The many flavors of Tango
When you hear the word Tango, the image that comes to your mind may be radically different then someone else’s. While some will argue that there is only one Tango. In reality, there are several forms of Tango and even several styles within Argentine Tango, as well as different Argentine Tango musical rhythms that call for variations in frame, connection, and movement.
In the US, when most people think of Tango they conjure up the Hollywood image of a couple moving forward in promenade. Unfortunately, this image is Hollywood fallacy.
Dancers, on the other hand, may conjure up more specific but different images of Argentine Tango or it simplified stylized version American Tango. Ballroom dancers will further be familiar with International Tango which developed in England and is popular mostly in Europe. Argentine Tango dancers will think of different Argentine Tango styles such as Apilado, Tango Nuevo, Salon or Fantasia but if you ask them what kind of Tango they like, some might answer, Milongas, Vals Cruzado/Tango Waltz, or Candombes.
| Form || Style || Style || Origin |
| Ballroom || American, International || Tango || U.S, England |
| Argentine || |
| Apilado |
| Tango Nuevo, |
| Salon |
| Fantasia || |
| Tango |
| Milonga |
| Vals Cruzado |
| Candombe || Argentina / Rio de La Plata |
(Buenos Aires /Montevideo)
Argentine Tango is a complex social dance with virtually unlimited improvisational opportunities. In comparison, American or International Tango have well defined syllabus and dancers learn specific steps and patterns for competitive events.
American Tango arose out of the first exposure of Argentine Tango to the world in the 1910’s, Ballroom empressario Arthur Murray, simplified Argentine tango and adapted it to the preferences of ballroom dancers. Ballroom Tango is only taught in ballrooms dance studio. The steps were codified and fixed to make it easier to teach and judge. For example, Ballroom Tango dancers arch their torsos away from one another and join at the hips. Argentine Tango dancers may join at the chest but generally keep their hips away from each other except for the execution of specific movements.
The English outdid the Americans and thanks to their stiff prudish attitude codified Tango even more and removed any semblance of passion or sensuality from Argentine Tango. English Tango was further codified in the 1920’s and set at 30 bars per minute or 120 beats per minute at 4/4 measure. Interestingly, the music used for Ballroom and International Tango seems flat and monotonous to Argentine social dancers.
Argentine Tango is a social improvisational dance in which the leader is responsible to know and visualize ever step the follower takes, where her weight is at all times, and to continually communicate with and listen to the follower’s response. The leader must do this with confidence, clarity, and musicality while navigating a crowded dance floor that may require aborted movements and getting the follower out of harms way.
In turn, the follower in Argentine Tango focuses exclusively and totally on the leader immediately responds to what is being asked of her by making her legs, torso, and arms flexible and available to the leader’s movement. The follower must trust the leader to guide her movements, protect her, and allow her the space and time to dance elegantly.
The end result of this is typically three minutes of a sensual passionate internally focused connection where two bodies move as one. Some women describe it as “walking meditation.”
There are basic differences between these dance forms.
| || Argentine Tango || American Tango || International Tango |
| Embrace || Flexible || Fixed || Fixed |
| Posture || Varies || Fixed || Fixed |
| Walking || Parallel/Crosswalk || Parallel || Parallel |
| Head Turns || Functional || Stylized || Sharp |
| Head Snaps || No || Yes || Yes |
| Choreographed || Only for shows || Defined Patters || Yes |
| Syllabus || No || Yes || Yes |
| Rhythm || Variable || Quick,Quick, Slow || Quick,Quick, Slow |
| Focus || Internal || External || External |
| Sensual || Yes || Somewhat || No |
| Popularity || Argentina / Worlwide || US Ballroom || England /Europe Ballroom |
| Elbows || Point Down || Point Out || Point Out |
| Movement || Smooth/Staccato || Smooth || Sharp |
| Connection || Chest || Pelvis || Pelvis |
| Improvised || Yes || Some || No |
| Taking Steps || Toe lead/or flat || Heel Lead || Heal Lead |
| Feet of Ground || Varies by style. || No || No |
Please be aware that American Tango and International Tango are not appropriate for the Argentine social dance floor as the patterns and steps run counter to dance floor etiquette and the ongoing need to respond to what is going on the dance floor. Locally, ballroom tango dancers are tolerated but certainly not appreciated in Argentine Tango dance parties or Milongas. The wild unpredictably of the Ballroom Tango dancer forces other dancers to stay away at a safe distance. Thus the Ballroom Tango dancer ends up monopolizing an inordinate amount of floor space. Ballroom Tango dancers may even be asked to step off the dance floor if they are preventing the natural flow of Argentine social tango. To dance Ballroom Tango, you have to go to a Ballroom dance party where they dance all the ballroom dance styles. As a Ballroom Tango Dancer, do not expect to be dancing with Argentine Tango dancers, it is like speaking two different languages.
Within Argentine Tango, the different dance styles are characterized by differences in embrace, frame, distance and step size, and the direction of the follower’s head. These in turn cause other differences related to movement and focus of the dance.
| || Salon || Apilado || Tango Nuevo |
| Frame || Circular || Flat || Flat |
| Embrace || Open on one side || Closed || Open both sides |
| Distance || Variable || Close || Fixed |
| Step Size || Variable || Small || Variable |
| Follower Head || Variable || To the left || Forward |
| Axis || On/Off and /\ Axis || Follower Off Axis || On/Off and V axis |
| Movement Possibilities || Limited on one side. || Severely Limited || Unlimited |
| Focus || Internal/External || Internal || Internal/External |
| Used in Shows || Yes || No || Yes |
In Argentina, salon tango is popular where there is plenty of room in which to dance. Salon is also the basis for Tango Liso (Smooth Tang) kind Tango Fantasia (Show Tango) because it allows such variety of movement and connection. Tango Salon is characterized most by open embrace on the leaders left side as well as a flexible frame that can go from open and apart to close and closed on the leaders right. Tango Salon is the most common form of Tango and it’s flexible frame allows for transitioning from Salon to the following two embraces.
Apilado (Piled Up) (erroneously called Milonguero) is danced in crowded Argentine dance venues where dancers have limited space in which to dance usually around square yard per couple or even less. This style of Tango is popular because it is easy to learn, has limited vocabulary, and creates an intense connection between leader and follower- both followers breasts are connected to the leaders chest. Some adherents erroneously purport that this is true Tango, though any visit to Buenos Aires quickly dispels this myth. Dancers eventually tire of Apilado’s physical restrictions and musical monotony and begin exploring the more flexible Salon and Tang Nuevo styles.
Tango Nuevo (New Tango) arose out of the exploration of various Argentine tango masters to expand the vocabulary of Tango by reaching back to movements of earlier tango masters. It is associated with an emerging form of Tango music also called Tango Nuevo or Techno Tango. This tango style is surprisingly popular among the young as it entails less intimate physical contact due to arms apart embrace. (Don’t ask me why!) Tango Nuevo allows the incorporation of both lead and follow being off axis in a “V” shape adding substantial more possibilities than the lean or /\ shape common in Salon and inherent in Apilado.
Within Argentine Tango, there are several musical forms that most common one being the Tango, Vals Cruzado or Tango Walts and Milonga.
| || Tango || Milonga || Tango Waltz || Techno Tango |
| Measure || 2/4 || 1/2 || 1,2,3 || Variable |
| Steps || Variable || Short || Variable || Variable |
| Embrace || Open/Close || Close || Open/Close || Open |
| Rhythm || Various || Various || Various || Various |
| Pause || Yes || No || No || Yes |
Dancing a Tango is characterized by pauses, variations in timing, speed, and movement. The steps may short or long. Flowing or staccato. This is due to the complex and interwoven musical rhythms in tangos. One can find tangos with habanera, waltz, and milonga rhythms incorporated into the tango sound and vice versa.
Conversely, both Tango Walts and Milonga require continuous movement. There are not pauses and fewer variations in speed. Dancing a Milonga also requires the bodies to be in a close embrace instead of an open embrace as the follower move quickly and easily when there is strong connection. Surprisingly, dancers dancing Apilado can be hamstrung by their posture and connection as it prevents the more fluid below the hip bending and torso movements necessary to dance Milonga and Candombe, an earlier musical form also popular and frequently played. And you will see many novice apilado dancers sit out a good number of dances because they are unable to adapt their frame and posture to the other musical styles.
More recently, Argentine and other musicians have created another musical genre variously know at Techno Tango, Tango Nuevo, Electro Tango or Tango Fusion which blends elements of Tango, House, Chill-Out, Jazz and more. Like a Tango it can have various rhythms in the music and can be typically danced either like a Milonga or like Tango or weaving in and out of each. Many of the most popular Tango Nuevo songs are remixes or new arrangements of traditional Tango compositions.
To truly understand when someone says, they want to learn Tango or are learning to dance Tango, one must ask, which type, ballroom or argentine? American or International Tango? Apilado, Salon, or Tango Nuevo? And if you are learning Tango in order to dance it socially which you can in San Diego every night of the week or to dance Tango in Buenos Aires,, you might want to consider Argentine Tango and start with Salon, that is what the Argentines do.
How to Cross-Step
I once read somewhere that if you’re surfing on a longboard and not at least trying to ride the nose, “then you ain’t longboarding!” I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I do believe that noseriding and longboarding go hand in hand, with cross-stepping acting as the key ingredient in deciding whether it’s stylish or not.
- Catch a wave on your longboard and begin riding it. You should keep in mind that cross-stepping is easiest to perform when surfing on an open wave face. So, be sure and wait for a wave that will offer up at least somewhat of a ride, as opposed to a wave that will likely closeout quickly.
- When you do catch a good, open-faced wave, stand up and immediately stall a little bit, as you’ll find cross-stepping is tougher to do the more momentum you have.
- As soon as feel like the surfboard is traveling at a comfortable speed, lift your back foot and place it a few inches ahead of your front foot so that your legs form an X. Then, lift your back foot, which was your front foot upon takeoff, and place it furthest forward of the two. Repeat the process until you are close the nose of the board.
- Now, when you want to do a turn, cutback or kick out of the wave, simply reverse the process described in Step 3, so that in essence you’ll be cross-stepping backward toward the tail of the surfboard, which is where you started.
- Continue riding the wave, seeking more opportunities to cross-step.