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July 31, 2004


Varieties in Vals

Traditional Tango music is generally categorised as either Tango, Tango Vals (or Vals for short) and Tango milonga (milonga for short). There are sometimes even finer divisions, which I won’t go into here.

Just as in the more commonly-known Waltz, Vals has the familiar ‘1-2-3’ rhythm, with ‘1’ being the heavy beat. However, that is where the similarity ends. In Vals, unlike Waltz, the timing between the beats is not universal, and can be faster or slower from one song to the next. I am not sufficiently trained musically to offer any satisfactory explanation for this, but I can assure you that this can be felt very intuitively.

I believe this is one of the principal reasons for the variety when dancing the Vals. The variation of beats and the in melody in Vals between songs makes Vals immensely more interesting than conventional Waltz.

As an example, I was listening to a compilation of Vals (grouped by orchestras, and hence style) earlier. It suddenly occurred to me that even when the music comes from the same orchestra and at a similar period, the feelings each song conveys can be drastically different! For one song, my gut feel is just to shuffle along, and move every 2nd or 3rd 3-counts, but for another, I feel compelled to take big strides on the 1-count and walk through the whole song. Yet another song transmits a happy and jumpy feeling that I naturally feel a need to ‘play’: to turn, giros, one foot steps behind another, etc. Throughout it all is the constant 1-2-3 rhythm.

I wonder if there is a more consistent and scientific explanation for this?

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