If asked to describe what kind of tango they dance in the milongas, since the Golden Age most porteños would have said ‘tango de salon’, which encompasses some degree of stylistic variation, mostly along several more or less continuous dimensions (Salon Style Tango, Milonguero Style Tango, and Tange de Salon in Buenos Aires and in North America). Nevertheless, despite this stylistic variation, both in the later part of the Golden Age (late 1940s, early 1950s) and in the Tango Renaissance period (late 1980s, 1990s), two somewhat distinct styles of tango were recognized, at least by those interested in studying and classifying variation in tango social dancing.
By the early 1950s dancers in downtown Buenos Aires milongas (often in confiterias, which were smaller dance venues) were typically dancing a style of tango that has been labeled ‘petitero’, ‘caquero’, or ‘confiteria’ style. In the 1990s Susana Miller, having studied with and assisted milonguero Pedro ‘Tete’ Rusconi in teaching tango, utilized some elements of the Golden Age predecessor in promoting what she labeled as ‘estilo milonguero’ while teaching at Club Almagro. (Thus, this style has also been called ‘Almagro style’.) This style of dancing tango has been characterized by a maintained close embrace in an apilado (forward leaning) frame, with a limited vocabulary of improvised compact movements (and minimal ornamentation) that are closely associated with the rhythmic variation in the music (Tango Milonguero: Improvised Expression of Music through Movement in a Shared Embrace). This style evolved on crowded floors, so that navigation is likely to involve more circular and rectangular movements than linear walking (Milongueros Dancing Tango in the Milongas of Buenos Aires).
An example of tango estilo milongeuro is provided by this video of Ricardo Vidort and Myriam Pincen. References to additional videos showing dancing in this style are provided in a previous Tango Voice post.
Prior to this, during the late 1930s and 40s an elegant style of tango characterized by a looser embrace that varied between closed and open, and smooth walking interspersed with turns incorporating variable degrees of ornamentation (sacadas, dibujos, arrastres, amagues, boleos) had evolved in the larger dance salons in middle class neighborhoods in the northern and western barrios of Buenos Aires (Trenner, Denniston). This stylistic variation in dancing tango has recently been labeled as ‘Estilo Villa Urquiza’.
An example of tango stylistic variation that has been labeled as ‘Estilo Villa Urquiza’ is provided by this video of Ramon ‘Finito’ Rivera. References to additional videos showing dancing in this style are provided in a previous Tango Voice post.
Although the barrio of Villa Urquiza has been an important locale in which this style of tango developed, it was by no means the only location is which these stylistic variations were explored and danced; it was quite common throughout the northern and western barrios (and apparently even southern barrios – e.g., Avellaneda: El Tanguata, vol. 14, no 177, July 2009: pg. 35) of Buenos Aires during the Golden Age and Tango Renaissance. However, the paradox is that what is being marketed as Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza is no longer predominant in the milongas of the barrio of Villa Urquiza (video1) (video2) (video3).
Given that the style of tango that has been labeled as ‘Estilo Villa Urquiza’ was danced throughout the northern and western barrios of Buenos Aires in the Golden Age and that it is no longer the predominant style of dancing tango socially today even in Villa Urquiza, the labeling of this stylistic variation of tango de salon is inaccurate. The primary purpose of the current post is to explore other terminology that might be used to describe tango stylistic variation that would more accurately and fairly reflect the origins and current expression of each variant.
One perspective that may be useful in accurately labeling the stylistic differences that existed in Buenos Aires social tango dancing since the last decade of the Golden Age is to recognize that there have been and still are two somewhat different classes of milongas in Buenos Aires (Variation in Traditional Tango Venues in Buenos Aires). This does not include the contemporary social dance venues, typically called ‘practicas’, in which tango nuevo is the predominant style of tango dancing, or the ‘gay friendly’ milongas, which provide a different kind of tango social environment.
Since the Golden Age (and apparently earlier) the downtown milongas have been somewhat of a ‘singles’ scene, where men and women went to meet each other (Trenner). Many dancers did not know each other. Although the closer embrace and smaller movements have been attributed to the smaller size of the dance salons, the somewhat anonymous singles atmosphere may have also contributed to the closer contact between man and woman.
In contrast, in the milongas in the barrios, most people knew each other. There were more married couples. Several generations of the same family might be present, and sometimes even children were present. Although single men and women had the opportunity to meet each other, it was under the supervision of older adults, often family members. Thus, the social customs in these clubes del barrio were different. A more upright posture, a more flexible and sometimes even slightly open embrace were more common. Although a lower floor density, due in part to the larger size of the dance floors, undoubtedly played a role in the larger movements, which were facilitated in part by opening the embrace for turns, the more ‘respectable’ atmosphere (a neighborhood community center versus a downtown confiteria) also undoubtedly had an influence on the character of the dance. Thus, in the Golden Age one could, with some degree of accurcy, classify milongas into two types – the Downtown Milonga and the Milonga del Club del Barrio. To some degree this distinction even still exists today (Variation in Traditional Tango Venues in Buenos Aires), although greater movement of dancers due to improved means of transportation, less neighborhood xenophobia, and the influx of tourists has reduced the differentiation of milongas by neighborhood to a considerable degree.
Since what has been labeled as ‘Estilo Villa Urquiza’ was once common (even characteristic of dancing) throughout the outer barrios of Buenos Aires, in the clubes del barrio, a more appropriate terminology for this stylistic variation of tango de salon would be ‘tango estilo del club del barrio’ or preferably shortened to ‘tango estilo del barrio’. This terminology would not elevate Villa Urquiza above other barrios, thus giving recognition to the multiple geographic locations in which this stylistic variation developed.
Likewise, one could propose that instead of using ‘tango estilo milonguero’ to designate the ‘downtown style’ of tango, one could classify this style as ‘tango estilo del centro’, which would complement ‘tango estilo del barrio’ in reflecting the geographic origins of these stylistic differences. The terminology ‘tango estilo milonguero’, as used by Susana Miller and her disciples, has been criticized frequently as reflecting too narrow a range of tango stylistic variation to be labeled the ‘style of the milongueros’ (Denniston). Certainly men dedicated to tango dancing in the outer barrios with a different style would not be represented in this ‘style of the milongueros’.
One factor arguing against making this replacement is that the term ‘tango estilo del centro’ has been appropriated by tango dancer and teacher Daniel Lapadula, who has a website and a set of instructional DVDs that are labeled ‘Tango estilo del centro’. Paradoxically, if one examines Lapadula’s dancing, it only partially reflects the downtown tango style of the 1950s. The instructional DVD contains many elements of the maintained close embrace, rhythmic style with compact movements danced in downtown milongas (and thus is similar to ‘tango estilo milonguero’). This demonstration by Daniel Lapadula and instructional partner Delores del Amo is stylistically within the range of variation of what is generally considered to be ‘tango milonguero’. However, their instructional DVD also contains elements that are uncharacteristic of Golden Age and contemporary social tango dancing in general, such as high boleos, ganchos, and quebradas. This demonstration, although having some of the rhythmic characteristics of ‘tango estilo milonguero’, is actually more representative of ‘tango estilo del barrio’ (offset embrace, opening embrace for turns), and includes some elements (e.g., ganchos and an ending quebrada) that are considered unacceptable for dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires. Thus, a potentially useful tango stylistic label – ‘tango estilo del centro’ – has been applied inappropriately.
Although Lapadula has laid claim to ‘tango estilo del centro’, this hold may have no more (or even less) endurance than Miller’s claim to ‘tango estilo milonguero’. One consequence of Miller’s commercial success over the last 2 decades is that in the absence of a trademark, the terminology ‘tango milonguero’ is being used widely by tango instructors in Buenos Aires today to represent tango social dancing characterized by a maintained close embrace and compact movements that are characteristic of milongas with crowed floors, yet also represents some stylistic variation within this genre (Ruben Aybar & Cherie Magnus; Cacho Dante; Monica Paz; Alicia Pons) [Listing of instructors here is not intended as an endorsement, but only a reflection of high visibility in advertising using the ‘tango milonguero’ label. Instructors are listed in alphabetical order.]. A rush to replace ‘tango estilo milonguero’ with ‘tango estilo del centro’ is not likely to occur because the former is so deeply entrenched although ‘tango estilo del centro’ is more accurate, at least from a historical perspective
However, the historical perspective is important. Today in Buenos Aires there is little differentiation of tango stylistic variation by geography. The historically important ‘tango estilo del barrio’ (erroneously labeled as ‘tango estilo Villa Urquiza’) is rarely seen on the social dance floor today, at least not in its highly developed form of elaborately crafted turns with embellishments achieved after opening a closed embrace. Of course, the masters of this style were few and far between even in the Golden Age. This idealized milonga scene from the film ‘Tango Baile Nuestro’ has only the most highly skilled dancers. Even though direct evidence (film recording of real milongas) is unavailable, most likely most of the dancers in the milongas of the outer barrios of Buenos Aires during the peak of its popularity in the 1940s danced a simple ‘tango liso’. In contrast, the less elaborate and more accessible ‘tango (estilo) milonguero’ (historically ‘tango estilo del centro’), broadly defined, appears to be the predominant tango stylistic variation observed in the milongas of Buenos Aires today. It is because of the widespread success of tango milonguero throughout Buenos Aires that labels such as ‘tango estilo del centro’ and ‘tango estilo del barrio’ primarily have meaning only within a historical context.
In reality, ‘tango de salon’, although having evolved over time, is still the simplest terminology to label the tango danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires. Its precise definition may be elusive, because there is considerable stylistic variation and this stylistic variation has itself varied over time. Nevertheless, there are some features which define it as the tango of the milongas – in its construction it respects the space of dancers on the pista and in its movement it is connected to tango music.
Thank you..really informative!!
Another interesting post that clarifies many excellent points.
Very Good Article !!! Thank you 🙂
Very interesting article. Doesn’t this confirm what Rick McGarrey said at one point on his T&C Web site, namely that the milongueros referred to their way of dancing as “tango de salon” and there was no difference in their mind between tango de salon and tango milonguero. Also, do we know for a fact that it was Susana Miller who “invented” the term “tango milonguero”? Were there no milongueros before her?
RB wrote: “what Rick McGarrey said at one point on his T&C Web site, namely that the milongueros referred to their way of dancing as “tango de salon””
Tete used the term “tango de salon” to refer to the dance of the milonga, as distinct from tango de stage. In European festival class programmes of 15 years ago, his classes labelled “tango de salon” sat on lists amongst other teachers’ classes not IDed as tango de anything. As if to make the point that the others weren’t tango de salon.
“and there was no difference in their mind between tango de salon and tango milonguero”
Rick said that?? I’d be interested to see the source. “tango milonguero” is I thought just a class marketing label. I can’t imagine a milonguero using the term.
OK. Here’s the quote (the site is back up, at least for me):
The problem was that many of the performers already used the label “tango salon” to advertise their classes—so some of the new instructors decided to call their classes “tango milonguero”. They simply replaced the word “salon” with “milonguero”. “Tango salon” means tango for dancing socially in a dance salon (which is a milonga), and “tango milonguero” means the kind of tango danced in a milonga. Technically they are exactly the same thing. But since the stage teachers had already grabbed the “tango salon” label, the new teachers had to come up with a new name.
This is probably where the confusion began—but the important thing to remember is that “tango milonguero” is not some separate “style” of tango danced by the old milongueros.
Tango milonguero = tango for a milonga = tango salon.
Tango milonguero ≠ a special type of tango danced by old milongueros.
Old milongueros don’t dance differently than any of the other social dancers in BsAs. They are simply the ones who’ve been dancing the longest. This means they may dance better than most… but they dance the same rhythmic, flowing, tango as everyone else who knows the right way to dance in a milonga.
The problem is that many people mistakenly assumed that tango milonguero referred only to the old milongueros. And if it did—if tango milonguero actually was a specific, separate style of social tango that old milongueros danced, then it was logical to assume that other people must be dancing other styles of tango in the milongas… and they began to find them.
Found in Chapter 4, page. 16.
Tango de Salon is the tango danced at the milongas. There is a considerable amount of variation in Tango de Salon, based on the stylistic differences of individual dancers. Nevertheless, there are clusters of traits among dancers that tend to go together.
One cluster of traits consists of a slight forward leaning posture that permits a more extended embrace that reaches to the partner’s more distant shoulder blade (man’s right hand making hand contact on woman’s right shoulder blade, woman’s left arm reaching over man’s right clavicle to make contact with the man’s left shoulder blade), anatomical features permitting; this embrace is maintained throughout the dance. Movements in this style of dancing tend to be more compact, rhythmic, and relatively free of ornamentation. These stylistic variations tend to be subsumed under the classification of ‘tango estilo milonguero’ or ‘tango milonguero’. The initial use of this terminology has been attributed to Susana Miller, and this does not appear to be in dispute. This stylistic variation evolved and predominated in the crowded milongas in downtown Buenos Aires during the latter part of the Golden Age (late 40s – early 50s). An example of this can be seen in the dancing of Ricardo Vidort. The current post and a subsequent post (Tango Estilo del Centro (Tango Downtown Style): Reclaiming the Term as a Replacement for Tango Milonguero) argue that ‘Tango Estilo del Centro’ is a more appropriate term for this style of dancing, not only because it recognizes its origins, but also because there have been men dancing the other major stylistic variation described below who would be considered to be ‘milongueros’. Nevertheless, the term ‘tango milonguero’ is used most widely to describe this stylistic variation, although in Buenos Aires it is primarily tango instructors who use the term for marketing purposes.
In the outer barrios of Buenos Aires, a somewhat different set of traits tended to characterize tango social dancing, or Tango de Salon. This stylistic variation of tango is characterized by a more upright posture and a looser embrace in which the man’s right hand tends to make contact with the woman’s closer left shoulder blade and the woman’s left hand makes contact with the man’s right shoulder blade or even the upper right arm; the embrace is more flexible and typically opens for ochos and turns. Walking in this style of dancing tends to be smoother and utilize longer steps. Embellishment of movements is more common. An example of this style of dancing is seen in this video recording of Jorge Dispari. Some students of tango have classified this style of dancing as ‘tango estilo Villa Urquiza’, after the barrio in Buenos Aires where many practitioners of this style danced at milongas during the 40s and 50s; however, as stated in the post above, this style was not exclusive to the barrio of Villa Urquiza and is indeed widespread throughout the outer barrios of Buenos Aires, thus, the term ‘Tango Estilo del Barrio’ is recommended as a term preferred over ‘Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza’ to describe this stylistic variation.
Although ‘Estilo del Centro’ and ‘Estilo del Barrio’ describe the historical origins of these tango stylistic variations, the geographic differentiation of tango stylistic variation is far from being absolute in Buenos Aires milongas today. Nevertheless, Tango Estilo del Centro (Estilo Milonguero) still predominates in milongas closer to downtown Buenos Aires, and although Tango Estilo del Barrio is more common in the ‘milongas del barrio’ in the outer barrios of Buenos Aires, Tango Estilo del Centro is still well represented and in some cases danced by the majority of dancers, as can be seen in the videos referenced in another Tango Voice post (Variations in the Tango Embrace – ‘Open Embrace’ and ‘Close Embrace’ Styles of Tango: The Evidence from Buenos Aires Milongas); however, Tango Estilo del Barrio is also well represented among milongas most commonly attended by younger dancers in Buenos Aires (ibid.).
Some of the confusion that exists in the use of the terms ‘tango de salon’ and ‘tango milonguero’ is one that was created in North America in the 1990s, when ‘salon style tango’ was used synonymously with ‘open embrace style tango’ and ‘milonguero style tango’ was used synonymously with ‘close embrace style tango’. (See Salon Style Tango, Milonguero Style Tango, and Tango de Salon in Buenos Aires and in North America.) This is a false dichotomization of the stylistic variation that exists in the milongas of Buenos Aires (Variations in the Tango Embrace – ‘Open Embrace’ and ‘Close Embrace’ Styles of Tango: The Evidence from Buenos Aires Milongas). The tango danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires is subsumed under Tango de Salon, and Tango Estilo del Centro (Estilo Milonguero) and Tango Estilo del Barrio (Estilo Villa Urquiza) represent somewhat distinct stylistic variations that are commonly danced (See Tango de Salon: The Tango of the Milonga (Part II of ‘Tango Styles, Genres and Individual Expression’)).
I believe he said it in the section where he talks about “tango de salon” and the various labels that have been given to the tango danced by the milongueros in BA, but I’ll have to check. The last time I looked (early January), the site had gone off the air, so to speak. I’m hoping the absence is temporary.
If the scene from “Tango Baile Nuestro” is supposed to represent highly skilled dancers, then I have to say that the quality of dancing since then has improved significantly. If one goes to a tango marathon in the US (which generally has weak dancers of Argentine Tango), one finds that many, if not most, of the dancers are better than the dancers filmed in that scene. Of course, given the vast proliferation of classes, private lessons, and technique drills focused explicitly on developing one’s physiological capabilities, this is hardly surprising.
I am curious as to your take on the dancing of the Sebastians; Sebastian Arce, Sebastian Achaval, and Sebastian Jimenez. Would you describe their dancing as being Villa Urquiza, or Tango Estilo del Barrio or simply Tango de Salon? Since you believe there are clean distinctions stylistically in tango, I want to hear your perspective.
I personally am not sure if styles can be said to exist, as this implies that how one dances is primarily a matter of personal aesthetics, as opposed to the demands imposed by the physiological constraints of the human body, which then necessitates the development of technique to deal with said physiological constraints.
The video excerpt from ‘Tango Baile Nuestro’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7HmCGjYRYE&feature=related) shows the dancing of some of the most highly regarded dancers of this style (Tango Estilo del Barrio) in the 1950s who were still dancing in the 1980s (including “Finito” Ramon Rivera, Gerardo Portalea and Miguel Balmaceda). Their dancing is smooth, precise, creative, passionate and connected to the music. It is difficult to believe that dancers at US tango festivals, despite the countless hours of tango instruction, come close to these renowned Argentine dancers of the 1950s in having these abilities and in communicating the essence of tango. Video evidence of dancing at US tango festivals is needed to support the claim of the superiority of American dancers.
Regarding the Sebastians, one needs to recognize that most tango performers are capable of varying their dancing according to music, mood, and environment, so generalization is difficult. Achaval (http://roxanaysebastian.blogspot.com/) (video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6d920vb5r6U) and Jimenez (http://sebastianymariaines.com/en/bio/sebastian-jimenez/) (video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZ5K3ErCNCc) self-identify as dancers of Tango de Salon and within this genre their dancing is stylistically characteristic of Estilo del Barrio (thus, Tango de Salon Estilo del Barrio). Arce does give demonstrations (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9JfxIQNOjQ) that are characteristically Tango de Salon Estilo del Barrio, but he and his partner Mariana Montes often demonstrate what is primarily Tango Escenario (https://youtu.be/qlhYZKXXfJ8?t=1m), which indicates their training and experience as stage tango dancers (http://www.todotango.com/english/artists/biography/1651/Sebastian-Arce/).
Regarding the existence of tango styles, it should be noted that that the styles of Tango de Salon are identified by clusters of characteristics that tend to go together among tango dancers in the milongas of Buenos Aires (https://tangovoice.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/tango-styles-genres-and-individual-expression-part-i-a-rationale-for-classification-by-niche-adaptation/). Tango Estilo del Barrio is distinctly different from Tango Estilo del Centro, but there is some variation among dancers within each tango style and there are some individual dancers who have characteristics that do not fit neatly into these categories. The classification is useful for discussion but is not intended to represent all-inclusive categories.
Alex “one finds that many, if not most, of the dancers are better than the dancers filmed in that scene. Of course, given the vast proliferation of classes, private lessons, and technique drills focused explicitly on developing one’s physiological capabilities, this is hardly surprising.”
It would surprise me!
In my experience, those who’ve done the most classes are on average the poorest dancers. What creates the best dancers is not classes, drills etc. but good dancing.
Thank you for your perspective tangovoice, I definitely value your take on stylistic variance.Your documentation is meticulous, and I very much appreciate that.
As to my comparison of the practioners in the video ‘Tango Baile Nuestro’ to current US tango dancers at US marathons, I will attempt to address your opposing perspective. I concede right off that without recordinings of dancing at US marathons, it is impossible to evaluate my claim. I will try to find video that is representative, and if I do I will post it here for you to see and critique.
As to the quality of dancing, I will try to explain my comparison as well as possible and address your statements. When you say “communicating the essence of tango” is a part of the quality of the dance, this seems to imply that the dance is inseperable from its cultural moorings, which would mean that only Argentines can truly “dance” the Tango. If that is indeed what you meant, then I am disposed to dispute this personally, however from your perspective then of course dancers from the US, regardless of effort, fall short by comparison to the dancers in that film.
As to your description of their dancing being “smooth, precise, creative, passionate and connected to the music”, this I must dispute. Passion is not something one can easily see when people are dancing, at least for me, and this variable strikes me as having heavy cultural undertones as well (the cultures of Southern Europe and Latin America are more emotionally open and expressive than those of Northern Europe, which influenced US culture). Given that people who dance tango in the US are heavily of Northern European extraction, speaking about seeing passion is a sort of cultural bias, to some extent, as I see it.
In terms of musicality, which I am assuming is what you mean by “connected to the music”, I must respectfully disagree with you. While a few of the couples on the floor were musical, there were also some couples that were out of time with the basic beat, and they were not dancing to certain instruments either I believe, I paid close attention (I hope).
Creativity is a very hard thing to gauge. Unless you can provide some proof that some of the dancers in the film created some new figuras, or interpreted the music in a novel way, I am inclined to believe that they absored the style of dance with little change to it. If you watch videos of the old milongueros, its quite surprising how little difference there is in terms of figuras (save for frequency of use), and even musicality for the more common orchestras, given that these milongueros danced in different barrios across Buenos Aires. If you can point out instances to the contrary, by all means do, as I would definitely like to be more knowledgable and less ignorant.
As to the dancing being smooth and precise, this depends upon the criteria we are using. If you mean to say that their dancing was smooth and precise at the time, then I most certainly agree with you. Is their dancing good relative to many long term beginners today? Absolutely. If, however, you mean their dancing is smooth and precise objectively in the present, then I must disagree with you. If you watch Sebastian Achaval, or Arce, or Jimenez, and then watch that film clip, would you say Achaval, Arce, and or Jimenez are better dancers technically, or the dancers in that film? As for US dancers, yes, there are many dancers who are better technically then the dancers in that film. If you cannot believe that countless hours of practice and dancing has made some US dancers good relative to Argentines of the past, then you must concede as well that the current crop of Argentines are not superior to the past, that is to say dancers like Sebastian Achaval, Arce and Jimenez are not better dancers than those in the film, which I do not think is a reasonable assertion.
I hope my response is reasonable, and I look forward to yours as well.
Re “Is the dance inseperable from its cultural moorings?”
I think that’s a good point. I don’t think that is the case. But how much in fact is “lost in translation” and how many care? I know for a fact in Britain many don’t. Some are aware of the differences and don’t care, in fact think they are better here, more “liberal”. I think here in Europe, probably in North America I suspect we are playing a catch-up game, in the music, the dance, the conditions for dancing, in etiquette and culture and in how I imagine people are in the milongas in BsAs from what I read and hear and what I see in video. Even in encuentros, where everything I think is supposed to be fairly authentic. But an encuentro is selective, a closed shop. No one can just walk in. How authentic is that?
Dunno. I think I’m with Chris on this. I wish the dancing I see in local milongas were as good as the video, “Tango Baile Nuestro.” At least, in general. Obviously, there are dancers here who approximate the style shown in the video, who believe in it, and actively seek to continue it (many of them are from Buenos Aires, however). But among the young, advanced dancers, those with lots of training and lots of technique, I see very little connection to the music and, frequently, very little connection with the partner. On the floor, many of them spend their time showboating, largely ignoring the conventions for floor craft and navigation. I really wish, there were local milongas as graceful and elegant as this. For me, this is fine dancing. Maybe not precisely the epitome of fine tango for me, but damn close. The videos of Arce, Achaval, etc., didn’t interest me much. They’re performances by professionals. Good technique is not trivial and shouldn’t be dismissed, but technique alone, especially in a social context, will only get you so far.
‘the dance is inseparable from its cultural moorings, which would mean that only Argentines can truly “dance” the Tango’.
Argentines who lived during the Golden Age grew up listening to tango music and seeing tango dancing was part of their socialization. They were familiar with the music and already had an emotional connection to it when they began to dance. When men began to learn tango, they had role models who had tango music in their soul. This is the advantage Argentines have – they feel the music because it is so familiar to them and they have an emotional connection to it. Even today, they have the advantage of being able to attend milongas where good tango music is played every day of the week and where there are good tango dancers, both to serve as role models and also with whom to experience dancing tango. Many foreign dancers are able to achieve good technique through instruction and practice, but few are able to approach the best Argentine tango dancers in interpretation of the music and emotional connection with the partner. The emotional expression is indeed a characteristic of being socialized in Argentine culture, where physical connection with another human being and expression of emotion in that connection is part of everyday life. This is not to say that foreigners are incapable of musical interpretation and emotional expression, but with respect to tango music, at least porteños in general have a significant advantage.
‘As to your description of their dancing being “smooth, precise, creative, passionate and connected to the music”, this I must dispute. Passion is not something one can easily see when people are dancing, at least for me, and this variable strikes me as having heavy cultural undertones as well (the cultures of Southern Europe and Latin America are more emotionally open and expressive than those of Northern Europe, which influenced US culture).’
Passion is indeed subjective, but it is visible. Yes, emotional expression is culturally based and Argentine culture is rich with emotional expression.
‘In terms of musicality, which I am assuming is what you mean by “connected to the music”, I must respectfully disagree with you. While a few of the couples on the floor were musical, there were also some couples that were out of time with the basic beat, and they were not dancing to certain instruments either I believe, I paid close attention (I hope).’
The best dancers in the Tango Baile Nuestro video were closely connected to the music. Overall, the connection of the dancers in the video (and of dancers in Buenso Aires milongas in general) are much more closely connected to the music than what is typically seen in First World milongas.
‘Creativity is a very hard thing to gauge. Unless you can provide some proof that some of the dancers in the film created some new figuras, or interpreted the music in a novel way, I am inclined to believe that they absored the style of dance with little change to it. If you watch videos of the old milongueros, its quite surprising how little difference there is in terms of figuras (save for frequency of use), and even musicality for the more common orchestras, given that these milongueros danced in different barrios across Buenos Aires.’
The creativity is in musical interpretation, i.e., the way the body moves in space in relation to the music, not in terms of steps, but in terms of timing. At First World milongas it is typical to see even the most technically skilled dancers execute elaborate sequences of steps with little connection to the music, and lesser skilled dancers repeat learned sequences in a robotic manner without emotional expression.
‘If, however, you mean their dancing is smooth and precise objectively in the present, then I must disagree with you. If you watch Sebastian Achaval, or Arce, or Jimenez, and then watch that film clip, would you say Achaval, Arce, and or Jimenez are better dancers technically, or the dancers in that film? As for US dancers, yes, there are many dancers who are better technically then the dancers in that film. If you cannot believe that countless hours of practice and dancing has made some US dancers good relative to Argentines of the past, then you must concede as well that the current crop of Argentines are not superior to the past, that is to say dancers like Sebastian Achaval, Arce and Jimenez are not better dancers than those in the film, which I do not think is a reasonable assertion.’
Before critiquing Arce, Achaval and Jimenez, it is important to note that they are giving demonstrations and the film footage is not of them dancing at milongas. The younger dancers from the current generation certainly have greater physical skills than the older dancers shown in Tango Baile Nuestro. However, their interpretation of the music is much simpler. In fact, at some points Arce loses connection to the music while demonstrating complex choreography. Also, in the videos shown, the younger dancers are much more sedate, with considerably less emotional expression. (Notably, the music pieces used in the Achaval and Jimenez demonstrations are post-Golden Age).
TV, thank you for your thoughtful response to my queries. I now have a better understanding of your perspective, and the reasoning behind your statements. When you were speaking about creativity, connectedness and precision, I was looking at those qualities from a technical, physiological perspective, whereas you were looking at it from a musicality perspective, hence my misunderstanding of your statements. I will definitely grant and concede that the Argentines have a cultural advantage in terms of emotional connection to the music and in terms of musical interpretation, especially compared to most (at least 90%) dancers at first world milongas.
I must confess that my bias is to pay closer attention to the technique of couples when I watch videos, as opposed to their musicality. Given your observations about the musicality of current professionals relative to those of the past, I will definitely go back and watch demonstrations with a greater sensitivity towards the musicality of the couple. This will be an interesting exercise for me, especially as I currently think that better technique should enable richer musicality, although I will grant that perfection can be the enemy of the good, and many professional couples may be so focused on technique that their musicality becomes stilted and stagnates, which is unfortunate.
Thank you for this discourse, I have found it beneficial.
Chris, you have stated that “what makes the best dancers is good dancing”. Could you please explicate your position? It is obvious that good dancing is a demonstration that one is a good dancer, the question is how does one get there? I am sure you are aware of the phenomenom of long term beginners, dancers who have danced for decades, and who are still poor dancers in terms of musicality, technique, etc. Obviously dancing a lot is not a sufficient condition for being good at dancing, and it should be clear that it is not a necessary condition either (one of the best followers I have danced with in the US, in terms of musicality, technique, etc, has been dancing under 6 months).
As for those doing the most classes being the worst dancers, I would presume that has to do with 1) selection bias, if one knows they are bad and wishes to remedy it, they will take many classes, sensibly presuming it will make them better and 2) the lack of competent teachers in the US, generally speaking.
I await your reply if choose to provide one.
Alex wrote: “I am sure you are aware of the phenomenom of long term beginners, dancers who have danced for decades, and who are still poor dancers in terms of musicality, technique, etc.”
I am. IME they are usually suffering the effects of way too much class instruction, and are inflicting more upon themselves every week.
“Obviously dancing a lot is not a sufficient condition for being good at dancing.”
I believe also required is an affinity for the music.
Learning is actually an academic subject and I would say that the question there requires a broader answer in terms of learning in general. For example, in language learning/teaching learning is defined in terms of factors such as (1) range of learning strategies, (2) social proximity, and (3) language focus vs. meaning focus. Apart from Tango I have observed people learning Salsa and Contact Improvisation and I see that these apply in dance also.
So, (1) good learners generally have a range of learning strategies; (2) the more you are immersed in the target culture and the more affectively (emotionally) open you are to it the better/faster you learn; and (3) good learners focus on form (technique) but also on actual dancing.
So if you have limited range of strategies, you mostly attend classes focussing on patterns and technique, and you are not open to the source culture, these will limit your learning. Strategies can include classes, practicing, watching videos, learning more about the music, trying out different things, etc. For example, I have found that my practice is affected by whether I look in the mirror or not. So I try not to always practice in the presence of a mirror.
Using vs. technique might mean dancing to the music when you feel like it and forgetting technique or patterns if they don’t work with the given partner.
I have found a ‘minimalist’ approach of just walking and seeing what happens very productive. I have got very positive responses from partners when I did less, and that is pretty much my definition of ‘good dancing’.
Finally, one thing that one does hear a lot from milongueros is that good dancing you must have ‘compas’, and that is something that I feel limits most non-Argentine dancers. Class instruction is rarely good for your compas as it seems most teachers don’t teach it.
I personally have been lucky enough to spend some time with people from Buenos Aires in my local community in Australia early on in my tango learning career. I think that having a sense of the culture and being open to it really helps. On this basis, I have decided early on that the modern tango scene is not conducive to learning tango as it is practiced in BA.
By the way, in that video excerpt, (I only refer to the first minute, because after that there is talking over the music) re the dancing being smooth, precise, creative, passionate and connected to the music. in that first minute, I thought, “OK, nice..oh no, a robot? urrr – a flash robot.
From a dance – as opposed to a historical perspective – the style I care about is a dancer’s individual style because you see something of the *person*, and how they are with the music and their partner. For smooth, musical dancing as one I like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=16&v=tvK-t3AJkRU but best of all this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mOwvv3vyso.
Re Alix’s point about the style of dancing he likes, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong, I think there are different tastes in music, in dance “style”, in partner, in conditions for dancing, in everything in fact. It’s just that in BsAs from what I gather there seems to be more agreement about that taste in what good music is and in what good dancing is and in what works best to facilitate dance. Whereas, here in the UK and in North America probably mostly for commercial reasons (learning from show dancers on tour or who moved here), but also because a different path just then became entrenched (locals became teachers in that same show style) we didn’t copy that Argentinian way. Teachers pay more attention to classes than to milongas I find – probably because they are less hassle and more profitable and actually milongas emphasise the huge gap between what goes on there compared to in class. So it’s not surprising social dancing over here has made itself up as it’s gone along.
Sorry – I meant Alex (I have a friend called Alix!)
 I have to say that when I see the professional performances, whether they are nuevo, barrio, or escenario, I would say that what they have in common is that they are “baroque”. I am invariably left feeling somewhat nauseated after watch a 1000th Youtube video of these, wondering as to why as tango dancers we must be subjected to these spectacles of self-aggrandisement. If I were to ‘define’ tango milonguero so as to distinguish it from the rest I’d say that it is minimalist, economical, humble, and therefore in *that* sense ultimately social. Being big is easy. Being small is hard.