This post examines the characteristics of tango social dance events that are advertised or otherwise labeled as Alternative Milongas, and the Tango Alternative music that is used to elicit dancing at these events. The correlates, causes and consequences of music selection at Alternative Milongas will also be discussed.
What is an Alternative Milonga?
An Alternative Milonga is an alternative to the Traditional Milonga. Its difference is defined by the music played for dancing, although there are other correlated differences. A succinct definition of the Alternative Milonga is provided by a tango group in Humboldt County, California:
What’s an Alternative Milonga?! Well, it’s a tango social dance event where neotango, nuevo tango and contemporary tango music is played as well as some music not usually associated with tango.
The Music of the Traditional Milonga
A Traditional Milonga is a milonga where the traditional codes and customs of milongas in Buenos Aires are observed [Do Milongas Exist outside Argentina? (The Milonga Codes Revisited)]. One characteristic feature of Traditional Milongas is the music played for dancing tango, which can be (and often is) classified as:
(1) Traditional Tango: This includes classic tango music from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s designed for dancing tango (e.g., from the tango orchestras of Biagi, Calo, Canaro, D’Agostino, D’Arienzo, De Angelis, Di Sarli, Donato, Fresedo, Laurenz, Pugliese, Rodriguez, Tanturi, and Troilo). At Traditional Milongas, a small proportion (one or two tandas at most) of music from more modern tango orchestras whose recordings play in the style of orchestras from the Golden Age (e.g., Villasboas) may also be played, although this is atypical (Music Played at Milongas / Tango Social Dance Venues). In theory, this could include music from contemporary Argentine tango orchestras that play in style of tango orchestras from the Golden Age – e.g., Color Tango (Pugliese), Gente de Tango (Di Sarli), Los Reyes del Tango (D’Arienzo), and San Souci (Calo); these orchestras may play ‘en vivo’ occasionally at milongas in Buenos Aires, although the recordings of these orchestras are rarely played at a Traditional Milonga.
A Traditional Milonga in Buenos Aires will also have several sets of music that are not tango music, e.g., Tropical (mostly cumbia, some merengue or salsa), Jazz (generally American Dixieland style jazz), Rock-and-Roll (generally 1950s American rock-and-roll), and Argentine folk music (mostly Chacarera, although Paso Doble also is played sometimes). With the exception of Paso Doble, to which many dancers dance a milonga style dance, tango is not danced to these other kinds of music; rather, each genre of music has a more or less prescribed type of dancing that is clearly not tango dancing in its form. These sets of other kinds of music comprise less than 30% of the music played at a Traditional Milonga [Do Milongas Exist outside Argentina? (The Milonga Codes Revisited)]; there are also other social dance venues in Buenos Aires where tango-milonga-vals music comprises 50% or less of the music played for dancing; these are typically called ‘bailes’. At these bailes, the music played for dancing tango is still Traditional Tango music.
The Music that Characterizes an Alternative Milonga (Tango Alternative Music)
An Alternative Milonga may or may not play Traditional Tango music (see below). The alternatives to Traditional Tango music that are played at an Alternative Milonga are selected from one or more of the following music genres:
(2) Modern Tango: This includes music from ‘Post-Golden Age’ tango orchestras, such as the Pugliese orchestra after 1960, and the orchestras of Florindo Sassone, Los Solistas de Juan D’Arienzo and Hector Varela. These orchestras play a style of music that is recognizable as tango, but may either lack a clear constant tempo that facilitates dancing (e.g., Pugliese), or the tempo is too fast (Los Solistas) or the arrangements are so lush with other instrumentation that the rhythm is not clearly discernable (e.g., Sassone, Varela). Modern tango music could, in theory, include contemporary Argentine tango orchestras that play in style of tango orchestras from the Golden Age – e.g., Color Tango (Pugliese), Gente de Tango (Di Sarli), Los Reyes del Tango (D’Arienzo), and San Souci (Calo) – but (despite one’s preferences) this would not have the desired effect of offering an ‘alternative’ musical ambience for dancing. (The exception in the just mentioned orchestras would be music from Color Tango where they play in the style of the Pugliese after 1960, or play compositions of Piazzolla.) In contrast, modern tango ensembles that alter the rhythm, tempo, and instrumentation used by tango orchestras from the Golden Age, playing a mix of standard tango melodies and modern compositions more effectively meet the spirit of providing an ambience that is an alternative to classic tango music [e.g., Argentine: El Arranque, Fernandez Fierro, Carla Pugliese, (Nuevo) Quinteto Real (and other tango ensembles led by Horacio Salgan), Sexteto Mayor, Hugo Diaz (Harmonica), Trio Hugo Diaz (Uruguayan), La Tubatango; Non-Argentine: Conjunto Berretin, Mandragora Tango Orchestra, Quartango, Quintango, Sexteto Canyengue, Tango Lorca, Trio Garufa]. Music from these orchestras may or may not have a constant rhythm at a tempo suitable for dancing tango.
(3) Nuevo Tango: Although often used in a broader sense (e.g., Wikipedia), this classification is intended to apply here only to the self-labeled nuevo tango music of Astor Piazzolla from 1955 onward, a musical form containing elements of tango, European classical music, and jazz, and other orchestras playing in this style. Although some critics of tango music would claim that the music of Piazzolla is not tango, today virtually everyone with expertise in tango music would classify Piazzolla’s music as tango, albeit a different type of tango music, which Piazzolla himself did not compose for the purpose of eliciting dancing or meeting the needs of tango dancers (Goren, 2001; see also Google Books). Music played for dancing tango at an Alternative Milonga may include recordings of Piazzolla ensembles or the compositions of Piazzolla recorded by other musical groups, or music played by other orchestras that are in the style of Piazzolla, although not composed by him. Compositions of Piazzolla commonly played at Alternative Milongas include ‘Libertango’, ‘Oblivion’, and ‘Verano Porteño’.
(4) Tango Extranjero: This is tango music from other cultures such as Finland [see Finnish Tango (Tango Finlandia)], Turkey, and central and eastern Europe. This music has a tango rhythm, but generally lacks the bandoneon (typically substituted with the accordion, or may incorporate neither the bandoneon nor the accordion), and may include drums to provide rhythm. The beat may also be emphasized more in Tango Extranjero, so that it may sound staccato, a characteristic absent in the smoother tango music from Argentina (including Traditional Tango, Modern Tango, and Nuevo Tango). Notably, the music of Ballroom Tango, also foreign to Argentine culture, is not used for dancing at Alternative Milongas.
(5) Tango Fusion: This is music with some elements of tango (rhythm, melodies, and instrumentation) mixed with other musical genres. This includes such artists as Uruguayan Juan Carlos Caceres (whose music is a mixture of tango, other Latin American and African influences, as well as North American jazz), and tango-jazz fusion artists such as Pablo Aslan and Bernardo Monk. The jazz-influenced music of Horacio Salgan may also be classified as Tango Fusion, although it deviates less from Traditional Tango than the music of the other musicians mentioned here.
(6) Electrotango: This genre of music is characterized by the incorporation of tango instrumentation (i.e., the bandoneon) into various forms of electronic dance music (e.g., disco, house, techno, trance), at times using Traditional Tango melodies as a foundation, with the possible inclusion of snippets of Traditional Tango music and references to aspects of tango culture in the lyrics. Occasionally, electrotango incorporates a somewhat discernible tango rhythm (e.g., the milonga rhythm incorporated into some recordings of Otros Aires, or ‘Mi Corazon’ by Bajofondo) as part of a multi-rhythmic base, but generally electrotango music lacks the walking rhythm of Traditional Tango music. Even when a tango rhythm is present, it is typically subordinate to the more predominant rhythm(s) of electronic dance music. Popular electrotango artists included in playlists at Alternative Milongas include Gotan Project, Tanghetto, Narcotango (Carlos Libedinsky), Jaime Wilensky, Bajofondo, and Otros Aires.
(7) Non-tango: This is music that lacks the rhythm, melody, and characteristic instrumentation of tango. Non-tango music played at Alternative Milongas to elicit tango dancing varies widely, but popular artists played for such purposes include Tom Waits, Kevin Johansen, Lhasa de Sela, and Goran Begovic, as well as selected music from various genres of ‘world music’ such as samba, fado, klezmer, rembetika, flamenco and gypsy music. In practice and in theory, non-tango music played at an Alternative Milonga to elicit tango dancing could (and might) include other musical genres such as (European) classical music, jazz, new age, blues, rock-and-roll, and hip-hop.
The term ‘Neo-tango’ is commonly used as a classification for some of the music played at Alternative Milongas. It usually includes the categories of Electrotango, Tango Fusion and Non-tango listed above (Neo-tango website; Sharna Fabiano; Stephen Brown). A more inclusive term – Tango Alternative music – is designated here to include all musical genres that typically could be played as an alternative to Traditional Tango music at an Alternative Milonga.
Lists of Tango Alternative music recommended for dancing tango are provided by Sharna Fabiano, Veronika Fischer, Django Tango and TangoTales, as well as in this Tango-L post. Some recordings of Tango Alternative Music are accessible for direct playback at Tango Oasis.
Dancing to Tango Alternative Music
Here are some recordings of exhibitions of dancing labeled as tango by self-identified tango instructors, using various genres of Tango Alternative music:
(1) Homer & Cristina Ladas: ‘Oblivion’ (composition by Astor Piazzolla) [nuevo tango]
(2) Chicho Frumboli & Juana Sepulveda: ‘Borges y Paraguay’ by Bajo Fondo [electrotango]
(3) Rebecca Shulman & Nick Jones: (composition by Erik Satie) [classical music]
(4) Daniela Pucci & Luis Bianchi: [new age]
(5) Norberto “El Pulpo” Esbres & Luiza Paes [rock]
(6) Nick Jones & Diana Cruz: Lightnin’ Hopkins [blues]
(7) Dancing to Eminem [hip-hop])
There appears to be an association of dancing steps characteristic of Tango Nuevo to Tango Alternative Music.
How much Tango Alternative Music classifies a Tango Social Dance Event as an Alternative Milonga?
Clearly, a tango social event that plays only Tango Alternative music to elicit tango dancing is an Alternative Milonga, and tango social dance events of this type have existed at various tango festivals (e.g., Denver Tango Festival, Albuquerque Tango Festival, San Diego Tango Festival). There are also regular Alternative Milongas within local tango communities that play only Tango Alternative music, such as that in Washington DC, where one can
… dance to such great artists as Beyonce, Lady GaGa, Usher, Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees, Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston, the Black Eyed Peas, Bono, Nat King & Natalie Cole, Bon Jovi, Jennifer Lopez, Celine Dion, Ricky Martin, Katey Perry, Glee, Cher, James Brown, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Martha Washington, ‘The Divine Miss M’ (Bette Midler), Jennifer Hudson, ABBA, Michael Buble’, The Four Seasons, Josh Groban, Enrique Iglesias and many, many more. In the future we may also include by request, popular Middle Eastern and Bollywood dance music.
However, most Alternative Milongas play a mixture of Traditional Tango and Tango Alternative, with the proportion of each musical genre being variable. For example, the website for the Boston Alternative Milonga states:
Some of our DJs incorporate traditional tango music into their sets to varying degrees. It depends on the DJ that week and the reason why DJs differ from one milonga to the next is because we want to represent a range of tastes and traditional/alternative ratios. Sometimes there won’t be any traditional tango music though.
For this reason, Alternative Milongas generally do not list the proportion of music that is Tango Alternative.
However, for some tango social dance events playing Tango Alternative music, the proportion of Tango Alternative music to be played is clearly stated. (See: Tango Nuevo Festival Montreal). The well known CELLspace Alternative Milonga in San Francisco ‘is an on-going educational endeavor to provide a balanced 50/50 mixed music night for beginner and more experienced tango dancers to enjoy alike’; which is interpreted here as meaning 50% Traditional Tango music and 50% Tango Alternative music for dancing tango. Tango Pulse milongas in Massachusetts play 70% Traditional Tango and 30% Tango Alternative. The ¡TangoNeoSi! milonga in Bramshaw, Hampshire, England has “95% neotango tracks and 5% traditional tango tracks”. Notably, Django Tango includes ‘Siete palabras’ by the Leopoldo Federico orchestra and ‘Por una cabeza’ by the Tango Project as ‘traditional tango’, something no reputable DJ in Buenos Aires would do. Thus, it cannot be verified that the same classification of music into ‘traditional’ and ‘alternative’ categories is used at these events as is presented above.
Nevertheless, most tango social dance events advertised as Alternative Milongas do not specify the proportion of Tango Alternative music played (e.g., Eugene OR; Los Angeles; San Diego), nor can the proportion of Tango Alternative music in each subgenre (Modern Tango, Nuevo Tango, Tango Extranjero, Tango Fusion, Electrotango, Non-tango) be anticipated.
It is also quite common for a tango social dance event to be advertised simply as a ‘milonga’, without specifying whether or not Tango Alternative music is to be played. It is even possible within North America for a tango social dance event to be advertised as a Traditional Milonga, at which one ‘tanda’ of Tango Alternative music per hour may be played. In actuality, although it is the norm for milongas in Buenos Aires to play only Traditional Tango music for dancing tango, in North America and Europe today it is difficult to find a tango social dance event advertised as a ‘milonga’ that plays only (i.e, 100%) Traditional Tango music for dancing tango.
Thus, if a dancer seeks a Tango Alternative music environment for dancing, there is some uncertainty regarding the proportion of Tango Alternative music played. Likewise, if a dancer seeks a music environment where only Traditional Tango is played for dancing tango, outside Argentina there is little guarantee that such an environment can be encountered at an event advertised as a ‘milonga’, although this dancer should at least to be able to make the decision to avoid tango social dance venues that are advertised as Alternative Milongas.
Regarding the proportion of Tango Alternative music that qualifies a tango social dance event as an Alternative Milonga, one could follow the CELLspace model and set at criterion at 50% of more Tango Alternative. Given that in Buenos Aires, to be classified as a milonga a social dance event needs to play at least 70% tango music [Do Milongas Exist outside Argentina? (The Milonga Codes Revisited)], perhaps a criterion of 30% or more Tango Alternative music could classify an event as an Alternative Milonga. However, since Traditional Milongas in Buenos Aires play only Traditional Tango music, one could also argue that one requirement for classifying any tango social dance event as a Traditional Milonga is that the music played for dancing tango is 100% Traditional Tango, and thus any tango social dance event playing any Tango Alternative music for dancing tango is a candidate to be classified as an Alternative Milonga.
The Alternative Milonga and Tango Alternative Music in Buenos Aires
At some Informal Milongas and Practicas Nuevas in Buenos Aires (e.g., La Viruta, La Catedral, La Marshall, Practica X, practicas at Villa Malcolm) it is possible to hear some Tango Alternative music and observe dancers using movements characteristic of tango in dancing to this music. However, as far as can be determined from personal observation and conversation with porteños who dance tango, as well as written reports (The Tango Practica, the Practica Nueva, and the Tango Dance Party in Buenos Aires), all of this Tango Alternative music falls into the categories of Modern Tango, Nuevo Tango (Piazzolla), Tango Fusion, and Electrotango, whereas Tango Extranjero and Non-Tango music are not played for dancing tango. Notably, this Tango Alternative music appears to be almost entirely that recorded or played live by Argentine (or Uruguayan) musicians. However, even at Informal Milongas and Practicas Nuevas in Buenos Aires, the overwhelming majority of music played for dancing tango is Traditional Tango music. There have been several experiments at introducing the Alternative Milonga environment in Buenos Aires, i.e., an event where the majority of the music played for dancing tango is Tango Alternative music. It appears that these few events have been hosted by foreigners. Helen Halldorsdottir (‘La Vikinga’) from Iceland has been credited with organizing one of the first Alternative Milongas in Buenos Aires. The chronicles of a failed Alternative Milonga – Otros Buenos Aires – are reported on its website. Thus, the Alternative Milonga and the playing of Tango Alternative music are not a characteristic part of the tango social dance culture in Buenos Aires as they are in many tango communities outside Argentina.
The Origin of the Alternative Milonga
It is clear that the concept of the Alternative Milonga did not originate in Buenos Aires. It is not immediately apparent where and when the first Alternative Milonga appeared, and undoubtedly it was not called an ‘alternative milonga’ at the outset. However, there are some clues regarding its origins and early appearance. During the 1990s, as Argentine Tango was expanding its foothold in North America and Traditional Tango music was not as readily available as it is today, and few DJs were cognizant of the structure of the milonga music program in Buenos Aires (Music Played at Milongas / Tango Social Dance Venues), it was not unusual for DJs at tango social events advertised as milongas in North America to play tango music of Argentine origin or American imitations thereof that were available for purchase in local music stores. Thus, one could observe tango dancing to music such as tango show music (e.g., soundtrack from Tango Argentino), Astor Piazzolla, Hugo Diaz (harmonica), and the Tango Project, none of which was played in milongas in Buenos Aires at that time (and rarely today as well). This departure from Traditional Tango music was due to naivete, not a conscious effort to create an alternative tango aural environment.
However, the birth of Tango Alternative music as a preferred aural environment for the employment of movements associated with tango dancing quite clearly has its origins at the time of release of Gotan Project’s electrotango ‘La Revancha del Tango’ CD in 2001. The association of hip hop / techno / trance / house musical elements with musical instrumentation including a bandoneon, an instrument associated almost exclusively with tango, as well as verbal references to ‘tango’ and ‘Buenos Aires’ created what would soon become a new genre of music labeled as ‘electrotango’, The music of Gotan Project immediately became popular for dancing at events advertised as ‘milongas’ outside Argentina, most notably in North America and Europe. The Paris based ensemble and its commercial success soon stimulated Argentine progeny within this musical genre, the most notable of which have been Tanghetto, Bajofondo, Carlos Libedinsky, Jaime Wilensky and Otros Aires.
As a major influence in the establishment of Alternative Milongas, Homer Ladas started the CELLspace Alternative Milonga in San Francisco in July 2003. An Alternative Milonga had been added to the Denver Tango Festivals in 2004 (Memorial Day; Labor Day). This video appears to be from an Alternative Milonga at the 2004 Portland Tango Festival. In recent years the Alternative Milonga has become a standard part of tango festivals throughout North America. Sometimes all milongas at a tango festival include at least some Tango Alternative music intended for dancing tango.
The Rationale for Tango Alternative Music and the Alternative Milonga
Tango Alternative music for dancing tango is played sparingly at a few Informal Milongas and Practicas Nuevas in Buenos Aires. In Buenos Aires there has been no lasting tango social dance event that could be classified as an Alternative Milonga. In contrast, Tango Alternative music for dancing tango comprises, at the very least, some small proportion of music played for dancing tango at the majority of tango social dance events outside Argentina, and there are numerous tango social dance events advertised or classifiable as Alternative Milongas where 50% or more of the music played for dancing tango is Tango Alternative music. Why is there this tendency to deviate from the Buenos Aires standards of music selection in so many tango communities outside Argentina?
The rationale for playing Tango Alternative music for dancing tango is apparent from the commentary of promoters of Tango Alternative music as a medium for utilizing movements associated with tango dancing. Reproduced here are some explanatory statements supporting the playing of Tango Alternative music at tango social dance events, excerpted from a 2003 article by Sharna Fabiano entitled ‘The Rise of Neo Tango music’:
– One of the most exciting changes is a new genre of experimental tango music. Young dancers especially are dancing tango to non-Argentine music, and at the same time, contemporary tango musicians are collaborating with electronic musicians to create a hybrid sound. I call this new genre “neo tango”…
… although classical tango must and should be preserved, our era is different from the Golden Age of tango in Buenos Aires (1930s-50s). We have different musical instruments and technologies, different social venues, and different styles of dress. All of these things inspire today’s tango dancers and musicians to play and improvise in new ways.
– Creeping into the souls of enthusiasts around the globe, the tango is searching for a contemporary cultural context…. This is why modern music is so essential to effectively renew the spirit of the tango.
– This hybrid tango music strikes a chord with mass audiences, and its vibration has the potential to generate not only small gatherings of aficionados, but an international social and artistic movement.
– Until now, many have assumed that there was a natural ceiling on the growth of tango communities, perhaps because traditional music and traditional atmosphere only appeal to a small segment of today’s population. The manifestation of neo tango music in the tango world pushes against that ceiling. Young people especially are drawn by the eclectic sound and by the fun and experimental atmosphere that typically accompanies it.
– And so the contemporary tango music library is growing, and with it the allure of tango for a key portion of the 20- and 30-something demographic. The songs have the tango’s unmistakable ‘walking beat’ and the edge of the new millennia in their melodies.
Veronika Fischer from Augsburg, Germany comments:
Most people enjoy non-tango in the style they normally listen to (jazz or blues…), and non-tango is a great way of getting beginners to dance: they usually know one or the other pop-/rocksong, and find the beat more easily than in traditional tango which needs a certain amount of practice. Also, advanced dancers enjoy non-tango for the variety, and for the fact that those pieces allow to vary the dancing style.
Steve Morall from Bramshaw, Hampshire, England, in reference to non-Tango music with lyrics in English, states:
All over the world, Tango Argentino is enjoying a renaissance as an exciting and passionate partner dance and is attracting huge numbers of people to dance. As it popularity grows outside its birthplace, traditional tango music is perhaps not so well received and understood by people of other cultures. It can be too complex for a novice dancer to interpret. For dancers without a spanish-speaking heritage, the heart felt lyrics have no meaning, and a novice tango dancer will struggle with the rhythmic complexity of classic tango. In the last few years, neotango has emerged as non-argentinian tango dancers sought to express themselves with music from their own culture.
Andrew, a DJ at a Tango Alternative music practica in Portland OR points out that for people who enjoy dancing tango but don’t like Traditional Tango music, creating a predominantly Tango Alternative music environment for dancing tango, with some ‘traditional music’ played as well, gets these dancers accustomed to Traditional Tango music, which increases the likelihood that these dancers will attend other milongas, thereby “expanding the pool of dancers for traditional milongas’. (Later in this Tango-L post, some examples of traditional tango are given, and include the following: Color Tango, El Arranque, Los Reyes del Tango, Hugo Diaz on harmonica, the Hugo Diaz Trio, Sexteto Mayor, Los Coso de al Lao, La Chicana, Horacio Salgan, Florindo Sassone, music from the Forever Tango show; at best, these are modern orchestras playing in a traditional style, and most do not even meet these criteria.) Andrew also notes that “the infectious fun … that often gets infused from nontango sets comes back into tangos, and they seem a little less serious and staid.”
To summarize, Traditional Tango music does not appeal to a wide audience. Greater acceptance of tango dancing can be achieved by playing music for dancing that is more familiar to those raised outside the Argentine Tango culture. This redressing of tango within a contemporary cultural context makes it more relevant to dancers worldwide and has led to the successful propagation of tango outside Argentina.
To paraphrase, releasing Argentine Tango from the restriction of maintaining ties to its Argentine cultural heritage and history by infusing it with music from other cultures has made tango palatable for dancers unwilling or unable to understand tango as a cultural phenomenon of Argentine origin, thereby increasing its market share worldwide.
Perhaps one should ask whether the promoters of Tango Alternative culture are more accurately classified as supporters of creative artistic expression or successful entrepreneurs.
The Resistance to Tango Alternative Music
Despite the apparently appealing arguments for propagation of a tango culture that deviates significantly from its Argentine cultural origins, there do exist some tango dancers worldwide who find this cultural transformation unappealing and unacceptable.
At the simplest level, objections to playing Tango Alternative music at milongas are summarized in the following statements:
– Tango can only be danced to tango music. The music defines the dance. The music and the dance are inseparable.
The elegant simplicity of this argument is demonstrated by comparison with other dances. Can a dance be called a ‘waltz’ if the 1-2-3 rhythm of waltz is not present? Can contra dance be danced to the music of Erik Satie? Can salsa be danced to the music of James Taylor? To answer ‘yes’ to these questions would bring deserved ridicule from members of the ballroom dance, contra dance, and salsa dance communities. Nevertheless, executing steps associated with tango dancing with the music of Tom Waits playing in the background is lauded as ‘experimentation’ and ‘creativity’. The tango dance cannot be separated from tango music. If the music is not tango, the dance is not tango. It is as simple as that. When viewed within this logical structure, the assertion that tango can be danced to non-tango music is inherently and blatantly absurd.
– Tango dancing is part of a culture that defines the dance.
In Argentina, at the milongas tango is danced to Traditional Tango music, even at the Informal Milongas and Practicas Nuevas. (Non-tango music is not used for tango dancing at tango social dance events in Buenos Aires.) One is not dancing Argentine Tango unless one accepts the characteristics of the dance defined by the Argentine culture that generated it.
Even if one believes that it is possible to dance tango within a social environment to any kind of music other than Traditional Tango music, one is not dancing Argentine Tango, but some cultural artifact created by a non-Argentine culture. This is recognized in Ballroom Tango and Finnish Tango; these dance genres are not claimed to be ‘Argentine Tango’. Since the milonga is a cultural product of the Argentine Tango culture, calling any event a ‘milonga’ in which tango is danced to music other than Traditional Tango music is a misrepresentation of the Argentine Tango culture and a misappropriation of the term ‘milonga’ [Do Milongas Exist outside Argentina? (The Milonga Codes Revisited)].
– Playing Tango Alternative music to attract people to tango dancing attracts people who like Tango Alternative music and provides no guarantee that these people will eventually like Traditional Tango for dancing.
Since tango is a difficult dance to learn and there is a low beginner retention rate, tango communities are in a constant state of recruitment, so this institutionalizes the playing of Tango Alternative music as a core modus operandi of tango communities outside Argentina. Instead of Tango Alternative music becoming a bridge to Traditional Tango it becomes a somewhat equal or perhaps even dominant partner in the palate of selectable music for dancing. This acceptance of Tango Alternative music as a medium for expression of movements associated with tango reinforces the notion that tango music is not required for dancing tango.
Objections to playing Tango Alternative music for dancing tango have been expressed by other tango dancers.
Argentine Oliver Kolker, tango dancer and instructor, in a blog post called ‘Dancing to Non Tango Music’ states:
In my personal life I very much enjoy listening to Gotan Project. Do I connect with the music to dance to it? NO. But that is me. I don’t connect and, in my case, I know why. Because for me tango emanates from the music, with its roots attached to the meter and beats of the main harmony of Tango. … I feel uncomfortable moving, embracing, and walking to a different type of Music that is not Tango….
It is simply a cultural thing. I’ve sometimes heard people in NYC say “I hate Tango Music, but I love the Dance.” It may be because they appreciate the movement without comprehending the music. To me this is baffling being that I believe the dance, itself, springs from the music.
Likewise, from a post entitled ‘The Signature of Tango’ on the ‘In Search of Tango’ blog:
Classical tango music is the signature of tango. It is created and developed with tango and for tango. People recognize it and associate it with the dance when they hear it. There is a sentimental attachment between the two. In reality tango dance and classical tango music are two aspects of one thing called Argentine tango, inseparable as body and soul. The fact that tango can be danced to other musics doesn’t mean it can remain intact when so danced. One may dance tango to the music of Beijing opera, but that will not be tango. Alternative music from different cultural background does not have the same rhythmic structure and sentimental richness of the classical tango music, which is passionate, multi-layered, manifold, changeful, deep and moody, allowing the freedom to interpret and improvise. Any music sharing the same rhythmic structure and sentimental richness will be recognized as tango and not alternative music. By definition, alternative music is the music that lacks the structural and sentimental depth of tango, and therefore is not the best music for tango dancing. It only appeals to beginners deficient in good taste and musicality or weird dudes seeking novelty, and those who choose to pander to their taste in order to make money.
Alternative Nomenclature for the Milonga Alternative
Given that playing Traditional Tango music for dancing tango is a core characteristic of tango social dance venues in Buenos Aires, not only for the Traditional Milonga, but also for the Informal Milonga and Practica Nueva, and that playing non-Tango music for dancing tango is essentially nonexistent at tango social dance events in Buenos Aires, the labeling of events where a significant part of the music played for dancing tango is not Traditional Tango music (or sometimes tango music of any kind) as an ‘Alternative Milonga’ is an oxymoron, whereas in fact a tango social dance event of this type would be labeled more appropriately as an ‘alternative to a milonga’ or a ‘milonga alternative’. However, even the inclusion of the term ‘milonga’ within the same phrase as the term ‘alternative’ provides some legitimacy to such an event as being representative of Argentine Tango culture, whereas in fact there is gross misrepresentation. Thus, different terminology would be appropriate for labeling such events. Perhaps the most direct and unambiguous terminology would be ‘Tango Alternative Music Dance’, but this verbosity would place significant constraints upon those texting or using Twitter to promote an event of this type; thus, a more concise verbal construction would be preferable. The term ‘bilonga’ has been used to describe an Alternative Milonga in Eugene OR, but this terminology is not widespread. However, a more widespread substitute terminology for the Alternative Milonga used in Europe is ‘neolonga’ (Vienna; Munich; Nottingham, England).
In not explicitly incorporating the term ‘milonga’, ‘neolonga’ is a preferred alternative to ‘alternative milonga’ and its usage is encouraged in North America to further differentiate this type of dance event from a Milonga, where movements associated with tango are danced to tango music, as is the custom in Buenos Aires.
Further development of the Neolonga concept is provided by the Tanguerilla enterprise based in Bremen, Germany, that travels to provide the following service to tango dancers:
the neolonga »tanguerilla« merges lights, neotango.beats and roomfilling, 360° videoprojections to a fascinating audiovisual tango production for couples, solo-dancers und non-dancers. you will become an acting, integrated part of the virtual environment.
Summary and Conclusion
In Traditional Milongas in Buenos Aires, only Traditional Tango music (classic tango from the Golden Age and modern tango music in the same style) are played for dancing tango. In Informal Milongas and Practicas Nuevas the overwhelming majority of music played for dancing tango is also Traditional Tango, with a small percentage of Modern Tango, Nuevo Tango (Piazzolla), Tango Fusion, or Electrotango possible. Non-tango music is not played to elicit tango dancing in Buenos Aires tango social dance venues.
Outside Argentina, particularly in North America and Europe, Tango Alternative music (Modern Tango, Nuevo Tango, Tango Fusion, Electrotango, Tango Extranjero, and Non-tango) is more commonly played to elicit tango dancing. Some tango social dance events, called Alternative Milongas (mostly North America) or neolongas (more common in Europe) play a significant proportion of Tango Alternative music, perhaps 50% or more, for the purpose of eliciting tango dancing. This trend is relatively recent (existing less than 10 years) and can be traced to the success of the electrotango ensemble Gotan Project, which stimulated further development of electrotango musical ensembles, as well as a widened interest in Tango Alternative music in general.
The playing of Tango Alternative music is associated with dancing Tango Nuevo. It is also associated with a more casual style of dress at tango social dance events. These changes in the characteristics of tango social dance venues are favored by younger dancers.
The successful propagation of Tango Alternative music in general and the Alternative Milonga in particular, especially in North America and Europe, is attributed to the greater palatability of Tango Alternative music for dancers who have not found the Traditional Tango music to their liking, at least not initially. Thus, the employment of movements associated with tango to Tango Alternative music has become an integral part of tango culture outside Argentina. This reinforces the belief that tango music is not needed for dancing tango and the use of Tango Alternative music as bait for attracting new dancers serves to attract dancers who do not like Traditional Tango music.
Since in Buenos Aires milongas do not play Non-tango music for dancing tango and no tango social dance event plays a majority of Tango Alternative music, the term Alternative Milonga is an oxymoron and should be replaced by another term. The term ‘neolonga’ is used in Europe for social dance events of this type and using this terminology would clarify the distinction between the Traditional Milonga where Traditional Tango music is played for dancing tango, as is done in Buenos Aires, from the foreign cultural creation – an event where movements associated with tango dancing are used when non-tango music is playing in the background.
References in Print
Gorin, Natalio (2001)- Astor Piazzolla: A Memoir. Translated, annotated, and expanded by Fernando Gonzalez. Amadeus Press. Portland, Oregon.