The educated Tanguero

Essential Tango Knowledge

Style in Tangodancing – what´s behind that ?


So you tell me there is Tango and Tango and what ???

When we are starting to learn Tango (and especially when we think we have developed to  advanced tango dancers), we usually like to look at different advanced dancers on the dancefloor. We probably find out, that some people dance in different holds and some people are more flexible on using space on the dancefloor. I am not talking here about the usual difference between “Tango Argentino” and “European Ballroom Tango” because the latter is a completely different dance (both in terms of music and dancestyle).

Even looking around at a Milonga, we can see couples move in elegant hold, mainly with walking steps; other couples may dance in an open embrace focusing more on embellishments and energetic leg moves.

Asking knowledged people, they may tell us that these are different styles of Tango and now comes the very difficult moment, when we may be confronted with ideology, stubbornness and extremism. So let´s focus our looking glass on this problem.

1. Development of Tango dancing

Dancing means expression of our inner reality by moving or displaying our body to real or inner music. In this context, both cultural and social norms are very important, in the musical background, or in the way the human body is displayed and dressed [1]. Tango, besides having roots in candombe as a group dance, is danced by couples either in a social context or displayed as a show performance. Tango has been most of its time a social dance with a focus on social interaction. Tango, as a dance and a music, was heavily influenced by other dance styles (and music) in the melting pot of Argentina and Uruguay, where immigrants of mainly European nations have formed a multicultural society.  So early forms of Tango have been developed using rural forms of Milonga and spicing that with Habanera and European couple dances like “Waltzer” and “Twostep”. From here, the Tango has inherited walking, turning and especially the ballroom hold, which has later developed into the “abrazo”.

A very early style of Tango is called Canyengue [2, 4], which is said to be the most traditional style of Tango. Especialy hold and rhythm make this style unique. The hold is very low and dancers are usually displaying the strong habanera rhythm of the songs with their bodies and steps.

Tango de Canyengue was later developed into the Tango Orillero, the Tango style from the poorer suburbs (orillas) of Buenos Aires and Monte Video [3]. Tango Orillero is wild and explosive with quick and syncopated steps and can even incorporate small jumps. This development was possible because the places for dancing were not that crowded in the outskirts [4].

As the Tango developed, it became more popular and from the 20ies the ballrooms in Europe and the Milongas in Buenos Aires became very crowded. This has forced the dancers to adjust to crowded dance floors.


2. Tango Styles in close Embrace

Since the Golden Age in the 40ies, dancers have been forced to adjust to crowded dance floors. This has limited the dance style to small step patterns and a compacted hold. The benefit of this development was the abrazo (the close embrace hold with heads and chests of dancers in a more or less close contact), which creates a special feeling and closeness between dance partners and which is a very important part of the Tango for most of us.

Because this was the style, most couples automatically danced in the BsAs salons, the style was called “Tango de Salon” [2,3]. This was not an intended development, it was a natural adjustment to the reality of the dancefloor.

Dancers want to be polite on the dancefloor, so usually dancers refrain from dancing space consuming dance steps in crowded floors to avoid collisions (some people call that floorcraft). Salon Tango has been developed over a long period of time. As dancers in Buenos Aires have not been very mobile (they in fact visited the Milongas of there own neighborhood), soon small stylistic differences have developed. Specially after the renaissance of Tango in the 90ies, these local differences were named, improved and sometimes even called after the suburb of origin like the Villa Urquiza Style (more freedom for embellishments) [3, 10] or the Confeteria Style of the central part of BsAs. Some modern Styles have been developed by teachers like the Apilado Style or Milongero Style (developed by Susana Miller and Pedro “Tete” Rusconi) [5,6].


3. Dancing with Fantasies

Since the 40ies, some dancers have tried to enrich the traditional dance with embellishments and poses. This style is based on the Villa Urquiza Style and additionally wants to create more freedom for the dancers to play around (fantasias), so it was called Tango Fantasia [2,3]. Actually Tango Fantasia described all Tango forms that were different to the mainstream.  Additional elements that created a new element of freedom were high boleos, ganchos and dramatic poses [2]. Tango Fantasia was also a way of life, so suits with a white bordered collar were called “traje de fantasia” and were a signal of a new revolutionary and nonconformistic approach to the Tango.

As this style of dancing consumes more space, it was usually used for exhibitions during breaks in Milongas and consequently developed into show or stage Tango (Tango Escenario) [2]. Stage Tango is not for everyone, and usually designed to attract attention with athletic and dramatic moves. So typical moves like jumps and lifts are definitively not danceable on a social Tango dancefloor.

Anyway, extending the traditional repertoire of moves is challenging for dancers and so many dancers tried to do so during the last 20 years. In conjunction with new musical styles, young dancers in Buenos Aires have created a free style Tango movement with figures in open positions or altered holds (soltadas, extended volcadas, overturned ochos, cadenas, back sacadas and colgadas) danced to modern Tango music. The modern Tango music gave this style its name: NeoTango or Tango Nuevo (not to be confused with the Tango work of Astor Piazzolla) [3, 12]. The music for this new style is either played by contemporary modern Tango orchestras or played by electronic orchestras like Gotan Project, Bajofondo or Otros Aires.

Gustavo Naveira and Fabian Salas founded the Tango Investigation Group in the early 90ies and developed a new system of Tango movements based on the analytical principles of dance kinesiology [7, 12]. Leading dancers of this style are Gustavo Naveira & Giselle Anne, Fabian Salas & Carolina del Rivero, Mariano Frumboli & Eugenia Parrilla and Norberto Esbres & Lucia Paes [12].


4. Putting it all together

So style in Tango dancing is diverse and allows for personal preferences. In an open minded world, the author believes that dancers should be allowed to freely choose their personal style, whether it is a traditional closed embrace or a more open embrace with modern Nuevo techniques. Actually many Tango dancers adjust their style to the situation on the dancefloor, feeling themselves free to do more energetic moves as the space allows for that. Changing from close embrace to open embrace is also a matter of energy because a very close embrace does not allow for high energetic steps or modern colgadas. Today some dancers call such an elastic approach Tango liquido [2,3] because traditional close embrace can be changed liquidly into an open Nuevo hold. This is especially applicable to modern Tango music with a high dynamic range such as Pugliese type music.

Others are searching for movements that can be created naturally from the centre of the body. This approach is called Tango organico [3, 8] and as a purely technical or political [11] development usually not connected to a certain dance style. One of the main contributors here are Homer and Christina Ladas:

It should be noted well, that all of these different Tango styles have been created in Buenos Aires and thus all of them are highly authentic. Tango is a developing culture, in music and dance and there has been a tremendous change since the days of the golden age 75 years ago.

Anyway, dancers have to adjust to the situation on the dance floor. Creating collisions by dancing energetic steps on a crowded dance floor or being an obstacle in the flow of dancing couples is considered as rude behavior, so all dancers should follow the codigos [9]. Teachers are free to teach their personal style, which assures, that Tango stays a diverse culture. Learners should follow their teachers of choice and develop to a point when they can make their own decisions on preferred dance style. Organizers of milongas have to be open minded to give an environment for dancers of all flavor. The worst thing in Tango is to force or forcefully educate dancers to one style of dancing (the author has seen milongas, where the dance floor was intentionally reduced to force couples into salon style). Some people even say that Tango Nuevo is not danced in Buenos Aires Milongas and so it should be banned from all milongas. This is definitively not true. Tango Nuevo is done at least at Club Villa Malcolm (Palermo), Practica X (Caballito) and Tango Brujo (San Nicholas) [13].

The classification of Tango into different styles is useful for teaching and description of dancers but “it is also a contributor to discord within and between Tango communities” [15]. New theories state that different tango styles are adaptations to different “environmental niches” [14]. So a philosophy of “There is only one Tango” is widely used to reconnect different Tango worlds. Supported by important Tango dancers like Eduardo Arquimbau or Pablo Veron the quintessence of this “one Tango philosophy” is the idea that each dancer dances his own style. Principles identified by this philosophy are [15]:

  1. All forms of Tango are related by sharing a common ancestry.
  2. The classification of variation in Tango dancing into distinct stylistic elements is artificial.
  3. Each dancer has his own style of dancing Tango.
  4. Tango is constantly evolving and adapting to changing environments.
  5. All forms of Tango should have equal status, deserving respect from Tango dancers.
  6. Experimental trends in Tango, such as fusion with other dance forms, should be given exposure with an open mind towards acceptance.
  7. All forms of Tango should be allowed to coexist at the milonga.
  8. People who do not allow free expression of Tango variation are negative influences upon a Tango community [cited directly from: 15]

Tango should be an open culture without frontiers. That is what we love and what makes Tango so special.




Appreciate and learn from the past, dance in the present and let the future unfold (H.Ladas)



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