The Representation and Misrepresentation of Tango in Website Images in North America

In the 21st century in North America (USA and Canada) and in other first world countries in general, the growth and characteristics of tango communities are impacted to a significant degree by information obtained from the internet. In the previous post, it was demonstrated that the genre of tango most commonly viewed in the video form on the popular YouTube website is not the Tango de Salon of the milongas of Buenos Aires, but rather some form of Exhibition Tango or Ballroom Tango. YouTube is often consulted by those naïve about tango in an effort to gain information about the characteristics of the tango dance. For those who seek instruction in tango, an instructor in the local community is typically sought, and an internet search is a common (perhaps most common) means of acquiring information regarding the availability of tango instructors and the tango dance they teach. The websites maintained by tango instructors provide visual images (photographs and videos) of tango dancing and, at times, audio clips of tango music. To the extent that the dance instruction provided is consistent with the website images, these websites are representative of the characteristics of tango dancing that is taught in a community. The audio tracks also give an insight into what kind of music is deemed as appropriate for dancing tango and may indicate the kind of music played at tango social dance events advertised as milongas that are held by the instructors hosting the website.

The goal of this post is to examine the tango websites in the largest cities in North America (the United States and Canada), to gain an impression of the characteristics of tango as a dance that are represented in visual images (photographs and videos), and to determine the degree to which Tango de Salon, the tango of the milongas of Buenos Aires, is taught by local tango instructors. Also, where possible, the type of music used to represent tango and the type of music played at events advertised as milongas will be examined to determine the degree to which the tango music coincides with the music played for dancing tango in the milongas of Buenos Aires (Music Played at Milongas / Tango Social Dance Venues).

Tango Website Selection Strategy

Objective criteria for website selection and examination were developed. The intent was to select websites in the largest urban areas in North America. A choice was available to search urban areas based on defined geographic boundaries (a ‘city’) or on the basis of ‘metropolitan areas’. Because metropolitan areas are not consistently defined and their reported populations are not always in agreement (Wikipedia), the search was based on cities, even though the metropolitan area, in theory, reflects more accurately the population conglomeration. This search strategy obviously underrepresents large urban areas such as ‘twin cities’ (e.g., Dallas – Fort Worth and Minneapolis – Saint Paul). The cities selected for search were those in the United States and Canada that had a population greater than one million in their most recent census. For the United States, cities meeting this criterion in the 2010 census were: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego and Dallas. For Canada, cities meeting this criterion in the 2011 census were: Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary.

Google was used as the search engine. It was assumed that an individual conducting a search would be seeking tango instruction in group classes, and would use the following keywords in this process: ‘tango (name of city)’. Websites identified under this search criterion were reviewed for further evaluation, in the order of presentation in the Google search. Excluded from review were websites that were community websites (providing information on several instructors), because this type of website typically only provides a calendar of events and rarely provides in its visual images a clear portrayal of the genre of tango promoted in tango instruction. Also excluded were websites that did not provide information on group tango instruction (in theory, the method of adding the most new dancers to a community), and websites displaying neither photographs representing tango dancing nor videos of actual tango dancing. Also excluded were websites that offered instruction only in Ballroom Tango.

For each city, the first tango website encountered (in the order provided by Google) meeting the inclusion criteria was evaluated with respect to whether the visual information portrayed represented Tango de Salon or Exhibition Tango (Tango Styles, Genres and Individual Expression: Part I – A Rationale for Classification by Niche Adaptation). An example of Tango de Salon is the style of dancing tango shown in this video of a milonga in Buenos Aires. An example of Exhibition Tango is the dancing shown in this video. On the tango websites, Tango de Salon was identified by a couple in an embrace walking, with the feet maintained on the floor, to the rhythm of classic tango music (videos only). Exhibition Tango was identified by the presentation of dramatic poses, lifting feet off the floor, or the wrapping of the legs around the body of the partner. The information presented in these tango website visual images provides insight as to whether Tango de Salon or Exhibition Tango is the primary representation of tango in the largest cities in North America. To the extent that was possible, information provided on tango instruction was compared to the photo and video images to determine whether the visual images were an accurate representation of the instructional material offered through the website. Also noted was the use of terminology regarding the classification of the tango represented on the website (e.g., Tango de Salon, Tango Milonguero, Tango Nuevo, Stage Tango). Audio clips of tango music, either as a background for web pages or as the music to which tango is danced in video recordings also provides information as to whether these websites promote dancing tango to classic tango music or to Tango Alternative music. Information provided on the type of music offered at milongas is also reported to present a more complete picture of the type of music promoted for tango social dance events.

Results of Website Searches

Websites selected for evaluated are presented below in the order of decreasing city population.

(1) New York: Triangulo Dance Studio

The photograph at the top of the page shows what appears to be a milonga scene with couples in various types of embrace and movement, from those characteristic of Tango Milonguero to those characteristic of Stage Tango. Below this are 3 photos rotating in Flash on the home page. The milonga scene shows most dancers clearly in a Tango Milonguero embrace. Another photo shows a couple, apparently giving a demonstration, in the same style of embrace. In contrast, photos on the instructor page depict several poses characteristic of Stage Tango. A video link labeled as ‘traditional tango’ shows Triangulo Artistic Director and main instructor Carina Moeller in a performance repeatedly lifting her feet high off the floor in kicking and leg wrapping movements that, if performed in a milonga in Buenos Aires, could result in a warning or possible ejection from a milonga. This is Tango Fantasia, not Tango de Salon. None of the videos referenced on the Performances page show dancing that would be considered appropriate as social dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires.

Triangulo offers an extensive array of group tango classes at the beginner, advanced beginner, pre-intermediate, intermediate, and advanced levels. Information regarding the style of tango or type of embrace taught is somewhat vague. However, ganchos and boleos (altitude and orientation not mentioned) are introduced into the curriculum at the pre-intermediate level, and volcadas and colgadas (off balance movements characteristic of Tango Nuevo) are introduced at the intermediate level. Notably, at the intermediate / advanced level it is stated that “Each four-week series will be taught by a guest instructor, creating an environment where you will be exposed to a wide variety of styles and techniques. This allows you, at the advanced level, to further develop your personal style while gaining a deeper understanding of the elements of Argentine tango.” It is not clear if one of the elements of understanding achieved is the difference between dancing appropriate for social dancing at a milonga and dancing appropriate for exhibition. Thus, what appears to be offered as tango by this website in its visual images (and apparently in its instruction) is an undifferentiated mix of Tango de Salon and Exhibition Tango.

(2) Los Angeles: A Puro Tango

There are 2 photos from a sponsored milonga rotating in Flash on the home page. One has the caption ‘A piece of Buenos Aires in L.A.’ Both show most dancers clearly in a Tango Milonguero embrace. At the time of publication of this post, there was a photo on the home page advertising a tango performance at an upcoming milonga by Claudio Villagra & Romina Levin (shown in a stage tango pose), from the tango stage production ‘Forever Tango’. The advertisement also mentions there will be ‘classic tango music for social dancing’ at the milonga. Below this is a photograph of soon-to-be-visiting tango instructors Gustavo Benzecry & Maria Olivera, showing them in a closed embrace with Maria in an off balance forward leaning position (‘apilado’) that would not be used in the milongas of Buenos Aires, although the subtlety of this deviation of axis would most likely be missed by those naïve about tango.

On the video page, the first video clip has two demonstrations at a milonga by Maxi Copello & Nadia Johnson, both performed to classic tango music (Fresedo and Donato). The first demo is, for the most part, a rendition of Tango Estilo del Barrio (often promoted as Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza), with the movements (but not the use of floor space) suitable for a low density milonga dance floor. (The applause of the audience identifies some of the parts of the demo that deviate from acceptable social dancing at a milonga.) In contrast, the second demo, with more movements executed after the embrace has been opened and containing more movements by Nadia above the dance floor, as well as a gancho and a lift and a quebrada at the end, contain elements characteristics of Tango Fantasia. The second video is demonstration by Gustavo Benzecry Saba & Maria Olivera at a milonga, performed to live music that emulates classic tango music, in which Gustavo & Maria do a showy accelerated rendition of milonga con traspie, rich in ornamentation, the movements of which would be acceptable for the most part if performed at a normal speed, but which would be disqualified as appropriate for social tango dancing in a milonga in Buenos Aires on the basis of its showiness, because of the high speed of performance (and the excessive use of ornamentation).

Information on instructor Linda Valentino’s group classes states ‘No tricks, no lifts, no drops, no show steps. Just good social tango, as it’s danced in the clubs of Buenos Aires.’ However, this is not the type of tango represented consistently in the videos of tango demonstrations, as well as in some of the photographs of tango dancing on the home page. Thus, the visual images of tango dancing may give a person naïve about tango misleading expectations regarding the material taught in group classes

(3) Chicago: Dance Tango Chicago

On the home page of this website the viewer is greeted with a photograph of a woman executing a high boleo. The majority of the photos in the photo gallery are dramatic poses characteristic of Exhibition Tango. The video page includes videos of two demonstrations. The first video has instructors Raul Cabral & Agape Pappas dance in Estilo Tango Milonguero, although the music (Pugliese: A Evaristo Carriego) is rarely played for social dancing at a milonga in Buenos Aires. The second video is another demonstration by Raul & Agape that, with the exception of several high boleos by Agape, is a representative example of Tango Milonguero appropriate for dancing at a milonga, danced to milonga appropriate classic tango music by Fresedo.

There is little definitive information available on this website regarding the style(s) of tango taught. The only photo on the Tango Classes page is of a couple connected at arm’s length, which is not characteristic of Tango de Salon. In its overall presentation, this website presents, at best, an incomplete and ambiguous portrayal of tango.

(4) Toronto: Movement Invites Movement

The title of this webpage is ‘Traditional Argentine Tango Classes in Toronto by MIM Tango’.

There is one photograph on the home page, at the top, that of the instructors Jani & Kristina Autio in an (enclosed) embrace. On the home page there is also a video with a style of dancing (movement from closed embrace to opening for turns, liberal use of embellishments) that closely resembles Tango Estilo del Barrio; the music, classic tango music from the 1940s (appears to be Troilo with Floreal Ruiz singing), is not usually played at milongas in Buenos Aires. (It lacks a clear, consistent rhythm.)

On the video page, there are three recordings of demonstrations given by the instructors. In the two most recent videos, in Saskatoon, Canada and in Seoul, Korea, Jani & Kristina dance in a maintained (enclosed) embrace throughout the demonstrations; in the third (oldest) demonstration at the University of Toronto, there are a few times in the dance where the embrace is opened to accommodate turns. With a few exceptions (where Kristina lifts her feet off the floor, extended wide radius calesitas) the dance is characteristic of social tango dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires, in particular Tango Estilo del Barrio rather than Tango Estilo del Centro, because of the upright posture, opening the embrace for turns, insertion of foot paradas, and extensive use of pauses and ornamentation. The music used for dancing in the videos (two by DiSarli, one by D’arienzo) is classic tango music that is played in the milongas of Buenos Aires. In their description of their teaching, Jani & Kristina emphasize that they dance and teach the tango danced socially in the traditional milongas of Buenos Aires.

With the exception of a few showy elements sparsely inserted into the demonstrations, this website is fairly consistent in representing tango as danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires and the music used there for dancing tango socially.

(5) Houston: Baires Tango

This website promotes tango as danced in the downtown milongas of Buenos Aires: ‘our rhythmic and elegant style in close embrace…. The emphasis in the BairesTango classes is on connection to music and partner’. This is a clear reference to the Tango Estilo Milonguero variant of Tango de Salon. The instructors are Argentine and emphasize their experience dancing in the downtown milongas of Buenos Aires. There are two photos at the top of the home page showing couples dancing in an enclosed embrace. The descriptions of instructional material in group classes are consistent with the characteristics of Tango Milonguero, emphasizing improvisation and navigation at the milonga. The photos on the instructional page also show tango danced in an enclosed embrace. There are two videos accessible directly from the instruction page, one with footage from tango group classes showing, for the most part, dancing Tango Estilo Milonguero to classic tango music. The other video is a composite of fragments of dancing recorded during a demonstration at an Argentine Bicentennial celebration. The music provided is classic tango (Calo), but given the lack of synchrony between rhythm and movement, does not appear to be the music danced to in the demonstration. Although the home page and video of instruction suggest that Tango Estilo Milonguero is promoted, the embrace, posture and opening of the embrace shown in the demonstration video is more characteristic of Tango Estilo del Barrio that, with the exception of the women lifting her feet off of the floor a few times during adornments, is still mostly acceptable Tango de Salon

There is also a video page including videos of tango social dancing in traditional milongas, mostly near downtown Buenos Aires.

However, there are also some mixed messages communicated in the photographs on the home page. There is a photo of Carlos Gavito holding a woman in an off-axis lean, sometimes classified as an ‘apilado’ posture. This off-axis posture is characteristic of Stage Tango, for which Gavito was a renowned representative, but not of Tango Milonguero (Is Tango Apildao Equivalent to Tango Milonguero?), so there is some inconsistency here. There is also a photograph on the home page of Fernandez Fierro Orchestra, the music of which is not played at milongas in Buenos Aires due to lack of a clear and regular rhythm. However, these subtleties probably would not be apparent to the tango novice.

(6) Montreal: Tango Fabrika

Upon entering the home page, the viewer will hear music that has been classified as tango (the music changes with each loading of the home page), including classic tango music by Biagi, but also music by Piazzolla or electrotango, the latter two types of music not played for social tango dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires. The photograph on the home page shows a couple dancing connected at arm’s length, which is not characteristic of Tango de Salon. On the (English) entry page, there is a ‘Welcome to Tango Fabrika / New Generation of Argentine Tango’ greeting. There is an image of what appears to be the cover of a DVD, showing a couple engaged in a position more characteristic of martial arts than tango; the associated video link, labeled as a ‘tango’ demonstration is a series of gyrations with some acrobatics (and few movements characteristic of tango social dancing) with non-tango music played in the background; the movements of the couple are mostly independent of the rhythm of the music. On the Tango Fabrika Artists page, there are photographs of instructors in Exhibition Tango poses. On the information page there is also an advertisement of ‘neo-milongas (dance evenings)’, where 30% modern music is played, presumably for dancing tango. On their ‘About us’ page, this tango school is honest in stating their emphasis on Tango Nuevo:

Tango Fabrika has
– new pedagogy that, while drawing from traditional Argentine tango, allows a freedom of creative expression and a more flexible, open and athletic style.
– the only school in Montreal playing electronic Nuevo and alternative music during our milongas

A brief intro to Tango Nuevo

The Argentine Tango is renowned for its sensuality, passion, beauty and romance – a reputation fuelled by its images of couples dancing cheek-to-cheek in a tight embrace. It is also constantly evolving. Since the 1990s, a reinvigorated form of the dance – the Tango Neuvo – has been taking the world by storm. Young people are increasingly attracted by its youthful, athletic style and the electronic and alternative beats of Nuevo groups like Gotan Project, Narcotango and Bajofondo Tango Club.

What this website does not communicate is that Tango Nuevo is not a genre of dancing adapted for social dancing, i.e., at milongas (Is Tango Nuevo Compatible with Tango de Salon at the same Milonga?).

(7) Philadelphia: Philadelphia Argentine Tango School

The home page contains a photo of a couple in an Exhibition Tango pose, with the woman wrapping her leg around the man’s waist. The photo page contains a variety of photos, from milonga scenes with couples in an embrace or dancing in an open frame to poses characteristic of Exhibition Tango. There are over 20 videos on the video page. All are demonstrations by school instructors Andres Amarilla, Meredith Klein & Damian Lobato, heavily laced with elements of Tango Nuevo; none show dancing that would be acceptable as social dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires (Is Tango Nuevo compatible with Tango de Salon at the same Milonga?); many use music for dancing that is outside of the classic tango music genre that is played for dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires. The description of classes is uninformative to the tango neophyte, but topic labels such as colgadas, back sacadas, and soltadas indicate a promotion of the Tango Nuevo displayed in the website videos. However, there are no descriptions on this website to inform the potential student that this tango school promotes Tango Nuevo; the website fails to make a distinction between Tango Nuevo and Tango de Salon, with the latter not clearly visible on this website.

(8) Phoenix: Learn to Dance Tango

The photo of instructors David Liu & Nancy Solano on the home page is ambiguous because it shows only the heads of the tango partners. However, the nose-to-nose contact is uncharacteristic of Tango de Salon. The photo gallery shows mostly poses characteristic of Exhibition Tango. The video page shows student performances consisting largely of Exhibition Tango poses danced to non-tango music or Piazzolla. The videos of class instruction show students dancing without embracing, often using movements characteristic of Exhibition Tango. The videos of the instructors dancing is perhaps best described as using steps characteristic of Tango Estilo del Barrio without entering into an embrace. The music played in the videos may or may not be the classic tango music played for dancing tango in the milongas of Buenos Aires.

A deeper investigation of the video tutorials reveals that the instructors do differentiate among styles and genres of tango. There is a section of videos dedicated to ‘performing’. There is also a small section of videos dedicated to ‘close embrace’. The ‘Orientation to Close Embrace’ video begins with the instructor’s reservations about dancing tango in ‘close embrace’, which eventually progresses to a somewhat restrained (‘sometimes’) endorsement of this type of tango. Throughout the set of videos on tango in ‘close embrace’, it is mentioned repeatedly that certain movements are ‘difficult’. In contrast, a perusal of the videos teaching movements executed in an open frame finds the instructors describing the movements as ‘fun’.

Apparently lacking on this website is any mention that in the milongas of Buenos Aires, almost all dancers maintain an enclosed embrace throughout a tango dance.

(9) San Antonio: Tango in San Antonio

This website does not provide a lot of written information regarding the instructors’ teaching program or dance style. No mention is made of differing genres of tango, adapted for the stage or for the milonga (Tango Styles, Genres and Individual Expression: Part I – A Rationale for Classification by Niche Adaptation). The single photo on the Biography page shows instructors Angela Avila & Roy Montejano dancing in an enclosed embrace that appears to be within the range of stylistic variation of Tango de Salon. The single photo on the Lessons page shows the instructors connected at arm’s length. The Media and Shows page suggests the instructors are involved in giving frequent tango performances. The instructor videos vary from what could be considered mostly Tango Estilo del Barrio to Exhibition Tango. Notably, all instructor videos show dancing to classic tango music, with a strong preference for Calo.

(10) San Diego: Tangoessence

On the home page of this website instructor Linda Garwood states ‘Argentine Tango in San Diego – Traditional Salon and Milonguero Style – Strictly social tango instruction’. The website viewer is invited to ‘watch video traditional social tango’, a recording of the World Salon Tango Competition that is held in Buenos Aires annually. The style of tango shown is Tango Estilo del Barrio with elaborate footwork, generally considered appropriate for milongas in Buenos Aires under low floor density, as may occur in neighborhood milongas (Tango de Salon: The Tango of the Milonga). However, competitions are not the environment is which Tango de Salon has evolved and although the highly ornamented dancing would be considered appropriate under some milonga conditions, the portrayal is misleading in that the character of Tango de Salon is not to be ostentatious and competitive, but rather to express the music in a close connection with one’s partner (See The Essence of Tango Argentino and Tango Milonguero: Improvised Expression of Music through Movement in a Shared Embrace). The photo gallery has photos of guest instructors hosted in San Diegeo and includes such milongueros as Ruben Harymbat, Alberto Dassieu, Cacho Dante, and Pedro (Tete) Rusconi. However, some other photographs (#s 3, 7 & 12) depict movements uncharacteristic of Tango de Salon. On the video page, the first video (Linda Garwood & Andres Bravo) is a mostly traditional expression of Tango de Salon (Estilo del Barrio), as is the demonstration in Balboa Park; however, other videos included on this page include demonstrations incorporating socially inappropriate movements such as high boleos, volcadas, ganchos and enganches. The music danced to in these demonstrations is all classic tango music that is played in the milongas of Buenos Aires.

The ‘Class Schedule’ page states:

Strictly Social Tango
Tango salon is defined as Argentine tango danced in a social context. There are two main styles with the vocabulary and technique for proper execution on the social dance floor; by proper I mean easy to keep along line of dance and save to execute on a crowded dance floor.
I choose to teach strictly social tango with a close embrace, with emphasis on connection and musicality…. I teach both the Milonguero and Salon Tango(Villa Urquiza)…

There is a clear emphasis on teaching Tango de Salon on this website, but some of the photographs and videos are misleading in demonstrating characteristics of tango are inappropriate for the milonga environment.

(11) Dallas: Evolution Tango

At the top of the home page, there is a frame that rotates 4 photographs, the first of instructors George & Jairelbhi Furlong in a dramatic stage pose (upper body only), the second and fourth advertising the stage tango production ‘Identidad’ in which George & Jairelbhi perform, and the third of one of their group tango classes (where all couples appear to be connected in an opened position). Below this there is a video advertising ‘Identidad (This is Tango Now)’, showing segments of stage tango and other dancing mixed with dramatics and acrobatics (characteristic of most contemporary tango stage productions), with the Piazzolla composition Hora Zero playing in the background. On the video page, the first video is a stage tango style exhibition danced to a recording from the contemporary tango orchestra El Arranque, music that is not played in the milongas of Buenos Aires. The second video is from class instruction on the use of volcadas with boleos, which describes in detail the characteristics of being ‘off balance’ in these movements. Off balance movements such as volcadas are considered inappropriate for use in the milongas of Buenos Aires. Only the last video, a demonstration of milonga, falls within the acceptable range of variation for Tango de Salon in the milongas of Buenos Aires.

The instructors’ stated teaching philosophy is

Our style of dancing is Salon Tango…. We enjoy both the performance, or stage tango, and social dancing. In the majority of our classes we emphasize social dancing (we also have a performance class which focuses on stage techniques)… All of this within the basic elements of what Argentine Tango is: the embrace, elegance, the walk, and the rhythm of the music.

They then reference the video on volcadas (not a characteristic of Tango de Salon) as an example of their teaching. The photographic and video images on this website emphasize overwhelmingly Exhibition Tango, not Tango de Salon, and no explanation is given of the difference between these two very different genres of tango. This website primarily promotes the host instructors as tango stage performers, with few visual images of Tango de Salon provided for prospective students of tango.

(12) Calgary: Club Tango Argentino

Obtaining information from this website about the genre of tango promoted is difficult. There is a single photo on the home page, showing a couple in a stage tango pose. The photo page has photos hidden behind an index listing of events. When accessing the photos for an event, they mostly show event attendees in non-dancing situations. When reviewing the few photos with dancing, there is a mix of embraces, but a preponderance of what appears to be an embrace characteristic of Tango Milonguero. A review of the invited instructors indicates a consistent interest in Tango de Salon / Tango Milonguero (Enrigueta Kleinman, Alberto Dassieu, Susana Miller). However, overall this website in non-informative regarding the characteristics of tango promoted.

Overview

Tango websites were selected for review based on the population of cities over 1 million in the United States and Canada. This, off course, does not select the cities (or metropolitan areas) with the largest populations of tango dancers, the latter being a quantity that cannot be accurately estimated. Certainly cities (listed alphabetically) such as Boston, Denver, Minneapolis – St Paul, Portland OR, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver BC and Washington DC which do not meet the urban population criterion, have very active tango communities. The websites selected for review also were not the only tango websites in these cities and it is unclear whether higher position in a Google search is correlated with the number of dancers associated with the activities advertised in each website. Nevertheless, the 12 tango websites selected on the basis of city population and Google search priority provide a cross-sectional perspective on the way tango as a dance and tango music for dancing are presented to those naïve about tango. Tango websites are often the gateway for new dancers to explore tango and join a community and their expectations are undoubtedly shaped by the visual and auditory images presented on these websites. Those wanting to learn tango are, in virtually all cases, seeking to learn tango as a social dance rather than as a performance dance and therefore the presentation of tango as a social dance is an issue legitimately subject to evaluation.

In the milongas of Buenos Aires, with rare exceptions, porteños dance tango to classic tango music, connected to each other in a maintained enclosed embrace (perhaps opened momentarily for turns), keeping the feet close to the floor. This review of North American tango websites examined the degree to which this Tango de Salon is accurately portrayed.

Among the websites examined, ‘Movement Invites Movement’ (Toronto) provides an informative, unambiguous, and accurate representation of Tango de Salon, deviating only in a few instances with feet-off-the-floor and wide radius movements in the demonstrations shown in the videos. The ‘Baires Tango’ (Houston) website also strongly promotes Tango de Salon, deviating from this in a photograph seen upon entering the home page, depicting a Stage Tango pose, and in one of the recorded demonstrations that incorporates some elements of Tango Fantasia. The ‘A Puro Tango’ (Los Angeles) and ‘Tangoessence’ (San Diego) websites also promote Tango de Salon, particularly in the classes offered by the local instructors; however, this message is distorted by videos of demonstrations that incorporate numerous elements of Exhibition Tango, thus contradicting the emphasis placed on Tango de Salon in descriptions of teaching.

At the other end of the tango stylistic spectrum, there are several tango websites from major North American cities that clearly promote tango that falls outside the realm of acceptable social dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires. Although Tango Nuevo and Stage Tango are similar in appearance in many respects, they are different genres of tango (Is Tango Nuevo a Form of Stage Tango?). The ‘Evolution Tango’ (Dallas) website clearly promotes Stage Tango and the instructors hosting the website even teach classes in Stage Tango. The deception appears to be in advertising instruction in Salon Tango; the tango of the milongas of Buenos Aires (Tango de Salon) is minimally visible in the visual images presented on this website.

The ‘Tango Fabrika’ (Montreal) website is straightforward in identifying the genre of tango promoted as Tango Nuevo; this website also clearly promotes non-tango music for dancing tango at its ‘neo-milongas’. In contrast, the ‘Philadelphia Argentine Tango School‘ consistently presents visual images of Tango Nuevo dancing in its video recordings and photographs, without differentiating Tango Nuevo, which is unacceptable for dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires, from Tango de Salon, the range of stylistic variation that is acceptable social tango dancing (Is Tango Nuevo Compatible with Tango de Salon at the Same Milonga?).

Learn to Dance Tango‘ (Phoenix) offers some instruction in ‘close embrace’ tango, but its advertisement is less than enthusiastic and there is an obvious preference for promoting tango danced without an embrace, much of it containing elements of exhibition tango.

The ‘Triangulo Dance Studio‘ (New York) clearly offers instruction in tango that contains many elements of Exhibition Tango (i.e., they are not teaching a repertoire of movements consistent with Tango de Salon), but does not label it as such. The videos provided are consistent with an emphasis on Exhibition Tango.

Dance Tango Chicago‘ provides conflicting images of tango – exhibition tango in some visual images, mostly tango estilo milonguero in the videos of the instructors dancing. There is insufficient information provided regarding what is taught in group classes and no distinction is made between the different niches for which exhibition tango and social tango are adapted (Tango Styles, Genres and Individual Expression: Part I – A Rationale for Classification by Niche Adaptation). ‘Club Tango Argentino‘ (Calgary) provides some evidence in photographs that visiting instructors who teach Tango Milonguero have been invited, but again no distinction is made between social tango and exhibition tango and no information is available on what style of tango is taught in group classes by local instructors. The  ‘Tango in San Antonio‘ website gives no indication that Tango de Salon is taught by the instructors hosting this website.

Summary

For someone naïve about tango seeking tango instruction, an internet search is a common method of finding tango instruction in one’s city of residence. An examination of the highest Google-ranked tango websites in the 12 largest cities in North American were examined with respect to the accuracy of information presented regarding tango. Because people seeking tango instruction are interested in dancing tango in a social setting (as opposed to training for tango exhibitions), the gold standard for accuracy utilized is the tango danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires, i.e., Tango de Salon. Although it is clear that some websites offer instruction in Tango de Salon (Toronto: Movement Invites Movement, Houston: Baires Tango, Los Angeles: A Puro Tango, San Diego: Tangoessence), even on these website visual images of Tango de Salon are mixed with visual images from Exhibition Tango. On most of the remaining websites examined, Exhibition Tango is clearly promoted at the expense of Tango de Salon. (The Dance Tango Chicago website presents conflicting images – Exhibition Tango is prominently displayed in photographs and Tango de Salon in videos; Club Tango Argentino (Calgary) appears to promote Tango Milonguero to some degree, but is mostly noninformative.) The visual images presented, prominently displaying Exhibition Tango, create expectations for new students of tango, and it appears (from some of the videos of students’ dancing provided) that the expectations of finding instruction in and learning Exhibition Tango are met. Although the websites examined here are a small sample of all the tango websites in North America and represent only a small proportion of tango instruction given, the selection criteria of highest population cities and highest Google ranking place these websites and the tango instruction offered in a prominent position. It also appears that visual images of tango dancing provided by these websites are representative of the overall tango social dancing landscape in North America. Thus, what is promoted and danced as social tango (i.e., the tango danced at events advertised as milongas) in North America is very different from the social tango – Tango de Salon – danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires. In North America, Exhibition Tango is the predominant genre of tango taught for social dancing.

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12 Responses to The Representation and Misrepresentation of Tango in Website Images in North America

  1. Chris says:

    TV wrote: “Apparently lacking on this website is any mention that in the milongas of Buenos Aires, almost all dancers maintain an enclosed embrace throughout a tango dance.

    TV, I suggest before you can reasonably claim such a mention is lacking, you must demonstrate that it is in any sense required. Until then it is merely absent – as one would expect given these instructors apparently prefer show tango to social tango. There is a big difference between expecting material to faithfully represent what it promotes, and expecting it to represent what it does not promote.

    • tangovoice says:

      In the milongas of Buenos Aires it is not required to dance in a maintained closed embrace. It is the custom. In video from Lo de Celia referenced (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pso1hLNsSqw), every couple maintains a closed embrace throughout the dance. There are dozens of other milongas in Buenos Aires where this is this is the norm (less so in the outer barrios).

      The problem with tango instructors in North America is that they claim to teach ‘Argentine Tango’ and host milongas for dancing this taught tango, but the dancing in an open frame that is taught far from being the norm in Buenos Aires milongas. This is a deceptive misrepresentation of Tango Argentino, and they are guilty of this deception, whether it is intentional or not.

      • Chris, UK says:

        TV, I’m referring to your implied requirement for the embrace to be mentioned in these sites’ depictions of the dance, not the requirement for the embrace to be used in BA milongas. Sorry to be unclear.

        The problem with tango instructors in North America is that they claim to teach ‘Argentine Tango’ and host milongas for dancing this taught tango, but the dancing in an open frame that is taught far from being the norm in Buenos Aires milongas. This is a deceptive misrepresentation …

        Instructors of the same kind are rife here in the UK, but I would take care before judging their teaching to be deception. It comes down to what people understand “Argentine tango” to be. This term doesn’t come from Argentines in Argentina – it was coined elsewhere to represent what foreigners see presented as tango by Argentine dance instructors abroad. That’s generally what dance class students here want and get, so (by their terms) they aren’t being deceived. Many of these students then themselves promote what they’ve been taught as Argentine tango to the next generation. Ask these teachers if what they are teaching is actually the tango dancing of Argentina, and the more honest of them will confess that they don’t know – having never visited Argentina.

        Herein is the ironic reason that this commercially-taught “Argentine tango” is so unlike the socially-learned tango dancing of Argentina. Its Argentine sellers can’t find anyone at home who will buy it. Their countrymen consider it unfit for purchase. It can be sold only to foreigners, and to other Argentines who sell on to foreigners. Hence it has become heavily adapted to the foreign dance-class markets – to the point where is now incompatible with what in Argentina is called dancing tango. A more accurate term for it now would be Non-Argentine tango.

        Thank you TV for reporting the results of your valuable research.

  2. Thank you for pointing out something we did not make clear on our homepage. The video (on the homepage) was more of an “art” project than a view of social tango. That said, the idea behind the video was to show the beauty and intensity of the embrace. The song we danced to was “Sin palabras” by Pugliese with Alberto Moran singing (1947).

    It’s interesting that you find our tango to be more representative of the “barrio” style as most people (at least here in Toronto) believe our tango to be more of the “milonguero/centro” style. We don’t label our dance as either or any style, however, while in Buenos Aires our dancing definitely seemed to be more typical of El Beso’s crowd than Sunderland’s.

    Abrazos,
    Jani & Kristina

    • tangovoice says:

      Actually, the video on the home page is a nice representation of social tango. However, the music selected (thanks for identifying it) is a bit challenging to dance to, and Pugliese-Moran is not high on the play list of Buenos Aires milonga DJs.

      The dancing on the videos appears closer to Estilo del Barrio because of the opening of the embrace for turns, frequent embellishment, and use of pauses. This does not happen much in El Beso. Actually, both El Beso and Sunderland get a lot of tourists who don’t necessarily follow porteño stylistic preferences; a better contrast might be Lo de Celia (centro) vs Glorias Argentinas (barrio). However, the closed embrace shown in the videos is more reaching (as in Estilo Milonguero), more like Javier Rodriguez (younger generation, classified as Estilo Villa Urquiza / Barrio) than like Carlos Perez or Jorge Dispari (older generation). Anyway, these labels applied to dancers can be misleading.

  3. jantango says:

    Thanks for tackling this important subject. Buenos Aires tango is being used and abused. I view websites and videos by people who haven’t a clue about tango. One thing for certain is tango is popular around the world. Teachers are capitalizing on that fact and laughing all the way to the bank. Most people go to class to dance socially and end up being taught choreography for stage. Milongas are full of dancers who are there to perform on a social floor.

    I saw this http://www.2xtango.com/daniel-nacucchio-cristina-sosa-en-la-milonga-porteno-y-bailarin/?lang=en with a photo of the world salon champions in a pose at the end of an exhibition. It hasn’t taken them long to forget salon tango because exhibition tango is what everyone wants to buy. Couples win a salon championship title and quickly forget that people want to be social dancers, not performers.

    This misrepresentation is going on everywhere, including in Buenos Aires where many are only interested in tango as a business.

    • tangovoice says:

      Argentine instructors of tango are creating and capitalizing on the demand of foreigners for exhibition-oriented tango. Argentines don’t have the money to create this demand and, quite honestly, don’t need a lot of money to invest in learning Tango de Salon. Even promoters of social tango (whether Argentine or not) are catering to the demand for exhibition elements in tango, which accounts for ‘nuevo milonguero‘ and other attempts to infuse social tango with exhibition tango. This accounts, in part, for the discrepancy between the statement of ‘teaching social tango’ found on some tango websites, and the integration of exhibition tango into visual images of tango.

  4. Francis says:

    The last few times in Buenos Aires, my wife and I spent more time in the neighborhood social clubs to the north rather than in the regular tourist milongas. Our experiences were memorable. Food was the ingredient for opening up conversations and connecting with peiple. With return visits, we became known and started to fit in. The dancing was elegant and mannerly, even though the dance floors could accommodate more couples. Everyone was deeply passionate about the music and there was a reverence for the mannerly dancing.

    Most of the Argentines who visit and teach in the U.S. would understand that type of a setting and fit in accordingly. But, when here, they earn their living by giving more steps and feeding the show tango appetite. Let’s just call it Tango de Norte and not worry about trying to compare advertisements. We don’t have the culture, manners, social settings and inclination to replicate what Tango was or is in Buenos Aires.

    • tangovoice says:

      People outside Argentina aren’t given sufficient opportunity to understand the culture of tango. The salesmen of tango (traveling tango instructors from Argentina) usually do not make an effort to introduce foreigners to the tango culture of Argentina. It is easier and more profitable to cater to the existing cultural preferences residing within the foreign culture. In North America (and elsewhere) there is an expectation of learning ‘steps’ when learning a dance. The ballroom dance culture (business) promotes this. However, if given an opportunity to understand how tango as a dance is different in emphasizing connection with partner and music instead of display of physical prowess, more people would be able to appreciate it. It is the very fact that Argentine instructors, the supposed representatives of the culture, are perhaps the greatest impediment to introducing foreigners to a culturally accurate version of dancing tango, that prevents foreigners from understanding the culture (and practice) of tango as a social dance.

      Accepting the status quo will only allow further proliferation of the misrepresentation of tango outside the culture of its origin. The misrepresentation of tango needs to be challenged. Otherwise, those who wish to experience at least some resemblance of an authentic Argentine tango environment will have to travel to Buenos Aires as the only recourse for experiencing a culturally valid form of tango.

      • jantango says:

        I agree. The culture of tango is missing from the teaching. This is evident in the behaviour of foreigners who lack knowledge of and respect for the customs and codes in the milongas. For many it’s enough to copy steps from a teacher (who probably doesn’t go to the milongas in BsAs) and expect to dance tandas with the locals in BsAs.

        The annual competitions in BsAs (city and world) are the worst misrepresentation of tango. Although labeled tango salon, they are a far cry from the way tango is danced in the milongas today.

      • Chris, UK says:

        It is the very fact that Argentine instructors, the supposed representatives of the culture, are perhaps the greatest impediment to introducing foreigners…

        I agree, but see no basis for confining this characterisation to Argentine instructors and foreign learners – the same is true regardless of the nationality of either. Social dance is socially learned. Commercialsed learning produces nothing but the commercialised forms of the dance – show, nuevo, and what (as Janis rightly observes) is sold under the newly perverted term “Tango de Salon”. Your proposed challenge to the misrepresentation of social tango would most effectively start with a challenge to the deceit that this social skill is acquired in classes from instructors, rather than (as all other social skils) by close interaction with those who already possess it. This is needed to break the current vicious circle of tango dance classes that generate way too few dancers … and way too many instructors with nothing better to do than generate more classes.

  5. love your in depth analyzing of the state of tango in North America and could not agree more. I have been trying to teach and promote Milonguero stye tango for 8 years but I am outnumbered by the number of teachers not teaching it. Tango instruction is my living, I have been forced into having to also promote salon just to survive.
    I wish somebody could come up with a solution. Denver was going to be our ticket, but as you so aptly deliniated, they gave up!
    I do not give up though and I do instill in my students the strictly social aspect and enjoyment of tango. Linda, tangoessence, San Diego

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