Villa Urquiza is a barrio near the northern border of the city of Buenos Aires. There are two long standing milongas in Villa Urquiza that are well known and attract visitors from around the world – Sin Rumbo on Fridays and Sunderland Club on Saturdays.
Characteristics of Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza
The term ‘Estilo Villa Urquiza’ has been used to identify a style of tango that was popular in the barrio of Villa Urquiza during the 1940s and 50s. Descriptions of Estilo Villa Urquiza vary to some degree, but generally include the following characteristics. There is an elegance, smoothness, and precision in walking, achieved in part by walking close to the ground; many dancers of this style achieve a smooth walk by landing toe first when walking forward. Walking comprises a significant portion of the dance. The posture is upright. The embrace is closed while walking, but may be opened for ochos and turns. The footwork during ochos and turns can be elaborate and may include such elements as sacadas, arrastres, boleos, dibujos, toe taps and touches, and the sandwich. Noticeably absent from Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza are ganchos, volcadas, and colgadas.
Some examples of the classic Villa Urquiza style are evident in videos of demonstrations at milongas given by Jorge Dispari & Maria del Carmen, Gerardo Portalea & Susana, El Chino Perico, Carlos Perez & Rosa Forte, Alberto & Ester, and Ramon ‘Finito’ Rivera, all available from Ney Melo’s ‘Origins of Villa Urquiza Style’ YouTube series. Notice how the movements in the classic Villa Urquiza style are measured, not rushed, reflecting the phrasing of the music.
Although their names are not specifically associated with Estilo Villa Urquiza, Miguel Balmaceda, Puppy Castello, Graciela Gonzalez, Mingo & Ester Pugliese, Facundo & Kelly Posadas, and Nita & Elba Garcia have danced a style of tango that is similar to that identified as Estilo Villa Urquiza.
A recreation of a milonga scene in the movie ‘Tango: Baile Nuestro’ shows Ramon ‘Finito’ Rivera, Gerardo Portalea, Miguel Balmaceda and others dancing in what may be interpreted as a social style of Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza. Note that this video includes a set of highly skilled dancers under relatively low floor density for a Buenos Aires milonga.
Representatives of the current generation of tango dancers whose style has been classified as Estilo Villa Urquiza include the following Argentines (with links to video demonstrations): Javier Rodriguez (with Geraldine Rojas, with Andrea Misse), Andres Laza Moreno & Samantha Dispari, Fabian Peralta y Natacha Poberaj, and Sebastian Misse y Andrea Reyero. The Rodriguez-Rojas demonstration is particularly interesting in that the embrace, which is maintained in a very close position by use of an extended reach, has cheek-to-cheek contact, and is not opened, is within the range of Tango Estilo Milonguero as described previously. They play some games throughout their demonstration with their axis orientation, but at times it appears to be apilado. Absent is the elaborate footwork (deep sacadas, dibujos, arrastres, and sandwiches of the classic Villa Urquiza style.) Shortening the steps and removing the elevated footwork would place most of this dance within the range of variation of tango milonguero. The same could be said for the Rodriquez-Misse demonstration. In the Moreno-Dispari, Peralta-Poberaj, and Misse-Reyero demonstrations there is opening of the embrace for turns and more of the classic Estilo Villa Urquiza footwork. However, for all of these younger generation dancers the embrace is closer (reaching beyond the midline, as in tango milonguero) when compared to classic Estilo Villa Urquiza, although the greater slenderness of the young dancers may in part account for this difference. In the videos referenced, the younger dancers all turn more rapidly than their elder counterparts, which may be accounted for by age differences. One unique characteristic of all of the younger generation Estilo Villa Uquiza demonstrations is the characteristic woman’s forward walking style that, for lack of a better term, could be called the ‘tap hammer’ walk, where in forward walking the women bends her knee to lift her foot straight behind her knee and then comes down forward onto the floor in a hammer-like movement, often repeatedly. This movement was not apparent in the videos of the classic Villa Urquiza style and may represent a modern evolutionary development.
Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza and Tango Estilo Milonguero within the Variation of Tango de Salon
Characteristics of Tango Estilo Milonguero have been described in detail in a previous post. Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza differs from Tango Estilo Milonguero in various ways. The posture tends to be more upright and the embrace is looser in Estilo Villa Urquiza; that is, the arms are less extended around the partner, which allows for easier opening of the embrace for ochos and turns, whereas in Estilo Milonguero the embrace is closer (arms reach further past partner’s midline) and opened only slightly on the man’s left side to allow the woman’s movement to the cruzada that can come from a pivot (‘milonguero forward ocho’) or side rock (ocho cortado). Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza employs more footwork – foot touches, sandwiches, arrastres, dibujos – than are typically used in Tango Estilo Milonguero. However, when observing dancers on the pistas of the milongas of Buenos Aires, it is apparent that Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza and Tango Estilo Milonguero, as labeled and promoted by tango instructors, are just two points along the continuum of variation in several dimensions that exists among dancers in the milongas of Buenos Aires, as described previously. Today at any given milonga in Buenos Aires, there is a range of stylistic variation among the dancers. Nevertheless, this variation still occurs within the limits set by the codes and customs of the milongas.
The Claim of El Barrio Villa Urquiza to a Representative Tango Style
The barrio of Villa Urquiza has a long history of involvement, support, and development of tango. What is identified as Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza was popular in the barrio of Villa Urquiza during the Golden Age and certainly has had its representation in Villa Urquiza since the Tango Renaissance of the late 1980s and 90s. However, these characteristic stylistic variations have not been limited to this barrio. It is interesting that many of the videos shown of this style were recorded in the milonga Glorias Argentinas in the barrio of Mataderos, on the southwestern edge of Buenos Aires, distant from Villa Urquiza on the northern edge. In addition to Glorias Argentinas, other milongas such as El Pial in Caballito (also southwest Buenos Aires) and Salon Canning in Palermo (just north of ‘downtown’ barrios) are also known historically for having had dancers who danced a style of tango similar to that described as Estilo Villa Urquiza (link).
It has been reported that in the early days of tango each neighborhood had its own style of tango. With limited transportation and social customs of neighborhood loyalty, this is understandable. To some degree, stylistic differences were due to social class and social context. In the 1940s and 50s, when tango became more respectable and embraced by the middle and upper classes, the close embrace ‘estilo milonguero’ (sometimes labeled as ‘petitero’, ‘caquero’ or ‘confiteria’ style in the 40s and 50s) was associated with the more anonymous downtown singles scenes, whereas the more upright posture and somewhat open embrace style similar to that described above for ‘estilo Villa Urquiza’ was more common in the clubes del barrio away from downtown where people knew each other. However, in 21st century Buenos Aires, where the collectivos, the subte, taxis and private automobiles can transport people to any milonga in any barrio and there is acceptance of visitors from any barrio (worldwide) in any publicly advertised milonga, stylistic segregation by geography is no longer a characteristic difference among Buenos Aires milongas. Thus, both historically and today labeling any stylistic variation by a barrio in which it was once popular gives too much prominence to that barrio as a representative of a particular tango stylistic variation. Considering that stylistic variation is nearly continuous, the labeling of a particular set of stylistic traits as the product of a particular barrio is neither accurately communicating the multiple stylistic influences nor the individual freedom in expressing characteristics of tango style.
One irony of attaching a barrio label to a particular stylistic variation of Tango de Salon is that the classic Estilo Villa Urquiza style is no longer even the most commonly danced style of tango in the milongas of the barrio of Villa Urquiza, as can be seen in the following video clips of milongas in Sin Rumbo and Sunderland Club (video1) (video2). Although some characteristics of the embrace uncharacteristic of Tango Milonguero are seen, for example offset and looser embrace, with the woman facing inward towards the man’s face rather than over his right shoulder, there is little evidence of opening the embrace for ochos and turns and the elaborate footwork characteristic of the historic Villa Urquiza style, even though floor conditions were not particularly crowded and would have allowed it. In fact, even when taking into account the variation that exists in Tango de Salon in the milongas of Buenos Aires today, the point on this continuum along several dimensions represented by the classic Villa Urquiza style is one associated with a low frequency of occurrence, even in milongas in the barrio of Villa Urquiza. The same is not true for Tango Estilo Milonguero, which has many stylistic adherents, particularly in downtown milongas such as El Beso, Lo de Celia, and Club Gricel, although there is also considerable variation away from the intersection of characteristics taught in La Academia de Tango Milonguero, particularly among advanced dancers who have developed their own characteristic styles, as well as older dancers who learned tango in the past from family and friends in their barrios rather than at the numerous dance academies that now exist across Buenos Aires.
Labeling of Tango Styles and Tango Marketing
Labels such as Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza and Tango Estilo Milonguero are useful in identifying a set of characteristics that exist or have existed in the past among dancers in Buenos Aires milongas, and they are useful for communicating this information in advertising tango instruction so that the tango consumer may know what to expect. However, labeling points on a continuum also gives the impression that there are distinctly different stylistic categories within Tango de Salon, which there are not. Any knowledgeable and observant visitor to the milongas will see that there is nearly continuous variation along several dimensions.