Tango Styles, Genres and Individual Expression: Part I – A Rationale for Classification by Niche Adaptation

There has been much disagreement regarding the existence and differentiation of ‘tango styles’. The more common position is that there exist or have existed several distinct tango styles. For example, Stephen Brown lists several ‘Styles of Argentine Tango’ – tango de salon, Villa Urquiza, milonguero-style tango, club style tango, orillero-style tango, canyengue, nuevo tango, and fantasia (show tango). Likewise, Igor Polk lists ’11 Argentine Tango Styles’ – canyengue, salon 1910-20 / tango liso, apilado, nuevo close embrace, salon of 50s (open or close), tango nuevo, tango-colgada-style, candombe, dynamic tango, and neo tango.

Distinctions made among tango styles have focused primarily upon the physical structure of the dance – the nature of the embrace, the posture, and the movements used – and upon the musical environment and musical interpretation but, other than cursory references to geography and historical period, much less attention has been paid to the physical and sociocultural environment in which each style has been danced in Buenos Aires. The goal of this and subsequent posts on this topic is to inject into the analysis of tango stylistic variation the recognition of the physical, social, and cultural environment, i.e., the ‘environmental niche’ in which each stylistic variation is practiced, in order to demonstrate that there is adaptation of the physical characteristics of the dance to the particular niche in Buenos Aires in which a stylistic variant evolved. This interpretation can be instructive for the introduction of these stylistic variants into foreign cultural environments. It is hoped that this understanding will also decrease significantly the amount of animosity that currently exists between proponents and practitioners of different styles of tango outside Argentina.

The One Tango Philosophy

Although terminology regarding tango styles (particularly classifications similar to Brown’s) is widespread and commonly accepted, there are also those who argue against the classification of tango into styles. For example, the Atlanta Tango website, subtitled as ‘Hay solo un tango’ (‘There is only one tango’) states:

Why do we say ‘hay sólo un tango’? Because THERE IS ONLY ONE TANGO – one without strict divisions by ‘styles’; one which does not enforce a ‘close embrace’, ‘open embrace’, ‘apilado’, ‘salon’, ‘milonguero’, ‘Villa Urquiza’ or whatever ’embrace’ or ‘style’ that may be marketed to students around the world as being somehow different or better than the others. We believe that tango is tango, and to subdivide the dance into categories is limiting the enjoyment of the dance and can be confusing to the dancers – because after all, this dance is about love and acceptance- not exclusion.

Although marketing of ‘name brand’ tango styles is indeed often misleading and, in contrast, love and acceptance are admirable traits for all parts of life, these are appeals to emotions, not logical arguments contradicting the existence or selective use of different tango styles. Recognition of tango stylistic variation does not in itself advocate that one stylistic variant is better than another, only that stylistic variation exists and there are underlying reasons for the differences.

The truths and the fallacies of the ‘One Tango’ philosophy have been addressed in detail previously (There is only one Tango). The primary weakness of the ‘OneTango’ philosophy is that the stylistic differences that exist between such different genres of tango such as Tango Escenario and Tango de Salon are adaptations for different niches, e.g., conspicuous movements and drama for the stage versus compact movements and precise navigation for the pista of the milonga. In Buenos Aires this is almost universally recognized, although not always communicated (e.g., among tango instructors whose clients are foreigners) by those knowledgeable about tango.

One logical extension of the One Tango philosophy is the acceptance of coexistence of Tango Nuevo, Tango Fantasia, and Tango Milonguero on the same milonga dance floor in North America (and elsewhere around the world outside Argentina). The blurring of distinctions among tango stylistic variations is perceived and publically stated as accommodating tango diversity, a valued sociopolitical perspective in liberal democratic societies, but this fails to address the issue of the adaptiveness of each tango style to a particular environmental niche and thus does more harm than good in breeding tango harmony. Therefore, one of the most common, if not the most common, source of conflict on tango discussion groups (e.g., Tango-L) is the clash (sometimes physical) on the milonga dance floor between the styles labeled as Milonguero-style Tango and Tango Nuevo or Salon-style Tango (in reality in North America a variant of Tango Fantasia).

Tango Stylistic Differences as Individual Expression

One of the arguments often used against classification of tango by style is that ‘every dancer has his own style’. This is certainly true for accomplished dancers, e.g., those known as milongueros, each of whom interprets tango in a unique way. For example, along these lines, Jantango states “A milonguero is a self-taught dancer with his own style“.

It has been described previously that among dancers of Tango de Salon, there is nearly continuous stylistic variation along several dimensions – the angle of the axis, the alignment of partners and placement of the arms in the embrace, the distance and angle between the chests of partners, the orientation of the head relative to the partner, the length of steps, the manner of placement of the foot onto the floor in walking, among other characteristics. There are also differences among dancers in the relative frequency of use of certain movements and positions such as walking in parallel and crossed feet systems, inside and outside partner (right and left) positions, the relative frequency of use of forward and back ochos, the ocho cortado, and giros (in both directions), the size of the repertoire of movements and the degree of regularity (predictability) in building sequences. There are differences in timing, in the relative use of ‘slow’ and ‘quick’ steps and pauses, and with which movements these temporal variations are used and their predictability. There are also numerous subjective characteristics (ones that are imperceptible or inapparent from a video) such as the force applied in the embrace and in the lead, the pressure applied to the floor, the elevation of suspensions, etc., some of which may be characterized as technique (i.e., ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’) but which, nevertheless, represent individual differences among dancers, or ‘individual expression’ of tango.

However, the argument that ‘each tango dancer has his own style’, or some extension of it, also has been used frequently by proponents of Tango Nuevo to obfuscate the larger stylistic differences among various very different genres of tango. This is exemplified by the statements of Homer Ladas:

… Some folks try hard to contain tango in a box and enforce their views on others. …. 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.

The images created by language such as ‘box containment’, ‘view enforcement’, and ‘abused’ portray those with an opposing view as aggressive and intractable, which is not useful for finding resolution on this issue. Although these accusations may be true for some people, this again does not address logically the argument that distinct stylistic variants of tango exist or do not exist, i.e., ‘whether indeed ‘the lines between stage and social dancing … are not very clear’.

The Semantic Confusion regarding Tango Styles

The conflict over tango styles (‘There are distinct tango styles’ vs. ‘There is only one tango’) is based in part on different semantic interpretations of the phrase ‘tango style’. To say that ‘each tango dancer has his own style’ is to recognize that are indeed differences in individual expression of tango. However, if one were able to ‘map’ the location of dancers’ individual characteristics along the different variable dimensions, it would be possible to identify a higher density of individuals in some parts of this mapped space than in others and that there would be distinct gaps or at least areas of low density of dancers in some parts of this range of variation. The identifiable clusters of individuals with similar stylistic traits represent a ‘tango style’.

The acknowledgement that these are different levels of analysis, and that both levels of tango stylistic variation exist, can contribute significantly to an understanding of tango stylistic variation and hopefully as well to a reduction of hostilities in the tango ‘style wars’ that create animosity within and between tango communities.

Each Tango Genre has its own Niche

The concept of niche adaptation is pivotal to the arguments presented here; i.e., each genre of tango has its own sociocultural and physical environment (i.e.,  ‘niche’) to which it is adapted. This has been discussed previously for Tango de Salon, Tango Nuevo, Tango Escenario and Tango Queer and will be reiterated in part in subsequent posts.

Note that the term ‘tango genre’ has been used here as a substitute for ‘tango style’. The term ‘genre’ is formally defined as:

Genre (from French, genre: “kind” or “sort”, from Latin: genus, Greek: genos) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, based on some set of stylistic criteria.

This terminology has been used previously within Tango Voice to describe tango stylistic variation but does not appear to have been used elsewhere and thus is unlikely to be subject to misinterpretation. The reason for the substitution of ‘tango genre’ for ‘tango style’ is in part to circumvent the problem of imprecise communication associated with the multiple meanings intended for the term ‘tango style’. However, it is also to recognize that a tango genre is a range of stylistic variation that functions successfully within (i.e., is adapted to) a particular environmental niche appropriate for tango.

Nevertheless, the term ‘tango style’ will be retained for distinct stylistic variants within tango genres that can co-occupy the same niche, which coincides with the most common specific application of the term ‘style’ (or ‘estilo’) with respect to variation in tango dancing, i.e., the ‘styles’ attributed to the dancing that occurs in the milongas of Buenos Aires, e.g., Tango Estilo Milonguero, Tango Estilo del Barrio, Tango Estilo del Centro, Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza.

A Tango Classification based on Niche Adaptation

Presented here is a framework for classification of tango genres by the environmental niche to which each is adapted. This will be developed over several subsequent posts.

(A) Tango Argentino

Listed below are three genres of tango that evolved within the tango culture of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

  • (1) Tango (de) Salon: This is the range of tango stylistic variation that is adapted for the sociocultural and physical environment of the milongas of Buenos Aires.
  • (2) Tango (de) Practica: This is the range of tango stylistic variation that is adapted for the practica, an environment where practice towards skill improvement and experimentation are primary motivations for participation.
  • (3) Tango Escenario: This is tango adapted for the stage, or for exhibition in general, whether in a theatre, in a restaurant or café, or perhaps even for a public plaza or street corner. It is dancing for the purpose of entertainment, not for the purpose of social interaction.

(B) Tango Extranjero

Listed below are two genres of tango that evolved outside Argentina.

  • (4) Tango Ballroom: This is tango that is adapted for the ballroom dance environment, that is, International and/or American Ballroom Tango in an environment where, in alternation, other ballroom dances such as waltz, foxtrot, swing, cha-cha, rumba, and samba are danced.
  • (5) Tango Finlandia: This is the tango that evolved within the sociocultural environment of Finland.

In subsequent posts, description and differentiation of the different genres of Tango Argentino and the stylistic variants of Tango de Salon and Tango de Practica will be discussed. Variation in Tango Escenario has been discussed previously. The genres of Tango Extranjero – Tango Ballroom, and Tango Finlandia – also have been discussed in previous Tango Voice posts.

Summary

(1) Distinct tango styles such as Tango Milonguero, Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza, Tango Fantasia, and Tango Nuevo are frequently identified in tango discussions.

(2) The One Tango philosophy denies the meaningfulness of classification of tango into distinct styles, noting that each dancer has his own style, and that the dividing lines between different styles of tango are not distinct.

(3) There is often conflict between those who espouse the One Tango philosophy and those who identify distinct tango styles. This conflict is due in part to the multiple semantic interpretations of the term ‘tango style’, and could be reduced with the recognition that individual stylistic variation and distinct clusters of individuals with similar stylistic traits are two different levels of analysis of tango stylistic variation.

(4) An analysis of tango stylistic variation will indicate there are different sociocultural and physical environments in which tango is danced and a significant proportion of tango stylistic variation represents adaptation to these different environmental niches.

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7 Responses to Tango Styles, Genres and Individual Expression: Part I – A Rationale for Classification by Niche Adaptation

  1. gyb says:

    Another great post. I agree with your characterization of what a “style” is – and any debate about “tango styles” is moot until the proponents spell out clearly and arrive at an agreement about what they mean when they use the word “style”. I also think that in order to identify a group of dancers belonging to the same style it is necessary and sufficient to point out that operationally identifiable characteristics of their dance cluster in the space of such traits, and that this clustering happens is not accidental. I argued for this in previous comments on this blog and elsewhere.

    Your post starts to fill the gap regarding the last condition on belonging to “style”, namely that the clustering should not be accidental. The question is what kind of explanations we seek in order to argue for this non-accidentalness. You suggests that the types of explanation we should seek, besides geographical and historical, are physical and sociocultural. I don’t know how wide your understanding of “sociocultural” is, but I would suggest that one important contributing factor is missing, namely the psychological. I believe that even in the absence of the geographical, sociocultural and historical environment of Buenos Aires and in the absence of tight spaces one can have psychological reasons to make choices which lead to a way of dancing which makes one’s dance belong to a certain style, say to milonguero style. Although the identification of a style should be based on the clustering of operationally identifiable traits, but the causes of such clustering – the causes which lead to choices which yield certain dance characteristics – themselves don’t need to be discernible by means of “looking”. Of course one needs to be careful and in many cases it’s only pure speculation to explain how people dance by appealing to psychological factors (especially since self-reports can’t be completely trusted, as the dancers themselves know that their image in the social group is going to influence their chance to thrive and hence could have an interest to distort stories about their main motivations), nevertheless one should not underestimate the influence of such psychological factors in forming one’s dance style.

    ***

    Assuming that we now all agree on necessary and sufficient conditions for discerning a “style” the only reasonable way to disagree with the existence of tango styles is to either argue that the clustering of operationally characterized dancing traits is non-existent – that the distribution of these traits among dancers is homogeneous across the space of such traits without any dense regions -, or that any clustering in this space is accidental, i.e. that the causes yielding the clusters are not robust/coherent/reasoned enough. It could be the case that tango styles don’t exist for these reasons, and I would love to see the discussions moving along these lines. (Or to see discussions why these purportedly necessary and sufficient conditions are inadequate to characterize what “style” means or should mean.)

    However, as you also point out, the typical resistance against the existence of tango styles seems to be motivated by the fear that the acknowledgment that a certain dancer’s typical dance belongs to a style entails a loss of individuality. People can have many reasons why they wouldn’t want to have a loss of individuality – fragile self-confidence, fear of reduced marketability of the product they are selling, and so on – but I would argue that the fear that belonging to a style could entail a loss of individuality is based on a misunderstanding about what a style is.

    I think there are three typical misunderstandings about styles (again assuming that we already agreed on what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for discerning styles, explained above):

    1. “Belonging to a certain typically acknowledged style – say, to milonguero style – entails that one does not have an individual style.” This is a misunderstanding since one’s dance can belong to many styles and sub-styles at the same time. Recall that the condition for having a style is a non-accidental clustering of operationally identifiable traits – but one’s dance can belong to a sub-cluster of a larger clusters of traits which itself can be grasped by specifying some additional non-accidental characteristics.
    Take the example of Tete Rusconi. First, Tete is dancing tango de salon. Tango de salon is a style since it’s a cluster within the tango realm which is characterized non-accidentally by the fact that the dance only involves elements which are appropriate to the milonga setting. Second, Tete is dancing tango milonguero. Tango milonguero is a sub-style of tango de salon, since, besides it being appropriate to the milonga setting, it is also further characterized by a maintained close embrace and a focus on the exploration of the rhythmic variations in the music, and due to geographical/historical/sociocultural/physical/psychological etc. reasons it is not accidental that dancers who are identified by this style choose to dance this way. Third, Tete also has a personal style, which is a sub-style of tango milonguero and of tango de salon, since besides meeting the general characteristics of both of these one can further identify characteristics of his dancing which are fairly robust across many of his dances, on the basis of which a typical dance of his can be recognized as distinct from the dance of others, and further because there are good reasons to think that these characteristics are results of identifiable historical/physical reasons or of some more-or-less conscious conception of dancing which make these further characteristics non-accidentally grouped. Hence Tete’s dance belongs to at least three tango styles, one of which is his own individual style.

    2. “The existence of tango styles entails that everyone’s dance belongs to one of these styles.” This is another misunderstanding. It is possible to have dancers whose typical dance does not belong to any of the typically recognized clusters, or that it only belongs to some of the larger ones. For instance one’s dance can meet the criteria for tango de salon without meeting the criteria of either tango milonguero or Villa Urquiza or any other discernible larger sub-style of tango de salon. The existence of such dancers is not an argument against the existence of styles, however. The fact that someones dance doesn’t belong to any of the operationally identifiable clusters doesn’t entail that such clusters among other dancers can’t be meaningfully discerned.

    3. “Everyone has an individual style.” This is the third typical misunderstanding. The fact that someone’s typical dances might not belong to any of the typically recognized styles does not entail that he has an individual style (nor does it exclude it). Of course everyone is dancing in a particular way and hence everyone’s dance occupies a particular spot in the space of operationally identifiable traits, however in many cases this spot is occupied accidentally, hence it does not meet the necessary criterion of a style. Many if not most dancers on the pista today, especially beginners, belong to this category in my view. They take random classes with random visiting instructors, practice and try to dance in a milonga setting a random selection of figures (conflating creativity with random succession of elements), some of which are appropriate socially and some which are not, and either have no discernible conception or idea about their own way of dancing, or even if they have such a conception they don’t yet have the sufficient practice to be able to implement this conception so that it actually shows up in their dance. Their dance don’t meet the non-accidentalness criterion of a style, and hence they don’t have individual styles, and sometimes their dance don’t belong to any tango style whatsoever.

    ***

    Last remark: there are dancers who are able to master several incompatible tango styles. It is a typical problem that they dance in one style during their exhibitions and in another during social occasions, because many of their students mistake what they see in the show for what these dancers would promote for the pista. It’s unclear to me to what extent should these performers be blamed for this mistake on the part of the students, as they are forced to go down this path if they want to keep being invited and paid, but a more clear labeling of what one is doing would certainly help preventing some of the confusions and help avoiding false marketing.

    • tangovoice says:

      “…one should not underestimate the influence of such psychological factors in forming one’s dance style.”

      – Undoubtedly psychological factors play a role in forming an individual’s tango style. These can be more or less permanent influences, such as those that comprise an individual’s ‘personality’, as well as more immediate factors that may be attributable to a dancer’s current emotional state. However, these are difficult to measure objectively. Nevertheless, to the extent that distinct clusters of individual physical traits comprising ‘styles’ exist (and these are, in theory, reliably measureable), one could postulate that physical characteristics of the environment (e.g., the physical structure of the pista of the milonga and the dancers on it), the cultural norms (codes of the milonga), and the social characteristics of the environment (singles in downtown milonga vs. couples at Saturday in club del barrio) set limits on the range of variation in dancing that is adapted for that environment (e.g, maintained closed embrace in apilado posture with small steps in crowded downtown ‘singles’ milonga vs. looser embrace in upright posture in more spacious Sunday afternoon social gathering with children and grandparents present).

      “…the typical resistance against the existence of tango styles seems to be motivated by the fear that the acknowledgment that a certain dancer’s typical dance belongs to a style entails a loss of individuality. People can have many reasons why they wouldn’t want to have a loss of individuality – fragile self-confidence, fear of reduced marketability of the product they are selling, and so on – but I would argue that the fear that belonging to a style could entail a loss of individuality is based on a misunderstanding about what a style is.”

      – It’s probably less a loss of individuality than it is a need to justify (in many cases for economic purposes) that one’s style of dancing is not restricted by niche requirements. It is relatively easy to sell expansive volcadas, colgadas, and boleos in multiple horizontal and vertical directions as fitting a particular environment (e.g., the milonga) if the distinctness of dance styles and the adaptation of stylistic characteristics to a particular niche are ignored and swept aside with statements such as ‘the lines between stage & social dancing … and the Argentine vs. non-Argentine way are not very clear and … have been abused.’

      “.. there are dancers who are able to master several incompatible tango styles. It is a typical problem that they dance in one style during their exhibitions and in another during social occasions, because many of their students mistake what they see in the show for what these dancers would promote for the pista.”

      – Herein lies a major problem in that instructors fail to communicate to students the acceptability or non-acceptability of stylistic elements demonstrated in an exhibition. For example, the instructor who in workshops claims to teach the so-called ‘Estilo Villa Urquiza’ which resembles the tango danced in the outer barrios of Buenos Aires circa 1950, will then migrate into Tango Fantasia for a demonstration with the student thinking this is just ‘advanced material’ rather than a different style of tango appropriate for a different environmental niche.

  2. tangovoice says:

    These are excellent comments. Elaboration on some of the points will follow shortly.

  3. Alexis Cousein says:

    I think you’re being a bit harsh on Homer Ladas: he uses negative connotations as “boxing in” but he only says “some folks” are doing it (which is something you seem to also think). *You* are evidently aware of all the subtle nuances, but not everyone is like that; there are some people who’ll use an “us vs. them” classification and rhetoric just to feel superior to others (and to convince themselves that what they’re doing is “right”).

    The fact that he thinks it’s “one tango” doesn’t preclude thinking that classification is useful. To me, tango is a dialect continuum, with several features correlating so that isoglosses defined on the correlating features overlap strongly.

    Which means classification is useful, as long as it’s done with enough humility (whatever classification you use, there are always hybrids at the edge of the classes, and someone could come up with other clusters of features and other isoglosses that would be just as valid).

    In another comment, you almost imply that the Homer Ladas line of thinking serves to teach anything to anyone without regard for the niche, and Homer Ladas certainly usually can’t be blamed for such behaviour: he frequently teaches specific subsets of some things that are more successfully used than others on a crowded dance floor and identifies them as such, and also says what not to do on a crowded dance floor (and often teaches people how to dance some things learned in an open embrace also in a close embrace ensuring the exit can return you in the line of dance). Perhaps he’s not like that with all audiences; I can’t tell.

    It’s one tango, it’s many tangos and it’s also as many tangos as there are couples (or even more, given that a couple in one tanda can dance differently from the same couple in another). There’s no contradiction, only different viewpoints and levels of abstraction, and none is more real than others.

    • tangovoice says:

       “I think you’re being a bit harsh on Homer Ladas: he uses negative connotations as “boxing in” but he only says “some folks” are doing it (which is something you seem to also think). *You* are evidently aware of all the subtle nuances, but not everyone is like that; there are some people who’ll use an “us vs. them” classification and rhetoric just to feel superior to others (and to convince themselves that what they’re doing is “right”).”

      – There are dancers who wish to enjoy tango in an environment that respects the traditions of tango culture as practiced in Buenos Aires. Despite repeated references to tango traditions, tango instructors such as Ladas promote a manner of dancing tango that in part (and this is often the part that is most popular outside Argentina) is incompatible with respect for the space of other dancers on the pista, and in some other part promotes a type of music (‘alternative’) that is not considered acceptable for dancing tango. Thus, today in many parts of the world outside Argentina it is nearly impossible to find a milonga where all dancers dance Tango de Salon (and thus contribute to the formation of a ronda), and all music played is classic tango music as played in the milongas of Buenos Aires. If the requirements that tango follow the traditions of tango culture are confining, such that one feels “boxed in”, then either one does not have sufficient knowledge of tango culture or one chooses not to respect it.

       “In another comment, you almost imply that the Homer Ladas line of thinking serves to teach anything to anyone without regard for the niche, and Homer Ladas certainly usually can’t be blamed for such behaviour: he frequently teaches specific subsets of some things that are more successfully used than others on a crowded dance floor and identifies them as such, and also says what not to do on a crowded dance floor (and often teaches people how to dance some things learned in an open embrace also in a close embrace ensuring the exit can return you in the line of dance). Perhaps he’s not like that with all audiences; I can’t tell.”

      – This is not what students taking classes with Ladas and other instructors of Tango Nuevo bring away from the workshops. For example, why teach several varieties of volcadas, colgadas and boleos, when very little of what is taught is appropriate for the social dance floor? If an instructor spends an hour or so teaching some movement that is inappropriate for use at a milonga and then says it is inappropriate, the entire point of teaching is nullified, so why teach this material in the first place? The proof of the impact of this teaching is in what is happening at milongas around the world (lack of respect for the space of other dancers), and the instructors who teach this material are responsible for this.

       “It’s one tango, it’s many tangos and it’s also as many tangos as there are couples (or even more, given that a couple in one tanda can dance differently from the same couple in another). There’s no contradiction, only different viewpoints and levels of abstraction, and none is more real than others.”

      – This is consistent with the main message of this post. There is one cultural origin for all tango. Within the diversity of tango, there are different genres of tango adapted for different environments – Tango de Salon for the Milonga, Tango de Practica (characteristics to be elaborated upon in future posts) for the Practica, and Tango Escenario for the Stage. Within these genres there are sometimes distinctly recognizable styles, e.g., Tango Milonguero and Tango Estilo del Barrio as distinct styles of Tango de Salon. There are also ‘individual expressions’ with an identifiable style, e.g., Ricardo Vidort and Pedro Rusconi danced tango in distinctly different ways, while still both having the identifying characteristics of Tango Milonguero.

  4. I agree with Alexis Cousein that different ways of dancing Argentine tango can be described along a continuum with a wide variety of expression. Nonetheless, I am of the opinion there is a tendency among dancers to cluster in ways that allows an identification of different styles.

    Perhaps surprising to most North American tango students, the style they dance has been determined by their teacher(s) and is often integral to the way they are taught. In North America, most dancers develop most of their knowledge through only one of the three principal approaches for teaching Argentine tango and each of those approaches is associated with a particular style.

    What is commonly called milonguero-style tango in North America is typically taught as small elements. Those who learn only in small elements often have good navigational and rhythm skills, but their dancing can lack a sense of composition, form, style or depth of improvisation. It’s just noodling.

    What is commonly called salon-style tango in North America (which is a variation of show tango) is typically taught in memorized step patterns. Those who only learn step patterns often show good depth of composition and form, but find trouble with improvisation, navigation and rhythm.

    What is commonly called nuevo-style tango in North America is typically taught through a structural system. Those who only learn a structural system understand a complex set of possibilities, but may lack form and have trouble fitting the concepts to the available space or the rhythm of the music. They spin out of control.

    These observations lead me to conclude that incomplete learning and ignorance are at least partially responsible for creating the diverging styles of Argentine tango.

    Those aspiring to master another improvisational form–playing jazz study 1) short tasty phrases and rhythm, 2) complete compositions and the solos played by great artists, 3) and the scales and chord progressions. No musician would expect to develop sufficient skill in playing jazz by pursuing only one of these three approahces to learning.

    See
    http://www.tejastango.com/inside_2005archive.html#0028
    http://www.tejastango.com/inside_2004archive.html#0007
    http://www.tejastango.com/inside_2004archive.html#0008
    http://www.tejastango.com/inside_2005archive.html#0015
    http://www.tejastango.com/inside_2007archive.html#0010
    http://www.tejastango.com/inside_2004archive.html#0027

    With best regards,
    Stephen Brown

    • tangovoice says:

       I agree with Alexis Cousein that different ways of dancing Argentine tango can be described along a continuum with a wide variety of expression. Nonetheless, I am of the opinion there is a tendency among dancers to cluster in ways that allows an identification of different styles.

      There do not appear to be significant differences among most investigators of tango in this regard. Since most traits that define tango stylistic variation are measured along a continuous dimension, the possibility exists for continuous variation along those dimensions, as may exist for such traits as distance between partners in the embrace, the angle of lean in the posture, the degree of centrality in the alignment of partners, the size of steps, etc. There are also numerous traits that are measureable by their presence or absence, e.g., the utilization of certain movements (e.g., pivots, suspensions, specific adornments, off-axis movements). Nevertheless, given all of the various ways in which tango can vary, not all combinations of traits occur in high frequency, so that there are distinct clusters representing collections of individuals that share traits in common, even if there are some details in which they still vary, yet the individuals within these clusters are clearly distinct in the way they dance from individuals in other clusters.

       What is commonly called milonguero-style tango in North America is typically taught as small elements. Those who learn only in small elements often have good navigational and rhythm skills, but their dancing can lack a sense of composition, form, style or depth of improvisation. It’s just noodling.

      If a dance is taught in small elements, that increases the possibilities for improvisation.

       What is commonly called salon-style tango in North America (which is a variation of show tango) is typically taught in memorized step patterns. Those who only learn step patterns often show good depth of composition and form, but find trouble with improvisation, navigation and rhythm.
       What is commonly called nuevo-style tango in North America is typically taught through a structural system. Those who only learn a structural system understand a complex set of possibilities, but may lack form and have trouble fitting the concepts to the available space or the rhythm of the music. They spin out of control.
       These observations lead me to conclude that incomplete learning and ignorance are at least partially responsible for creating the diverging styles of Argentine tango.

      The comments on deficiencies of dancers in each style are interesting and worthy of more lengthy commentary than can be provided concisely here. However, these are indeed generalizations (and perhaps dangerous ones, at that), in that there are many exceptions. The basis for these deficiencies are undoubtedly due to the limitations of individual dancers in learning a complicated dance, but is due also to the inability of instructors to communicate the complexities of the dance to their students. One needs to take into account that most tango dancers worldwide (including in Buenos Aires) learn tango in order to participate in the dance at the recreational and social level. Not everyone is a milonoguero, a tango scholar, or a tango instructor. Even some, if not most, in the latter categories are still engaged in a learning process with respect to tango. Nevertheless, it is not necessary to have instruction in all 3 schools of tango mentioned to become an accomplished dancer in a particular style. For example, very few milongueros have explored Tango Escenario or Tango Nuevo and yet many are masters of their style (not noodlers), having good technique and improvisational abilities, as well as a good understanding of structure (in their bodies, if not in their minds) as indicated by their ability to navigate with ease on a crowded floor and to vary the tempo and intensity of their movements within the rhythmic and melodic structure of the music.

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