The term ‘nuevo tango’ was first used by Astor Piazzolla to identify his music that combined elements of jazz and classical music with tango music. This is not the subject of this post, which focuses instead on recent developments in tango as a dance, which is usually referred to as ‘tango nuevo’, or sometimes simply ‘nuevo’.
Tango Nuevo as the Evolution of Tango
Tango nuevo as a dance appears at first to escape easy definition. Gustavo Naveira, one of the pioneers in the development of tango nuevo, states (in Tango, A History of Obsession, Virginia Gift, 2009, pgs. 81-82):
There is great confusion on the question of the way of dancing the tango: call it technique, form, or style. The term “tango nuevo” (“new tango”) is used to refer to a style of dancing, which is an error. In reality, tango nuevo is everything that has happened with the tango since the 1980’s. It is not a question of a style….
The words tango nuevo are neither a specific term nor a title (except in the case of a musical work by Piazzolla). With this in mind, these words directly express, through their literal meaning, what is happening with tango dancing in general; namely that it is evolving. “Tango nuevo” is not one more style; it is simply that tango dancing is growing, improving, developing, enriching itself, and in that sense we are moving toward a new dimension in tango dancing.
This definition of tango nuevo is not useful because it fails to describe what characterizes tango nuevo in order to differentiate it from dancing that is not tango nuevo. It also fails to identify the trends occurring in the evolution of tango. Is the change that has occurred in tango under the rubric of “tango nuevo” random or directional or even multidirectional? Further clarification by Naveira on the evolution of tango and its association with the tango nuevo rubric also evades these issues (2009 interview):
Evolution is something that happens inevitably and you can’t put limits on it. The tango that we like, is the tango that retains the essence of the traditional. We can’t separate ourselves from that and we don’t want to, there’s obviously a very big advance. When this evolution is tackled in the dance and technically new things are done, it acquires a different image to the previous one and, lately, they’re calling that “new tango”. New tango is nothing more than the evolution of tango, it’s a process that doesn’t stop and has never stopped and which has been going on for many years and is continuing and we all enjoy all these new images. Tango is giving dance a whole load of new tools and that’s very valuable.
Nevertheless, there is a paradox in the definitions provided by the leading architects of tango nuevo. In contrast to Naveira, who states that tango nuevo represents the evolution of tango, Pablo Veron, who is also identified as part of the tango nuevo movement, states that there is little that is new in the “new tango” and therefore questions the definition and differentiation of this genre of tango dance (2009 interview):
Speaking of tango nuevo as a dance is difficult because the name proposes a division with the past and that is very debatable, relative and deceitful. It is the definition of the music of Piazzolla and to copy the name, as if that was enough to be equivalent and thus to be different, does not seem correct. It is as if they want you to believe that they invented tango. In that case: What was danced before? Tango is tango and has always been transforming itself since its origins and if each renewal was a new tango, today we would have many new tangos. Tango was made by all of us dancers of all generations who contributed something, and this has been happening for more than 100 years! They thought that tango was no man’s land and they planted the “nuevo” flag but what is new is not inevitably better than the old and I do not believe that you can go far if you start by denying or opposing the past. I recognize in what is called tango nuevo the merit of asking for the reasons, of trying to explain the way movements work and to associate the material in a different way, but it is still in diapers and generates quite a bit of confusion. Although it fills a need of the market, because it is thought as a commercial maneuver, it lacks solid bases to be called a “methodology”. The fact is that those who believe that they dance “nuevo” are mostly using the same old elements. The movements already existed, it is a shame that they do not say so: turns, ganchos, boleos, sacadas of the man and of the woman to all sides, changes of direction, arrastres (dragging), paradas (stops), corridas, leaps, crossed steps, etc. The other day they told me that there are people who believe that turns were invented by one of the “prophets” of today. Petróleo invented turns over 50 years ago!
Nevertheless, the analysis of the structure of the ‘the way movements work and to associate the material in a different way’ has come to serve as forming part of the definition of tango nuevo. Here is a common definition reiterated more or less verbatim on numerous tango web sites (apparent origin):
Tango nuevo is a dancing and teaching style that emphasizes a structural analysis of the dance. It is a result of the work of the “Tango Investigation Group” (later transformed into the “Cosmotango” organization) pioneered by Gustavo Naveira and Fabian Salas in the 1990s in Buenos Aires. By taking tango down to the physics of the movements in a systematic way, they have created a method of analyzing the complete set of possibilities of tango movements, defined by two bodies and four legs moving in walks or circles. This investigation provided a view of a structure to the dance that was expressed in a systematic way.
An interview with Fabian Salas in 2001 reinforces this perspective. Salas emphasizes that
I really believe that for the first time we found a structure – something that is fundamental for every type of Tango that you will do. That is the basic idea of the motion, of what your choices are.
Regarding the basis of the structure Salas states:
And one day, again I don’t remember, it was 7, 8 years ago, we came up with this realization that the fundamental structure in Argentine Tango was the turn. It was the structure that was always there. The structure you can’t see until you look for it. …
And these realizations opened all the doors at once. We knew a lot of things before then, we knew a lot of steps, we knew a lot of possibilities; but after that we came up reading the Tango only through: Open, Back, and Front steps and that’s it. To 2 sides, that makes 6 – that’s all we have in Argentine Tango: 6 different steps.
Thus, the term ‘tango nuevo’ has come to represent the exploration of the possibilities for movement within tango. For the most part, it uses only movements that have existed within tango for decades, yet it creates new variations of them, particularly in their incorporation into sequences, but also in their spatial orientation.
The Unique Vocabulary of Tango Nuevo
Despite the assertions that tango nuevo represents all that is encompassed within the evolution of tango, or that there are only 6 possibilities for movement as explored through this new perspective, or that the movements it uses have been part of tango for decades, within the community of tango dancers worldwide, tango nuevo has become identifiable by the unique characteristics that have developed under its umbrella, i.e., its unique vocabulary of movements.
The following 2009 post to Tango-L by Brian Dunn from Boulder, Colorado, who is a major sponsor of Gustavo Naveira and his partner Giselle Anne in North America, specifies the characteristics of movement that have come to identify tango nuevo as a distinct stylistic variation within the wider variation of tango. Inserted here within the original Tango-L post are links to videos demonstrating the movements, to enable visualization of each movement category. All videos are from workshops taught in the United States, thereby providing a sampling of the tango instruction to which students in North America are exposed. [Note: ‘AV’ below refers to ‘allowable volume’, meaningful within the context of the original post but not critical for understanding here.]
Let’s make this unequivocal! The video must include volcadas, colgadas,boleos, enganches, ganchos, and back sacadas. Here are my proposed definitions of these elements (note that no dimensions are mentioned), and again feel free to substitute your own “minimum specs” for a dance to be identified as “nuevo”:
Volcada – the follower is transferring some of her weight onto her partner in the middle of a dynamic inward-falling move which tilts her axis toward her partner’s axis – at the end of which move, her partner eventually returns her to her axis (NOT a “carpa” or static suspension a la Gavito) [advanced volcadas]
Colgada – the follower is suspended by the leader through the frame, in an outward hanging displacement of her axis away from her partner’s axis, possibly combined with a dynamic rotation around a shared axis, eventually resulting in a return to her own solitary vertical axis.
Boleos – Complete and possibly sudden reversal of direction of motion, either translational or rotational, of one or both partners, possibly with feet elevated off the floor inside the AV. [linear boleo] [contra boleo]
Enganches – intertwining legs while moving in a way so as to bring one or both partner’s feet off the floor while staying within the AV.
Ganchos – a hooking motion of one partner’s leg around the other partner’s leg or other body part through bending at the knee in the hooking leg which results in the hooking leg’s foot off the floor inside the AV.
Back sacadas – a displacement of the leg and axis of one partner by the acting partner’s axis by means of a back cross step of the acting partner into the previous location of the acted-upon partner.
Boleos, ganchos and sacadas (including back sacadas) have been part of tango for decades. Enganches are a modification of ganchos. What is new within tango nuevo is the orientation of these movements (e.g., linear boleos). What tango nuevo has contributed to tango in terms of original movements have been off axis movements – volcadas and colgadas. Thus, one of the defining characteristic of tango nuevo is the exploration of shifts of axis. Although not unique to tango nuevo (already present in chronologically prior stage tango), another characteristic of tango nuevo is an extremely flexible partner connection, ranging from an embrace to an extended arm position to single hand contact to movement without contact between partners. Also similar to an earlier development in stage tango, dancing is not restricted to classic tango music, but may also be danced to nuevo tango music (i.e., Piazzolla and followers). What appears to be a novel development in tango nuevo is dancing to neo-tango music (tango fusion and non-tango music). These characteristics of tango nuevo are demonstrated in the videos presented below.
Leading Architects of Tango Nuevo
Shown below are some of the leading architects of tango nuevo, who have been instrumental in its development and proliferation through teaching and exhibition. For each teaching couple, a video is provided to demonstrate some of the innovations in dancing tango that have been introduced in the development of tango nuevo: