Evolutionary Tango versus Traditional Tango – Part I: The Nature of the Tango Culture War

July 29, 2018
  • In most Buenos Aires milongas today there are certain customs that have been in existence since the end of the Golden Age of tango in the 1950s. These include:
    • Partner formation consisting of a man leading and a woman following
    • Dance invitation by cabeceo
    • Embracing the partner while dancing
    • Dancing in a circulating ronda without encroaching on the space of other couples on the floor
    • Eschewing exhibitionism
    • Dancing tango only to Classic Tango music, structured into tandas with cortinas
    • Clearing the dance floor during the cortina
    • Dressing respectfully for the milonga (i.e., no casual attire)
  • These customs are part of a Traditional Tango subculture that is followed worldwide by many dancers (Tango Traditionalists).
  • There have been numerous evolutionary trends in tango that have arisen since the end of the Golden Age. These include:
    • Music: Nuevo Tango (Piazzolla and followers), Modern Tango (for the concert hall), Tango Electronico, Tango Fusion
    • Dancing: Tango Escenario, Tango Nuevo, Tango Campeonato
    • Social environment: Gender Neutral / Queer Tango, the Alternative Milonga, tango festivals and marathons
  • These new developments in tango have been incorporated into an Evolutionary Tango subculture that also is followed worldwide by many dancers (Tango Evolutionists).
    • By default, most First World tango dancers are participants in the dominant Evolutionary Tango subculture, due to lack of exposure to the Traditional Tango subculture.
  • A significant part of Traditional Tango subculture is adherence to tango customs whereas Evolutionary Tango subculture is characterized to a significant degree by relaxation of the restrictions of Traditional Tango customs to allow free expression. Herein lies the source of conflict between these subcultures.
    • Although different philosophical perspectives provide the potential for conflict in the tango social dance environment, the most intense conflict between Tango Traditionalists and Tango Evolutionists has found its expression in cyberspace.
  • Segregation into different environments to some extent has created culturally homogeneous niches for Tango Traditionalists (i.e., Encuentros Milongueros) and Tango Evolutionists (e.g., Alternative Milongas, Neotango festivals, Tango Queer events), providing some relief from conflict between the subcultures; however, these are typically regional events. At the local community level, there is usually an insufficient number of Tango Traditionalists to support Traditional Milongas; therefore Traditional Tango culture is usually marginalized and suppressed within the dominant Evolutionary Tango culture.

 

Since the late 1980s, after the tango revival in Argentina, tango dancing as a social activity has spread throughout the world, initially and primarily to First World countries, but more recently to some developing countries as well. As tango dancing has become at least some part of the social dance culture in countries to which it has been transported from its Argentine origins, there have been modifications of the dance, its associated music, and the social customs of the milonga, as accommodations to the local cultural milieu [Trans-Cultural Diffusion and Adaptation of Tango Argentino in the 20th Century]. Despite this adaptation of tango to local customs, numerous aficionados of tango dancing, due to their curiosity, have traveled to Buenos Aires to experience tango in the country of its origin. There they have experienced tango practices that are part of a cultural heritage that has existed since the Golden Age of tango (approximately 1935-55). The positive experiences of these tango explorers, supported by a small number of traveling tango instructors from Argentina, has led to the education of dancers worldwide regarding this traditional Buenos Aires tango culture, and attempts by local tango organizers to infuse their communities with tango practices more characteristic of the Buenos Aires milonga.

However, attempts to introduce Buenos Aires tango practices into milonga environments worldwide has achieved limited success and, in many cases, has met with resistance (ibid.). There are numerous dancers who support the introduction of Buenos Aires tango practices into the milonga environment, citing a respect for the Argentine origins of these customs as the rationale for their preferences; these dancers are Tango Traditionalists and the collection of practices they support comprises the Traditional Tango subculture. In contrast, there are other dancers who seek a modification of tango practices that is relevant to their experiences; i.e., they prefer to create a milonga environment that is adapted to their local culture. In doing so, some have claimed that ‘no individual or group owns the tango’ or that ‘tango has evolved’ beyond its Buenos Aires origins (Organic Tango; Tango Evolution). This relativistic perspective of tango, characterized by its emphasis on new developments in tango, has led to the creation of an Evolutionary Tango subculture, and its participants can be identified as Tango Evolutionists (in contrast to Tango Traditionalists). Differences between Tango Traditionalists and Tango Evolutionists in their tango practices have led to conflicts among tango dancers. This post will examine the characteristics of these two contrasting tango subcultures and the points of conflict between them.

 

Traditional Tango Subculture

The Traditional Tango subculture in First World countries is based on the philosophy that there is value in maintaining Argentine tango cultural traditions as practiced in the majority of milongas in Buenos Aires today. This philosophy recognizes tango as a dance that focuses on the physical and emotional connection between man and woman, and upon connection with and interpretation of Classic Tango music [Understanding Argentine Tango (with the Assistance of Milongueros): it’s not just another Ballroom Dance]. Also honored are social customs showing respect for other dancers on and off the dance floor at the milonga, by maintaining a safe circulating ronda, not attracting attention to oneself on the dance floor (with exhibitionist movements) and politely inviting others to dance using the cabeceo; respect for the environment is also demonstrated by dressing in a refined manner for the milonga. These traditions have their roots in the tango culture of Buenos Aires during the late 1940s and early 1950s, during the Golden Age of tango, when tango was at its peak of popularity in Argentina. The sense of value in maintaining these traditions in First World countries is achieved through personal experience with participation in Buenos Aires milongas or through testament given by those who have had this experience, most particularly Argentines describing their experiences.

The style of dance (Tango de Salon)  and the musical preferences (Classic Tango) of Tango Traditionalists have been documented previously in Tango Voice (video links to dancing: previous post 1, previous post 2; audio links to music: previous post 3previous post 4). The customs practiced in the majority of Buenos Aires milongas have been described in extensive detail previously, in this blog [Codes and Customs of the Milongas of Buenos Aires: The Basics; Do Milongas Exist outside Argentina? (The Milonga Codes Revisited)], and by others [Tango Etiquette (Los Codigos); Codigos (Codes); Juntos Codigos; Tango Codigos and Milonga Floorcraft). The essential features are the following:

  • In forming a dance partnership, the man assumes the role of the leader and the woman the role of the follower.
  • Dance invitation occurs by means of the cabeceo, with both men and women seeking eye contact with potential partners from a distance in gender segregated seating; couples who enter the milonga together dance exclusively with each other and are seated in a separate section.
  • There is sufficient lighting at the milonga so that it is possible to see potential partners across the room to initiate the cabeceo.
  • Couples embrace while dancing.
  • There is movement of dancing couples within a counterclockwise circulating ronda.
  • Dancers keep their feet close to the floor and within the space encompassed by the couple.
  • Exhibitionist movements are avoided.
  • Teaching on the dance floor is prohibited.
  • Tango is danced only to Classic Tango music (or, rarely, re-creations of Classic Tango music by contemporary orchestras), structured into tandas with cortinas.
  • Music for dancing at a milonga is determined by the DJ. Milonga attendees do not make requests to the DJ to play specific music for dancing.
  • Music for dancing is organized into tandas of 3 or 4 songs that have similar musical characteristics (rhythm, orchestra, time period).
  • Dancers clear the floor during the cortina between tandas.
  • There is a dress code. [For example, men wearing suits and ties and women wearing dresses is highly valued, although not necessarily required, and there are prohibitions against casual forms of dress (e.g., untucked shirts, polo shirts, t-shirts, jeans, khakis, cargo pants, baggy pants, low rider pants, torn pants, bare midriffs, shorts, athletic shoes, sandals, flip-flops, boots, headbands, hats worn inside the milonga).]

These characteristics together comprise the environment of a Traditional Milonga. This archetype for a milonga setting rarely is realized in its entirety in First World milongas, although Encuentros Milongueros (Siempre Milonguero; Tips for European Encuentros) attempt to implement these practices to the greatest extent possible. Therefore, Tango Traditionalists may need to make compromises in participating in almost all First World milongas, e.g., requiring dance invitation by cabeceo may leave the Tango Traditionalist with no one to dance with at a milonga. Also, gender segregated seating almost never exists outside of the Encuentro Milonguero (and not all Encuentros impose gender segregated seating).

It should be emphasized that Traditional Tango is the set of customs regarding music, dance, and behavior that is characteristic of the majority of milongas in Buenos Aires TODAY. Although these traditions have their historical roots in the tango culture of the Golden Age, Traditional Tango practices are not a simple re-creation of the milonga customs of the Golden Age. Characteristics of some milongas of the Golden Age that are NOT practiced in Buenos Aires today include the following:

  • Two live orchestras played music for dancing, including one tango orchestra and one of another kind of music, typically jazz (See Tango Chamuyo). This was more typical of the 1940s than the 1950s, when use of recorded music had become more common.
  • Young women were accompanied to a milonga by an older woman (a chaperone), usually a family member. At the beginning of a tanda, men congregated in the middle of the floor and invited women to dance by means of the cabeceo (See Tango and Chaos). This was more characteristic of the Milongas de Barrio rather than the Milongas de Centro.
  • It was mandatory for men to wear suits and women to wear dresses at the milonga (See Tango Chamuyo).

Additional tango customs of the Golden Age that are not practiced in Buenos Aires today include all male practicas as a method of teaching tango for men, with acceptance for milonga readiness granted by social custom through a more experienced man (presumably one considered to be a milonguero) in the practica group (History of Tango).

 

Evolutionary Developments in Tango

Differences in the philosophies of the Traditional Tango and Evolutionary Tango subcultures are based to a significant degree on the incorporation of different evolutionary developments into each tango subculture.

Tango music, dancing, and behavioral customs have evolved since there was first a dance and musical form in Buenos Aires that was identified as tango, and obviously there were evolutionary trends in music and dance that led to the birth of tango as a distinct art form. In the 19th century European immigrants brought to the Rio de Plata region (Buenos Aires and Montevideo) dances such as the waltz, polka, mazurka, and contradanza, all of which contributed movements to the development of the tango dance [Collier, 1995]. Africans brought to this region as slaves, but later liberated with the abolition of slavery (1842 in Uruguay, 1861 in Buenos Aires), had their own social gatherings with candombe dancing, from which some movements were borrowed and incorporated into the milonga dance, the historical predecessor of tango [Thompson, 2005]. From Cuba came the habanera rhythm, which became the basis for the habanera dance, which contributed to the evolution of the milonga and early tango [Torres, 2013]. Thus, early tango was created from a mix of foreign influences, although the resulting blend was a music and dance with a unique Argentine/Uruguayan character. This character was reflected in part in the lyrics of tango songs, which not only reflected life in Buenos Aires, but also incorporated at times elements of the Lunfardo dialect (a mixture of Spanish and Italian) commonly used among the lower social classes in Buenos Aires in the late 19th and early 20th century.

A significant evolutionary trend in tango dancing and music occurred with the introduction of tango to European and North American cultures in the early 1910s (Trans-Cultural Diffusion and Adaptation of Tango Argentino in the 20th Century). The early Argentine tango was too sensual for European and North American cultural tastes of the time and therefore was transformed into a more sedate form characteristic of the social dances of these cultures. Eventually, the socially acceptable stylized versions of International and American Ballroom Tango were created by ballroom dance organizations. With the rigid posture and sharp movements of the dance, as well as the staccato, marching rhythm of the music, driven by drums, Ballroom Tango has evolved characteristics that are very different from Argentine Tango (videos: International Tango; American Tango).

However, when Tango Evolutionists claim that ‘tango has evolved’, they are not referring to the transitions from habanera to milonga to tango music, the evolution of dance forms to create the proto-tango dance form known as canyengue, the changes in tango music that included incorporation of the bandoneon into the orquesta tipica [A Brief Introduction to the History of Tango Music], the changes in social acceptance of the tango dance from the early days of marginalization to an integral part of the social life of the middle class, or the refinement of the dance to a more elegant Tango de Salon, all of which occurred in Buenos Aires during a 50 year period from around 1890 to 1940 [Collier, 1995], nor are they referring to the transformation of early tango into International and American Ballroom Tango. In contrast, the evolutionary trends in tango that Tango Evolutionists claim as their heritage include primarily some of the changes from the predominant Buenos Aires tango culture in music for dancing, manner of dancing, and social customs and environment that have arisen since the later years of the Golden Age (late 1940s to the present). These innovations in tango, for the most part, have not replaced tango practices existing in Buenos Aires at the end of the Golden Age, but instead have been the offspring of Golden Age tango (sometimes created through cultural hybridization), which either have coexisted in Argentina with the heritage of Traditional Tango, or have expanded into new sociocultural niches around the world. The primary architects of the innovations in tango music and the manner of dancing have been Argentine. However, with respect to transformations in the social environment of tango, both Argentines and citizens of First World countries have made major contributions.

Evolutionary Developments in Tango Music

There have been numerous new developments in music classified under the genre of ‘tango’, broadly defined, that have been initiated since the later years of the Golden Age, primarily by Argentine musicians.

Beginning in the 1950s, the Nuevo Tango musical compositions of bandoneonista Astor Piazzolla, an infusion of elements of First World classical music and jazz into tango music, represented a paradigm shift regarding the boundaries of music defined as ‘tango’. Notably, Piazzolla did not design his music for dancing, as Nuevo Tango music typically has a variable tempo (e.g., Adios Nonino; Verano Porteño) or a tempo too slow (e.g., Oblivion; Milonga del Angel) or too fast (e.g., Libertango; Escualo) for dancing. Contemporaneous with Piazzolla was pianist and composer Horacio Salgan, who infused elements of jazz, classical music, and Brazilian and African rhythms into tango music (e.g., Don Augustin Bardi; A Fuego Lento); his music also tended to have characteristics of rhythmic inconstancy and slow or fast tempo that made it unsuitable for tango dancing. With the decline of the milongas during the late 1950s and thereafter, some tango composers and orchestra leaders from the Golden Age, most notably Osvaldo Pugliese (e.g., El Andariego 1973; Los Mareados 1977) and Anibal Troilo (e.g., Responso 1963; Sur 1971), altered the rhythmic structure of their tango music, designing it for listening in the concert hall, thereby also making it unsuitable for dancing tango. Other tango musicians from Golden Age orchestras (e.g., Florindo Sassone, Fulvio Salamanca, Hector Varela) also contributed to this Modern Tango musical genre. Nuevo Tango and Modern Tango compositions are played in concert halls in Buenos Aires, but recordings from these musical genres are played rarely for dancing tango in Buenos Aires milongas. In contrast, Nuevo Tango and Modern Tango recordings have been played for dancing tango at numerous First World milongas.

In the early 1990s, Argentine composer Sergio Bermejo (known professionally as ‘Malevo’), who had prior experience in rock and electronic music, began infusing elements of tango music (e.g., bandoneon, tango lyrics and melodies) into electronic music, a product of First World cultures, to create a new genre of music eventually known as Tango Electronico (or Electrotango), as revealed in this recording. However, it took the Paris-based Gotan Project to popularize Tango Electronico worldwide, resulting in the incorporation of this music into numerous First World milongas in the 2000s. Several Argentine musical ensembles (Bajo Fondo, Tanghetto, Narcotango (Carlos Libedinsky), Jaime Wilensky, Otros Aires, San Telmo Lounge) have created various versions of Tango Electronico subsequently. There have been limited efforts by musical ensembles from First World countries to compose and perform Tango Electronico [e.g., Electrocutango (Oslo, Norway); Tango Berretin (Portland OR, USA)]. Argentine Tango Electronico ensembles have traveled worldwide to play for concerts and sometimes milongas, the later mainly in tango festivals, but their concerts have also been popular tourist attractions in Buenos Aires. Tango Electronico music has been played rarely at tango social dance events in Buenos Aires.

A further incursion of First World musical culture into Tango Alternative music has occurred with the use of rap vocals in Tango Electronico, apparently first by Gotan Project in the 2006 Lunatico album (Mi Confesion), followed soon thereafter by Bajo Fondo in the Mar Dulce album in 2007 (El Anden). In the United States, Momo Smitt has been performing rap vocals with tango themes, often at tango festivals, since at least 2010 (Denver Tango Festival). In 2011, Electrocutango released a tango rap recording (El Tango del Gringo).

Evolutionary Developments in Tango Dancing

Since the later years of the Golden Age, there have also been a number of new directions in the manner of tango dancing. Most have been initiated by Argentine professional dancers, competitors, and instructors.

Tango Fantasia, a derivative of Tango de Salon Estilo del Barrio with more expansive and expressive movements, had developed during the 1940s and was incorporated into exhibitions at some milongas in Buenos Aires, during breaks in social dancing (video). Tango Escenario, an adaptation of Tango Fantasia for the stage, had been developed with a major influence from Juan Carlos Copes during the 1950s, but it was the traveling stage productions Tango Argentino and others following during the mid 1980s and thereafter that generated international interest in tango dancing in major cities in Europe and North America (Trans-Cultural Diffusion and Adaptation of Tango Argentino in the 20th Century). The music used for dancing in stage productions was based in part on (sometimes more dramatic) versions of Classic Tango music, but Modern Tango and Nuevo Tango music based on the recordings of tango orchestras such as Pugliese, Piazzolla, Salgan, and Troilo were particularly prominent in tango stage productions. Dancers from Tango Argentino and other traveling tango stage productions responded to the local demand for learning to dance tango, thereby creating a simplified (i.e., more accessible) form of Tango Escenario that became popular as the social tango in the ‘milongas’ in First World countries. It was not unusual for tango social dance events in these countries during the 1990s to include recorded music from Stage Tango productions as music for tango social dancing. This represented a significant evolutionary phase in tango, the transference of tango from the stage to the social dance floor, a phenomenon that had not occurred in Buenos Aires.

New directions in tango dancing continued in the early 1990s with investigations into the structure of tango movements by Gustavo Naveira and Fabian Salas. What began as an intellectual analysis of tango dancing and its sequential movement possibilities has contributed new or greatly modified movements to the repertoire of tango dancing, including off-axis movements (colgadas, volcadas), partner separation (soltadas), and amplified and reoriented Stage Tango movements (linear boleos, back sacadas, enganches, piernazos). The incorporation of these movements into improvised tango dancing usually comprises what is classified as Tango Nuevo, although these movements have also been included in Stage Tango choreographies (Is Tango Nuevo a Form of Stage Tango?). Tango Nuevo dancing has had its domain in the Practicas Nuevas of Buenos Aires (e.g., Practica X, El Motivo), primarily in the 2000s. Due to its large and sometimes unpredictable movements that do not necessarily coincide with the ronda, as well as its exhibitionist characteristics, dancing Tango Nuevo is frowned upon and may lead to expulsion from Traditional Milongas in Buenos Aires. Instruction in Tango Nuevo became popular in First World countries by the mid 2000s and still has its presence in the late 2010s, although at a diminished level compared to 10 years earlier. Use of movements characteristic of Tango Nuevo can be observed at times in First World milongas.

Tango competitions had some role in the history of tango prior to and during the Golden Age [Azzi, 1995]. However, in 2003, the city of Buenos Aires initiated the Campeonato Mundial de Baile de Tango, a government-funded international tango dance competition, with two categories of competition – Tango de Salon and Tango Escenario; in 2013 the Tango de Salon category was renamed ‘Tango de Pista’. Although the Tango de Salon category was initially intended to represent the style of dancing done in the milongas of Buenos Aires, in recent years elements of tango considered inappropriate for dancing in the milongas (e.g., high boleos and cuatros, ganchos, back sacadas, calesitas, planeos, colgadas and patadas) have been permitted in the Tango de Pista competition (video). These permitted practices, as well as subsequent exhibitions by winners and high placers in the Tango de Pista category, have given rise to the recognition of a new genre of tango dancing – Tango Campeonato (Tango Dancesport), developed from and adapted to the competition dance floor. Winning or high placing in the Campeonato Mundial Tango de Pista category has helped launch the teaching careers of numerous Argentine dance competitors, and their influence most likely has led to Tango Campeonato becoming in the late 2010s the most widely taught genre of tango dancing promoted by traveling tango instructors (under the guise of Tango Salon).

Changes in Tango Social Customs since the Golden Age

Nontraditional tango social dance events (informal milongas and social practicas) have appeared (and disappeared) in Buenos Aires in recent years, primarily since the late 1990s. Practica X and El Motivo have been Practicas Nuevas where instruction in and practice of Tango Nuevo have been prominent. La Catedral, La Viruta, La Glorieta, and La Milonga del Indio, the latter two being tango social dance events held outdoors, have been social practicas / informal milongas popular with young people and tourists; in these tango social dance venues lighting may be subdued, and gender segregated seating and the use of the cabeceo for dance invitation are not standard practices. These nontraditional tango social dance events in Buenos Aires, with the relaxation of milonga customs, resemble First World tango social dance events in many respects.

Dress codes for most milongas in Buenos Aires today are much more relaxed than in the Golden Age. Men may attend milongas without jackets and ties and women without dresses (i.e., wearing pants), even in Traditional Milongas (e.g., Obelisco Tango); dress codes are even more relaxed in the informal milongas popular with young people and tourists (e.g., La Catedral). First World milongas are often characterized by casual attire (e.g., San Francisco Tango Marathon; Berlin Tango Marathon), particularly if frequented by young people. It appears that casual attire for milonga attendees was acceptable in First World countries prior to becoming acceptable in Buenos Aires. Also, in some First World tango social dance events, standards for permitted attire have been relaxed even more than one usually can observe in Buenos Aires (e.g., wearing low rider pants, torn pants, shorts, hats, boots, or flip-flops at milongas).

In some cases, modifications of dress standards have become the theme for a First World milonga. A popular permutation of milonga attire in US tango communities is the Halloween milonga, where dancers dress in costumes characteristic for this holiday (e.g., St Louis; Salt Lake City). In rare instances, attire normally inappropriate for public social events can be the theme for a milonga (e.g., Medford MA Pajama Milonga). These adaptations reflect the transference of First World culture celebrations (costume party, pajama party) to the milonga environment.

An extreme case of freedom from milonga dress code restrictions is the Nude Milonga (Heidelberg, Germany), which transcends even societal boundaries for attire. A slightly less denuded version of this has been offered in Stuttgart, Germany, a misogynistic ‘Naked Tango’ event where men are fully dressed and women are admitted in various stages of undress (including complete nudity), intended to mimic an imagined tango scene in the brothels of Buenos Aires in the early 20th century. However, one thing to take into account (to some extent) here is that nudism is an accepted part of German culture (Nudity in Germany: Here’s the Naked Truth), perhaps indicating here again somewhat of an adaptation of tango to local culture.

There have been several evolutionary trends with respect to gender roles in tango that have occurred in Buenos Aires since the Golden Age. It is well known that all male practicas were the standard environment for men learning to dance tango before and during the Golden Age (The Tango Practica, the Practica Nueva, and the Tango Dance Party in Buenos Aires). The absence of women in practicas was a result of the shortage of women (in early tango history) and limitations on the social freedom of women (History of Tango). Social restrictions on women were also reflected in the standard practice of young women being escorted to milongas by older female chaperones during the Golden Age (Who’s Leading? Gender Role Transformation in the Buenos Aires Community). (This is also no longer the case as a standard practice in Buenos Aires.) With revival of tango during the 1980s and newly gained independence of women, practicas in Buenos Aires have included both men and women, however, typically with men assuming the role of leader with women as followers.

The evolution of Gender Neutral Tango partner formation or Queer Tango, i.e., the deviation from the heteronormal pattern of men leading and women following in tango, has had contributions from both Argentine and First World sources. Queer Tango, as a concept, includes same sex partner selection both within and independent of sexual attraction or orientation. Certainly male – male tango dancing has had a firm foundation in tango history (Pairing up to Tango, in Every Combination), as mentioned above. However, the public expression of homosexual attraction within tango dancing has a much more obscure history (Uncovering the Histories and Pre-Histories of Queer Tango), although the possibility that gay men in the Golden Age intentionally chose to dance tango together cannot be discounted (The History of Tango is Actually Kind of Gay).

What appears to be the first public expression of Queer Tango since the revival of tango is the formation of the Tango Mujer dance company, a collaboration of American and German women, that began in the early 1990s. Tango Mujer has presented Stage Tango performances consisting of only women, in both leading and following roles, in Europe and North America. However Tango Mujer performances, although sexually suggestive at times (e.g., Tango Silk) are more of a commentary on gender roles in tango than on homosexuality (Tango Mujer Promo).

A direct connection of same sex public tango dancing to homosexuality apparently was first made with the initiation of an openly gay milonga in Hamburg in 2001 (History of the Queer Tango Movement). The first openly gay milonga in Buenos Aires, La Marshall (video), opened in 2002; the Tango Queer practica (video) followed in 2005, but the latter has placed an emphasis more on gender neutral partner formation in general.

Changes in the Milonga Environment since the Golden Age

Milongas in Buenos Aires typically have been hosted in community centers (particularly Milongas del Barrio) and salons designed for dance activities. (See Tango Chamuyo posts on Clubes de Barrio, Cabarets, and Confiterias bailables for more details.) Dancing tango outdoors has a long history in Buenos Aires, dating back to the 19th century [Collier, 1995] and there are currently several outdoor tango social dance events held regularly in Buenos Aires (Dancing Tango Outdoors in Buenos Aires). However, in First World countries, the settings for dancing tango have been expanded. The outdoor setting for tango social dancing has been expanded to include the beach (e.g., Sitges, Spain; Port Macquarie, Australia). Flash Mob Tango, the spontaneous appearance of tango dancing in a public place has occurred in such places as parks (e.g., London) and shopping centers (San FranciscoSydney, Australia).

One of the most conspicuous transformations of the First World milonga environment has been the creation of the Alternative Milonga [aka Neolonga: St Louis; Rome; Tübingen, Germany], a tango social dance environment where Tango Alternative music comprises a significant proportion (usually 50% or more) of the music played for dancing tango. The Tango Alternative music played for dancing tango at Alternative Milongas may include Modern Tango, Nuevo Tango, Tango Extranjero (tango music of foreign origin), Tango Fusion (typically jazz, Latin folk, or rock rhythms infused with some tango elements) and Tango Electronico; an additional unique development in the Alternative Milonga scene has been the inclusion of non-tango music (e.g., pop, rock, hip-hop, folk, jazz, world music with no tango elements) played for dancing tango. The CELLspace Alternative Milonga in San Francisco, first hosted in 2003, may or may not have been the first tango social dance venue in North America to regularly play Tango Alternative music intentionally (i.e., some naïve tango DJs in the 1990s may have played nontraditional tango music due to ignorance of tango traditions, rather than by design), but it has been a model for subsequent events of this type (e.g., the 50% traditional / 50% alternative music guideline). Alternative Milongas also have become common in Europe. With rare exceptions, the Alternative Milonga concept has not made an appearance in Buenos Aires, and the playing of Tango Alternative music for dancing tango is unusual.

Rare and unusual modifications in the tango social dance environment initiated in First World tango communities have included ‘multimedia’ milongas including projection of visuals onto the walls (typically under low light conditions), usually in conjunction with Tango Alternative music (Bremen, Germany; Warsaw; Halmstad, Sweden). An extreme variation of the lighting conditions for tango social dancing is the ‘Dark Milonga’ (Edmonton, Canada; Toronto; Tübingen, Germany); there are some First World milongas where lighting conditions are so minimal they could be classified as ‘Dark Milongas’, even if not advertised as such. Obviously, under such low light conditions it is not possible to use the cabeceo for dance invitation.

Although Flash Mob Tango, Tango on the Beach, the Nude Milonga, the Pajama Milonga, the Halloween Milonga, the Multimedia Milonga and the Dark Milonga are atypical events, they do indicate the degree to which Traditional Tango customs can be relaxed in First World cultures while still retaining the name of ‘tango’ as an identifier for the events. More commonly, the prevalence of Alternative Milongas indicates the importance of offering alternatives to Classic Tango music to attract and retain First World dancers to an environment that still uses the ‘tango’ label.

New Organizational Developments: Tango Weekends, Festivals, Marathons and Encuentros

Since the tango revival in the late 1980s, several organizational changes have been introduced regarding the context within which milongas are imbedded. The Tango Weekend, a 2 or 3 day offering of workshops by an instructor or an instructor couple, along with one or more milongas, as well as the the Tango Festival, a weekend or week long offering of workshops (given simultaneously by multiple instructors), accompanied by multiple milongas, also appear to be a First World contributions to worldwide tango culture. In North America, many tango festivals began in the 1990s (Wikipedia). These early tango festivals tended to host instructors who were Stage Tango performers. Tango festivals are now a common occurrence worldwide (Tango Festivals; Worldwide Tango Festivals Catalogue), including in Buenos Aires. The longest running tango festival in Buenos Aires – CITA (Congreso Internacional de Tango Argentino), which began in 1998, mainly hosts instructors in Exhibition Tango (Tango Escenario, Tango Nuevo & Tango Campeonato). The International Tango Festival, hosted by the city of Buenos Aires, which includes tango concerts, shows, classes, and social dance events, in addition to the World Tango Championship (Campeonato Mundial de Baile de Tango), has become the world’s largest tango festival. Tango festivals in Buenos Aires attract many tango tourists from around the world, who provide the financial support needed for their profitability.

Another recent (2010s) First World innovation that does not have its origin in Buenos Aires is the Tango Marathon, usually a weekend long event consisting only of a series of milongas, with multiple consecutive milongas on the same day; lacking workshops and usually demonstrations as well, the marathon is a derivative of the Tango Weekend. There may be a historical link of the Tango Marathons to dance marathons that occurred in the United States in the 1920s and 30s (Wikipedia). Tango Marathons have become popular in First World countries in the 2010s (Calendar). Tango Marathons per se, i.e., a series of milongas under one organization without instructional workshops, does not appear to have occurred in Buenos Aires. However, there is no need for them, as one could organize one’s own personal tango marathon by attending both matinee and evening regularly occurring milongas every day for several days or more, as do many tango tourists.

Several variations among tango festivals and marathons have been created, appealing to specific subpopulations of tango dancers. This has included Tango Queer festivals and marathons, openly inviting to gender neutral partner formation, which have occurred mainly in Europe (Calendar). Since 2007, the Queer Tango Festival has been hosted in Buenos Aires, and there is now a Queer Tango Marathon, albeit with instructional workshops, in Buenos Aires as well.

A subspecialty of the Tango Marathon that appeals to dancers with specific musical tastes for tango dancing is the Neotango Marathon (Calendar), which consists of a weekend long sequence of milongas where only Tango Alternative music is played for dancing tango.

In North America in the 2000s there were tango festivals that focused primarily on instruction in ‘milonguero style’ or ‘close embrace tango’, first in Denver, then in San Diego, Atlanta, and Chicago [The Rise and Fall of Tango Milonguero in North America in the 21st Century (Highlighting the Denver Tango Festival)]. These tango festivals paid little or no attention to the practice of the codes of the milongas of Buenos Aires; as an indication of this, the Denver, San Diego and Atlanta festivals included Alternative Milongas. By the end of the 2000s these tango festivals either ceased to exist or no longer focused on Tango Estilo Milonguero (e.g., Chicago Tango Festival).

Although Buenos Aires milongas provide the model for the entire world in its preservation of tango traditions, since 2007 La Academia Tango Milonguero in Buenos Aires has organized the Encuentro Internacional de Tango Milonguero (aka Milonguenando en Buenos Aires). This event, targeted at tango tourists, has focused on instructing tango dancers from around the world in gaining knowledge and experience in dancing Tango Estilo Milonguero. In the early years, this was a weeklong event including workshops by various Argentine instructors, demonstrations by milongueros, and several milongas; however, in recent years this event has had a diminished scope, mainly focused on weekend workshops by Academia directors Susana Miller and Maria Plazaola, with an associated ‘gala milonga’ (e.g., 2018).

A more focused attempt to create a Traditional Tango environment for dancing in First World countries has been the Encuentro Milonguero, which has become popular in Europe and North America in the 2010s. This terminology has been borrowed from the event initiated earlier by La Academia Tango Milonguero in Buenos Aires, and resembles it to vary degrees, depending on the organizer. Typically the First World version of the Encuentro Milonguero is a weekend event characterized by a series of milongas that attempt to recreate a Buenos Aires milonga environment, possibly with gender segregated seating, use of the cabeceo for dance invitation, Tango Estilo Milonguero dancing, only Classic Tango music played for dancing tango, and no exhibitions during breaks in social dancing. In Europe, Encuentros Milongueros have tended to be similar to Tango Marathons in that there are no associated instructional workshops, whereas in North America they have tended to include instructional workshops, although recently Encuentros without workshops have become more common as well (Salt Lake City UT; Albuquerque NM; Asheville NC). One recent innovation in the organization of Encuentros Milongueros is to restrict attendance by invitation (Ashville NC), an intent to include only dancers who abide by Traditional Tango codes:

Some people may consider making an event invitational to be elitist or even snobbish. … (W)e invite people who view tango and tango events the way we do for this particular event. Anyone who shares our vision listed in our mission statement is welcome to apply. However, if we don’t know you and someone in our guest list has not recommended you, we would need to make sure that you are well versed in the milonguero style culture and tradition. We hope you understand and appreciate our efforts as they have one and only one objective: to improve everyone’s experience and enjoyment at the event.

The initiation of policies of this type for Encuentros Milongueros is undoubtedly due to the fact that some people who have attended events of this type have not followed Traditional Tango milonga codes (personal observation), thereby interfering with the goals of the organizers and the enjoyment of the attendees.

 

Evolutionary Tango Subculture

Unlike Traditional Tango, which has a specific role model, i.e., the Traditional Milonga in Buenos Aires today, thereby creating a (nearly) uniform set of characteristics towards which Tango Traditionalists can strive in organizing the environment of their events, Evolutionary Tango is a heterogeneous culture consisting of (somewhat) independently derived departures from Traditional Tango practices. Therefore, there are numerous expressions of Evolutionary Tango culture, characterized by one of more of the following traits:

  • Partner formation may consist of either man or woman in either the role of leader or follower, permitting same sex partnerships and role reversal partnerships (i.e., women leading men). When deviation from heteronormal couple formation is emphasized as an option, this is considered a Gender Neutral or Tango Queer environment.
  • Dance invitation by Direct Approach to the table is the norm and gender segregated seating is virtually nonexistent. It is not taboo to invite someone to dance who is seated with a habitual dance partner.
  • There is no requirement of providing sufficient lighting in the milonga for the use of the cabeceo; in fact, in some cases subdued lighting is preferred.
  • The embrace is often considered as a temporary connection between partners, a stage through which couples may pass in the course of their dance. Absence of an embrace throughout the dance is an option, and even may be customary. Separation of partners, either to a one-hand hold, or no physical contact at all, may be acceptable.
  • Establishment and maintenance of a counterclockwise circulating ronda is optional; when there is a ronda, nonparticipation in the ronda is acceptable as long as this does not interfere with the movement of other dancers within or outside of the ronda.
  • Keeping feet close to the floor and close to the body during a dance is optional, as long as collisions with other couples are avoided.
  • Exhibitionist (conspicuous) movements are permitted, as long as they do not interfere with the movement of other couples.
  • Teaching on the dance floor may be permitted, provided it does not interfere with the free movement of other couples on the floor.
  • Tango dancing is not limited to Classic Tango music; Modern Tango, Nuevo Tango, Neotango, and Non-tango music are acceptable for dancing tango. When this Tango Alternative music is emphasized as part of the music program for a milonga, this is considered to be an Alternative Milonga.
  • Milonga attendees may be permitted to make requests to the DJ to play a particular type of music for dancing and the DJ may comply.
  • Clearing the floor during the cortina is optional. Dancing to the music of the cortina is acceptable. However, it is not necessary that music for dancing be structured into tandas with cortinas.
  • There are rarely any prohibitions against wearing specific items of clothing. Blue jeans, cargo pants, baggy pants, torn pants, low rider pants, short pants, untucked shirts, t-shirts, bare midriffs, headbands, hats, athletic shoes, boots, sandals and flip-flops are usually all acceptable attire.

Evolutionary Tango culture is characterized primarily by (extensive) relaxation of Traditional Tango customs, rather than by the implementation of specific codes of behavior. (The degree to which Traditional Tango customs are ignored depends upon the individual milonga.) Nevertheless, there often are models for the structure of the environment and behavior within the Evolutionary Tango subculture. For example, instead of being frowned upon (as in a Traditional Milonga), in an Evolutionary Milonga displays of exhibitionism (e.g., using elements of Tango Nuevo) may be admired. In contrast to the Traditional Tango subculture, in which milongas may be advertised as Traditional Milongas, except for the Alternative Milonga, tango social dance events infused primarily with the Evolutionary Tango subculture are rarely advertised as specific manifestations of that culture, in part because this is the dominant subculture in most First World tango communities and is consciously or subconsciously accepted as the standard for tango culture.

In contrast to aficionados of Traditional Tango, many practitioners of Evolutionary Tango are unaware that they are engaging in tango practices that are different from Traditional Tango practices of Buenos Aires milongas; they are just conforming to the local customs they observe. These customs are often part of the social dance culture of the geographic location (in particular, seating arrangements and dance invitation practices, although attitudes towards the embrace and exhibitionism may also reflect local social dance culture). This ‘silent majority’ of tango dancers that exists in many First World tango communities has limited or no knowledge of the Traditional Tango subculture due to lack of exposure, and therefore typically has no or few opinions regarding Traditional Tango culture. In contrast, some self-proclaimed (self aware) practitioners of Evolutionary Tango are intentionally in rebellion against what they perceive as the restrictiveness of Traditional Tango customs.

Most of the Evolutionary Tango culture may be subsumed under the One Tango Philosophy; i.e., the recognition that various genres of tango (Tango de Salon, Tango Nuevo, Tango Escenario, Tango Campeonato) are acceptable social tango dance forms (and therefore may coexist at the milonga), and various genres of music (Classic Tango, Modern Tango, Nuevo Tango, Tango Electronico, Tango Fusion, and non-tango music) are all acceptable for dancing tango at a milonga. Thus, in theory, some Traditional Tango practices such as dancing Tango Milonguero, playing Classic Tango music for dancing, use of the cabeceo for the dance invitation, and men dressing in jackets and ties and women in dresses are acceptable at a milonga where the Evolutionary Tango culture and the One Tango Philosophy are dominant features of the environment, as long as there is an absence of demands for uniformity in adherence to Traditional Tango customs. It is the inclusion of Traditional Tango practices under the umbrella of the One Tango Philosophy that justifies the absence of specific event labels to differentiate an Evolutionary Tango environment, even when the presence of Traditional Tango practices is minimal (Creating a Tango Brand: The Role of Language in the Marginalization of Argentine Tango).

 

The Battlefield and Foot Soldiers of the Tango Culture War

In order to understand the conflict between Traditional Tango and Evolutionary Tango, it is important to identify the opposing parties, their potential sources of conflict, and the theatres into which their disputes are brought to the forefront.

Tango Traditionalists tend to be self-identified, i.e., they are consciously aware and give voice to the values they have regarding milonga practices. What Tango Traditionalists seek most in attending a milonga is an environment where one has the tranquility and safety to concentrate on connection to one’s partner (i.e., embrace) and the music, and not be confronted by challenges to that desired condition. In its ideal state, this milonga environment consists of having good partners to dance with (who enjoy the embrace), chosen by cabeceo under lighting conditions where it is possible to see potential partners clearly and where the floor had been cleared during the cortina, a program of all Classic Tango music, a smoothly circulating ronda lacking threats of intrusion into one’s personal space from other couples, and an absence of the distractions of exhibitionism. They do not want to be confronted with teaching on the dance floor, either by a partner or by encountering a couple interrupting the ronda. A preference for partnerships consisting of men as leaders and women as followers is common. Some respect shown for the social environment demonstrated by having proper attire for the occasion (or at least not disrespecting the social environment with casual dress) is also appreciated.

The situation with the Evolutionary Tango subculture is different. This is the dominant subculture in most tango communities and therefore in most cases the majority of dancers engage in Evolutionary Tango practices without awareness of its origin and rationale. Nevertheless, there are typically some dancers within these communities who explicitly give voice to the credo of Evolutionary Tango. These are dancers who consciously seek freedom of expression in their dancing, the freedom to explore the available space on the dance floor. They desire to employ movements characteristic of dancing tango to a wide range of music, and consider dancing only to Classic Tango music an unnecessary restriction. They may prefer low lighting conditions as the best environment for expressing themselves while dancing. These dancers do not want to be constrained by milonga customs they consider to be outdated in the contemporary cosmopolitan world order, such as use of the cabeceo for dance invitation, restriction of partner formation to men as leaders and women as followers, or specific requirements for attire at a milonga.

At its most basic level, the potential for conflict at a milonga exists because followers of Traditional Tango expect adherence to tango customs and followers of Evolutionary Tango prefer to not have certain regulations to which they are expected to adhere.

For Tango Traditionalists, the practices of Tango Evolutionists are perceived as an assault in various sensory modalities. The most serious violation is tactile, when the expansive and rapid free-ranging movements of Tango Evolutionists cause collisions on the dance floor. Even in the absence of collisions, these movements are visually threatening, raising the level of arousal and driving Tango Traditionalists into a defensive mode of dancing, thereby decreasing their concentration on partner and music. The exhibitionist nature of the movements of Tango Evolutionists, in bringing attention to their dancing, offends the Tango Traditionalists’ sense of decorum. (The casual attire of Tango Evolutionists may also visually upset the Tango Traditionalists’ sense of decorum.) Other factors causing dismay are low lighting conditions and floors not cleared during the cortina, making use of the cabeceo impractical. The playing of Tango Alternative music for dancing tango, often characterized by hard percussive sounds and played at louder volume, is an auditory assault on Tango Traditionalists (and otherwise a waste of time that could be devoted to dancing tango to music designed for dancing tango, i.e., Classic Tango music). Teaching on the dance floor obstructs movement of the ronda, also placing Tango Traditionalists into a defensive mode and, when experienced personally (i.e., unsolicited), is invasive upon one’s concentration on the dance and the music. Receipt of a dance invitation by Direct Approach can be an intrusion upon one’s freedom of choice of dance partners, possibly creating some degree of anxiety for the recipient with regard to maintaining politeness or, if the invitation is accepted, in dancing with an undesired partner. One or more of these violations of Tango Traditions can make attending a milonga an unpleasant experience for a Tango Traditionalist.

For Tango Evolutionists, the actions of Tango Traditionalists at the milonga rarely disturb them. Under the One Tango Philosophy, Tango Evolutionists express tolerance for a diversity of interpretations and expressions of tango. Tango Evolutionists dance to Classic Tango music, even if some from this subculture find this music boring and prefer Tango Alternative music. Tango Evolutionists do not object to men wearing jackets and ties and women wearing dresses (and many, particularly women, dress in this manner themselves at times). The subtle use of the cabeceo for dance invitation does not disturb the mindset of Tango Evolutionists (and some have used it on occasion). Tango Evolutionists do not object to couples maintaining the embrace throughout a dance (and have been observed to do so themselves at times). Nevertheless, some from the Evolutionary Tango subculture find the space-conserving movements of Tango Traditionalists obstructive to their freedom of movement on the dance floor (Tango Voice comment)

I actually see, quite often, a type of exhibitionism which I call “tantra tango” – people who block the circulating ronda by ultra-slow movements and which is as annoying than its “wild brother”.

Notably, overtly expressed conflict between dancers having different philosophies regarding dancing tango rarely occurs at the milonga. Dancers with similar viewpoints may share their views quietly (or not so quietly) with like-minded individuals, but it is most likely that differences in opinion between Tango Traditionalists and Tango Evolutionists are expressed outside the milonga, most often in the safety of cyberspace, between dancers who have never met each other.

Navigation (floorcraft) is the greatest point of conflict between Tango Traditionalists and Tango Evolutionists. The nature of this conflict is apparent in this exchange on the Tango-L discussion forum in 2009:

(Comment A):

Nuevo, by its very nature of exploring movement possibilities, including extension of and even breaking of the embrace, reorientation of body position such that even the rear of one dancer can face the front of the partner (relish that image), the exploration of the space in between the legs and around the body of the partner are not only invasive of the space of other dancers on the floor, but they are disruptive to fluid forward movement of the line-of-dance. As to some remaining elements such as mini-volcadas and mini-colgadas that can be executed within restricted space, the amusement park “whee!!” component that disrupts shared balance is counter-conducive to a stable and relaxed shared connection that is prized by social tango dancers in Buenos Aires.

(Comment B):

If we are not messing with other dancers or the line of dance, etc., what is wrong if we express our feelings as we wish through our dance? Is Tango an art form or is it merely a stilted, codified and over prescribed set of step patterns, as bad as the worst excesses that one might find in the ballroom world? Does it diminish you to let me dance tango as I wish? I think that it is the self appointed “purists” who fail to dance tango, and should rename their dance to “Codified Tango.” … If you would like to copyright the term ‘Tango’, you are welcome to try. In the meantime, the word, and the dance, belongs to the world.

(Comment C):

It isn’t just physical contact that is bothersome. The whole rhythm of the pista can be thrown off by very slow volcadas or high boleos. I can always tell when there is a thoughtless dancer behind me because my partner’s musicality is thrown off trying to protect me from abrupt stops or backsteps or leader boleos.

(Comment D):

Really? So a slow milonguero doesn’t do this? Or a milonguero that doesnt follow ‘the rules’? Surely it comes back to the dancers themselves! Get off the ‘nuevo dancers are crap’ thought process and maybe as David says, focus on ‘crap dancers suck’ rant… But who’s to say who is crap? O dear, here come the ‘tango nazi police’ again cause I paused when I felt pause, but you didn’t…

Music played for dancing tango at a milonga is another major source of conflict between Tango Evolutionists and Tango Traditionalists.

The virtues of playing Tango Alternative music for dancing tango at a milonga have been extolled by numerous Tango Evolutionists.

Sharma Fabiano, in ‘The Rise of Neo Tango Music’, has written:

… (A)lthough 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.

Veronika Fischer has written:

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, in ‘The Need for NeoTango’, has written:

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. … 

Times change, dance evolves. In its infancy in Buenos Aires, tango was sentimentally a “lament for the lack of women’. … In 2005 we have different reasons for dancing tango and in our search, we are expressing ourselves using other music that resonates with the soul of tango.

Elio Astor, a Neotango DJ from Rome has said:

Tangos tell stories about life in Buenos Aires, 100 years ago, about a world made of lost love, disillusion, nostalgia, solitude, life in old suburbs, lunfardo dialect and characters which are gone. You cannot dance on the stories of your time to tango music. In neotango you touch broader feelings. If you think of Greek, French, Balkan, Italian, Sufi, Yiddish music, you experience a broader range of colors of emotions…

The lyric tangos should also tell about tango feelings, of modern world, some of the new people don’t try dancing tango because it’s too much old and linked to the ancient Argentinean culture and not to modern age.

The themes that emerge from these comments are that Tango Alternative music, in contrast to Classic Tango music, is something to which new tango dancers around the world can relate because it is familiar (i.e., part of their culture), and this will aid in the recruitment of new dancers to tango communities.

Tango Traditionalists have a different point of view.

The Accidental Tangoiste has said:

Dancing tango (or “tango”) to other music doesn’t feel right to me, in a way that I don’t have the vocabulary to describe. And when I’m listening to tango music, I can imagine the dance that one could build to the song. Sometimes I can almost feel it in my body: dainty little pizzicato steps here, the swoop of a turn there, the anticipation of suspension in this drawn-out note, and now the release. How would I embellish this part with subtle footplay, if given the chance by a sensitive partner? And always, the music evokes the warm memory of the embrace.

They evolved together, the music and the dance; can they really be separated?

Tango Immigrant has said:

During the last years, I’ve discovered a whole world of qualities and emotions in the music from the Golden Age: The sharp and energetic rhythms of D’Arienzo, fleetingly touched with lyricism. The robust, down-to-earth sadness of Rodríguez with Moreno. The slight naïveness of Fresedo. The reliability of Canaro, paired with the milk chocolate-y voice of Maida and the incredibly cute “pa-pa-pa-s” from a muted trumpet. The bandoneóns in some Donato tangos, sounding like birds. Oh, and these pianists. The majestic Carlos Di Sarli and the manic Rodolfo Biagi…. 

The list goes on, and it keeps growing and changing. I don’t care if it’s because it’s traditional, I just know that it makes me dance through every emotion during a three hour milonga.

Oliver Kolker has said:

… (F)or 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.

Paul Yang has said:

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.

Tango Evolutionists repeatedly have expressed disdain for the restrictiveness they feel is imposed by the Traditional Tango culture.

Toxitango has stated

Neotango, which is neither a dance or a musical genre but a philosophy, cut in a straight way all the knots with the past, leaving only the wonderful ancient embrace dance, on music of our time, letting each one express, interpret and improvise freely and smiling in armony with the other couples the sound of our days. Without this it remains only the HABIT, because often in many cities there is nothing but “religion” always set by the industry, against those who want to dance to be himself and not a copy of a world that does not belong to them, bringing in their soul only the light, now destined to fade, of a music dead (musically speaking) last year.

In a blog post called ‘No crash trance’, Tangoforge has extolled the freedom of a Neotango event:

 I had the good fortune to spend last weekend at Volker Marschhausen’s Neo Tango Rave in Bremen. This event is unique and beloved for its commitment to creating an environment in which dancers of Argentine Tango can explore a modern aesthetic. To create this environment, a lineup of DJs from all over Europe share their music, without tandas or cortinas, and VJs (Visual Jockeys) bathe the room in imagery, color, and light.

 I danced way beyond exhaustion into a trance. And I danced beyond my previous level, in each role. I was exhausted not only by the lack of sleep, but by the concentration required to be fully present in the experience. Sadly, this level of attention is rarely necessary for me any more with most Marks, and rarely elicited by a traditional milonga. …

 At all times and all over the dance floor, people are flying through the air and dancing beyond the embrace. If we are to believe the claims of the neo-Victorians, such a constant use of jumps, lifts, drags, and soltadas would present a dangerous and unpleasant environment.

 Interestingly, there were very few crashes during the weekend, and the dance floor was often very crowded. …

 (T)he people attending have a genuine interest in tango being creative. They are more interested in the creative experience unfolding in their own dance to this amazing music that they’ve never heard before, than in giving their attention to judging other people. When couples touched one another, the attitude was generally “please don’t interrupt me with an apology”. …

 Rather than having a self-centered attitude about dancefloor real estate, the attitude was “Oh, that looks cool. Do you need a little more space? We’ll go over here.” …

 All of the women dancers here –those who dare to resist all the bigoted moralistic policing of the tango world– are after something much more than a man’s embrace. So they don’t dance passively. These are self-responsible Revels, dancing with awareness of the space around them, exercising control to modify size and direction of their extension so as to complete movements safely.

 Monza has stated:

Dancing would not be fun if there is no creativity.  Yes people talk about dancing as an art and it is related to creativity.  But it is not always practiced that way, I’ve found.  To dance like what everyone did 50 years ago, would be like going to a museum everyday and copying the oil paintings of Picasso.  I am not saying it is wrong.  It is the way to learn an art, but it should not be the ultimate goal.  Maybe that’s why I am more leaning towards nuevo tango.  Also, what can beat the new form of tango which combines old tango + classical + jazz music? 

A particularly strong and succinct criticism of Traditional Tango cultural values, as presented in a previous Tango Voice post (Tango Manifesto: A Declaration of the Rights of First World Tango Dancers to have a Tango Environment Supporting Argentine Tango Cultural Traditions) has been expressed in Zoukology:

By contrast, here’s a recent extreme case of a dancer clinging to tradition. This “Tango Manifesto,” which criticizes new styles of Tango, is a self-important, comically elitist, intellectually timid, masturbatory celebration of the author’s interpretation of traditional Argentine Tango. … Is it any wonder why Tango in North America is considered a snobby, old community?

Tango Traditionalists have explained the rationale for having codes of behavior at the milonga.

Melina Sedo has written:

Tango is an interaction of individual beings. Even more so. It is a social partner dance. Such a kind of activity needs to be regulated in some way. Every form of human interaction is defined by rules. Limitations that tell us, what kind of behaviour is accepted in this setting and which behaviour will be frowned upon or will even be dangerous. Sometimes they are written down and called laws. Sometimes they remain unwritten codes of behaviour. Some are universal, some apply only to one context, group or area. Rules therefore also help define group identities….

The so-called „codigos milongueros“ are therefore no abomination or freak-law and not even particularly limiting. Actually they just describe a certain respectful and group-oriented form of behaviour:

– To take care not to invade the personal space of someone when inviting him/her to dance: Mirada & Cabeceo.

– To take care of the other couples on the dancefloor: Entering the dancefloor carefully, moving counter-clockwise, keeping the feet on the floor, keeping distance to the other couples and not invading their space….

– Giving everyone the chance to chose a (new) partner according to the music and helping to create an open atmosphere, where dancers do not cling to their favourites: 1-tanda guideline.

Juntostango has written about tango community identity:

The common pattern language in the case of a milonga are the códigos of that milonga. With a common pattern language the group of people becomes something else: a community. And a community, no matter how large or small, can create a complex and complete experience….

A dancer who does not share a common pattern language with the other dancers at a milonga, will simply be doing their own thing, out of relationship with their partner, out of relationship with the ronda, and out of relationship with the milonga as a whole.  Sadly one sees this often, and it is sad because the person is out of communion with their surroundings.

Juntostango also has written about respect for community values:

On the first and most basic level, being social means respecting the common rules and practices of a particular tango context. They are sometimes very democratic and sometimes very strict, from the gender-dividing sitting arrangements in the traditional milongas of Buenos Aires to the completely free social interactions of a tango marathon. If you come to a place in which everyone respects a certain dress code (say, a Grand Saturday Ball of a big festival) and you are dressed like you just walked your dog, the message you are sending is “Carry on, I am not part of this party”. You will be probably left sitting, ignored by most people, not because they are evil, but because for them at this moment you are NOT IN THE GAME. If you do not respect the good practices of a place, you cannot complain that people do not accept you “as you are”. It does not work in tango, just as it does not work anywhere else.

On the second level, being social means respecting other dancers, both on the dance floor and around it. A large part of it is floorcraft, the other part is the dynamic of inviting, being invited and general social interactions. Annoying, intrusive or aggressive invitations, barging in on an intimate conversation, stalking, acting insulted when rejected, forcing yourself onto a person instead of using delicate methods of approach: all of these are examples of a not very social behaviour….

The nature of the conflict Tango Traditionalists and Tango Evolutionists is captured in this parody (which is obviously biased in favor of the Evolutionist perspective).

 

Searching for a Truce in the Tango Culture War

It is apparent that there are strong differences of opinion between Tango Evolutionists and Tango Traditionalists in three main aspects of tango practices: (1) how tango can and should be danced at the milonga, (2) the appropriate music for dancing tango, and (3) the social customs accompanying the tango social dance environment. There is often a strong emotional investment in these differing interpretations of tango.

The obvious solution to this conflict is segregation of dancers by type of event; this is the Buenos Aires solution, where traditional milongas, informal milongas, tourist-oriented milongas, social practicas, and Tango Queer events attract different types of dancers (Milongas and Practicas: Cultural Tradition and Evolution in Buenos Aires Tango Social Dance Venues). This segregation allows each tango subculture a safe space to follow its own practices without interference from the other subculture. This system works in Buenos Aires because there are thousands of dancers who attend tango social dance events every week. To a certain extent this also has occurred in First World countries with the creation of clearly identified subculture oriented tango events such as Encuentros Milongueros, Alternative Milongas, Neotango festivals and marathons, and Queer Tango events. However, these are usually regional events. Within most First World local tango communities, Evolutionary Tango dominates, not only by the numbers of dancers recruited by tango entrepreneurs, but also by its monopolizing presence at the milonga, in its seizure of physical space, its imposition upon visual space and, at times, its intrusion into aural space. This leaves the minority of Tango Traditionalists marginalized and suppressed within the dominant Evolutionary Tango culture. Finding a fair solution to this conflict that allows both subcultures to survive with dignity, respect, and peaceful coexistence requires further analyses that will be given focused attention in future Tango Voice posts.

 

References in Print

Azzi, Maria Susana. The Golden Age and After: 1920s – 1990s; pgs. 114-160 in: Simon Collier, Artemis Cooper, Maria Susana Azzi, and Richard Martin – Tango: The Dance, the Song, the Story. Thames and Hudson Ltd., London. 1995.

Collier, Simon. The Tango is Born: 1880s – 1920s; pgs 18-64 in: Simon Collier, Artemis Cooper, Maria Susana Azzi, and Richard Martin – Tango: The Dance, the Song, the Story. Thames and Hudson Ltd., London. 1995.

Thompson, Robert Farris. Tango: The Art History of Love. Pantheon Books, New York. 2005.

Torres, George, ed. Encyclopedia of Popular Latin Music. Greenwood, ABC-CLIO LLC, Santa Barbara CA, 2013.

 

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