Radio Free North America / The Voice of Tango Argentino

Hello Tango World. This post initiates Tango Voice, the voice of Tango Argentino for North America. Its goal is to send accurate information about Tango Argentino to North America from behind the cultural barriers that prevent this.

Within the vast tango territory of North America (culturally, the United States and Canada), there exists a form of dance and music that is typically labeled as “Argentine tango”. This implies there is something “Argentine” about the dance and the music. Oftentimes the character of dancing and the musical background for the dancing bear little resemblance to the tango that is danced in Argentina. In order to be called “Argentine tango”, the dance should resemble the characteristics of tango danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires, the birthplace and cultural standard for tango (argentino).

The tango that is danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires is almost always danced in a maintained (close) embrace. Dancers travel in a line of dance that progresses counterclockwise around the floor. There is no passing of other dancers in the line of dance. Dancers keep their movements confined to the available space, not invading the space of other dancers on the floor, e.g., by lifting their feet off the floor or kicking into the air in the space around them. The music played for dancing tango is classic tango music from the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

At milongas in North America it is quite common to see dancers breaking the embrace, dancing at arm’s length; in fact, it is unusual to see couples maintaining a close embrace throughout the dance. There is often a poorly defined line of dance, with some dancers occupying a space and not progressing, others moving in numerous directions across the floor, colliding or nearly colliding with other dancers. Lifting the feet off the floor in kicking movements is commonplace. It is not unusual and, at some venues, common for music other than classic tango to be played for dancing what is believed to be tango.

Some part of this is just bad dancing and bad selection of music. Some part of this is based on ignorance of Argentine tango culture. Another part is based on active defiance of Argentine tango culture while still retaining the name “Argentine tango” for advertising purposes.

Thus, in North America, tango argentino is not well represented at social dance events that are advertised as “milongas”. It is inaccurate and a misrepresentation of Argentine tango culture to state that ‘Argentine tango’ is danced at a ‘milonga’ when the dancing and the environment do not resemble the milongas of Buenos Aires.

This blog is initiated to counter the prevailing tendency to misrepresent tango argentino in North America. It will provide a clearer perspective on tango argentino, and the differences between tango practiced in Buenos Aires and the predominant representation of ‘Argentine tango’ in North America. Strategies for promoting a culturally accurate practice of tango argentino will be addressed.

This blog is not a diary of personal tango experiences. This blog is about how tango argentino is practiced and promoted in North America compared to Argentina, in order to overcome the cultural divide.

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14 Responses to Radio Free North America / The Voice of Tango Argentino

  1. Arlene says:

    Welcome to my world. Dancing in America sounds like dancing in the UK. I hope it gets better. Good luck with the blog. You have your work cut out for you.
    Arlene
    http://londontango.wordpress.com

  2. tangovoice says:

    Arlene,

    Thanks for your words of support.

    It’s going to take the concerted effort of dancers of tango argentino to change the tango landscape outside Argentina. Hopefully this blog will motivate people to join together to promote a culturally accurate tango in North America (and elsewhere).

    TV

  3. jantango says:

    North Americans are fascinated with the tango, but the majority don’t want to embrace the culture through the music and language because it takes more effort. It easier just to dance to “alternative” music than gain an understanding of tango music. I feel it’s a shame because they are missing the essence of tango.

    Few have the advantage of living in BsAs as I do, but there are opportunities to learn more if one really wants to deepen their knowledge of the music.

    I look forward to future posts.

  4. tangovoice says:

    Tango dancers need to visit Buenos Aires to begin understanding the culture of tango. They also need to learn Spanish reasonably well to be able to communicate with porteños. They need to visit the milongas that accurately represent tango culture, not the venues that cater to foreign tastes (e.g., ‘nuevo practicas’). It takes time and it takes multiple visits. If you love tango, there is no other way to begin to understand the culture.

  5. tangobob says:

    It looks like you are encountering the same problems that we do here. In the milongas you can always spot a yanqui, they all dance the same and it aint tango. The europeans also have their own style as do the Brits. There are few teachers who have actually been to Buenos Aires and fewer still who will embrace the culture fully, but the good news is, there are more and more like yourself, and Arlene who are pushing for real tango, Maybe (with effort) one day it will happen.
    Bob http://tangogales.wordpress.com/

  6. tangocherie says:

    Welcome to the blogosphere!

    And as one American tango dancer to another, I say Go for it!

    Saludos de Buenos Aires!

    P.S. I’m adding tangovoice to my tango blogroll.

  7. Claude says:

    What you write is certainly true for most of what goes on in Montreal but I am not certain that I go along with the purist ideology. What we dance here, although not identical, is certainly inspired by the Argentinian tango tradition which itself is likely evolving and transmuting as all things tend to do. If no one had ever taken liberties with what had gone on before would ‘Argentinian Tango’ even exist in its present form ?

    • tangovoice says:

      Evolution of tango dancing has occurred within the last 100+ years, although the manner of dancing at the milongas has not changed significantly in the last 60 years. With regard to change, there are some standards for defining Tango de Salon, i.e., dancing tango at a milonga. One is that the movements do not threaten the space of other dancers on the floor (i.e., do not risk collisions). Another is that the movements do not attract attention because of exhibitionist characteristics. Much of what is often justified as the natural evolution of tango (e.g., Tango Nuevo) fails to meet these conditions. Changes that fail to meet these criteria are outside the realm of Tango de Salon. They are not suitable for the milonga.

      • Chris says:

        Excellent points, TV. The problem for the sellers of alternative tango dance was summed up well by instructor Fabian Salas when challenged about ‘for export’ style:

        If you dance an old-fashioned tango you will get nowhere, the people will reject it, because today everything is so dynamic” (El Tangauta 186 April 2010)

        By ‘people’, he’s of course not referring to dancers of social tango in milongas. He’s referring to people who buy the dancing of those such as himself – in classes and shows.

  8. Claude says:

    I appreciate your list of criteria – non-exhibitionist, respectful of others,etc. This being said, is there a difference between Argentine tango and Tango de salon ?

    • tangovoice says:

      Argentine Tango is the tango of Argentine origin danced in Argentina. It includes Tango de Salon, the tango danced in the milongas [generally classified into 2 stylistic clusters – Tango Estilo del Barrio (aka Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza) and Tango Estilo del Center (aka Tango Milonguero)], defined by written and unwritten milonga codes, the Tango Escenario danced on the stage, defined by its environment and differentiated by its exhibitionist elements. There is also Tango Nuevo, an improvised exploration of the spatial dimensions available to tango movements, defined to a significant degree by its birth in the Tango Investigation Group of Gustavo Naveira and Fabian Salas in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s. Tango Nuevo became public in the Practicas Nuevas such as Practica X and several practicas at Club Villa Malcolm. Over time the Practicas Nuevas have become more social and more heterogeneous in style of dancing. In the last decade or so there have been 2 milongas in Buenos Aires (La Catedral & La Viruta), attended mostly by young porteños and tourists, where Tango Nuevo may be danced. There is also the gay friendly milonga La Marshall where Tango Nuevo may be seen. In these tango social dance venues, some of the codes of the milongas (e.g., use of cabeceo, gender segregated seating) are clearly not practiced, and violations of traditional milonga codes (e.g., women in leading and men in following roles, exhibitionism) are tolerated. However, in the more than 100 other milongas in Buenos Aires, Tango Nuevo is not danced or is frowned upon if danced.

      These genres of Tango Argentino are differentiated by environmental niche (Tango Styles, Genres and Individual Expression: Part I – A Rationale for Classification by Niche Adaptation: https://tangovoice.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/tango-styles-genres-and-individual-expression-part-i-a-rationale-for-classification-by-niche-adaptation/).

      Although Tango Nuevo is Argentine in origin and has a small social niche in Buenos Aures, it has found much wider acceptance outside Argentina, where it coexists on the dance floor with Tango de Salon at events advertised as ‘milongas’.

  9. Chris says:

    TV wrote: “Perhaps the ‘aka Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza’ should have been replaced here by the language ‘commonly marketed as Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza’.

    Not if the objective is veracity. That rewording excludes from Tango Estilo del Barrio any such styles not commonly marketed as Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza. That being most of them.

    Accurate would be “Tango Estilo del Barrio including that commonly marketed as Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza, mentioned here only for the comfort of people concerned that the particular subset marketed as Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza gets insufficient publicity elsewhere.” 🙂

    Accurate and more preferable would be “Tango Estilo del Barrio” period.

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