In recent years it has become relatively common in North American tango communities to hear the term ‘organic tango’ being used, usually without definition. The goal of this post is to examine the meaning of the term ‘organic tango’ and explore the rationale behind selection of this terminology.
A formal dictionary definition of the term ‘organic’ may shed light on the application of this adjective to tango. The Merriam-Webster dictionary online provides the following definition:
- Main Entry: or•gan•ic
1 archaic : INSTRUMENTAL
2 a : of, relating to, or arising in a bodily organ b : affecting the structure of the organism
3 a (1) : of, relating to, or derived from living organisms <organic evolution> (2) : of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides <organic farming> <organic produce> b (1) : of, relating to, or containing carbon compounds (2) : relating to, being, or dealt with by a branch of chemistry concerned with the carbon compounds of living beings and most other carbon compounds
4 a : forming an integral element of a whole : FUNDAMENTAL <incidental music rather than organic parts of the action – Francis Fergusson> b : having systematic coordination of parts : ORGANIZED <an organic whole> c : having the characteristics of an organism : developing in the manner of a living plant or animal <society is organic>
5 : of, relating to, or constituting the law by which a government or organization exists
The most common contemporary American English usage of ‘organic’ is in reference to ‘organic food’, to which definition 3a(2) applies. The general perception within North American culture is that food produced without the use of applied chemicals is something good, and thus the adjective ‘organic’ conveys a positive connotation. There is considerable similarity in meaning between ‘organic food’ and ‘natural food’, so that the concept of ‘organic’ becomes nearly synonymous with ‘natural’.
The term ‘organic tango’ appears to originate with Homer Ladas, a tango instructor from San Francisco, California. His definition and explanation of ‘organic tango’ is provided below (numbering added for reference in discussion). First, in general terms:
- What Is Organic Tango?
1. The concept of organic tango embodies the cooperative, creative, and open-minded interaction between both men and women.
2. Both the follower and leader share in the responsibility of connecting with each other and to the music.
3. Each partner plays a distinct but equal role in the dance, continually communicating with one another through body movement and musical interpretation.
4. Structure and Style of one’s own dance are two independent entities that are allowed to reach their maximum potential.
5. Organic tango emphasizes the social nature of the dance and places primary importance not only on a keen awareness of one’s partner but also of the other couples sharing the dance floor.
6. To allow the tango to evolve in such an organic fashion, the organic tango dance philosophy was established.
It is not at all clear how this definition of tango as ‘organic’ relates to the linguistic definition of the word ‘organic’. The definition of organic tango provided above is in terms of abstract concepts (#1: cooperation, creativity, open-mindedness; #2: shared responsibility; #3: role equality, communication; #4: independence, attainment of potential; #5: social awareness; #6: allow organic evolution). Only the linking of ‘organic’ and ‘evolution’ relates to a previous application of the term, as in ‘organic evolution’ [Dictionary definition 3(a)1], although clearly it is not biological (organic) evolution that is encompassed within ‘organic tango’. Merriam-Webster definition #4 (‘forming an integral part of a whole’, ‘having systematic coordination of parts’) offer possibilities for dance, but these are not expressed in the definition of ‘organic tango’. Instead, the concepts of ‘cooperation’, ‘open-mindedness’, ‘shared responsibility’, ‘role equality’, ‘attainment of potential’, and ‘social awareness’, which are not inherent in the definition of the term ‘organic’ are attribured to ‘organic tango’. These concepts are key ingredients of a socially acceptable liberal political philosophy in North American culture (i.e., “political correctness”) and perhaps therein lies their appeal. Thus, what may be communicated in the concept of ‘organic tango’ is first, an association with the most common use of the term ‘organic’ – organic food – which is likely to produces a positive first impression, and perhaps thereby generate continued interest. The subsequent exposure to concepts associated with a liberal, politically correct philosophy that defines ‘organic tango’ is appealing to the educated urban demographic sector that constitutes a significant proportion of the tango population in the local northern California region, as well as throughout North America and elsewhere outside Argentina. The communication of a culturally acceptable sociopolitical philosophy within ‘organic tango’ provides an advertising advantage yielding benefits in recruitment. ‘Organic tango’ is a ‘brand name’ for economic purposes.
What is absent in this general definition is a description of the structural properties of the dance such that organic tango can be identifiable in such a way as, for example, tango estilo milonguero or tango estilo Villa Urquiza have been defined. Perhaps a more extensive elaboration on the concept of organic tango will provide the desired answers.
- What is Organic Tango? (Homer’s long-winded version!)
7. Organic Tango is more of a philosophy and approach to learning and dancing tango then it is a structure or a style of dance. The need for a title of “organic” came about after over five years of involvement in the dance and trying to understand what it really meant to me. I realized that each teacher had their own interpretation of how the dance should be done (which is not necessarily a bad thing)!
Point 7 clearly states that the delineation of organic tango as a definable entity is based on a philosophical approach rather than the structure of the dance. Thus, it would appear that one would either need to know the origins and evolution of a dancer’s style or the personal philosophy of the dancer to know whether what is being danced is ‘organic tango’. Since these are not immediately knowable, this reduces the value of this definition of organic tango as an ‘operational definition’ that would identify it when seen..
- 8. What really got to me is how a few members of the tango community (teachers and dancers alike) negatively influenced the growth and interpretation of this dance in the United States. Out of my desire to discover my own tango – several key points kept making themselves more and more apparent…
9. To this day, there is no clear distinction between “structure” and “style.” Furthermore, some folks try hard to contain tango in a box and enforce their views on others. And lastly, the lines between stage & social dancing, past & present, and the Argentine vs. non-Argentine way are not very clear and, unfortunately, on more than a few occasions – have been abused.
10. My reasons for using such a title (Organic Tango) will one day, hopefully, not exist and new students will just simply learn the “Tango” – or whatever our society is calling this social dance at that point (although several of us will probably be forever labeled as the “organic tango” groupies)!
Points 8 & 9 provide some insight into another rationale behind the development of the term ‘organic tango’. These points identify a perceived conflict within tango communities, one apparently caused by the definition of tango and the communication of this definition to others, which are perceived as obstacles or an imposition for those who wish to develop tango along different dimensions. Point 9 further argues that perceived unclear differentiation of tango by location (stage vs. milonga), time (past and present), and culture (Argentine and non-Argentine) is a valid rationale for not defining or differentiating tango along these dimensions. The validity of these perceptions will not be addressed here, as each could be the subject of its own blog post. The purpose of this post is only to identify the characteristics by which organic tango is defined by its creators and differentiated from other versions or visions of tango.
- 11. Organic Tango Dance Philosophy:
a. You own your own dancing, nobody owns the Tango.
b. Dance the most natural and comfortable way for your own body and that of your partner’s.
c. Keep an open mind and respect for yourself and others.
d. Appreciate and learn from the past, dance in the present, and allow the future to unfold.
11a. This implies the tango is defined by the dancer. This is true to some degree, but it is also defined by the Argentine culture in which it has evolved, at least if one wishes it to be recognized as Argentine tango, something which is apparently not demanded for ‘organic tango’.
11b. This ignores that there is a certain manner of movement (for example, in walking) that characterizes tango (or at least Argentine tango). Although a tango walk in a comfortable embrace is natural, not all natural movement has the characteristics of tango. If interpreted literally, this is a license to include any comfortable movement within the tango, plus the possibility of each dancer developing a personal perspective on what is comfortable.
11c. This is a good philosophy for life in general.
11d. There is an apparent transference of context within this statement. One can assume that the past to be learned from is the history of Argentine tango. Benefits may be achieved in understanding this history before coming to the dance floor. The rest appears to reference the dance on the dance floor. Milongueros dance in the present and allow the future to unfold as they dance, in their improvisation (Tango Milonguero: Improvised Expression of Music through Movement in a Shared Embrace). However, it is possible that in this point, the reference returns again to the history of tango, this time the future history, in which the participants in organic tango shape the future evolution of tango.
- 12. Some Basic Ingredients
(That may or may not be present, at different degrees, in your tango – listed in no particular order!):
(a) Posture (b) Grounding (c) Balance – on & off axis (d) Relaxation & Breathing (e) Core Movement (f) Elastic Energy Transfer (g) Linear & Torsional Energy (h) Impulse & Momentum Transfer (i) Connection (j) Musicality (k) Style (l) Creativity (m) Social Awareness (n) Open mindedness
Point 12 offers some observable dimensions on which tango could be examined and presumably defined. (One essential characteristic of tango that was omitted from this list is ‘emotion’.) However, the characteristics of organic tango along these dimensions are not elaborated upon. This is consistent with Point 7 above, which emphasizes the primacy of philosophy over structure in organic tango.
The characteristics listed in Point 12 could also be dimensions for examination of ballroom dance (or any social dance), and most apply as well to such non-dance physical and philosophical disciplines such as martial arts or yoga. The lack of specificity reduces the utility of this defintion for the practicioner, although it does allow the teacher maximum flexibility in adjusting communication of concepts dependent upon context.
Thus, what one is left with after reading this definition of organic tango is the following:
(1) The use of the term ‘organic’ elicits a positive response due to association with other favorably viewed uses of the term ‘organic’.
(2) There is promotion of a ‘politically correct’ liberal philosophy that appeals to a demographic sector (educated urban population) that is attracted to tango.
(3) There is an intentional avoidance of specifically defining the structural or stylistic properties of tango. Those who define tango structurally or stylistically are identified as repressive and anti-social.
(4) The positive connotation of ‘organic’ and the promotion of a politically correct philosophy with a ‘brand name’ provide economic advantages in the promotion of ‘organic tango’.
I really like your blog, very insightful and interesting, carefully argued and researched (two minor changes could make it even better: not closing the possibility of commenting on previous posts, and adding an RSS feed).
About this current post: again, very thorough textual analysis, although I’m not sure that all targets are equally mighty as such. Given the quality of your posts I’d much more be happy to see you continuing focusing your attention to indeed pervasive trends.. 😉
Regarding not closing comments and RSS feeds, these will be investigated. Good suggestion.
Is ‘organic tango’ a ‘mighty target’? Perhaps not. What it is is slick ‘name brand’ marketing that detracts from communication of the culture of tango argentino. Instead it repackages tango in the cultural wrappings of the recipient culture. While organic tango itself may not be a household word, its philosophy permeates extensively the North American tango community.
I have been planning to tear a part a few buzzwords of tango myself, but you beat me to it 🙂 I love love systematic dissection of the terms used. Keep it coming!
The systematic dissection of tango terms will continue.
For instance I’d love to read your historical-sociological-economical analysis of how most recent developments of tango were/are effected by, say,
– the continuing public need for stage/show/eyecandy-tango and hence the surge in the number of performers in this area,
– that since those performing on stage can’t make a living solely out of these performances, they frequently supplement their income with teaching,
– that in a formalized tango class setting an overwhelming majority of income-generating students are beginners who will stop learning after 4 months,
– that the students usually expect to learn something new every class and the most obvious new thing a teacher can teach are new “figures”, especially in the eye of a complete beginner,
– that this effect is further amplified by that most communities need to rely on the influence of travelling teachers to evolve, who can only spend short time with the community,
– that even non-show/stage tango exhibitions, regardless of the style the performers represent, pressures the performers to put more emphasis on elements which can be more easily grasped by the audience, as opposed to, say, the subtle communication of the music to the partner, or the feasibility in a social setting,
– that those who tend to emphasize the importance of music and connection unfortunately often tend to be associated with various esoteric/religious movements, which in turn might discredit their message in the eyes of sober-minded tango-lovers,
– that there is an immense selection bias in the type of videos one can find online about tango skewed towards tango exhibitions as opposed to recordings of milonga settings,
– that these all interact and influence how the milongas themselves are structured, including the importance of the music played, and select for certain types of tango-persons who then stay in the community.
Many-many topics to be discussed.. of course we can read many people touching upon these, but I find very few fact-based, or at least sufficiently well-illustrated (ie going beyond anecdotal evidence) discussions.
These are all good points. Some of have discussed in previous posts. Many of these will also be addressed in future Tango Voice posts.
There is one comments that is puzzling: “Those who tend to emphasize the importance of music and connection unfortunately tend to be associated with various esoteric/religious movements”???
Yes. This all makes very good sense to me. Thank you. Though I wonder if there are ways in which it might be helpful to describe Tango as ‘organic’ without bringing in connotations that are unwelcome?
“Merriam-Webster definition #4 (‘forming an integral part of a whole’, ‘having systematic combinations of parts’) offers possibilities for dance.”
Perhaps these are relevant for tango, in examining how the parts of a dance fit together (as in connection, movement, musicality) to form the whole tango.
The problem with describing tango as ‘organic’ is that the terminology has already been usurped. Getting it to mean something else may be as difficult as trying to communicate the Argentine aspects of tango in using the term ‘Argentine tango’ when so much of what is advertised as ‘Argentine tango’ has little resemblance to the tango that is danced in Argentina.
To me, “organic” tango is natural, as opposed to “fake,” false, and for effect; it’s as natural as the walk it’s based on.
That is a reasonable interpretation.
Unfortunately in North America ‘organic tango’ has taken on other meanings. If the perhaps tenuous (perhaps not) connection can be made between ‘organic tango’ and ‘tango nuevo’, the ‘sneaker walk’ (lifting the feet of the floor and dropping it vertically flat-footed), characteristic of some dancers associated with tango nuevo, is unlike the natural smooth and grounded walk of the milongueros of Buenos Aires.
Even if the term ‘organic tango’ (Is it really needed?) were to be used in a different way, it would have to overcome years of association with the artificial limb bending and off axis movements of tango nuevo (despite the attempt to disassociate the term from the structure of the dance).
If there is any hope of redemption for this terminology, ‘milonguero style tango’ (tango estilo milongeuro) was initially seen as the narrow perspective of a particular tango academy in Buenos Aires, but the term ‘tango milonguero’, which has more or less replaced it, has come to represent a wider range of stylistic variation that is common in the milongas of Buenos Aires.
[…] of movement’ have nothing of the sort? What exactly is ‘organic tango’? (Tango Voice does a great job in dissecting that term). What about ‘body mechanics’? Apparently these are often used together. Now which one […]
‘Body mechanics’? That’s not spread as widely as ‘organic tango’. It does sound descriptive of movement. It sounds down to earth. Organic tango generates a feeling by association, not an image of what it is supposed to represent. Referring to organic tango is like waving a flag.
I guess my point is that it’s just an empty phrase used to make it sound interesting and sophisticated. Much like ‘organic’.
What part of dancing does not involve body mechanics/movement?
You know I am still baffled!!! Organic Tango? Please just sum it up simply! Imagine a beginner in his first lesson asking the question. “Excuse me Maestro what is Organic tango?” And back comes this long winded reply……….. yawn……………….Oh F*** this I am confused before I have even put one foot on the floor!!”
Please WIll someone just say say in a woolly minded way “well Organic Tango is really …….. blah blah…..
Oh and by the way DIdactic Demo is another !!!!!!
Yes, this is one oi the core problems with the concept of Organic Tango. It is not clearly defined. It is an marketing gimmick. ‘Organic’ is perceived as ‘good’ and ‘healthy’, so ‘organic’ tango must be. However, it’s not clear what it really is, really.
Please dissect Didactic Demo for me please. Didactic is such a strange word and when one looks it up in the dictionary it gets even more confusing. Not every one is a wordsmith and even some of us who are fairly well educated in English still find some words difficult.
While I am on here. Please everyone take a moment at your next Milonga to remember Andrea. Such a loss.
1. intended for instruction; instructive: didactic poetry.
2. inclined to teach or lecture others too much: a boring, didactic speaker.
3. teaching or intending to teach a moral lesson.
4. didactics, ( used with a singular verb ) the art or science of teaching.
It also sounds intellectual, implying the speaker has knowledge.
That about sums it up.
Yes, Andrea Misse’s death is a great loss.
THKS FOR THE REPLY. I think I understand both terms now…….
“Didactic” is a tricky one. When it comes to tango dancing, it’s best thought of as a key word serving to signify that the writer has much less understanding of the subject than s/he’d like you to believe. Here’s an example:
Prior to the 1990s, Argentine Tango was taught with a didactic method; teaching tango by having students copy examples shown by the instructor.
“Didactic” is a tricky one. When it comes to tango dancing, it’s best thought of as a key word serving to signify that the writer known much less on the subject than he’d like you to believe. Here’s an example:
Prior to the 1990s, Argentine Tango was taught with a didactic method; teaching tango by having students copy examples shown by the instructor.
And tautological usages such as “our didactic method of instruction” and “didactic web seminars & lectures” signify the writer doesn’t know the meaning of the word and doesn’t know he doesn’t.
Should we be surprised so many of these people call themselves tango teachers? I think not.
Hi Chris, here’s the definition I use for Didactic (beside it being a familiar Greek word used by both my parents – who are or were teachers). This one is taken from Merriam-Webster (item #1):
a : designed or intended to teach
b : intended to convey instruction and information as well as pleasure and entertainment
Hugs, Homer 😉
ps. Would like to see a blog with critical comments but without negative remarks…do you think it’s possible?
Hi folks, in all seriousness, it’s great to see so much dialog/energy focused on trying to understand “organic tango” and “didactic tango (which was borrowed from my Greek heritage)”. However, you may be reading too much into it and perhaps interpreting it in a subjective way?! No? In short, there was (and perhaps still is) a historical need to develop this idea. It may have blossomed into a marketing tool but at its core is still the concept of the cultural evolution and adaptation of tango. I would be more than happy to spend some time with you to further clarify my experiences and thoughts over the past 15 years…in the meantime:
Here’s a link to our new website where we discuss the current ideas behind the organic tango philosophy (which keep evolving):
Perhaps this will generate more discussion? In the end, though, we each see what we want to see…
Hugs, Homer 😉
Mr Ladas, when accusing others of subjective interpretation of the term “organic tango”, I suggest you consider that subjective is the only kind of interpretation available, since neither you or anyone else has provided an objective one. The marketing spiel presented as philosophy on your dance school website does not cut it. Until an objective interpretation is available, please accept that many will continue to interpret “organic tango” as just another euphemism for nuevo/alternative, designed to evade the anti-social stigma that increasingly obstructs its exploitation by tango dance commercialisers such as yourself.
Wow, Chris, slow-down buddy. You are apparently gifted with the use of words and thrive on targeting individuals with your articulate weapons of choice…this is beyond a civilized conversation about differences of opinion and perhaps trying to understand them.
You obviously have a lot of anger against “tango dance commercializers”. Why are you so mad? Or, is it specifically directed to me? In 15 years of learning, dancing, teaching tango I have received lots of comments but ‘almost’ never with such overt overtones. I have spent a great deal of energy to find a sense of balance with others where we can all co-exit in our unique understanding of what tango is. Perhaps you don’t see the world or tango as I do?
Keep in mind that the government of Argentina has poured billions into the commercial exportation and thus globalization of tango to help improve their economy. Does this also make them and everyone in Argentina and around the world who benefits from tango commercially a bad person? That would include, by the way, all the Golden Age orchestras and clubs that supported them.
Furthermore, with the contemporary globalization of tango, it is logical to expect growth, change, further commercialization and adaptation targeting different groups of interested & involved people. Is this a bad thing? What do you expect/see as/in your vision of tango? Is it possible that it can co-exist with other views/opinions/expressions?
I would love to sit-down with you and chat…or perhaps a Skype meeting just to come to a mutual understanding (perhaps even respect and loss of anger)? Until then, I hope you find peace with yourself and the world around you.
Sincerely, Homer 😉
Dear Homer and Chris
I think I must jump in here with a little bit of English reserve.
1. Homer makes a good point. Commercialisation of TAngo. Its not wrong to make money out of Tango. It makes the world go round! I do not like Nuevo-FACT. However I do attend classes by Nuevo teachers from time to time simply because I like them as people and I keep my eyes open to different ways of presenting a topic. I have lost count of the things I now do so much better as a result of the “teachings of Nuevo teachers” I am intelligent enough to adapt those skills to my close embrace Salon/ Milonguero style. I am also encouraged by my teachers to explore other teachers methods.
2. Chris makes his point,which Isupport, The American method of presentation and learning quite often seems to revolve around buzzwords, the use of terminology which quite often goes right over the head of some people, the “list” drawn up by Homer of philosophy is also used tosell their product. If the “would be TAngo ” doesnt like it then move on to someone who makes you comfortable. Didactic/organic. Well I have commented on these words on here simply because I didnt understand just what it meant. I do now understand Didactic but am still wrestling with Organic. I am not sure if there is a need for the description ot perhaps a much simpler way could be found to express it. Organic is aword that seems to have crept into our language in recent years and is used in many different walks of life, not just Tango. SO Homer perhaps you can take on board CHris’s comments and maybe find a way of appeasing him ( and probably others) and explaining in lay mans terms just what Organic Tango means to you. I dont think your list of
philosophies does this. I have worked for many American Companies and I am always presented with bullet points, lists, mneumonics etc in meetings. I have come to accept this as “American” However, I do tend to shoot from the hip and simplify so much of this when I am giving feedback to my English subordinates. TAngo is above all enjoyment, holding a woman in your arms and enjoying 3 minutes and more of the most beautiful of dances.
Lets agree to disagree, enjoy Tango as we like it, talk, not shout at each other. Listen!! Then perhaps express your views and maybe hope some of it rubs off on the other. Remember Tete Rusconi’s last words in his famous note which he passed around. “let us find a common ground so we can all enjoy our dance on the same piso.
I wish you could listen to a little phrase used in a Liverpool accent and is a source of laughter in the UK. It is simply ” CALM DOWN CALM DOWN! ” Chris keep up the BLog. Homer Keep teaching in your own way.
Best wishes from the UK
Hi Eric, thanks for your comments. I’ll do my best to distill & clarify what the definition of Organic Tango is to me…as well as a couple of other concepts. Here I go:
Organic Tango: It is a philosophy that embodies Cristina and my tango experiences to date (which has evolved many times throughout the years). It is not a style but a way of approaching one’s dance and perhaps finding your own style. If it helps prospective students understand Cristina and I as teachers better then it can also be said to be a marketing tool for that purpose. In my experience there are those who get it and those who don’t. So, this philosophy, in a way, is a natural filter for those who wish to study with us and those who don’t. I don’t think I can be more clear, however, I would be willing to sit down and discuss (Skype, etc) the subject in detail…maybe even a web seminar?
On the subject of Nuevo: I’ve remained purposefully quiet since I have strong feelings about its use as a categorical style (same goes for Villa Urquiza, etc). You may remember that Tete was initially against calling his style “Milonguero” because it had a negative connotation? Gustavo Naveira in the same light initially did not want to call his structural analysis of the dance ‘Nuevo’ style.
As a general rule, I don’t subscribe to categorical styles but personal ones instead. Having said that, I try to respect the human need to divide things into categorical boxes for better understanding. Also, in final analysis, there are those who dance well in a connected, musical, socially aware manner, and those who don’t. It doesn’t matter what style they represent.
On the subject of buzzwords: In our personal style of teaching, Cristina and I have assimilated many analogies and colorful expressions. The ones that appear to be most helpful in the memory retention/learning process are the ones that we’ve kept using and building on. We are always very clear that this is our way of describing ideas and that each teacher has their own.
I hope this gives you a little more insight into (Cristina and) my thought process? Perhaps what we need is an all-weekend event designed to discuss this and many more tango ideas (perhaps following certain rules of civility/reserve)? I believe such a function is long overdue.
Hugs to all, Homer 😉
Thanks Eric, but I’m already calm.
Even after reading this dance instructor claim kinship with the Golden Age tango orchestras … as if selling postcards of the Great Pyramid conferred kinship with its architects.
Best wishes from the UK to you too.
Hi to you both. Well that was a bit better! Right lets move forward. I think Homer makes a good point in setting up a Skype with you Chris. It mayhelp. I dont think it will do any harm.
You know way back a friend of mine said be careful when you make judgements/opinions about folk. More often than not the guy you started out disliking and the guy you started out liking end up in the opposite corner!! I have truly found that to be true.
I am now happy in my own thoughts and dont need to go to great lengths to further it. I am happy to wait until perhaps I meet you Chris ( I thought you were in the USA) I am on Facebook and I am a very open book. I dont even care who knows my tel numbers emails etc. I am not scared about people having a go at me, or even being stalked! I should be so lucky. So I am Eric Crowder.
I can wait until Homer next comes to the Uk or I go back to California for a chat and talk Tango
I even think I get Organic now from Homers explanation.
I love Homers videos. I see little things and interpret them into my Salon/Urquiza style!
I love Tango Voice
I love Tango
best wishes to you both
I think arguing “desk tango” (as Gavito called it) is ridiculous. There are many ways to dance, and it’s better to dance than to argue about the words describing the dance, which btw, is a very male thing to do.
Who cares about your words; just dance “who you are!”