Creating a Tango-Brand: The Role of Language in the Marginalization of Argentine Tango

September 30, 2015


In Buenos Aires, the birthplace of tango, tango is defined by its cultural heritage. Although it may be difficult to define ‘tango’ precisely [Definition of Tango: Where are the Boundaries in Contemporary Tango (Stage Tango / Tango Nuevo / Contact Improvisation Tango)?], porteños who dance at milongas know what constitutes Tango de Salon and when dancing crosses the boundaries of socially acceptable tango dancing (Codes and Customs of the Milongas of Buenos Aires: The Basics). Adherence to a larger set of codes associated with tango social dancing, including the music to which it is appropriate to dance tango, defines an event as a ‘milonga’ [Do Milongas Exist outside Argentina? (The Milonga Codes Revisited)]. These traits are part of the Argentine tango dance culture that is maintained by its practitioners. New dancers learn the characteristics of tango through a socialization process.

When there is transference of practices from the culture of origin to a foreign culture, the social milieu in which the practices evolved often is lost to a significant degree, and there is pressure for adaptation to the foreign culture. Some characteristics of the original culture are maintained, some are modified, and some are lost completely. This phenomenon has been evident in the transference of Argentine tango culture to First World societies (Trans-Cultural Diffusion and Adaptation of Tango Argentino in the 20th Century). Nevertheless, tango dancers from First World cultures who visit Buenos Aires and experience tango in the environment of its origin often have the desire to recreate as much as is possible within the First World cultural environment a niche within which practices associated with Argentine tango culture can thrive. This endeavor is complicated to a significant degree by the understanding and use (and abuse) of the terms ‘tango’ and ‘milonga’ within the resident cultural environment, which often hinder significantly the ability to communicate clearly the characteristics of Argentine tango culture and promote its dissemination. This is because promoters of a First World adaption of tango dance and music have appropriated the ‘tango’ name, redefined it, and marketed their adapted system under a created Tango-Brand. In this way this readapted system becomes known and recognized by the resident culture as ‘tango’ and attempts to promote tango based on Argentine culture must compete against the foreign transformation that has become the established and popular Tango-Brand.

This post examines the establishment of a First World Tango-Brand and the process by which this commodity competitively excludes Argentine tango culture in the social dance marketplace. The role of the selective use of language in achieving this outcome is emphasized. The discussion here is limited primarily to the use of English language terminology for tango, although the appropriation of tango terminology is essentially worldwide in part because English is the most common language of tango instruction outside Spanish speaking cultures and in part because most foreign language derivatives of Spanish tango terms are based closely on the original Spanish terminology. Strategies for counteracting the appropriation of tango terms by tango entrepreneurs are discussed.

The Use and Abuse of Tango Terminology has been discussed in more general terms in a previous post.


The Creation of a First World Tango-Brand after the First Wave of Transcultural Diffusion

In the early 20th century the initial exposure of First World cultures to tango was primarily to a form of exhibition tango that was described by audiences as ‘sensual’, ‘provocative’ and ‘indecent’ (Trans-Cultural Diffusion and Adaptation of Tango Argentino in the 20th Century). A First World interpretation of early 20th century tango is displayed in the performance by Rudolph Valentino in the motion picture ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’. Public interest in tango led to modification of the dance for instructional purposes, which eliminated most of the sensuality from the dance. Vernon and Irene Castle were instrumental in creating and marketing an Americanized version of the dance for social dancers. Versions of the tango dance stripped of overt sensuality were also introduced and became popular in Europe. A French version is shown in this video. Arthur Murray, a student of the Castles, developed a chain of ballroom dance studios that standardized the American Ballroom Tango that epitomized the Tango-Brand in North America. An example of the marketing of the American Ballroom Tango-Brand, complete with incorrect references to Argentine Tango, is shown here. In Europe the British ballroom dance establishment has been primarily responsible for the standardization of what has become known as International (Ballroom) Tango.

The ‘tango’ dance that has developed in the ballroom dance studios of North America and Europe bears little resemblance to the tango danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires [Ballroom Tango (American and International)]. The following videos demonstrate that: Tango de Salon, American Ballroom Tango, International Ballroom Tango. The Ballroom Tango is typically danced with a rigid frame, partners leaning away from each other, and rapid staccato movements. [See Ballroom Tango (American and International) for additional details.] In contrast, in Tango de Salon the frame is relaxed, partners are upright or lean towards each other, and movements are smooth. [See Tango de Salon: The Tango of the Milonga (Part II of ‘Tango Styles, Genres and Individual Expression) for additional details.] Ballroom Tango also derived its own music for tango dancing based on First World popular music, adding drums to coincide with rhythmic changes and, for the most part, abandoning the bandoneon. (Listen to popular ballroom tangos such as Herando’s Hideaway and Blue Tango.)

By naming the dances ‘American Tango’ and ‘International Tango’ there has been no apparent intent to communicate that these derivative dances are what is danced in milongas in Buenos Aires. The modifications from the Argentine source are obscured and apparently have been of little interest to the ballroom dance community throughout most of the 20th century. The nesting of Ballroom Tango within a social dance environment including other ballroom dances (e.g., waltz, foxtrot, cha-cha, rhumba) and the absence of instruction in and practice of milonga customs (Codes and Customs of the Milongas of Buenos Aires: The Basics) indicate that with the inclusion of a dance called ‘tango’ in the ballroom dance studio there has been no attempt to recreate a milonga environment; the ‘milonga’ terminology was not used in the ballroom dance community throughout most of the 20th century. Thus, there apparently has been no conscious intent to deceive participants regarding the Argentine tango dance and musical traditions in this environment. Nevertheless, in the appropriation of the ‘tango’ label, naïve participants may have incorrectly assumed that the ballroom dance was at least similar to the tango danced in Argentina, although one may assume that a simple inquiry to a ballroom dance instructor would correct this misconception. However, this situation changed with the reintroduction of ballroom dancers to tango of Argentine origin beginning in the mid-1980s, as is discussed below.


The Second First World Exposure to Argentine Tango in the 1980s and 90s: Initial Propagation and Nomenclature

The international touring of the tango stage production ‘Tango Argentino’ in Europe and North America in the 1980s and 90s, as well as other stage shows such a ‘Forever Tango’, created exposure to a modern form of Tango Escenario (video), a genre of tango of direct Argentine origin that was different from the American and International Ballroom Tango to which First World communities had been exposed for decades. This genre of tango was often referred to as ‘Argentine Tango’, correctly recognizing the cultural heritage of the dance. However, it was incorrectly assumed by many First World viewers that the tango danced on the stage in these shows closely resembled the tango danced in the dance salons of Argentina. Demand for instruction in the exhibited dance from First World audiences led in many cases to the creation of a modified accessible form of Stage Tango (video) including many elements that were not characteristic of the Tango de Salon of Buenos Aires (e.g., 8 count basic, lustradas, high boleosganchos and sentadas). Typically absent from tango instruction was the embrace that is omnipresent in Buenos Aires milongas (Variations in the Tango Embrace – ‘Open Embrace’ and ‘Close Embrace’ Styles of Tango: The Evidence from Buenos Aires Milongas) and the development of improvisational skills. Many tango instructional videos of this period (e.g., Osvaldo Zotto & Mora Godoy) taught tango as a series of set sequences, neglecting the improvisational nature of the dance.

During the first 10 years or so (mid-1980s – mid-1990s) of re-exposure of First World cultures to a tango genre of Argentine origin, labeling of the dance was not entirely consistent. The Stanford Tango Weeks in the 1990s, which invited some Argentine instructors to teach, were instrumental in the early propagation of tango; the modifier ‘Argentine’ was not specifically attached to the ‘tango’ taught there. Daniel Trenner, who was influential in the spread of tango in the US and elsewhere during the 1990s, did not specifically label tango as ‘Argentine’ in his ‘Tango Catalogue’, although it was clear that the tango promoted in music and instructional videotapes had an Argentine origin. In contrast, Janis Kenyon promoted tango in Chicago through the Chicago Argentine Tango Club and the International Argentine Tango Congress [1995], thereby specifically labeling the ‘tango’ as ‘Argentine’.

As they were in the first generation First World derivative of tango, ballroom dance studios were instrumental in the propagation of the second generation derivative of tango of Argentine origin in that they had dance floors available for hosting tango-related events (workshops and milongas). Often these tango events were hosted by organizers who were largely independent of the ballroom dance community, although some ballroom dance instructors (e.g., Paul Pellicoro in New York; see also ‘Paul Pellicoro on Tango‘) were active in promoting a tango dance derived from Argentine sources.

The ballroom dance community has been more consistent in its labeling of different genres of tango since the re-exposure to tango of Argentine origin in the 1980s. Ballroom Tango, the first generation modification of tango of Argentine origin, has been labeled as American Tango or International Tango, depending upon the variation taught, or it has been referred to simply as ‘tango’, especially when listed as one of several dances taught at a ballroom dance studio (e.g., waltz, foxtrot, and tango). The second generation derivative of tango of Argentine origin modified for ballroom dancers to be suitable for First World cultural proclivities has been labeled as ‘Argentine Tango’. This latter tango derivative typically has been taught in ballroom dance studios as a series of named set sequences, possibly with a distributed step list, as is standard in the teaching of ballroom dances in general. Almost always absent from instruction in ‘Argentine Tango’ in ballroom dance studios is teaching tango in an embrace and teaching of improvisational skills. There may be exceptions to this generalization if the instructors of Argentine Tango in ballroom dance studios have visited Buenos Aires and have been had tango instruction with Argentine social dancers of tango (in particular, milongueros) (e.g., Lois Donnay in Minneapolis).

In contrast to the ballroom dance studios (and some Argentine stage tango dancers) promoting ‘Argentine Tango’ as a set of fixed figures, American dance instructors Daniel Trenner and Rebecca Shulman (often teaching partners) promoted ‘tango’ (identified as of Argentine origin) in their workshops and instructional videos as an improvised dance; nevertheless, the embrace characteristic of Tango de Salon was largely ignored in the earlier videos (exception). Popular instructional videos in Trenner’s Tango Catalogue, e.g., by the (Mingo) Pugliese family (no longer available) and by “Tete” (Pedro Rusconi) also showed improvisation in tango; the Pugliese videos circumvented discussion of the embrace whereas the Tete videos focused on it. These instructional videos were influential in the 1990s because tango workshops (and even more so resident tango instructors) were few and far between.

Within the range of variation of the tango that was taught in North America during the 1990s, some instructors (e.g., stage performers such as Juan Carlos Copes and Osvaldo Zotto taught more elements of stage tango, and some instructors (e.g., Trenner and Shulman) taught a tango that was similar to the variant of Tango de Salon common in the outer barrios of Buenos Aires (Tango Estilo del Barrio), but without an embrace and including some antisocial elements such as ganchos and high boleos, as well as ronda inhibiting movements such as extensive foot play (e.g., lustradas) accompanying paradas. The term ‘salon tango’ was sometimes also used by tango instructors and organizers to categorize the variants that were less like Tango Escenario, giving the (erroneous) impression that this represented the Tango de Salon danced in Buenos Aires milongas. Some North American tango instructors [e,g,, Daniel Trenner] emphasized the distinction between ‘stage tango’ and ‘salon tango’.

Thus, in the first 10-15 years after the reintroduction of North America to tango of Argentine origin, both ‘Argentine Tango’ and ‘tango’ were used as labels for identifying and promoting the dance, and the Tango-Brand most commonly marketed to consumers was a mix of Stage Tango elements and Tango de Salon elements danced without an embrace (Salon Style Tango, Milonguero Style Tango, and Tango de Salon in Buenos Aires and in North America).


The arrival of Milonguero Style Tango and the Creation of the ‘Close Embrace’ and ‘Open Embrace’ Dichotomy

In the mid-1990s Susana Miller from Buenos Aires began touring in North America to teach a stylistic variation of tango she christened as ‘milonguero style tango’ (translation of the Spanish ‘tango estilo milonguero’). This variation of Tango de Salon resembles the way tango was danced by many dancers in the downtown milongas of Buenos Aires during the 1950s (Tango Estilo del Centro); it is also within the range of variation of the most common tango stylistic variant danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires today. She used this particular terminology to differentiate it from the predominant style of tango danced in North American milongas at the time, which had been labeled ‘salon tango’ (aka ‘salon style tango’). ‘Milonguero style tango’ was different from the ‘salon style tango’ danced at North American milongas in that the embrace was maintained (in a forward leaning posture) throughout the dance, movements were compact, and elements adapted from Stage Tango, such as ganchos and high boleos were absent from the dance (video). (Additional details on stylistic differences are reported in Salon Style Tango, Milonguero Style Tango, and Tango de Salon in Buenos Aires and in North America) Promoters of ‘milonguero style tango’ often emphasized that their stylistic variation of tango was an accurate representation of tango danced in Buenos Aires milongas whereas the North American ‘salon style tango’ was not. Although true as stated here, this does not take into account the ‘Tango Estilo del Barrio’ commonly danced in the outer barrios of Buenos Aires in the 1950s and still danced there and elsewhere in Buenos Aires today, which has a longer stride, a more upright posture, and an embrace that opens for giros and ochos (video). In the perception of North Americans, the maintained embrace of ‘milonguero style tango’ was the defining feature differentiating it from ‘salon style tango’, in which no embrace was incorporated into the dance, which often led to the dichotomization of North American tango into two labeled classes (i.e., two marketed Tango-Brands), the (redundant) ‘close embrace tango’ or ‘milonguero style tango’ and the (oxymoronic) ‘open embrace tango’ or ‘salon style tango’. [Note: Not all proponents of the ‘close embrace tango’ identified themselves as teaching ‘milonguero style tango’, primarily because of the absence of the forward leaning posture.] Due to the assertive claims of ‘milonguero style tango’ being authentic and ‘salon style tango’ being inauthentic, and the defensiveness of dancers of the ‘salon style tango’, there was often conflict between advocates of each stylistic variation and sometimes fracturing of tango communities along stylistic lines; i.e., there were two competing Tango-Brands.


The Tango Investigation Group and the Creation of the Tango-Nuevo-Brand

By the early 1990s Gustavo Naveira and Fabian Salas had begun exploring new possibilities in movement derived from the basic elements of the tango dance. They called themselves the Tango Investigation Group. Mariano “Chicho” Frumboli, and Norberto “El Pulpo” Esbres were also instrumental in developing new tango movements. Many of the distinctive new movement possibilities these investigators developed were introduced by them and other tango instructors into tango social dancing, e.g., off axis movements such as volcadas and colgadas, new orientations of stage tango elements (e.g., linear boleos, enganches, piernazos) (Is Tango Nuevo a Form of Stage Tango?), and partial and complete separation of partners during the dance (soltadas). The primary investigators of these new variations in tango did not differentiate their dance as a distinct style or genre of tango, but rather considered themselves only to be building upon traditional roots and participating in the natural evolution of tango (Tango Nuevo: Definition of the Dance; see also Merritt, C., 2012 – Tango Nuevo, University of Florida, Gainesville FL). Despite the objections of its founders, the system of analysis of tango movements developed by the Tango Investigation Group and their colleagues and disciples became known as ‘Tango Nuevo’, a terminology that has proven to be useful for tango entrepreneurs in their promotion of what was soon to become a new and popular Tango-Brand worldwide (Helsinki, Finland; Berkhamstead, England; Irvine CA, USA; Tauranga, New Zealand). New music (beyond the classic tango music played for dancing tango in the milongas) was introduced for dancing (e.g., the ‘nuevo tango’ of Astor Piazzolla and followers, electronica) and became incorporated into this ‘Tango Nuevo’ culture. Popular practicas nuevas in Buenos Aires, such as Practica X and El Motivo became the breeding ground for the propagation of this tango subculture (Milongas and Practicas: Cultural Tradition and Evolution in Buenos Aires Tango Social Dance Venues).

Although the Tango Investigation Unit evolved during the early 1990s, the terminology ‘Tango Nuevo’ was not used widely in North America to describe a distinctive genre of tango dancing until the early 2000s. Arguments regarding the ‘open embrace’ versus ‘close embrace’ dichotomy were still active at this time, and the ‘flexible embrace’ of Tango Nuevo (i.e., shifting between an embrace and an open hold and even partner separation) added another dimension to the differentiation of stylistic variations in tango, so that in North America in the 2000s three distinct ‘styles’ were recognized, i.e., three Tango-Brands: ‘salon style tango’, ‘milonguero style tango’ and ‘tango nuevo’ (Tango Argentino de Tejas; Wikipedia). Among dancers, elements of Tango Nuevo were often incorporated into ‘salon style tango’, although inventive entrepreneurs also added elements of Tango Nuevo to ‘milonguero style tango’ to promote ‘nuevo milonguero’ as the modern evolution of Tango Estilo Milonguero [Tango Estilo Milonguero Nuevo (Nuevo Milonguero)].


Villa Urquiza Style Tango adds to the Tango Tower of Babel

In the mid-2000s in North America, new life was breathed into what was typically labeled as ‘salon style tango’ by rebranding it as ‘Villa Urquiza style tango’, referred to in 1999 in the Buenos Aires daily newspaper Clarin; translated into English). (See Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza). In North America, tango instructor Ney Melo was instrumental in promoting the Villa Urquiza Tango-Brand; his efforts included posting a series of videos on YouTube. The ‘Villa Urquiza style tango’ brand was a more accurate representation of the Tango Estilo del Barrio that was danced in the outer barrios of Buenos Aires during the Golden Age than was the North American  ‘salon style’ Tango-Brand in that it typically incorporated the embrace, although dancers at North American milongas tended to concentrate more on incorporating giro with sacada variations and additional embellishments into their dance from ‘Villa Urquiza style tango’ rather than adding an embrace to their ‘salon style tango’.

This differentiation of ‘tango styles’ into discrete Tango-Brands provided fuel for the development of diverse tango instructional programs, through which tango promoters enticed dancers to learn all three categories of tango in order to become a complete tango dancer. (Unfortunately, examples of this are no longer available because this separation of tango into distinct styles was a marketing phase that is no longer popular, although the 8th Style Tango School in Seattle used to promote classes in each of three of the aforementioned tango styles – see The One Tango Philosophy: Truths and Consequences)

Nevertheless, underlying the promotion of three (or four) Tango-Brands were controversies about which tango style was better or appropriate. Close embrace tango (Milonguero style tango) was advertised as the ‘authentic’ tango danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires, ‘Villa Urquiza style’ tango was closest to the stylistic variations displayed by dancers in the annual Salon Tango competition in Buenos Aires (Tango Buenos Aires Festival y Mundial); ‘open embrace tango’ (North American ‘salon style tango’) had the advantage of being better adapted to the North American mindset of dancing learned sequences without an embrace, and Tango Nuevo was promoted as the modern (sometimes inevitable) ‘evolution’ of tango.

The differentiation of tango dancing into different styles led to the creation of tango festivals that promoted a particular Tango-Brand, e.g., the Miami Tango Fantasy (stage tango), (video), the Denver Tango Milonguero Festival (video) [see also The Rise and Fall of Tango Milonguero in North America in the 21st Century (Highlighting the Denver Tango Festival)], and the Montreal Tango Nuevo Festival (video).

Although labeling of ‘styles’ facilitated advertising, this trichotomy created divisiveness among proponents of different Tango-Brands; in particular, Tango Nuevo was frequently criticized by dancers of other Tango-Brands as creating hazards for collision on the dance floor (Is Tango Nuevo compatible with Tango de Salon at the same Milonga?). The divisiveness among Tango-Brand identifiers was counterproductive for tango business enterprises. Thus, the intelligent marketing solution for these divisions was the development of the One Tango Philosophy.


The One Tango Philosophy and the Consolidation of Tango-Brands (The One-Tango-Brand)

The One Tango Philosophy (There is only one Tango; The One Tango Philosophy: Truths and Consequences) has its roots in the philosophy of Tango Nuevo. The primary architects of Tango Nuevo (Gustavo Naveira, Fabian Salas, Chicho Frumboli) have argued repeatedly that Tango Nuevo is not a new style of tango, but rather is closely connected to the tango of the Golden Age and only explores new possibilities for movement within the existing framework of traditional tango, thereby contributing to the ongoing evolution of the dance (Tango Nuevo: Definition of the Dance; see also Merritt, C., 2012 – Tango Nuevo, University of Florida, Gainesville FL).

The perspective that all stylistic variations and expressions of tango are unified through a common ancestry and subsequent evolution is embodied in the One Tango Philosophy.  The basic tenets of the One Tango Philosophy are the following:

  1. There is only one Tango: The argument here is that all genres of tango (i.e., Tango de Salon, Tango Nuevo, Tango Escenario are related and making distinctions between them is artificial. Limiting the free expression of this variability is restrictive to creativity. This philosophy fails to recognize that Tango de Salon is tango adapted to the milonga environment, Tango Escenario is tango adapted for the stage, and Tango Nuevo is tango adapted for the practica nueva (Tango Styles, Genres and Individual Expression: Part I – A Rationale for Classification by Niche Adaptation).
  1. Tango is Inclusive. The One Tango Philosophy recognizes diversity and is inclusive; thus, all genres of tango are acceptable for dancing in any setting – the stage, the practica, and the milonga dance floor. This perspective is also extended to tango music in that any music to which tango steps can be executed is considered acceptable in any of the tango environmental niches. This tolerance for inclusiveness does not necessarily extend to the recognition of the right of minority opinions and practices to be respected. The minority in tango communities that often is not respected is the subcommunity of tango dancers desiring to model the milonga environment after the milongas of Buenos Aires, i.e., dancing only Tango de Salon to classic tango music and abiding by Argentine tango milonga codes in general [Do Milongas Exist outside Argentina? (The Milonga Codes Revisited)].
  1. Tango Evolution: The argument here is that tango has always evolved and continues to evolve to this day. Tango variants such as Tango Nuevo are evidence of the inevitable evolution of tango. The assumption here is that whatever form of tango dancing evolves is acceptable and should be tolerated. However, this free expression of tango often hinders the free flow of the circulating ronda and the exploration of movement possibilities often impinges upon the personal space of other dancers on the floor. The logical fallacy in the tango evolution argument is failing to recognize that not all variations that evolve are adaptive and that environmental (including social) pressures select against maladaptive evolutionary tango experiments. What is practiced today may be absent tomorrow. From another perspective it should be noted that what may function in the tango classroom or practica may be dysfunctional on the milonga dance floor.
  1. Tango belongs to the world. The argument here is that although tango has its historical roots in Argentina, the propagation of tango to the rest of the world permits non-Argentine cultural influences to modify tango (see Organic Tango). Notably, this allows the infusion of traits from other cultures to create a tango hybrid that is more palatable for marketing in other nations. This hybridization of tango is most readily apparent in the creation of a new genre of music classified as Tango Electronica or, more broadly, Neotango, in which the bandoneon and utterances in Spanish of phrases referencing ‘Buenos Aires’ and ‘tango’ culture are added to First World electronic music lacking a tango rhythm (e.g., Gotan Project). Alternatively, First World cultural practices may be infused with elements of Argentine tango culture, e.g., by holding a ‘milonga’ in which dancers are invited to wear fantasy costumes (video).

In following these principles of the One Tango Philosophy, tango entrepreneurs can appeal to the healing of divisiveness among Tango-Brands that exists within tango communities by encompassing all this variation within the One-Tango-Brand. This celebration of tango diversity allows a tango teaching academy to offer literally several dozen courses to attract tango dance students, offering them a taste of the extensive variability of the tango dance. Both ‘traditional’ and ‘alternative’ milongas can be offered to appeal to dancers who respect or do not feel the need to respect Argentine tango music traditions. First World holiday theme tango social dancing events can be held to allow tango dancers to have the comfortable environment of their own culture while making a superficial effort to engage in the practices of a foreign culture. This catering to the tango consumer is designed to build a large consumer base, thus possibly monopolizing the tango market and thereby especially competitively excluding tango enterprises designed to replicate Argentine tango cultural traditions.

Notably, this One-Tango-Brand does not advertise itself as ‘One Tango’, but only as ‘tango’, thereby effectively appropriating the ‘tango’ label and instilling in the mind of tango consumers the misleading impression that, for all that is offered, ‘This is tango’.


The Role of the One Tango Philosophy in the Marginalization of Tango Based on Argentine Cultural Traditions

In Buenos Aires, the tango danced at milongas is Tango de Salon, as exemplified by Tango Estilo del Centro (aka Tango Milonguero) (video) and Tango Estilo del Barrio (aka Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza) (video), with variations within and between these common dance expressions. These variations in tango dancing have shared characteristics – embrace of partner, maintaining a circulating ronda on the dance floor, respect of the space of other couples on the dance floor, and avoidance of attention-capturing conspicuous movements characteristic of Stage Tango. In addition, in Buenos Aires there are characteristic customs associated with the milonga environment such as playing only classic tango music of the Golden Age for dancing (Music Played at Milongas / Tango Social Dance Venues), the structuring of music into tandas with cortinas, clearing the floor during the cortina, gender segregated seating, and use of the cabeceo for dance invitation (Use of the Cabeceo and Gender Segregated Seating in Milongas in Buenos Aires and Elsewhere in the World). [For a more extensive review of milonga customs, see Codes and Customs of the Milongas of Buenos Aires: The Basics and Do Milongas Exist outside Argentina? (The Milonga Codes Revisited).]

First World tango dancers who have experienced the environment of Buenos Aires milongas, or who have been educated regarding the customs thereof, often wish to recreate as much as is possible the Buenos Aires milonga environment at a First World milonga, i.e., be able to achieve a peaceful connection with partner in the embrace while dancing to classic tango music. Ignorance or disregard of milonga customs is common among First World tango dancers who have been given instruction in Tango Nuevo and Tango Escenario; the practice of these genres of tango dancing on the milonga dance floor, with their inherent tendencies for conspicuous space consuming movements and lack of connection to the progressive ronda, creates conditions that disrupt the atmosphere sought by aficionados of tango as danced in Buenos Aires milongas. Freedom from these disruptions can be achieved by segregation from the larger First World tango community, as is done in Buenos Aires where, in choosing milongas and practicas to attend, dancers segregate themselves by age, style of dancing and sexual orientation (Milongas and Practicas: Cultural Tradition and Evolution in Buenos Aires Tango Social Dance Venues); however, First World political, cultural, and economic conditions make initiating and maintaining this segregation difficult [Factors Affecting the Survival of Argentine Tango Cultural Traditions in Non-supportive First World Cultural Environments (The Dominance of Tango Extranjero)].

In the competition of the tango marketplace, application of the One Tango Philosophy, unless guided by inept leaders, will attract more dancers than a tango enterprise guided by dancers seeking to replicate Buenos Aires tango traditions. The One Tango Philosophy does not verbally reject Argentine tango traditions, but rather gives lip service to them in its espoused inclusiveness, offering Tango Milonguero (perhaps modified by include elements of Tango Nuevo) as an instructional option, often with the caveat that this is how one would dance by necessity when floor conditions are crowded, while simultaneously reinforcing the notion that Tango Nuevo and perhaps even Tango Escenario are acceptable models for dancing at a milonga when floor density is low, as long as one respects the space of other dancers on the floor. (Notably, this respect is rarely achieved in practice.) Thus, the One-Tango program becomes a one stop shopping site for tango consumers. What is missed in this eclectic but erroneous representation of Argentine tango is that not only is Tango Milonguero the primary style of dancing at Buenos Aires milongas even when floor density is low (video) in part because partner connection in the embrace is a defining feature of tango (The Essence of Tango Argentino), but also that the milonga is not appropriately a showcase for display of conspicuous step repertoires (Codes and Customs of the Milongas of Buenos Aires: The Basics). Also, even though such seemingly quaint milonga customs (by First World standards) such as the cabeceo may be mentioned in passing, the failure to impress the value of this and other milonga traditions on tango students creates an environment in which the cabeceo is poorly understood (if at all) and, thus, direct approach for dance invitation to an unwilling partner becomes a commonly experienced milonga practice. A catholic attitude towards music for dancing at a milonga also functions to disrupt the connection with music that tradition-based tango dancers seek in their dancing. The ingenious approach of the One Tango Philosophy is that it is designed to avoid the contentiousness of the ‘open embrace’ versus ‘close embrace’ and ‘classic tango’ versus ‘neotango’ conflicts by democratically allowing tango diversity at a milonga. However, in an attempt to accommodate all, this eliminates the possibility of creating a Buenos Aires milonga environment for those seeking it. The larger participation in an all-inclusive One-Tango program within a tango community usually inhibits the growth of any tradition-based tango subcommunity, because the larger number of tradition-ignorant dancers often results in the influx of One-Tango students into an advertised ‘traditional milonga’, thereby disrupting the coherence in the practice of milonga customs sought by tradition-based dancers. Thus, attempts at creating a tango environment supportive of Argentine tango cultural traditions may (and probably will) fail to materialize, unless corrective action is taken.

However, the greatest assault of the One Tango Philosophy upon Argentine tango cultural traditions is through the appropriation of the ‘tango’ label. There may have been an economic advantage in years past in advertising instruction in Tango Nuevo or Villa Urquiza Style Tango, but in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century these labels are used much less often in advertising in North American tango communities. There has been a collective (most likely economically-based) decision to advertise all genres of tango dancing simply as ‘tango’. Even the philosophy stated 5 or so years ago that ‘There is only one tango’ is no longer stated explicitly (see There is only one Tango; The One Tango Philosophy: Truths and Consequences), except perhaps to leave a vestige of this bold statement in Spanish (‘Hay solo un tango’) in small print on the home page of  a promoter’s website. [The Organic Tango School also has toned down its rhetoric regarding the ‘the lines between stage & social dancing, past & present, and the Argentine vs. non-Argentine way … have been abused’ (see Organic Tango).] The absence of a need to explicitly state the One Tango Philosophy indicates the battle for tango supremacy has been won and that the heterogeneity and ‘evolution’ of tango styles and genres that ignores adaptation to the milonga and neglects Argentine tango cultural traditions has become, with rare exceptions, the de facto ‘tango’ of the First World. [Perhaps it appropriately should be identified as a new genre of tango called Tango Extranjero, but most likely this nomenclature would be regarded as confrontational rather than insightful by the tango community at large.] In this passive aggressive strategy of subsuming all genres of tango under the ‘tango’ label without differentiating them by niche adaptation (Tango Styles, Genres and Individual Expression: Part I – A Rationale for Classification by Niche Adaptation), promoters of Argentine tango cultural traditions who assert that only their view of tango is culturally valid, thereby correctly implicating the One Tango Philosophy as misrepresenting (at the very least) the tango of Argentine origin, may be branded as politically incorrect and divisive forces within tango communities, which will hinder their efforts at promoting their tradition-based version of tango.


Linguistic Strategies for Promotion of Argentine Tango Cultural Traditions in Face of the Takeover of the Tango Name by those Misrepresenting Tango

The appropriation of the ‘tango’ label in the creation of the One-Tango-Brand creates significant communication problems for promoters of Argentine tango cultural traditions in First World environments. If those believing that tango has evolved for the modern world had chosen appropriately to rebrand their product as something new, perhaps calling it ‘Nuevo’, leaving the label ‘Tango’ for those honoring tango traditions, then each brand could have its own niche, with Tango dancers attending ‘milongas’ where Argentine tango cultural traditions are practiced and Nuevo dancers attending ‘neolongas’ where an evolved dance adapted to 21st century First World cultural proclivities is practiced.

However, the origins of tango misrepresentation preceded the creation of the One Tango Philosophy. Certainly the introduction of First World audiences to tango shows in the 1980s and 90s provided a skewed perspective on tango of Argentine origin. For an even more general audience, popular Hollywood motion pictures in the 1990s such as ‘Scent of a Woman’ [1992], and ‘True Lies’ [1994], as well as more electronica infused tango dance scenes in movies in the 2000s such as ‘Shall We Dance‘ [2004] and ‘Take the Lead‘ [2006], none of which depict tango dancing appropriate for the milonga, have assisted in creating a popular faulty image of tango. In North America, the popular television show ‘Dancing with the Stars’ has presented an even more distorted image of Argentine tango to naïve audiences. Thus, without much conscious attempt to learn about the characteristics of the tango dance, potential North American consumers of tango have been primed to accept in instruction a version of tango that is very different from the Tango de Salon of Buenos Aires. For those with little or no prior exposure to tango who actively seek information regarding tango dancing, YouTube searches using the terms ‘tango’ or ‘Argentine tango’ produce numerous examples of tango exhibitions that do not represent Tango de Salon (YouTube as a Source of Tango Information). Likewise information presented on websites of tango instructors typically provide images of tango as a performance dance rather than as a social dance (The Representation and Misrepresentation of Tango in Website Images in North America). Given the characterization of tango dancing in entertainment venues and popular media, there is no reason for tango entrepreneurs of the One Tango Philosophy to create a new name for their dance offerings, and significant economic advantage in capitalizing on preexisting erroneous perceptions regarding tango dancing by appropriating the simple ‘tango’ label.

This puts promoters of Tango de Salon at a disadvantage in labeling their tango dance in attracting new dancers. If they call their dance simply ‘tango’, as would be justified, it becomes necessary to make the effort to explain that the ‘tango’ they are offering is the tango of the milongas of Buenos Aires. Another option would be to advertise the tango offered as ‘Tango de Salon’ or ‘Tango Milonguero’ but this kind of labeling is too esoteric for a tango naive audience and too limiting in scope for those previously exposed to the One-Tango Brand who wish to express the diversity that One-Tango offers on the milonga dance floor. Both of these strategies necessitate making a distinction of the Buenos Aires milonga ‘tango’ from the ‘tango’ most likely to be offered by promoters of the One-Tango-Brand, a dance laden with exhibition moves, likely to be danced to Neotango music, without incorporating the embrace. When exposed to a simple tango dance focusing on close connection with partner and classic tango music, devoid of exhibition moves and excessive ornamentation, the novice tango student is likely to be either confused, bored, or resistant with regard to this image, which conflicts with the dominant representation of ‘tango’ in First World cultures. If the promoter of this authentic social tango describes this tango as ‘authentic’, this creates the risk that this message will be carried to the purveyors of the One-Tango-Brand, who may respond that tango has evolved beyond this historical image and requires neither the embrace nor classic tango music nor the eschewment of exhibition moves (provided they respect the space of other dancers) to be enjoyed by contemporary dancers in a modern world. In some cases, claims of authenticity will be met with hostility by promoters of the One-Tango-Brand, who feel threatened by the exposure of their misrepresentation. Since the message and/or imagery of the One Tango Philosophy is repeated by numerous tango entrepreneurs, including many instructors of tango from Argentina, the simple Tango de Salon of Buenos Aires has only a minority representation in the First World tango world. One need only attend a typical First World milonga to recognize this. Thus, the image of Tango de Salon has become a weak signal in a tango environment replete with the relentless resounding stimuli of flashy moves, not requiring the uncomfortable invasion of personal space imposed by an embrace of one’s partner, executed to familiar sounding First World (influenced) music.

Because the ‘tango’ label (i.e., Tango-Brand) has been coopted by followers of the One Tango Philosophy, in First World cultures there is confusion and miscommunication when a tango organizer respecting Argentine tango cultural traditions promotes (only) Tango de Salon as the social tango of the milongas. Nevertheless, there are several available options in using specifically crafted language to overcome this obstacle.

One option is to specifically advertise what is offered as ‘Argentine Tango’. (This is the option in English, although equivalent language is available in other languages, e.g., ‘Tango argentino’ in Spanish speaking countries.) There may be hesitancy in taking this approach because tango is of Argentine origin and it is redundant to state that it is Argentine. Also, ballroom dance studios have labeled as ‘Argentine tango’ their version of a tango dance derived and modified from Argentine origins (usually some variation on North American ‘open embrace salon style tango’ taught within the framework of a step list), with the adjective ‘Argentine’ used to differentiate this dance from the ‘tango’ (no modifier) that is the Ballroom Tango that bears little resemblance to its Argentine ancestor with the same name. One might think that using the terminology ‘Argentine Tango’ would imply to the potential tango student that the tango dance offered is the ballroom dance studio adaptation of Argentine Tango. It was certainly true that in the 1990s in North America, when ‘open embrace / salon style tango’ was the de facto second generation derivative of the tango danced in Argentina, tango dancers often wished to distance themselves from the ballroom dance studio nomenclature and even interpretation of the dance. However, in the 2010s, the situation has changed significantly. ‘Argentine Tango’ may be offered as a course in many ballroom dance studios, but these enterprises are typically segregated from the tango community at large. Ballroom dance studios usually do not sponsor milongas even if they offer courses in ‘Argentine Tango’, and the number of dancers who are simultaneously involved in ballroom dancing and tango community sponsored milongas is limited. Thus, the stereotypic image of the ballroom dance version of ‘Argentine Tango’ is no longer so prominent in North America. Since the simple label ‘tango’ with no ‘Argentine’ modifier is used by One-Tango-Promoters, who believe that ‘tango belongs to the world’ and can be shaped by non-Argentine influences and still maintain its core qualities as a dance emanating from Argentine culture, reinserting the modifier to promote ‘Argentine Tango’ reasserts that the dance is of Argentine origin, and this labeling (i.e., recreating an “Argentine-Tango-Brand’) can be a springboard for discussion of Argentine cultural traditions with respect to tango, as well as serving a filtering function in redirecting misguided students seeking (American or International) Ballroom Tango.

Another option is to brand Tango de Salon in First World cultures as ‘traditional tango’ (or equivalent in another language) and to advertise social dance events as ‘traditional milongas’, implying for the latter that at least some of the most prominent milonga traditions of Buenos Aires milongas are practiced (see The Role of the Milonga Organizer in Creating an Environment Promoting Argentine Tango Cultural Traditions). Although these terms have been abused either intentionally or unintentionally (the latter by those lacking sufficient knowledge of milonga customs), the inclusion of the modifier ‘traditional’ also opens the door for instructors to educate naïve tango students regarding Argentine tango cultural traditions, although it may run the risk of turning off some young people who tend to be more impressed with modern interpretations than with embracing tradition. Of course, one may still need to deal with One-Tango-Brand promoters who claim their instructors are thoroughly versed in Argentine tango tradition (and, of course, building on this tradition to evolve tango to be relevant in the modern world), but in reality One-Tango-Brand promoters usually breeze superficially past tango traditions in their enamorment with tango evolution and thus offer limited exposure to tango cultural traditions. Not simply calling Tango de Salon ‘tango’ can be seen as acquiescence to the One-Tango-Brand promoters who control the language of tango in the First World. Nevertheless, this is the reality of First World tango marketplace and promoters of Tango de Salon need to deal with it.

Considering these branding options, it may be best to adopt both strategies, advertising ‘Argentine Tango’ to those with no prior tango dance experience, and advertising ‘traditional tango’ within a community of tango-exposed dancers. In adopting this dual strategy, naïve tango interested people can be readily informed that the tango dance they select to learn is from Argentina. For experienced dancers who appreciate Argentine tango cultural traditions and make choices about tango instruction and milonga attendance based on advertising, use of the ‘traditional’ label provides them with more accurate information regarding the character of the dance and the music they will encounter.



In First World cultural environments, where exposure to tango is not normally part of the socialization process, visual and auditory images of the dance (and its music) are attached to the label ‘tango’ by advertising, mass media and the interpretation of the dance by arts and entertainment enterprises. These images are used by tango entrepreneurs to establish a marketed product or Tango-Brand.

In the 100 years since the introduction of tango to the First World, the public image of tango as a dance has changed. The marketing of tango to potential dancers has attached various accessory labels to tango in advertising which, in association with the visual and auditory images accompanying these labels, have created numerous Tango-Brands.

After the initial First World exposure to tango in the 1910s, ballroom dance instructors rapidly transformed the tango dance of Argentine origin, removing most of its sensual elements, into a ballroom dance acceptable to First World cultural tastes. In the absence of exposure to the tango of Argentine origin that could provide a point of reference, this transformed dance could be referred to simply as ‘tango’. However, with the somewhat different influences of Vernon and Irene Castle and later Arthur Murray in North America and the British ballroom establishment in Europe, over the decades there eventually developed two different ballroom Tango-Brands – American Tango and International Tango, respectively.

During the second exposure to tango of Argentine origin in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a modified version of the Stage Tango of Argentina was introduced to First World dancers. This version of tango was referred to alternately as either simply ‘tango’ or ‘Argentine Tango’, with the latter terminology preferred by the ballroom dance establishment in order to differentiate it from the ‘tango’ adaptation already taught in ballroom dance studios. This modification of the tango of Argentine origin typically was taught as a dance with large conspicuous movements, memorized sequences and no embrace and, thus, had only a superficial resemblance to the Tango de Salon danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires. Nevertheless, there was some variation in this second generation modification of the tango of Argentine origin and those instructors who taught a dance with fewer stage elements and more improvisation (but still lacking the embrace) referred to their version of tango as ‘salon tango’.

In the mid-1990s First World tango communities were exposed to the ‘milonguero style tango’ (tango estilo milonguero) of Susana Miller and her disciples. This version of tango included a maintained embrace and was devoid of large conspicuous movements and, thus, resembled the predominant variant of Tango de Salon danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires. The resulting contrast between ‘milonguero style tango’ (also called ‘close embrace tango’) and the pre-existing ‘salon style tango’ (also called ‘open embrace tango’) led to conflict between the competing Tango-Brands that was often divisive in tango communities.

In the early 2000s, Tango Nuevo, characterized by off-axis movements, reorientation of existing tango movements, and extensive variation in partner connection (including separation of partners during dancing) gained popularity in First World cultures and led to the creation of a new Tango-Brand. With its large expansive movements that were often unpredictable and thus hazardous to other couples on the milonga dance floor, the Tango-Nuevo-Brand was in stark contrast and therefore at odds with the Tango-Milonguero-Brand, and conflict within tango communities heightened to a significant degree, especially since Tango Nuevo represented tango dancing in Buenos Aires milongas even less than the pre-existing ‘salon style tango’.

With the North American invention ‘salon style tango’ losing in popularity to the Tango-Nuevo-Brand in the late 2000s, it was rebranded (with minor modifications) as the more verbally enticing ‘Villa Urquiza style tango’.

A solution to the tango community divisiveness created by market competition among Tango-Brands was incorporated into the One Tango Philosophy, which ostensibly drew upon the arguments of the founders of the Tango Nuevo movement (who rejected the ‘nuevo’ label and argued that ‘there is only one tango’) by marketing all Tango-Brands (eventually without using brand names) under a single umbrella and therefore coopting the ‘tango’ label. This inclusiveness was expanded to include non-Argentine cultural influences upon tango as integrated components of the marketed product. This sequestration of the ‘tango’ label was particularly harmful to promoters of Argentine tango culture (i.e., mainly those who promoted Tango Milonguero), who could no longer label their dance simply as ‘tango’ without drawing contrast with the artificial mixture of different tango genres and foreign influences under the single ‘tango’ banner.

The successful marketing and often monopolization of tango within tango communities accomplished by followers of the One Tango Philosophy necessitates the development of an alternative strategy for the advertisement of tango following Argentine cultural traditions. Two options for labeling the dance and music associated with it are ‘Argentine tango’ and ‘traditional tango’. Although the terminology ‘Argentine tango’ has been used widely by the ballroom dance community to differentiate it from the ‘tango’ of ballroom derivation, the relative independence of the ballroom dance community from the tango community in most locales should minimize confusing the two uses of the nomenclature. Adding the adjective ‘Argentine’ to ‘tango’ reinforces the notion that the dance is of Argentine origin and opens the door for conversation regarding this connection. This terminology probably would be most effective in recruiting newcomers to tango. However, for those who already dance tango, this terminology may appear needlessly redundant or suggest an association to the ballroom version of ‘Argentine Tango’. For this more tango-experienced group, use of the terminology ‘traditional tango’ and likewise ‘traditional milonga’ for the social dancing event communicates (hopefully unambiguously) that Argentine tango cultural traditions are respected in this environment. It is the connection to these traditions that need to be emphasized in order to differentiate these efforts from the misrepresentation of tango so commonly marketed throughout the First World.


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