Tangos is the palo that I always, always, always teach to new beginners of flamenco. Why? It’s an uptempo 4 count rhythm that is easy to grasp for beginners. However, this light-hearted and fun palo has more variables when dancing it por fiesta style. But, in the grand scheme of flamenco, it’s actually not complicated….. really! As always, it’s all about understanding the structure, having some technique in your repertoire and opening your ears.
But before I go into that, let’s clear up a few things about what Tangos is all about. It’s a medium to fast 4 count rhythm and it usually finishes off other 4 count dances such as Tientos and Tarantos. But then Tangos por fiesta is a style of its own that is improvised, much like Bulerias por fiesta. I dance it most often in tablao, shared with the other dancer, but it can finish off a show and most definitely be danced at parties.
We know that it’s a four count. Sometimes we can count it in 8’s, but *really* it’s in 4’s. So, it starts on 1 and ends on 3 for the strong ending.
But what *is* a compás of Tangos? Is it one count of 4, two counts of 4, two counts of 8???? I remember being at a workshop with Concha Jareño and she asked the musicians what they thought. All had different answers!!! 🤣 However, I will say this, I think of one compás as two counts of 4, but a whole measure as 4 counts of 4. Listen to the music enough and you’ll hear it, plus a bunch of variables!!
STRUCTURE of a Dance
When danced in tablao, generally, a Tangos dance will be danced one dancer at a time and have the simple format of letra, escobilla, estribillo for each one.
So, an entire Tangos set with multiple dancers might like look like this:
- Falseta (guitar solo)
- Entrada (ay, ay, ay)
- Singer sings a few letras
- Dancer goes out and does llamada and dances a letra, maybe a falseta and maybe short escobilla
- Dancer leaves with estribillo (ending chorus)
- Next dancer, etc
- Perhaps the guitarist plays a falseta in between
- Last dancer calls other dancer to join for the final, which is usually a subida that ends in a llamada on stage.
What I’ve described is what is typical in an American tablao so there are variations- more falsetas, no escobillas, etc.
STRUCTURE OF A LETRA
Tangos has many styles of letras– Tangos de Triana, de Granada, de Cádiz, de Extremadura, etc. Some letras were originated by a singer and then they become “assigned” to a particular region! Also, some letras are easier to dance to whereas others are mainly just for cante. I would say Tangos de Triana, Granada and Cádiz seem to be most danceable and they’re all identifiable by a particular melody.
The type of letra you will dance to in tablao really depends on the singer you have working with you. If you can learn all the differences between the letras, great! If not, then it’s just best to familiarize yourself with the different most common melodies or at the very least learn to listen for the caída or the “resolve” of the letras. Do this by watching flamenco dancers and not just listening to flamenco music!!
While you don’t *need* to learn Spanish to learn Tangos (or flamenco!) or even how to sing, but it’s VERY helpful to learn a few letras even if you can’t sing it well because then you’ll be able to recognize the letra when it’s sung and can follow along very easily if there are any variations.
One of the letras I use often is “La que quiere madroños” because it’s so recognizable. (Madroño is a strawberry tree.) It’s one of those that a singer popularized and then they become attributed to a region. In this case, its La Repompa, so this could be a Tango de Málaga.
La que quiera madroños vaya a la sierra
olé Morena vaya a la sierra
[break! do a remate]
por qué se están secando sus madroñeras
olé morena sus madroñeras
She who wants madrones should go to the mountains
Ole, Dark one go to the mountains
because they are drying their fruit
Ole, Dark one their fruit
Test your knowledge with these videos. Can you spot the letras and estribillos? Can you *hear* the letra of “La que quiere madroños?”
This video by Alejandro Granados, Sonia Olla and La Farruca is one of my all time favorites. It’s just so fun , funky and playful!! Notice that each dancer dances just one or two letras each and then leaves, so no escobilla and more of a mini estribillo. But then in end Alejandro brings them all in together to end with the final estribillo.
This video of Eva la Yerbabuena comes from a documentary called “Flamenco Women” that I remember seeing waaaaaay back in my baby flamenca days. It shows the preparation for a show with Sara Baras that would be held in an art gallery. This Tangos of Eva is very straight forward in that the letras are super clean and clear. She has llamadas for each of the letras and finishes it all off with a strong estribillo.
The first letra that Saray La Pitita dances is La que quiere madroño. Do you hear it?
Here, the letra of Madroño starts at :35.
Listen to La Remompa sing “La que quiere madroños” at 1:00.