Previous Tango Voice posts have reviewed the stylistic variation that exists in contemporary tango argentino, i.e., tango milonguero, tango estilo del barrio, tango nuevo and, off course, tango escenario. In Buenos Aires, tango escenario is clearly understood as tango for the stage or, in general, for exhibition, whether in a theatre or in a café, or perhaps as a break from social dancing at a milonga. The annual Campeonato Mundial de Tango recognizes two distinct genres of tango – tango de salon and tango escenario. In the tango de salon competition, couples dance in a group and are expected to maintain a line-of-dance and respect the space of other dancers on floor, as one is expected to do in a milonga in Buenos Aires (Codes and Customs of the Milongas of Buenos Aires: The Basics). In the stage competition, each couple does a separate exhibition, using the available space as needed.
Variations in Tango de Salon
Tango de salon is the tango of the milongas of Buenos Aires and includes considerable stylistic variation. The dimensions along which dancers vary include alignment of the torso and head in the embrace, placement of arms and hands in the embrace, the vertical angle of the axis (spine), the angle of contact of the foot onto the floor (e.g., heel versus metatarsals) in walking forward, among other things, as discussed previously. Some part of this variation has been incorporated under the classificatory categories of ‘tango estilo milonguero’ and ‘tango estilo del barrio’.
Tango milonguero, broadly defined as a stylistic variation of tango de salon with a maintained closed embrace and compact movements, with feet kept close to the floor and within the space defined by a dancing couple, is clearly adapted to the spatial constraints imposed by a crowded pista. If danced to maintain forward progression in the ronda, tango milonguero readily abides by the milonga code of respecting the space of other dancers on the floor. That tango milonguero functions well in the milonga setting has been demonstrated previously in recordings of milongueros dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires.
Tango estilo del barrio, danced in the milongas in the outer barrios of Buenos Aires in the 1950s, represented currently with varying degrees of accuracy by the label ‘tango estilo Villa Urquiza’, is differentiated from tango milonguero primarily by a looser embrace – closed during walking but opened for turns – as well as by a more frequent use of embellishments or a more active use of the feet in general (e.g., for paradas and sacadas) for purposes other than walking (Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza). The opening of the embrace and more space consuming turns characteristic of tango estilo del barrio were permissible due to a lower floor density of dancers at milongas in the outer barrios of Buenos Aires in the 1950s, compared to the smaller pistas in the downtown milongas where tango milonguero evolved. When the more extensive foot movements are kept close to the floor and movement progresses in the ronda, as was characteristic of Gerardo Portalea, who was actively dancing in the milongas of the barrio of Villa Urquiza during the 1950s, or by Jorge Dispari & Maria del Carmen, who are contemporary representatives of the style of tango danced in Villa Urquiza milongas during the 1950s, tango estilo del barrio can be compatible with the milonga codes of respecting the space of other dancers on the pista. What is required is some available space for executing turns that tend to be more expansive than the compact turns used in tango milonguero; tango estilo del barrio is/was limited in expression under crowded floor conditions. An idealized representation of tango estilo del barrio danced at the milonga, mostly under low floor density, is shown in various scenes from the movie ‘Tango: Baile Nuestro’.
Adherence to milonga codes of respecting the ronda or restricting movements to the floor or within the space defined by the dancing couple is not necessarily exemplified at all times in demonstrations given by the younger generation of tango instructors who are generally classified under the name of ‘tango estilo Villa Urquiza’, as was discussed previously.
Both the classic tango estilo del barrio of the 1950s and its contemporary representation as ‘tango estilo Villa Urquiza’ are present only to a limited degree among dancers in the milongas in Buenos Aires today (Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza). Nevertheless, in a video of what appears to be a special event with tango dancing at Sunderland Club in Villa Urquiza, (i.e., it is not the large hall used for the Saturday night milongas, as shown below), most dancers are using some elements characteristic of tango estilo del barrio, e.g., opening the embrace for turns and the use of foot paradas. Although the level of dancing skill shown here covers a wide range, there is an identifiable ronda respected by most dancers showing that under these low density floor conditions, tango estilo del barrio can be compatible with the requirement of respect for dancers’ space at a milonga.
Thus, both tango milonguero and tango estilo del barrio may be acceptable for floorcraft in the milongas of Buenos Aires, depending in part on floor density for the latter, and both are considered acceptable stylistic variations within the more inclusive genre of tango de salon.
Tango Nuevo in Contrast to Tango de Salon
In contrast to the space respecting movements that comprise tango de salon stylistic variations, at least in their ideal implementation, tango nuevo has many inherent characteristics that could result in intrusions into the space of other dancers on the floor. This was seen previously, where demonstrations of tango nuevo were compared to tango estilo del barrio / tango estilo villa urquiza, with which it shares some basic characteristics – in particular opening the embrace for turns and the use of sacadas and foot paradas in turns. Characteristics of tango nuevo that may result in intrusions into the space of other dancers at milongas include the use of high boleos (including linear boleos), wide turns with colgadas (where the momentum needed to generate them is difficult to control), and complete separation of contact between partners; the tendency to perform extensive turns in place also impedes the forward progression of the ronda and therefore is another potential navigational hazard. Considering this, one needs to ask whether tango nuevo is adapted (or adaptable) for use at milongas and thus whether or not it qualifies as another stylistic variant of tango de salon. As indicated by online tango discussion groups (e.g., Tango-L, Tango Connections), the risk of navigational hazards created by tango nuevo dancers has been one of the most divisive issues facing tango communities worldwide in recent years as tango nuevo has gained in popularity.
The issue of compatibility is resolved (or perhaps avoided) in Buenos Aires by segregation of tango dance venues where tango de salon and tango nuevo are danced. The goal of this post is to examine recordings of tango social dance venues in Buenos Aires, comparing the use of space on the pista by dancers at several dance venues where tango de salon is danced with several dance venues where tango nuevo is danced. The recordings were selected on the basis of duration and quality of recording, and the view of the pista, in order to provide the maximum amount of useful information. This evaluation will provide insight as to whether, or under what conditions, tango de salon and tango nuevo can share the same pista at a milonga.
Traditional Milongas in Buenos Aires
Traditional milongas are those where tango de salon is danced and the codes of the milonga are followed. This excludes some tourist frequented milongas where tango de salon is generally danced but the milonga codes are followed to a more limited degree.
(1) Sunday Milonga at Lo de Celia Tango Club, Barrio Constitucion
Under conditions of moderate floor density, there is a clearly formed outer lane in the ronda at this traditional milonga; inside of this outer lane there is as another lane that progresses in the counterclockwise direction of the ronda, but due to lower density some of the dancers use more space. Inside of this second lane there are a few dancers in the very middle of this small but square floor who do not appear to be progressing in any particular direction. As is more commonly seen with dancing to milonga than to tango music, there is a rectangular pattern that many of the men use in navigation, particularly those men in the outer lane. They face the tables and move backward one or two steps, then side left in the direction of the ronda, then forward towards the tables again, with some minor variations, particularly angling the movement diagonally forward towards the tables if space is available; this pattern may be interrupted by the ocho cortado or some turns. This navigational structure that is characteristic of milongueros has been discussed previously. Traditional milonga customs of waiting about 30-45 seconds before starting to dance after the first song of the tanda and clearing the floor during the cortina are observed here. See also this recording of a Wednesday evening milonga at Lo de Celia, where similar navigation patterns are seen in dancing to tango music under moderate floor density. In these recordings it appears that everyone is dancing in a maintained closed embrace characteristic of tango milonguero (i.e., no opening of the embrace for ochos or turns is observed).
(2) Milonga de los Consagrados
(Saturday Matinee Milonga, Centro Region Leonesa, Barrio Constitucion)
This recording of a traditional milonga clearly demonstrates the floorcraft at a crowded traditional Buenos Aires milonga. Each couple occupies a small space that progresses slowly forward in the counterclockwise line-of-dance. There are two distinct, clearly formed lines-of-dance. If there is movement against the progression of the ronda, it is within space that was just viewed by the man. Under these crowded conditions there is more turning (both clockwise and counterclockwise) within a small space than there is extended walking in a rectangular pattern with the man facing the tables. Except for one (possibly tourist) couple dancing in a maintained slightly opened embrace, all couples maintain a closed embrace. There is no separation of the partners while dancing. There are no spinning off axis movements (colgadas) or lunges (volcadas).
(3) La Milonga del Mundo
(Saturday Evening Milonga, Sunderland Club, Barrio Villa Urquiza)
At this crowded traditional Saturday night milonga, the floor is empty as the tanda begins, as is customary to allow invitations to dance via the cabeceo to occur. Even though there is a steady flow of dancers onto the pista with a bottleneck at the corners where dancers enter, entering dancers wait and there is an orderly formation of the ronda. From the angle of recording, two clearly distinct lines-of-dance, an outer lance and an inner lane, are visible. Progression forward is slow and the structure of the dance consists mainly of turns with forward movements when possible. No opening of the embrace, as is characteristic of tango estilo del barrio (‘tango estilo Villa Urquiza’) is visible under these high floor density conditions in this milonga in the barrio of Villa Urquiza.
(3) Milonga in Plaza Bohemia, Barrio San Nicolas
This recording shows a traditional milonga at low floor density. Plaza Bohemia has a small floor with narrow width. Here there is only one clearly formed line-of-dance; the few men in the middle are not progressing regularly in a clockwise direction and at times move from the center to the outer lane and back. Some of the men in the circulating lane actually move against the flow of the ronda, but only a few steps when there is room and they have sight of the space behind them in the ronda. In actuality, the navigation shown here is less than ideal, but no collisions are seen in part because floor density is low. Some milonga codes not directly related to navigation that are followed are that the floor is cleared during the cortina and there are about 30-45 seconds at the beginning of a tango when the dancers converse before starting to dance again.
Tango Venues in Buenos Aires where Tango Nuevo is Danced
There appear to be three locations currently in Buenos Aires where tango nuevo is both taught and danced in a social setting. These are Club Villa Malcolm in Palermo, Practica X, now in the Viejo Correo locale in Caballito, and Tango Brujo in San Nicolas. There do not appear to be web accessible recordings of social dancing in Tango Brujo at this time, but several exist for Practica X and Club Villa Malcolm.
(1) Practica X
This is a scene at Practica X under moderate floor density when it was still located in Palermo. It is immediately obvious that some of the dancers here (e.g., Chicho Frumboli with the tattooed arms in the foreground), connected to their partner in an open frame, make larger movements that do not necessarily move in any specific direction (e.g., as in a counterclockwise progressing ronda in a traditional milonga milonga). The legs of the women are often seen rapidly moving in various directions high above the floor. Some couples explore different types of connection (including tango al reves, or ‘shadow’ position). In another scene at Practica X under low floor density one can see more of the same movements, plus some additional variations in partner connection including temporary complete separation of partners. In both cases there is no perceptible counterclockwise progressing ronda. In both scenes non-traditional music (‘electrotango’, Astor Piazzolla) is played for dancing.
In this scene under moderately crowded floor density at the Tango Cool practica at Club Villa Malcolm, there is a discernible progressive counterclockwise movement around the pista, but there are also some rather large movements against the line-of-dance; there is also a section in the center of the floor where there is no progression. Many of the dancers are opening the embrace for turns, which utilize more space than those used at the traditional milongas seen above. Some of the women are kicking high above the floor. Some partners are varying the distance and orientation of their connection, including breaking contact. This shorter recording at Villa Malcolm reinforces what is seen in the first recording. In both cases, the music played for dancing is not traditional tango. Note that the lighting at Club Villa Malcolm is low, making use of the cabeceo difficult.
All of the recordings of dancing under this heading show that these nuevo tango venues are attended mostly by younger dancers (20s and 30s).
The following characteristics of tango nuevo as a dance make it poorly adapted for crowded dance floors:
– A shifting pattern of connection between partners, from a closed embrace to independent movement without contact, expands (sometimes suddenly) the space used by a couple.
– Off-axis movements that have momentum make sudden changes of direction needed to accommodate changing floor density difficult.
– Exploration of space beyond the space occupied by the partners, particularly vertical space (i.e., above the floor), makes contact with other couples on the pista more likely
In general, the defining characteristic of tango nuevo as a dance that explores space makes it inherently maladapted for dancing on crowded floors, where space is limited.
In addition, the tendency for tango nuevo dancers to move unpredictably across the floor and not enter into the formation of a clearly defined counterclockwise progressing ronda, make these dancers navigation hazards at milongas. Also, the tendency for some dancers to become involved in persistent stationary turns that do not progress with the ronda can create a logjam in the forward movement of the line-of-dance.
This need for space and the use of space that does not follow a predictable pattern make tango nuevo dancers maladapted for crowded milongas.
One could argue that the video clips of tango nuevo provided here were of practicas and not milongas and thus were not indicative of how tango nuevo can be implemented at a milonga. However, then one needs to ask for what are the dancers practicing, if not for a milonga? Perhaps some are practicing for an exhibition. If one were practicing for a milonga, then it would be necessary to respect the space of other dancers on the floor by entering into the ronda, not changing direction suddenly and unpredictably (perhaps even with uncontrolled momentum), and keep one’s movements inside the space defined by the embrace. The recordings shown indicate that there are numerous dancers at these nuevo practicas who are not concerned with these issues regarding use of space on the pista.
Another characteristic of tango nuevo that would create an environment that is unacceptable to tango de salon dancers is playing modern interpretations of tango (e.g., Piazzolla, electrontango) or non-tango music for dancing tango.
Tango estilo del barrio of the 1950s (and its contemporary expression often labeled as ‘tango estilo Villa Urquiza’) are limited by crowded floor conditions but can be adapted to moderately crowded pistas (assuming the high boleos and rapid changes of direction shown in demonstrations by some of the younger generation dancers classified under the contemporary label of ‘tango estilo Villa Urquiza’ are not executed on the milonga dance floor). It remains to be demonstrated that tango nuevo can.
– Any dancer, regardless of the style of tango danced, can be a navigational hazard or, at the least, a nuisance, if men (as leaders) make unpredictable movements (particularly when these movements are large and/or change direction rapidly), or stall the forward progression of the ronda (or even move against the line-of-dance, particularly when done blindly). Likewise, women can create hazards on the floor by lifting their feet (perhaps with stiletto heels) high off the floor and outward from the space defined by the embrace. However, the inherent space exploring and consuming characteristics of tango nuevo make the probability of creating navigational hazards more likely for this style of tango than for variants of tango de salon.
– If there is a low density on the pista, tango nuevo may not present a navigational hazard to other dancers if they relinquish the space occupied by the ronda (the outer lanes) to tango de salon dancers and dance only in the center of the floor.
– One can use movements from any style of tango to dance to non-traditional tango or non-tango music. However, the recognized leaders of the tango nuevo school, as seen from demonstrations referenced previously, consider using tango movements in dancing to non-traditional music appropriate.
However, perhaps one of the most important differences that makes tango nuevo incompatible with tango de salon at the same milonga is in the atmosphere it creates. For porteños who make tango an important part of their lives (particularly in a non-commercial sense), tango de salon is a dance between a man and a woman, sharing an embrace while they share their expression (in movement and emotion) of timeless classic tango music (The Essence of Tango Argentino). The social tango of the milongas of Buenos Aires is not about displaying to the people present your skills in movement. The milonga is not an athletic event (Cacho Dante). There is improvisation in movement in tango, but it emanates from the feeling inside, not the brain that is analyzing spatial possibilities. Foremost in tango improvisation is the interpretation of familiar classic tango music (Tango Milonguero: Improvised Expression of Music through Movement in a Shared Embrace).
Tango nuevo lacks these inherent characteristics of contemporary tango de salon. The presence of tango nuevo at a milonga creates images of conspicuous movement. The uninitiated see tango as elaborate movement, whereas tango de salon is more subtle, taking more time to understand. Tango de salon needs its own environment to create an atmosphere conducive to the sharing and expression of the triad of tango connection – partner, music, and the ronda. Tango nuevo needs its own environment to create its own atmosphere – one where freedom of expansive movement to a variety of different kinds of music is not limited. In Buenos Aires there are separate venues for tango de salon and tango nuevo. In the remainder of the world, in numerous tango communities, tango de salon and tango nuevo are at odds trying to occupy the same niche. Tango de salon and tango nuevo each need their own separate niche. To deny tango de salon this niche separate from tango nuevo is to deny respect (whether intentional or unintended) to the traditional milonga codes and customs. The tango of the milongas of Buenos Aires is too precious a culture to be denied that respect.