Tango Nuevo versus Tango Milonguero: A Comparison


The tango stylistic variations most commonly taught and danced in North America, or worldwide for that matter, are ‘tango nuevo’ and ‘tango milonguero’. Tango nuevo has been defined in a previous post (Tango Nuevo: Definition of the Dance). Tango milonguero has been defined in another previous post.(Salon Style Tango, Milonguero Style Tango, and Tango de Salon in Buenos Aires and in North America). Reading of many tango discussion groups (e.g., Tango-L) will reveal that there is considerable conflict worldwide between dancers identifying strongly with one of these stylistic variations versus the other. The conflict often focuses on the compatibility of these stylistic variations on the same social dance floor, i.e., their peaceful coexistence on the same pista in a milonga. Determination of the compatibility of these stylistic variations of tango is dependent, in part, on understanding the basic characteristics of each tango style. The issue of compatibility at the same milonga is a larger issue and will be addressed here in later posts, once the place of tango nuevo within the range of tango stylistic variation is clarified. The focus of this post is to identify characteristic similarities and differences (with a focus on the latter) between ‘tango nuevo’ and ‘tango milonguero’. This issue will be approached by examining the characteristics of the dance of representative dancers of each stylistic variation. This objective is hindered from the onset by the recognition that there is considerable variation among the dancers identified within each style of tango. Nevertheless, despite this variation within each genre, there are characteristic differences between these genres which generally allow an informed observer to classify dancers as representing one style versus the other.

Guidelines for Comparison of Tango Nuevo and Tango Milonguero

The dancers chosen as representatives for each genre were selected as follows. For tango milonguero, the men selected are those who are generally considered to be ‘milongueros’, men who are or were active in dancing regularly at milongas, and who are highly regarded for their dancing skills. For tango nuevo, the dance couples selected are those who are active in teaching tango nuevo at the international level and are highly regarded for their dancing skills.

The music selected for comparison was chosen as follows. Tango milonguero is defined in part by its expression in dance of classic tango music from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Tango nuevo is danced to a wider variety of music, including classic tango, modern interpretations of classic tango musical compositions, nuevo tango (Piazzolla and followers), tango fusion (e.g., tango electronico, jazz-tango fusion), or even non-tango music. Since variations in tango music, in theory, can result in different expression in the dance, a common ground for comparison is set here by examining filmed exhibitions of representative dancers from each genre dancing to the same classic tango recordings. This comparison is, off course, limited by the availability of the major representatives of each tango genre having  available filmed exhibitions that can be matched with similar exhibitions by representatives of the other genre.

There are 4 tangos, a vals, and a milonga examined below with the goal of identifying characteristic differences between tango milonguero and tango nuevo. These differences are best understood by first viewing in succession both demonstrations danced to the same music prior to reading the interpretative commentary.

(1) Francisco Canaro – Poema

– Tango milonguero: Ricardo Vidort & Liz Haight

Ricardo creates a dance that uses only a small set of relaitively uncomplicated movements. A closed embrace is maintained throughout the dance. The dance consists mainly of walks (including the faster corridas) in forward, sideways and circular directions, in a (back-and-forth) vai-ven, in both parallel and crossed feet (i.e., back ochos), both inside and outside partner (right), as well as rocking steps, both in place and turning. There is an occasional ocho cortado, calesita, and parada, as well as a few simple turns. Movements are small, with the feet kept close to the floor, and there are few embellishments, all using little space. There is considerable variation in tempo, with the speed of movements closely tied to the changing tempo and intensity of the music. This is reflected partly in the variation in the size of steps. There are a few occasions where Ricardo is moving in quick time rhythm while Liz is in single time rhythm. There is considerable improvisation in the timing of simple movements oriented in varied directions.

– Tango nuevo: Pablo Inza & Moira Castellano

Pablo and Moira start with walking, but their steps are longer and with less variation in tempo than those used by Ricardo and Liz, although there is some. The embrace starts close and directly in front, but shifts to the man’s right, with the woman walking forward, a position reminiscent of canyengue. This evolves at one point into the ‘al reves’ position. The walking is interspersed with sweeping volcadas, both low and high boleos, expansive dibujos, and sacadas. There is considerable improvisation in the orientation of movement, assisted in part by variations in the physical connection between partners, with less variation in timing of movements to the variation in the music.

(2) Edgardo Donato – El adios

– Tango milonguero: Osvaldo & Coca Cartery

This dance is characterized by small steps and tempered movement, even including some pauses. The dance consists mostly of walking (inside and outside partner, sideways and circular progression) and rocking turns (sometimes terminated in an ocho cortado), both using different rhythmic characteristics of the music. At times Osvaldo is using double time steps compared to Coca stepping in single time. A closed embrace is maintained throughout the dance.

– Tango nuevo: Gustavo Naveira & Giselle Anne

This dance contains considerable exploration of different degrees of contact between partners (sometimes referred to as ‘all ranges of the embrace’) – closed directly in front and to the side, opened, one hand contact and a complete break in contact – mostly while walking, but with the walking and turns interspersed with dramatic poses (e.g., quebradas) or rapid movements such as sacadas (forward and back), boleos, ganchos and leg wraps. There is some variation in the tempo of the dance, but considerably less than the dance of Osvaldo and Coca to the same music.

(3) Juan D’arienzo – Ya no ves

– Tango milonguero: Osvaldo Centeno & Ana Maria Schapira

Osvaldo and Ana Maria maintain a closed embrace in the same position throughout the dance, and keep their feet close to the floor. The movements consist primarily of walking in both parallel and crossed feet, with a changing tempo matching the rhythm of the music. There is segmentation in the movement, with a very brief pause (without missing a beat) at times during a weight change, particularly when changing direction. Much of the dance is a series of counterclockwise and clockwise turns, the latter frequently ending with an ocho cortado, with some of the turns containing a sacada. The dance progresses counterclockwise in a line of dance similar to progression that would occur in a milonga. There are almost no embellishments, except for an occasional toe taps by both Osvaldo and Ana Maria to mark the rhythm of the music.

– Tango nuevo: Fabian Salas & Carolina del Rivero

This dance demonstrates a full variety of the vocabulary of tango nuevo – volcadas, colgadas, calesitas, arrastres, boleos, ganchos and enganches (even at the waist high level), sacadas forward and back (including by the woman to the man), all done in rapid succession with little change in tempo. The connection between partners is mostly in an opened embrace, with a closed embrace used primarily only momentarily during transition between movements or, as needed, during volcadas; the embrace is even abandoned at times as the partners move separately, without contact.

(4) Rodolfo Biagi – El recodo

– Tango milonguero: Pedro ‘Tete’ Rusconi & Sylvia Ceriani

Tete’s movements were more rapid with longer steps than most other milongueros whose demos are shown here. His dance here is characterized by rapid progression counterclockwise around the floor, with walks in both parallel and crossed feet both inside and outside partner interspersed with both counterclockwise and clockwise giros, the latter sometimes ending in an ocho cortado. Despite the generally rapid progression, there are some pauses. There are several suspensions of the woman created in these turns. Throughout almost all of the dance, the feet are kept closed to the floor. There are almost no embellishments. Tete and Sylvia maintain chest to chest contact throughout the dance.

– Tango nuevo: Federico Naveira y Ines Muzzopappa

Although Tete danced rapidly for a milonguero, here Federico dances much more rapidly, with longer steps. Throughout their dance, Federico & Ines employ numerous variations in their connection (closed embrace, opened, arms only holding, one arm contact) as they perform a series of rapid turns that explore the space available on the floor, using sacadas, boleos, ganchos, arrastres and volcadas, without progressing in any particular direction. Their feet are frequently lifted off the floor. There is little variation in the tempo of dancing related to the rhythm of the music. There are few pauses in the high level of momentum that is generated.

(5) Edgar Donato – La Tapera (Vals)

– Tango milonguero: Alberto Dassieu & Paulina Spinoso

This dance consists of small steps with a measured tempo, including even brief pauses at collection points. The dance is comprised primarily of walks (fast and slow), the vai-ven, and giros (the latter with an occasional sacada), using varying tempo that explores the rhythmic variation in the vals, including using 1-2-3 corridas (i.e., stepping on all 3 beats in the vals). The embrace is maintained at all times and the feet are kept close to the floor.

Note: Alberto Dassieu has been considered to be a representative of the Villa Urquiza stylistic variation in tango (see comments), although his dance here maintains a closed embrace throughout and his posture is apilado, which are characteristics of ‘milonguero style’ tango (Salon Style Tango, Milonguero Style Tango, and Tango de Salon in Buenos Aires and in North America). One difference in his embrace is that Paulina is offset somewhat to Alberto’s right, which is more characteristic of the description of the variation of tango marketed as ‘estilo Villa Urquiza) (Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza).

– Tango nuevo: Fernando Sanchez y Ariadna Naveira

This dance is characterized by long steps and rapid motion used in walking and turning movements. Within various ranges of the embrace (closed, open, one arm contact), a repertoire of sacadas, ganchos, and boleos are interspersed throughout the dance. The feet are frequently lifted off the floor. There is an occasional parada and, at the end, an underarm turn with a final quebrada. There is some variation in the tempo of the dance related to the rhythm of the music and there is even a sequence of Fernando doing back ochos in double time while Ariadna is progressing in single time.

(6) Francisco Canaro – Milonga Sentimental

– Tango milonguero: Dany ‘El Flaco’ Garcia & Silvina Valz

This dance is done entirely in a closed embrace. The dance consists almost entirely of walking and turning sequences with only a few subtle embellishments. Steps taken are short and the feet are kept close to the floor. Dany Garcia is the master of milonga con traspie and the changing tempo of Dany and Silvina’s dance is demonstrated throughout; there is also stepping with varying degrees of partial weight changes, which is apparent at various points in this dance. There are also several sequences where Dany is dancing in double time rhythm to Silvina’s single time rhythm. The dance is structured around the music.

– Tango nuevo: Mariano ‘Chicho’ Frumboli & Eugenia Parilla

This dance to the same music is more rapid, with longer steps and faster turns than that of Dany & Silvina’s dance. The feet are lifted off the floor on numerous occasions, particularly by Eugenia. There are rhythm changes, but not with the complexity of El Flaco Dany’s dance. The embrace is variable, although mostly opened to allow more independent movement of the partners. Interspersed throughout the dance are numerous sacadas and boleos, as well as at least one instance each of an arrastre, a parada, a colgada, and even a jump.

Characteristic Differences between Tango Milonguero and Tango Nuevo

There are stylistic differences among the dancers of each genre, as is evident in the videos referenced here.  Nevertheless, there are there are obvious characteristic differences between the genres that are greater than the variation that exists among dancers within each genre. Since the representative dancers of tango milonguero are considerably older than the representative dancers of tango nuevo (among the men, there is a gap of at least 20 years), these stylistic differences might be attributable to differences in physical capabilities that change with age. Even if age accounts for these differences, the dancers selected are indeed valid representatives of each genre that more or less define its characteristics.  

The charactistic differences between tango milonguero and tango nuevo are the following:

In tango milonguero, the embrace is kept closed throughout the dance, with the partners directly in front of each other. With rare exceptions, both dancers in the couple are balanced on their axes. Steps are relatively small and the feet are kept close to the floor. Embellishments are used to a limited degree and are small in size and close to the floor. Movements are limited by maintaining the closed embrace, although variation in inside and outside partner walking in both parallel and crossed feet may occur within the embrace. Improvisation occurs in the linking together of movements such as walking, the vai-ven, some rocking movements, giros, and the ocho cortado. A considerable amount of the improvisation is in varying the tempo of movements in accordance with rhythmic changes in the music. Pauses, including suspensions of the woman, may occur within this improvisation. It is not unusual for the man and the woman to have a different timing in their weight changes, although both are connected to different aspects of the rhythmic variation in the music.

In tango nuevo, there is considerable variation in the connection between partners, from a closed embrace (either directly in front of each other or offset to the man’s right side), to an extended hold with both arms still in contact, to contact with only one arm, to no contact between partners. Steps are longer and thus movements are faster and build up some momentum. The feet may explore vertical space, such as the space between the legs of the partner (including touching or wrapping around them) or possibly even around the partner’s waist; dancers may also move their legs into the space above the floor that is not within the space defined by the body of the partner. Off axis movements in which one or both partners are not balanced on their axis may be used. Improvisation consists mainly of linking together a variety of movements that explore the spatial relationships between the partners and the space around themselves. Some variation in tempo of movement occurs in connection with variation in the rhythm of the music, but the rhythm of the music is primarily a guidepost for the timing of the weight changes that occur in the linking together of movements rather than a source for improvisation.

Tango milonguero is primarily grounded dancing in a maintained close embrace, exploring the rhythmic variations in the music.

Tango nuevo primarily uses variations in contact between partners as part of the exploration of variations in spatial relationships between and around the partners.


5 Responses to Tango Nuevo versus Tango Milonguero: A Comparison

  1. jantango says:

    Thank you for another interesting post. Your descriptions of the couples in each style showed that the two are unique–one is all improvised and the other for exhibition.

    When I danced ballroom from 1988-1994, the same problem that exists between milonguero and nuevo was true between the American style and International style dancers. The two styles clashed because the International (competition) dancers hogged the floor. When they started a pattern, you had to get out of their way or get run over.

  2. tangovoice says:

    That’s an interesting observation. The assumption was that all demonstrations were improvised. The tango milonguero demos certainly seem to be. It’s hard to believe the degree of improvisation upon the music could be planned in advance. On the other hand the tango nuevo demos also seemed to be improvised. Perhaps some or all were not. It is difficult to tell.

  3. danceposa says:

    I think this is wonderful post. I have been dancing Tango for nearly 2 years now. Previously a ballroom dancer with medals etc for 30 years.
    I was really confused when I started tango. I went to a “traditional” close embrace BsAs Type teacher and another who I can describe as a nuevo teacher. I had to give up ballroom to start appreciating tango.
    My nuevo teacher claims to have studied under Naviera and has certainly worked with Dana and PAblo.
    He states quite emphatically that Naviera says you cannot dance tango without using the hands.Subtle yes but a definite push pull with the mans left/ladies right and use of the mans right on the ladies shoulder blade to turn the lady. Oh jeez did that spook me! I still go to that nuevo teacher because I believe it will help me long term. But I prefer to dance with my “traditional” friends where I lead purely with my chest and a good frame. Also, I note from some of the videos in this post that not all the acknowledged greats brush the floor so smoothly thereby giving substance to its a good way to learn but in the end we dance in our own style, and providing we give the lady a great tango experience then alls well that ends well. I strive to dance musically without worrying about how many fancy steps I may have learnt in workshops. Occasionally, I find a spark that just drives me into something I have picked up in a workshop and it fits nicely.

  4. tangovoice says:

    Regarding using the hands to lead, not all milongueros abstain completely from using the hands to lead. It appears that leading with the hands was more common in the golden age and one can still encounter quite a few older dancers who use their hands to assist leading. On the other hand, there are some experienced dancers in Buenos Aires who do not use the hands to lead, but may use their hands to guide a woman who is stepping too far away from the man’s axis.

    Regarding brushing the floor, yes, it is true that some milongueros are not always brushing the floor. The difference from tango nuevo is the time they spend in a dance above the floor, maybe a few seconds, whereas in tango nuevo there can be a considerable amount of time in a dance spent with the feet above the floor, particularly for women.

    All descriptions of the characteristics of a dance style are generalizations and they are exceptions here and there.

  5. El Polaco says:

    My impression from watching these videos but also from a number of years of watching people dance both styles is the totally different connection to the music. Nuevo seems to me to be well-designed for music which sounds ‘big’, that is, the later tangos that are sounding more orchestral and that are good for shows.

    It is clear from these videos (at least to me) that when you apply it to more traditional ‘small’ sounding music the style just doesn’t fit. The long walks, open embrace and high leg movements of Nuevo just seem too big for the rhythmic Guardia Vieja music, whereas the compact, low, economic movements of Milonguero seem to fit that music perfectly.

    That’s why in my view Milonguero is characterised by economy of movement, whereas Nuevo is Baroque bordering on Kitsch. Applied to a milonga it just looks exhausting not to mention totally impractical in a milonga situation.

    Nuevo seems to work really well with orchestral pieces like La Yumba or Zum, or Piazzolla, which are great for show or camera (and workshops). It’s also good for electronic tango.

    That can be a lot of fun, with a good amount of thigh grinding, and a good workout too. Unfortunately it will probably leave you physically and emotionally exhausted if done for any exended period of time … reason I abandoned this sort of stuff.

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