Argentine Tango – What Is It?
There isn’t room here to go into all the theories as to the origin of tango, but perhaps the most important thing to say is that it ISN’T ballroom tango! Argentine tango and ballroom tango are quite different – the latter being a “development” of the original Argentine versions.
Argentine tango is an intimate dance. There’s not much debate that tango originated in Buenos Aries, Argentina in the late 1800s. One popular legend is that it was developed by single male African and European immigrants to impress the local women of the night – although some dispute this theory. It has progressed through the social layers of society, from Argentina to Europe and back, and through political and social changes. It has been considered seedy, raunchy, exciting, and respectable – depending on the era and continent. Today, just about any country you visit will have a tango community where you can communicate with the locals through the common language of tango.
The Basics of Argentine Tango
In essence, tango is a led dance – the lead (male usually) decides the moves, sequence, and direction of the dance. The follower (female usually) – while relieved of choreographic and navigational decision-making – generally makes the more intricate steps of the pair and has the opportunity to add adornments to the lead’s routine. Although there are some clear principles and hundreds of set moves, the overall sequence of steps is entirely improvised – which adds an extra dimension of invention and playfulness for both leader and follower.
The roles of leader and follower are quite distinct but neither is more important than the other – as they say, it takes two to …… The magic of tango comes from the silent communication between the couple – the lead suggesting what might come next, the follower responding with an interpretation of that intention. The connection for this communication is partly in the physical hold (which may be anything from an open embrace to an intimate hug) and partly in the positioning of both bodies such that the follower stays facing the lead. Tying the whole dance together is the music. Rhythm and tempo as much as anything else help to keep the couple co-ordinated.
A “milonga” is a social event/location for tango dancing. Confusingly, “Milonga” is also a distinct style of tango – a faster, often more jovial dance than pure tango. We teach milonga (style) as well as tango in classes and workshops. We organise and run milongas (events) monthly.
At a milonga we tend to dress up a bit more than in class – but there’s no strict dress code. It is customary for a man to ask a woman to dance – but it’s also fine for the woman to do the asking. If you are wary about asking someone (whether you are a man or woman) making eye contact with a nod to the dance floor can be a risk free option. And if your prospective dance partner looks away… well maybe they just didn’t see you. The polite tanguero keeps an eye out for the tanguera who hasn’t had a dance for a while and will ask her.
In practice classes and milongas we dance anti-clockwise round the room. Try to stay round the outside rather than crowd into the centre.
If you bump into another couple apologise politely (assuming there are no injuries!)
If the floor is crowded adjust your style accordingly. Large flailing steps will not be appreciated by your fellow tangueros.
At a milonga, you should not stop in the middle of the flow to explain a step to your partner – that is what practice sessions are for. Find a quiet corner away from the dance floor if you want to discuss or practice moves with your partner.
It is customary to stop when the music stops –
a sign of respect to the band that you can’t dance without them. It also allows you to play the game of guessing the final beat to finish with a classic pose!
If you aren’t dancing then stay off the dancefloor.
Don’t talk while dancing! This applies equally in class unless you need to discuss something about the step you are practicing. If you have the time and spare brainpower to chat then you may not be focusing sufficiently on the dance!
The embraces used in tango vary in closeness. Don’t assume your partner is comfortable with a very close embrace. If in doubt start with an open, relaxed embrace. A closer embrace can be offered but let your partner accept or refuse. If you feel that your partner is being uncomfortably over-intimate you can make an excuse and retire from the dance floor (although a slap on the face is much more dramatic!)
It is customary to dance two or three tangos with someone before sitting out or changing partners. But if you aren’t enjoying it just say “thank you” and retire. If you want to be really traditional then a man may escort a woman back to her seat.
Use a light touch with perfumes and aftershaves. Your dance partners may not enjoy your choice of fragrance as much as you do.
Tango music and books
One of the fastest ways to improve your tango is to listen to lots of tango music. The music is widely available on Amazon, iTunes and Spotify. The most danceable recordings were generally made in the Golden Era 1935-1944. Musicians to buy include:
- Juan D’Arienzo, is the King of the Beat. Irresistible, foot tapping.
- Anibal Troilo, best orchestra for singers.
- Osvaldo Pugliese, intense muscular dance music produced before 1940.
- Carlos Di Sarli, disciplined, elegant dance music with a great command of the melody; a lot of strings. Best in the 1940s and 50s.
Also music from: Rodolfo Biagi, Miguel Calo, Francisco Canaro, Angel D’Agostino, Alfredo De Angelis, Julio De Caro, Osvaldo Fresedo, Pedro Laurenz, Ricardo Tanturi, Los Provincianos (1931), Tipica Carabelli (1930-1), Tipica Victor (1931-2)
Tango: Let’s dance to the music!, Joaquin Amenabar (only from author) (£30) Musical Secrets, Michael Lavocah, (£15) www.milonga.co.uk (sells great 10 CD box set £25)
A Passion for Tango, David Turner (£15)
The Meaning of Tango, Christine Denniston (£10)
Happy Tango, Guide to dancing in Buenos Aires, Sally Blake
Tango Lover’s Guide to Buenos Aires, Migdalia Romero
Hold me tight and tango me home, Maria Finn
Kiss and tango, Marina Palmer
Long after midnight at the Nino Bien, Brian Winter
Tango, an Argentine Love Story, Camille Cusumano
Twelve minutes of love, Kapka Kassabova