Nancy Fulton Ingle, Becoming a Real Tanguero

Nancy Fulton Ingle

A real tanguero is an accomplished dancer of the tango, who has danced in Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

I first became interested in partner or ballroom dancing in junior high and high school.  There was a weekly dance at an Episcopal church in College Hill and our Girl Scout troop also took lessons.  I faithfully watched Dick Clark on the monster TV set my dad built.  

The years passed and the husbands left, and I, feeling very negative about males in general, remembered that males were useful as dance partners. I joined a nice group that had dances twice a month.  From there, I got serious and took private lessons as a reward for quitting a bad smoking habit. The lessons led to competitions like you see on Dancing With the  Stars.

After ten years of that, I saw Tango Argentino on stage and decided that would be my next goal.  I found visiting teachers from Argentina, Tango Newsgroup online, and a couple in Miami who offered to be my mentors.   Twice a month, I drove  for 3 hours to Miami and spent the weekends dancing. Sometimes I left Miami at 5 am on Monday and drove directly to the classroom in central Florida where I taught Spanish. Six months later, a guy in New York City announced that he would be leading a dance tour group to  Buenos Aires. Using money my mother had left to me, I went for the ten days of dancing, lessons, shows, and learning the protocols of the tango community.  

What folks see on Dancing with the Stars is “stage tango” and NOT the tango that I have been dancing. There are different styles of tango. I danced the “milonga,” a word that describes both a very fast style of dance and the places where people go to dance. Ours looks more like an Elks Club dance but with fancier steps done in a very close embrace. Every dance will be different even if the partner and the music are the same. Notice in the first video below that no one bumps into anyone else, because the dancers dance the floor as well as their partners. 

Nancy Ingle Lo de Celia Tango Club – YouTube – This video clip is from a milonga where I danced most. The dance is a milonga traspie.  Remember that all the movements are led by the man.

To dance tango, we women wear very high stiletto shoes with safety straps so they can’t fly off.  The height helps us to shift our weight forward without standing on tip toes as the connection is in the torsos of the couple. As you can see in the videos, we do not wear special clothing, although Saturday night might be a little dressier.  Many folks come directly from work to the afternoon milongas as Americans might stop off at a bar.  

Everything except some frills are led by the man.  There is no set choreography but the men are charged with making the follower look and feel beautiful.  Boys learn by dancing with their mothers, then with other men, then the women MIGHT accept a dance with them.  My job as a follower is to hear the music as my partner does, to give total concentration to the lead, to maintain my own balance and give my body to my partner.  I trust him to take care of me, to navigate the crowded floor without disturbing the other dancers, to compensate for my mistakes, and to create 13 beautiful moments with me.  We never dance two sets in a row with the same man.  This is art, not a hook-up.

I first went with a group to learn the protocols and which halls were my style. Tango is not necessarily a romantic thing, but it is certainly a serious dancer thing. We followed the dancers and the DJ’s around to the 137 dance halls in the city. My favorite orchestras are D’Arienzo with Echaque; Fresedo with R. Ray; Canaro with Maida; and Biagi. 

Different styles of tango dancing have their own etiquette and protocols. Dancing tangos must have a regular beat, although the tempo might change. Usually, we dance four pieces by the same composer or orchestra in a “tanda” with the same partner. Then, we sit, men and women on opposite sides of the room, and look for the next tanda partner. Dances are arranged by eye contact across a sometimes very large dance floor. Vals and milonga are usually danced in three-piece sets, unless the DJ sees me on the floor and gives me an extra dose of five waltzes.

In Argentina, the milongas (dances) start at around 3 pm and go until 8 pm.   Dinner is eaten at 9-10:30, then back out to the dance halls from 10 pm to 5  am.  This is not just on weekends but every day.   One follows certain DJ’s or leaders or age groups.  The old guys are the best, smoothest dancers.  As we aged, we dropped the late nights.  

Nancy Ingle Milongas in Buenos Aires Lo De Celia – YouTube – This is the same venue 11 years later. The floor is busier because this is a traditional tango, not the faster milonga traspie. The dancers at this milonga all dance the “close-embrace milonguero style.” You will notice there are no collisions, which would cause the offender to be asked to leave and not return.

When I was there, I danced every day.  After the first trip, I traveled alone.  I started all of this in my 50’s and finally hung up the stilettos five years ago in 2016. I never saw anything outside of Buenos Aires, although the country is beautiful, the beef is good, and the people are courteous, kind, and admire Yankees.

By the way, New York, Chicago, and other large cities in the U.S. have fairly large tango communities with multiple factions (different styles, music, embraces, protocols, lessons).  Stage shows might use music by the Argentine classical composer Piazzola with ballet dancers for dramatic effect with lifts, drops, and lots of kicking and slashing, but we don’t.  

Over the years I traveled to Argentina at least ten times and also to Stanford University,  Atlanta, Portland, and NYC for tango weeks.   I have life- long friends from those weeks and a titanium hip and knee as souvenirs.  My pals can talk for hours about tango.  I  always wonder if we are as boring as guys who yammer on about football.  😄😄

By the way, I just checked and Wichita has a tango community.  We are everywhere!   I took a river cruise with my favorite Miami partner, and we found milongas in Amsterdam, Budapest, Prague, etc.  Tango Mecca, however, is Buenos Aires, and one can’t claim to be a real tanguero until one has made the pilgrimage.

On my last trips to Buenos Aires, the guys were amazed to learn that I was not a resident of the city. Sigh.

  1. Barb Hammond 8 months ago

    Nancy, this is fascinating. You’re so brave! Tengo tanta envidia (I hope that Google translate got that right!) 😀

    • Nancy Inglr 8 months ago

      Bien hecho, Barb. Not too late to learn.


  2. Janice Bailey 8 months ago

    Nancy, the real tango is not very close to what I was taught in Wichita. I loved to dance, but got very little chance to do so. I always wanted to go to Austria and waltz in a ballroom with crystal chandeliers wearing a waltz length flowing gown.

    • Nancy Ingle 8 months ago

      Book your trip to Vienna. It is not too late. Yes, I also learned ballroom tango with the head snaps and body contortions. Argentine tango is more challenging and way more fun. Try it!

  3. Jane Olson 8 months ago

    Nancy, this is a wonderful story that brought back memories of our living in Buenos Aires for five months in 2009. An adventure indeed: three months of school to learn Spanish, living with an older woman who did not speak any English, weekends trying to cram in as many sites as possible, enjoying the sights and sounds of a huge city while trying to immerse ourselves into the daily culture of Buenos Aires. We made weekend trips to Uruguay, Iguazu Falls, Paraguay and then spent a month traveling to Chile and Northern Argentina. Yes, we did take tango lessons, go to milongas to practice, purchase tango shoes, start our evening of dance at 11:00 pm and wish that we were better dancers. Unfortunately we didn’t become proficient in Spanish nor tango but we had an incredible six months that will not be forgotten!! I certainly admire your dedication to learning all the nuances of the tango. You are right, unless you actually experience a milonga with all the sights and sounds, telling someone about it doesn’t do it justice. I can hear the music now!!! And I love my beautiful red tango shoes!

  4. Nancy Ingle 8 months ago

    Would love to know why you went to BsAs. It is like being in Paris without the ‘tude but happy to hear you were bitten by the tango bug.

  5. Gene C 8 months ago

    Nancy, This is an adventuresome escapade carried out over decades. Really fun to read. I learned to tango in 8th grade and my Cuban wife liked to dance….but I returned to my sedentary style although she’d distinguish between American ballroom tango and THE tango. Fortunately during several visits with her to BA for work she was too busy to coerce/intimidate me into any dancing. Better than Fado but still…..
    You would have been delightful to see in full tango mode!
    Wonderful essay. Thanks. Re: Jane and Iguazou falls which I am sure you saw, those powerful falls viewed from decaying footpaths with a guard rail on only one side were also terrifying, but less than having to tango…..Bariloche was more my speed with the Nazis.

    • Nancy Fulton Ingle 8 months ago

      You saw more of Argentina than I did, Gene. Always said I would travel more in country when I got bored with tango. That never happened!

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