controlled and disciplined way. Its the technique that controls the movement. Otherwise its just the musical free-for-all that we see so often at Negracha.

  57. Chris, UK
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 17:44:42

    > I am saying that really good tango is a combination
    > of the feeling AND the correct technique

    Actually the point of yours I was addressing is your claim this means teaching/instruction is necessary. I guess your basis for this is you’ve never experienced a great dancer who has not received that. Fair enough.

    But I have experienced such dancers – many times.

    When you have too, you will agree that teaching/instruction is not necessary.

  58. The Voice of reason
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 17:58:13

    This debate could go on and on.
    Chris I think you like to pontificate.
    Thats my job.
    Totty WTF? Are you taking the Michael?
    Danny come on lets get real here.

  59. Chris, UK
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 18:39:45

    > I think you like to pontificate. Thats my job.

    Well VOR, do it a bit more and lighten my workload, please! 🙂

  60. danny
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 18:52:11

    Thanks VOR. You’ve got me confused here. What do you mean by ‘lets get real here’? Sounds like you know something I don’t. Any chance of an explanation?

  61. The Voice of reason
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 18:35:07


    I know your heart is in the right place and I know how hard you work at your tango. You told me about 5 years ago at the Welsh. I just meant that for most people reading this thread its running out of steam. Still who am I to judge. There is absolutely nothing I know more than you but I can see you are getting bogged down in the crossfire. Keep up the good work Danny.

    Peace out.


  62. Tango Totty
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 20:07:39


    How patronising!!!

  63. flores de colores
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 02:27:47

    Don’t talk just dance!! There’s far too much tangobabble on here. Its depressing and won’t make any of us better dancers.

  64. Tangobitch
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 02:44:59

    Reading this I was beginning to get very intimidated by you. Then I checked out your website to put a face to the name and laughed out loud. Clearly eloquence does not a great dancer make. I have in fact danced with you and know you are crap (we all laugh at you at the dome) you push women around like shopping trolleys and have lousy posture. You are also very rude. For the record taking care of my hair and nails and sitting bolt upright like a sad loner is NOT the way to get decent dances.When I used to do that all I got was you…

  65. Tangobitch
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 02:58:34

    P.s You were extremely rude to me as a newbie asking me to dance then giving me “instructions” and insulting comments on the dancefloor when I didn’t ask for any which for the record is very bad etiquette and even more ridiculous coming from someone who boasts about tango “codes” in a blog. Being new at the time I let myself be intimidated however I now find it funny. I’ll never paint my nails and sit alone again.

  66. Chris, UK
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 13:58:22

    > Its depressing

    Then why are you reading it? Just to demand that others not write??

    > and won’t make any of us better dancers.

    Learners struggling with the problems caused by trying to learn from teacher talk can often find remedies in dancer talk.

  67. danny israel
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 16:51:09

    Thank you tangobitch, and yes, I am not anonymous, and feel no need to be. Perhaps you can refer me to your website so that I can see who you are. But what was it that you were reading that was beginning to intimidate you? It doesn’t sound like me at all. ‘Insulting comments’, definitely not me, and certainly no rudenes intended. But if so please accept my apologies here. Possibly trying to help a beginner, but after three teaching stints in China, plus teaching in Mexico City, Los Angeles, Hollywood, Argentines in Buenos Aires and many other places, it seems there is no shortage of people who want to learn from me, and there is a long list of people who want to dance with me, including other teachers.
    Having just returned home from giving a public demonstration, by invitation of a well known (female) tango teacher in London, even as I write, I must be doing something right, surely. I don’t know. All I know is what my followers tell me, which is all that any leader knows. With further invitations to teach in Moscow, Scotland, and Boston, in the US, hardening as I write, and returns to Mexico City and Beijing pencilled in, the person you describe doesn’t sound like me at all. Are you sure?
    For the record I began tango about ten years ago, with no previous dance history, and aged over fifty (and too late to do much about the posture to which you refer, I regret). After a false start which lasted two years, until I discovered that my lone female teacher was never going to be able to teach me to lead, something which she never quite got round to explaining to me, I decided I was going to have to teach myself, with the help of Diego Gonzalez, who some will know as perhaps the lead dancer in the gay BA tango movement, and it seems to have worked, although perhaps not in your case, tangobitch. I can’t please everyone. Where I get such ability as I have I can only speculate, but only recently did I discover that I had a half brother, who died in 1959 at a young age, perhaps of what we would now call post traumatic stress disorder. He was previously a teenage Lancaster Bomber pilot, having lied about his age, and he was also a highly regarded footballer, playing for the RAF, and I believe we may share a common genetic inheritance regarding coordination and timing. It just so happened that when he was called away to play football his bomber got shot down over Germany, with all his crew lost, for which he suffered acutely, as it was later explained to me, and he never recovered although the war ended before he was called away to play football again. After the war he played for one of the London First Division sides, as they were then, and then drifted out of sight. Sometime I think of him when I am dancing. I owe my survival in part to him. But the bottom line is that if I can do it, in my fifties when I began, anyone can do it, and if I can help anyone to get there, who wants to, I will. That’s the meaning that tango has for me, and I am sorry it didn’t work in your case.
    So that’s my story, tangobitch. What’s yours? Perhaps you will introduce yourself next time, at the Dome, and perhaps we will dance, who knows….?
    On the more general point, the one that I understand ‘intimidates’ you, we have a modest standard of tango in London, compared to many of the places I have visited. I don’t see this improving until the followers are empowered, through the use of cabeceo, which means competing with each other for the good leads. Until the followers compel the men to compete to dance with them, not much will improve, I fear. If the followers dance with the men anyway, the leaders have no incentive to improve. That’s the traditional mechanism, with men on one side of the room and women on the other, each trying to catch the eye of the better dancers, and avoid the look of the ones they don’t want to dance with. That’s why its a good idea to sit on your own, with your head up, so that you don’t miss the glance of the leaders who want to dance with you, and so that an invitation that was intended for you doesn’t go to the follower sitting next to you.
    If a leader can’t get your attention with a look across the room you will compel perhaps lesser leaders, who don’t understand tango culture, to approach you and ask you face to face, in which case you may be self selecting the less able. So I was the only one who approached you. Perhaps that should tell you something. I hope you are getting more, and better, invitations now……

  68. Tango Totty
    Jul 24, 2010 @ 19:41:01

    Congratulations Tango Bitch

    You have surpassrd youself. I totally agree with what you said about Danny. Why should women paint their nails to dance with macho tramps with stinking attitudes.


  69. David Bailey
    Jul 26, 2010 @ 10:07:21

    @Tango bitch and totty (heh, there’s a combo!)
    – I’m not sure what slagging Danny off has to do with the topic?

    – Similarly, boasting about how wonderful you are doesn’t help progress the discussion much. Give it a rest, for chrissakes.

    – Yes

  70. tangobitch
    Jul 29, 2010 @ 00:39:17

    @ david. Danny wrote the article followed by the patrononising tangobabble form the perspective of a so called teacher. None of it has any relevance if the person can’t dance.
    @danny. Yes it was you. Yes I get better dances now. No I don’t want to dance with you.
    @VOR passive agression isn’t reason.

  71. David Bailey
    Jul 29, 2010 @ 08:44:39

    “Tangobabble” – fantastic! I’m going to nick that one…

    Errr, what were we talking about again? 🙂

  72. danny
    Jul 29, 2010 @ 14:55:45

    I return to Arlene’s tango pages with trepidation. Which direction will Tangobitch, David Bailey and Totty come from next? Should I be concerned? What new calumnies will I have to endure, or something. But ‘why should women have to paint their nails to dance with macho tramps……etc….’ Women don’t have to, but the milonga is competitive, and it might help, in the search for more and better leads. No Argentine woman would consider going to the milonga without a full makeover, but its not only women. Men should dress for the occasion as well, according to Los Codigos, but then, that’s for Argentines, and what do they know? Tangobitch is not doubt grateful that I never asked her to dance again if I am as bad as she claims. First I find myself criticised by Tangobitch for pushing her around like a supermarket trolley, I think she said, what we leaders call giving a firm lead to a beginner who doesn’t know whether she’s coming or going, and then, when I protest at her jibes, and relate my credentials, find myself accused of boasting. Perhaps there is an undisclosed agenda in the background. The good news is that I have enquiries from the US and Russia about teaching there, and would I send them performance type videos. As I don’t have a regular partner I wonder if readers of Arlene’s Tango Pages would be interested in partnering me in a video, and perhaps in teaching tango abroad. I am in fact holding auditions, and while I haven’t found anyone yet, its been a lot of fun, and you get to see yourself on video and take a DVD home with you. Any follower can apply, even Tangobitch, but she’ll have to do her nails, her face and her hair first. (and her teeth).

  73. Chris, UK
    Jul 29, 2010 @ 16:11:59

    > Perhaps there is an undisclosed agenda in the background

    And perhaps that’s why the majority of writers here are using assumed names.

    > Any follower can apply, even Tangobitch, but
    > she’ll have to do her nails, her face and her hair first.

    To maintain her disguise?? 🙂

  74. Tango Totty
    Jul 30, 2010 @ 09:33:55

    My point was why should women have to tart themselves up when many of the men in tango, make very little effort. Danny I have seen you out dancing many times in typical casual style – combat trousers, trainer type shoes (typical neuvo regalia). I have nothing against this but why should the women have to make such an effort ? This attitude is just typical male machoism. And I have seen many leaders dancing with followers who most definately arent the best dancers, but they are wearing a short skirt up to their arses. Is this whats called ‘making an effort’? Well if thats what the leaders want, all I can is have a good night!!!!
    But the best of it is, you can make the effort, but to what avail? Most of the leaders here are crap anyway so you are just in for a big disappointment

    @ Danny – Since when have you been a show dancer? I thought you were meant to be a social dancer. Next you’ll be applying for tango por dos. Never mind, bet you’ll be able to impress a lot of wannabes!!!!! Good luck


  75. Tango Totty
    Jul 30, 2010 @ 10:06:15

    PS Danny

    Its this casting couch mentality that is helping to cause real damage to traditional tango.

  76. David Bailey
    Jul 30, 2010 @ 13:59:17

    “As I don’t have a regular partner I wonder if readers of Arlene’s Tango Pages would be interested in partnering me in a video, and perhaps in teaching tango abroad”
    – I’m available 🙂

    @Tango Totty:
    “And I have seen many leaders dancing with followers who most definately arent the best dancers, but they are wearing a short skirt up to their arses”
    – sounds good to me. Ummm… where was this again? Just for information purposes, mind.

    OK, on a slightly more serious note; women _always_ dress up more than men, in all dance scenes. That’s life. And yes, looks and “packaging” count, unfair as this is – again, that’s life.

    But in dance, the counter-balance to this is ability. If you’re good – or seen to be “good” – you don’t need to dress up or be young and beautiful. Again, this applies to all dance scenes I know of.

    And I’m 100% sure that this is _exactly_ how things work in BsAs also.

  77. tangobitch
    Aug 22, 2010 @ 01:04:58

    ah I knew I shouldn’t have come back here…
    danny I’d love to have a video of you making me look shit on the dancefloor in front of loads of people. I promise to do my hair and nails and even teeth for the privelege. Maybe you could get a new face and learn how to dance?

  78. TangoReplicantNexus6
    Mar 10, 2011 @ 12:43:36

    Tango Totty

    some of us robots give very good dances; I am reliably told by a long term tango friend; she says I am not a connection dancer but she still loves dancing with me, and she’s not the type to mince words.

    I think this has been a most interesting series of posts to read.
    I teach technique primarily, and connection as far as I teach it is about moving with and listening to your partner.

    Roy Batty ( assumed named!!)

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