YouTube as a Source of Tango Information

March 6, 2012

Since its availability in 2005, and particularly in the last few years, YouTube has become a popular source of visual information, including information about tango as a dance. Prior to taking tango lessons or observing tango danced live in a social setting, many people interested in learning about tango consult YouTube in an attempt to gain a visual gestalt of the characteristics of tango as a dance. The goal of this post is to examine the information available on YouTube as a representation of tango as a dance, and whether this is an unbiased portrayal of tango as it is danced in the social environment of the milongas of Buenos Aires, the gold standard of authenticity for tango social dancing. YouTube will also be examined as a potential source of accurate information about tango as a social dance.

The tango danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires will be referred to here as Tango de Salon, which includes Tango Milonguero and Tango Estilo del Barrio, and is not intended to designate specifically Tango Estilo del Barrio, often referred to as ‘Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza’ or ‘Salon (style) Tango’, particularly outside Argentina. The milongas that serve as a point of reference are the Traditional Milongas, the predominant form of milonga in Buenos Aires, in contrast to the recent appearance of Informal Milongas and Social Practicas in Buenos Aires.

Strategy in Selecting YouTube Videos

Tango videos were selected from YouTube using the following strategy. Two key words were used as search criteria: (1) ‘Tango’, and (2) ‘Argentine Tango’. YouTube does not select videos in response to a search that are necessarily the most commonly viewed in the search category. However, the number of views is reported. The 5 most frequently viewed videos in each search category were noted. In the event that YouTube does not always include the 5 most frequently viewed videos in response to a search inquiry, each search was conducted 3 times. Only videos showing ‘dance’ (broadly defined as people moving across a floor as music is playing) were included. This search process identifies the information about tango as a dance that is most frequently viewed on YouTube. From this one can also infer that this is the information about tango as a dance that is most frequently viewed by people who are naïve about tango and who are consulting YouTube as a source of information about tango as a dance. It is known that YouTube video availability is not the same in different countries, so it is best to assume that the tango video visibility reported here is most accurate for the United States.

Video Category: ‘Tango’

(1) Tango Argentina: 15,228,956 views

This is a performance of Stage Tango by highly skilled tango stage performers. The music (Quejas de bandoneon) is consistent with music played in the milongas of Buenos Aires, although the Troilo orchestra version emulated is played infrequently there. As a performance, it is not a depiction of Tango de Salon. The rapid movements using a considerable amount of space and moving in unpredictable directions (i.e., not following a line of dance), as well as the attention attracting conspicuous movements, make this performance an unsuitable example of the type of dancing that is adapted for the milonga setting. Undoubtedly the dancers are aware of this, but the naïve viewer is not and thus is kept in the dark regarding the appropriateness of this type of dancing in the milonga environment.

(2) Al Pacino – Scent of a Woman: 14,786,465 views

As is typically the case when motion picture actors portray dancing, the skill level leaves something to be desired. This dance is an awkward mix of some Ballroom Tango steps and attempts at Stage Tango poses. The music played is not authentic Argentine tango music, but rather a choppy rendition by the Tango Project of ‘Por una cabeza’. Despite the inauthenticity of the dance and the music, this scene is often used as a model for couples desiring to perform a ‘tango’ dance at their wedding, and dance instructors in North America (whether or not they are competent in dancing Tango Argentino) frequently receive requests to train prospective brides and grooms for a wedding performance to be billed as ‘tango’ using this music.

(3) Shakira – Objection (Tango) (first 1:00): 8,473,366 views

This is from a music video, i.e., it serves as an advertisement for a recorded song. Only the first approximately 1:00 of this video attempts to portray tango. The music is ‘La cumparsita’ and although the tempo is not consistent throughout, making it inappropriate for the milonga, the quality of the music is on par with contemporary tango orchestras in Argentina. Presented in the video is a stereotype of a streetwise Latin male in macho mode engaging a reluctant woman in provocative clothing in a seductive scene. The man has good stage tango skills and Shakira does not look completely out of place in this limited exposure. However, once again, this is not Tango de Salon, i.e., dancing that is appropriate for the milonga.

(4) Tango Fire – Verano Portenas: 7,990,113 views

This is an actual recording of a stage production. The music is Piazzolla’s ‘Verano porteño’, not intended for social dancing and not played at milongas in Buenos Aires. The performance is mostly modern dance with some added (and often crude) simulated sensuality. There is nothing resembling the intimate embrace characteristic of dancers in the milongas of Buenos Aires. There is almost nothing in terms of movement that is representative of Tango de Salon.

(5) Shall We Dance? Movie Clip: 5,583,471 views

Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez (the latter in the role of a ballroom dance instructor) execute an awkward combination of Stage Tango poses and movements borrowed mostly from Ballroom Tango with popular electrotango band Gotan Project’s “Santa Maria (del Buen Ayre)” playing in the background. Included also are awkward attempts at expressing sensuality. This is neither tango dancing nor music that is suitable for the milonga.

Category ‘Argentine Tango’

Perhaps the category ‘tango’ is too broad, including some forms of tango (such as Ballroom Tango) that are not Argentine in character. Assume the viewer is interested specifically in the tango from Argentina. The top 5 most frequently viewed videos retrieved with the search terms ‘Argentine Tango’ are listed here.

(1) Tango Argentina (cited above)

(6) Tango Dance by Gustavo and Jesica from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Song: Claudinette, by Lidia Borda: 2,561,972 views

This is a fairly lifeless demonstration of Stage Tango danced with a tango cancion lacking in rhythm (i.e., not designed for dancing) playing in the background. The demonstration is rich in sacadas, arrastres, puentes, ganchos, boleos and numerous opportunities for the woman to lift her legs high off the floor. The dance does not move across the floor; there is little actual walking. It is not the Tango de Salon of the milongas of Buenos Aires, and despite the label advertising the dancers as USA Stage Tango Champions, it is far from the standard of stage dancing exhibited in tango stage productions from Argentina.

(7) Argentine Tango/Milonga–Amazing! 1,820,662 views

This is a demonstration of milonga con traspie given by El Flaco Dany Garcia and Luna Palacios at a milonga at the now closed Plaza Bohemia at 444 Maipu in downtown Buenos Aires. In contrast to all of the other videos reviewed in this post, it demonstrates, for the most part (e.g., excluding the underarm turn around 1:45) a type of dancing that could be done at a milonga in Buenos Aires, although very few dancers achieve the skill level demonstrated in this video. Dany Garcia is a milonguero who has participated in milongas in Buenos Aires for many years and thus his dancing is representative of the social environment in which tango is danced. However, as is the case with many demonstrations, the dancing does not follow the counterclockwise ronda characteristic of milongas in Buenos Aires. The music is ‘Tango negro’ by Juan Carlos Caceres, which is played occasionally for dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires (Music Played at Milongas / Tango Social Dance Venues).

(8) Nicole Scherzinger & Derek Hough – Argentine Tango – Week 9: 1,358,796

This is a typical Dancing with the Stars performance in which a professional ballroom dancer leads a celebrity, an amateur at dancing, through a series of poses, in this case borrowed mostly from Stage Tango. Absent is the embrace and walking characteristic of Tango de Salon. The music used for dancing is an emulation of Gotan Project’s electrotango ‘Un musica brutal’, music that is not used for dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires.

(9) Argentine Tango Street Dancers: 918,966 views

This is a recording of street dancers on Avenida Florida, a pedestrian mall in downtown Buenos Aires, where many tourists wander and shop. The performance is Stage Tango, with standard Stage Tango movements and poses, although there is some walking. The music, Tanturi’s “Asi se baile el tango” is played regularly for dancing tango in the milongas of Buenos Aires.

One More Video: Argentine Tango without Music

This video did not meet the original criterion for inclusion as ‘tango dancing’, i.e., requiring music in conjunction with movement, but is included here because it was referenced in the search for ‘Argentine Tango’ and had over 1 million views, and completes a list of the Top 10 ‘tango’ videos on You Tube.

(10) Dancing the Argentine Tango: Modern Argentine Tango Steps: 1,644,041 views

In this video the instructors demonstrate movements that they correctly introduce as ‘show tango’, declaring it ‘modern’ (in contrast to the ‘older’ milonguero style), ignoring the fact that many thousands more people dance Tango Milonguero than Tango Escenario in Buenos Aires today. They show a series of movements such as drops, ganchos, boleos, sacadas and the sentada without music, describing these movements as ‘sensual’. This video presents movement without music that is inappropriate for the milonga, focusing the viewer on the wrong movements and ignoring the central role of music in the understanding of tango.

Consequences of Commonly Viewed YouTube Tango Video Content

In the United States (and probably in many other parts of the world outside of Argentina and Uruguay) for the prospective tango dancer wishing to learn about tango before embarking on a course of instruction, with the intent of acquiring skills for dancing tango in a milonga environment, consultation of YouTube for information about tango will provide an impression that Stage Tango, with its conspicuous movements and dramatic poses, characterizes the tango dance. It is also noteworthy that much of the music used in demonstrations of tango dancing in popular YouTube tango videos is not the type of music that is played for dancing tango in the milongas of Buenos Aires. Of the 10 most viewed videos labeled as ‘tango’ on YouTube, in only two did the dancers use traditional tango music for dancing. The naïve prospective tango dancer does not know and the YouTube videos do not inform the prospective dancer that there is a difference between the tango designed for the stage and the tango defined for the milongas, and also that there may be a difference between the music used for performances and the music used for social dancing..

It is interesting to note that none of the Top 10 Tango Videos demonstrates Tango Nuevo, although this genre of tango appears to be the most popular in instruction at tango festivals in the United States and elsewhere throughout the world. It is unlikely that naïve dancers are capable of differentiating between Stage Tango and Tango Nuevo (Is Tango Nuevo a Form of Stage Tango?).

In any case, regarding opportunities for obtaining tango instruction, there is also an abundance of tango instructors, many who travel from Argentina specifically for the purpose of instructing foreigners in the execution of movements that are inappropriate for use in milongas, who will reinforce the misperception regarding tango dancing that may be derived from YouTube. The traveling instructors of Stage Tango and Tango Nuevo from Buenos Aires further feed the bank of misinformation by adding videos of their performances to YouTube as a means of advertisement, and recorders of additional performances given by these instructors at workshops and tango festivals provide further free advertisement and misinformation by uploading videos of these performances to YouTube. Except for the performance by Dany Garcia, notably absent from the most viewed tango videos is an accurate representation of tango as a social dance. Thus, it should come as no surprise that social tango dancing in the manner that is danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires is underrepresented, and elements of Stage Tango and Tango Nuevo are overrepresented at the tango social events advertised as milongas in the United States and, by extension of inference, in other parts of the world outside Argentina.

YouTube as a Source of Accurate Information about Tango de Salon

Despite the overrepresentation in YouTube of videos of tango dancing that portray Stage Tango (or even Ballroom Tango) dancing, YouTube can provide accurate information about Tango de Salon, if one knows how to use the resources available. Some sources of accurate information about tango social dancing in Buenos Aires milongas (i.e., videos of dancing in the milongas themselves, or demonstrations of Tango de Salon) available on YouTube are listed below:

(1) Milongas de Buenos Aires

This list contains over 175 videos of social dancing in the milongas and social practicas of Buenos Aires. It is done without commentary. There is a wide cross-section of milongas that have been selected for recording. If there is any bias, it is that this playlist gives an apparently equal representation (possibly even overrepresentation) of short lived sparsely populated milongas and practicas, as it does of the densely populated traditional milongas with considerable longevity.

(2) Milongas and Milongueros of Buenos Aires

This playlist by Jantango contains 59 videos of tango dancing in Buenos Aires, mostly of social dancing in milongas, but also including some demonstrations of Tango de Salon given at milongas and at other locations. The focus is upon capturing the dancing of milongueros, men who have danced tango in the milongas of Buenos Aires for many years, and the milongas selected for recording are those in which these milongueros dance.

(3) Milongas in Buenos Aires

This is a playlist of 37 videos complied by Oleh Kovalchuke from Kansas City, Missouri. Most are recordings of tango social dancing at traditional milongas in Buenos Aires. Oleh also has complied a playlist of 116 videos under the heading ‘Los Milongueros’, many of which are demonstrations, by men recognized as milongueros, of tango dancing that would be considered appropriate for the milongas of Buenos Aires.

(4) 100% Tango Milonguero

This is a collection of 91 videos of demonstrations (mostly at milongas) of Tango Milonguero, the predominant stylistic variation of tango currently danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires.

(5) Viejos Milongueros in Buenos Aires

Patricia Muller has created a YouTube playlist consisting of 18 recordings from the 1990s of Tango de Salon in such milongas as Sin Rumbo, Glorias Argentinas, and Confiteria Ideal, as well as practicas from Sunderland Club.

Value of YouTube as an Accurate Source of Tango Information

Prior to YouTube, they were few video recordings of tango social dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires that were publicly available. Daniel Trenner had a video called ‘Salon Dancing in Buenos Aires’ that consisted of recordings made in 1992 and 1993 of milongas and practicas in Buenos Aires, including some that are still in existence today – the milongas at Salon Canning and Glorias Argentinas, and the practica at Cochabamba 444. It appears this video is no longer available for sale. There has also been a privately circulated and sold video by Barbara Durr and Michael Bronfenbrenner entitled ‘A Night in the Milongas of Buenos Aires’ that has recordings of predominantly Tango Milonguero in mostly Traditional Milongas from around 2000-2004, including some milongas still in existence such as El Beso, Centro Region Leonesa, Sunderland Club, Torquato Tasso, Club Gricel, La Viruta, Salon Canning, and La Nacional. However, these videos generally were available only to people who already had some tango experience, probably a considerable amount of tango experience in most cases. The value of YouTube is that there has never been so much recording of authentic tango social dancing from the milongas of Buenos Aires made freely available to the inquiring public. The problem is that this information is hidden behind the overwhelming mass of tango recordings that, as a whole, provide a biased view of tango as a social dance.

In order to counteract the flow of misinformation regarding Tango Argentino, it is the responsibility of those who have experienced Tango de Salon in Buenos Aires to provide prospective and current tango dancers access (as in internet links) to an accurate visual representation of the tango of the milongas of Buenos Aires, for example, on tango websites, as has been done in Tango Voice previously (Milongueros Dancing in the Milongas of Buenos Aires). It is the responsibility of instructors of Tango de Salon to provide visual documentation in support of the tango they teach, as a countermeasure to the inaccurate portrayal of tango as a performance art for a social setting that is commonly taught by visiting instructors from Argentina and their resident counterparts who in their home countries market tango for profit rather than for authenticity.

Summary

YouTube videos labeled as ‘tango’ are a common source of visual information for the naïve prospective tango dancer regarding the character of tango as a dance. A review of the most commonly viewed YouTube videos that are retrieved under the search terms ‘tango’ and ‘Argentine tango’ reveal that, in almost all cases, the dancing presented is either Stage Tango or a mix of Stage Tango and Ballroom Tango, the latter being more common in recordings derived from commercial media such as motion pictures and television programs. From this it is apparent that most of the information viewed on YouTube regarding tango as a dance does not provide a sufficient opportunity for the naïve prospective tango dancer to view the Tango de Salon danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires. The most commonly viewed videos also provide a biased perspective of the music to which tango is danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires, in that only two videos out of the ten most popular referenced used Traditional Tango music for dancing. Nevertheless, despite this initial biased portrayal of tango dancing and music, YouTube can be a valuable resource in that there exist several playlists that contain numerous recordings of Tango de Salon danced in the social setting of the milongas in Buenos Aires. In order to counteract the biased flow of information emanating from marketers of tango outside Argentina (i.e., tango instructors promoting a version of tango that is unsuitable for the milonga environment), organizers and instructors who wish to create a Buenos Aires tango atmosphere in their own community should promote awareness of the rich library of accurate visual information regarding Tango de Salon that is available on YouTube.