Argentine Tango is a partner dance that developed over the last century in Argentina's capital city, Buenos Aires. It is very different from the Tango in International and American ballroom dancing. Argentine Tango is an interpretive, improvisational social dance that allows the dancers to develop a deep connection between themselves, the music, and the environment in which they are dancing.
There are several styles of Argentine Tango, some of which are described below, and different types of Tango danced at milongas or social dances (Note: Milonga is both - a social dance, and a type of Tango dancing). In addition, modern forms of Tango such as Tango Nuevo and Neo-Tango have also emerged and are fast becoming popular in dance cafes and halls around the world.
In Sally Potter's 1997 movie The Tango Lesson, Sally Porter, inspired by a Tango performance featuring Pablo Vernon, seeks to learn the Tango. Disenchanted with the Tango danced and taught in England, Porter travels from England to Buenos Aires to learn the dance. During her first lesson, Pablo Vernon starts the lesson by saying, "Lets walk."
Those simple words underscore the sentiment that lies at the heart of Tango. Even though the Argentine Tango has now evolved into a complex dance that incorporates an amazing variety of footwork, if you peel away the layers, at its heart, it is a street dance. Many of the dance scenes in the Tango Lesson, are scenes of Porter and Vernon dancing impromptu in the streets and even a shopping mall. You can find a video clip of a scene from the Tango Lesson in Tango Nuevo Video's page.
If you too are walking down a sidewalk and you hear music drifting out of cafe that inspires your soul, you and your companion can dance the Tango as you continue your journey.
Styles of Argentine Tango
Salon Tango is suited for dancing on larger dance floors, dance halls and ballrooms as the open embrace and upright position require more space than the close embrace and short steps of milonguero style Tango.
The relatively open embrace (or changing embrace) of Salon Tango, together with the added space between dancers in larger halls provides opportunities for moves such as sacadas (leg thrusts), ganchos (leg hooks), barridas (foot drags) and boleos (sweeps).
For an example of Salon Tango view the video clip of Juan Carlos Copes dancing in Carlos Saura's movie Tango. When viewing this clip, keep in mind this is a choreographed performance in a movie. While it is an example of Tango at its best, dancers in the real life must maintain an anti-clockwise line of dance and need to be mindful of other dancers when leading or executing embellishments and dramatic moves - especially boleos - since the pointed heels of a woman's shoe can hurt other dancers.
When the music is slow, the emphasis in Salon Tango is on the slow, smooth and deliberate execution of every step or move. Each partner finds their centre and is responsible for his or her balance. In executing a pattern such as a molinete (a circular grapevine) around the man, the woman does not use the man for support.
A milonguero is a person who dances at milongas - social dances.
Milonguero Tango is best suited for small or crowded dance floors such as those found in the downtowns of large cities, or those found in cafe's and restaurants. Many advocates of Argentine Tango will - with missionary zeal - tell others this is the only way to dance Tango. It is one way.
The embrace or dance hold in milonguero style Tango is very close and intimate. The two bodies lean forward slightly, and if the partners heights are fairly well matched, the partners' bodies will touch in the area of the chest bone. The partners' faces or heads are also frequently in contact.
The close embrace of Milonguero Tango requires a special set of leading and following skills. Very little leading is done through the hands. While even in Salon Tango, the woman receives part of the lead through visually observing the man's shoulder frame, in Milonguero Tango the lead is transmitted physically through the shoulder or upper body frame.
The lead is nevertheless subtle, and the partners feel and appear to move as one entity. What this means for the leader is that the leader cannot make unnecessary movements that can be misinterpreted as leads. If the leader changes a step, the leader needs to isolate that movement from the upper body, unless the leader wants the follower to follow that change.
It is not uncommon for the woman or follower to close her eyes and completely immerse herself in the dance embrace, the music and the experience.
On this site, there is a page devoted to Tango Nuevo.
In many ways, Tango Nuevo or New Tango, combines the disciplines of Salon and Milonguero Tango and then adds something to the mixture. It evolved primarily as a response to Tango Nuevo music pioneered by Astor Piazzolla. Tango music has evolved from what is nostalgically called Golden Age Tango music - old fashioned Tango music. This evolution calls for a the music to be interpreted differently.
In Tango Nuevo, sometimes the embrace is close and at other times it is open. This flexibility gives the dancer options on how to express the music and connection in the dance.
Like Salon Tango, Tango Nuevo does require larger dance floors.
Neo-tango is further explained on the page Tango Nuevo and Neo-Tango Dancing.
Neo-Tango is the fusion of Tango, Tango-related and other dance steps when dancing to non-Tango music - anything from slow night club music, to Rumba, Salsa and Swing. It is becoming increasing popular much to the dismay of the Tango orthodoxy.
Neo-Tango dancing is based on a foundation of traditional Tango steps. In that sense, it is not a different dance form. However, it allows for the incorporation of steps from other dances. Neo-Tango dancers are Tango dancers with an expanded range of dance possibilities.
There are other styles of Tango. The ones mentioned here are the most significant.
Types of Tango Dances
In addition to traditional Tango, there are two other types of Tango that are danced in milongas or social dances. One such type bears the same name as the social dance. It is called a Milonga. The other is the Vals (Waltz). Our Tango video page as well as the pages with clips from the movies Tango Lesson and Tango have videos on the Milonga and Vals. The videos will also give you an idea of music to which they are danced.
The music for a Milonga is more upbeat than Tango and has a quicker tempo. The music has a strongly accented beat based on the "habanera" rhythm. If Tango is danced with a serious face, Milonga is danced with a smile.
To those familiar with social Samba, the Milonga shares some steps or concepts with the Samba, and this is not surprising since Brazil and Argentina are neighbours.
As with Tango Nuevo, the dance embrace can change in the Milonga, and as with Nuevo, dancing the Milonga requires a foundation in Tango dancing.
While a Tango dancer can pause over one or more beats, Milonga dancers usually dance on every beat. However, they can insert steps called the Traspie (syncopations).
The music for the Tango Vals is similar to a fast Italian Waltz.
The Tango Vals dancers normally do not step on every beat. If they did, the dance would look like a Viennese Waltz. Instead, they can occasionally take two beats to make one step. Many leaders dance to a quick-quick-slow (one beat, one beat, two beats) rhythm.
In addition, the giro or turn (in both directions) is frequently used in a Tango Vals giving it a characteristic look of frequent turns.
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